Why are marathons always so early? Who wants to get up at five a.m. for a seven a.m. start time? Well, there’s a good reason for it in the summer months, at least: the later it gets, the hotter it might be. But that wasn’t a problem today — it was fully cloudy with fairly stable temperatures in the upper 50s all morning. Pretty perfect marathon weather. But of course we still had to get up early.
Driving through Portland and across the Columbia to get to downtown Vancouver took less than 25 minutes at that hour (OK, missing traffic is another good thing about the early times) and finding parking wasn’t hard. I had an hour to kill before the start, which I used up by going to the bathroom time and time again.
They said there were about a 1000 runners in the marathon, and 1800 more starting the half-marathon later. One thousand people is a good size for a marathon: low-key, but you won’t have to spend much time running alone. There was plenty of room in the start chute. I lined up between the 3:40 pacers and the 3:20 pacers.
I guess I felt pretty good the first miles. I didn’t have much trouble settling into the run and all my body parts seemed to be cooperating. After maybe three miles, I noticed that I was starting to reel in the 3:20 group, which had been way ahead of me shortly after the start. I decided to catch up to them, not so much because I wanted to run 3:20 (I didn’t think I had it in me) but more to ensure that I’d have a good number of runners around me. Why? I find running in cadence with a crowd somewhat hypnotizing. It makes the time pass quickly and lets you just focus on running smoothly.
I took quite a while to catch them, though. By mile seven I was among the stragglers trailing behind the group; by mile eight I had caught the pacer. I stayed right in the group for the next seven miles.
Now, this was the first running of this marathon, and I think it might be the first time these organizers had put on a marathon at all. So I don’t want to be too negative. Was the course perfect up to this point? No. It had a few issues, mostly to do with unnecessary turns and the general hassles that come along with running on the shoulders of roads with live traffic. Nothing bad, and nothing unexpected. There were also some very nice parts on bike paths along the river. I suppose it’s also a ding against a supposedly “full-service” type of marathon that they didn’t have any split pads at all, not even at 13.1. In fact, 13.1 wasn’t marked. (They did have good mile markers though.) Anyway, I’m trying to say these are minor things.
But what happened as we came back into downtown Vancouver around mile 15 of the race was a major problem. We merged into the half marathoners. The slow trailing end of the half marathoners. Who were about a mile and a half into their race. Which followed, from that point, the same route of the full marathon. It’s interesting to contemplate what happens in this situation: you’ll be continually having to get around people for the next 11 miles, because you can never catch up to the half marathon runners who are going the same pace as you.
In any event, this was a clusterfuck. The pace group quickly splintered up, unable to maintain cohesion while pushing through the walkers and joggers. There were a lot of them. On some narrow paths. This problem was acute for three miles, serious for three more, and then only mildly annoying after that (because the half had an extra out-and-back that the full didn’t at that point, which meant we got to kind of instantly fast-forward past a lot of them.)
There’s no excuse for this. The race organizers should have seen this coming from miles away (so to speak). The best solution is to not have a half, or run it on a different day. Second best, run it on a completely different route. Third best, start it at the same time as the full — the crowding at the start would be bad, but it is dwarfed by the badness of doing it the way they did.
Anyway, back to the race. I had pulled a little ahead of the 3:20 pacer while we all played dodge-em with the half runners. Around mile 20, the crowds were thinning a bit and the course took a fairly steep uphill, so I slowed down and let her catch me. (A guy paced the first half and a girl the second.) I was pretty much the only one in the “pace group” at this point. My thighs were starting to hurt and the hill took a lot out of me. It leveled off for a bit, then there was a mild downhill. After that, a steep downhill.
“Oh no!” I said to the pacer, referring to the damage that sharp downhill was going to do to me legs.
“Oh no!” responded almost everyone around us, referring to the freight train that was about to cut us off at the bottom of the hill.
Yep, we got stopped by a train. I didn’t let it bother me. One of the good things about the stop was that there was an aid station right next to the tracks (on our side), so I got to have a leisurely drink of Gatorade. It was a very long train, but it was moving very fast. The total time I lost was somewhere between a minute or two.
After that, I kept up with the pace group (which re-formed a little) for another three miles, then let them go ahead. I was surprised and pleased to have held onto them for as long as I had. My legs didn’t have much left in them at this point, and any little uphills were killing me. Miles 25 and 26 were a slow jog, interrupted by the occasional uphill walk. I was still happy.
My finish time was (according to my watch) 3:25:12. My second-fasted marathon. I’ll take it.
Edit: Official results. 3:25:11 (7:50/mile average). 75th of 798 finishers, 63/408 men, 15/78 men 40-44.