The Adidas Vancouver International Marathon
We woke up at 4:00 and left at 5:15 to head downtown. First, we stopped by Tim Horton’s for bagels and coffee. We parked on the south side of the Cambie Bridge and walked across to the Plaza of Nations to the starting line.
There were 10,500 participants in the race, but this included runners in the 5 mile race, the half-marathon, the one mile kid’s run, and the full marathon. We figure that only about 3,500 ran in the full marathon. That’s a pretty small marathon – the 2001 New York Marathon had about 35,000 runners and the last marathon Jon ran, the 2000 Marine Corps Marathon, had about 25,000 runners. In any event, the relatively small size of the marathon made it easy for me to find Jon throughout the day.
It was cold and very overcast – perfect weather for a marathon. Jon says that he doesn’t want any sun at all, because that always increases the temperature by 10 degrees. The start was at 7:15 and I started to make my way to the Burrard Street Bridge – where Jon and I had agreed I would be for two of the three cross-overs (one at around 5 miles and again at 17 miles). For a map of the course, click here. I was walking around with my backpack, full of Jon’s warm clothes, his change of clothes, his fleece, an umbrella, our camping chair, and five bottles of Gatorade. I also had the three-sided sign sticking out from the top of the backpack. So Jon could see me wherever I was in the crowd, and he watched me walk over the starting line bridge. When I decided to stop and take a picture of the starting line, he was waving at me to get my attention
Jon At the Starting Line
The start, according to Jon
The start was pretty tame – the usual attempt to cram all of the runners into a small area about five minutes before the start. The only difference is that since this marathon has about 32,000 less runners than the NY Marathon, there really wasn’t that much cramming to be done. By comparison, the last time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in DC there three starts, each about 5 minutes apart, because there are so many runners. I spotted Heidi about 2 minutes before the start and was really thankful that she was carrying her neon yellow sign!
My New Runner Friend
After the start, I began the two-mile walk to the Burrard Street Bridge, which the runners would run over three times on the race. The first time being after about five miles. On the way there, a man from Uganda struck up a conversation with me about my sign. (I WAS a bit of a spectacle with my backpack and bright yellow sign). I could tell by looking at him that he was a runner, and he said he had a few friends running in this marathon. Apparently, he’s run every major marathon in the US a few times and is waiting for the lottery results for the NY Marathon. This will be his last one, he said, because he turns 49 on July 4 and is ready to retire. “Retire?”, I thought, “I wonder what that means?”. By this time we neared the Burrard Bridge. The leaders were just coming across after their first five miles. A few of them called to my new friend by name and waved at him. He looked at them a bit wistfully and said to me, “Here are the leaders. I used to run right next them.” So that’s what he meant by “retire”. He’s a professional distance runner – and a good one at that! We parted ways on the bridge because I wanted to walk closer to the center of the bridge. But it was cool to meet a world-class runner!
The First Five Miles
I stood on the side of the bridge and cheered on the runners. Whenever I’ve done a race, I always appreciated spectator cheering so I stood there and clapped and cheered accordingly. It was especially rewarding when the runners would smile at me or wave or say “thanks!”. I was so surprised at the lack of spectators on this race. Granted, the weather was a bit of a handicap, but I’m used to the three-deep crowds of the NYC and Washington DC marathons. So the lack of audience participation made me continue clapping even when my hands hurt.
I had my bright yellow sign up and ready. The dowel was stuck in my jeans pocket, so the sign itself was just next to my head and easy to see from far away. The “Yeah Jon!” part was facing the runners, so many of the runners would run by and say, “Hey! I’m Jon!”. Or “Did you find him yet?”. Or – even funnier – “I wish I were Jon!”. All of this made me laugh and helped to pass the time until the real Jon showed up. He started waving at me about 50 feet away, so I had his Gatorade ready for him when he ran by. He looked much happier than he did during his first marathon in 1999, and this was a good sign. After he was gone, I put the sign down and kept cheering. The sun had come out at one point, but then it went away and the air got very cold again. As the runners began to thin, I moved to the other side of the bridge for the second cross-over.
The View From the Burrard Bridge
Commentary on the marathon so far
Training for this marathon was a bit difficult because most of the training was in Cairns during the peak of the summer, so I didn’t really have much in the way of a time goal for this marathon. I definitely would have been happy to shave some time off of my 1999 effort at the Marine Corps Marathon…my plan was to run 10 minute miles for the first 13 miles and then see how I felt after that and maybe take some time off of my mile-splits. About 6 or 7 miles into the marathon I realized that despite the fact that I was trying to run 10min splits I was running 9:00-9:30 splits. That sounds great, but until you’ve been out there running the 19 or 20 miles that follow these first 6 or 7 you’ll never know how painful the remaining miles can be. I told myself to slow down some and just keep going.
I did make two bathroom stops of 2:00 and 2:30 each. Most of the time was spent waiting in line at the Port-a-Johns located at some of the water stations. Don’t ask why I didn’t use the bushes like many other people were doing!
I did meet a few people along the way. Around mile 6 or so I noticed a guy with a New York Road Runners t-shirt and told myself that if I caught up to him I’d say Hi. About 2 or 3 miles later I did catch up to him and his girlfriend and asked him if they were from NY. He said that the shirt was from the 1998 NY Marathon and that this was his marathon shirt…but that he wasn’t from NY. It turns out they were from Vancouver and we talked for a bit about running in Vancouver and a bit about NY too. I lost them when they stopped to get water at an aid station and I continued on to the Gatorade tables a bit further down.
Around mile 10 or so, just as we had entered Stanley Park, a man caught up to me from behind as I was checking my watch. He had accidentally pressed the STOP button on his stopwatch so he was looking to figure out how much time he had missed. He was running the marathon using a program that has become increasingly popular: the run/walk combination. He was doing 10min of running and then 1min of walking so I was with him for about 10min. He did warn me that the hill that was approaching was the steepest on the course, and then he walked. He wasn’t kidding me! It was a bit of a hill, about as bad as the steepest hill in Central Park but it had switchbacks that made it that much longer. Oh well, it too passed.
About an hour later, the leaders came running by. They’re not nearly as much fun as the ordinary runners, because they don’t respond to the cheering and applauding. They’re much too focused for that. So I was glad when the “real” runners started showing up.
Because I was slightly uphill from the bottom of the bridge, it was easy to see me and my sign. There were more people on the bridge by this time, but almost none of them were cheering – just watching. I got a number of the same silly comments about the “Yeah Jon!” sign, but they were less enthusiastic because the runners had been going for 17 miles by this time. But that made the wobbly smiles even more special and I kept clapping and cheering. One girl ran by and said, “I see you EVERYWHERE!”. Yeah, I guess I’m hard to miss since almost no one else at the race had any signs.
When Jon saw me and started waving, I grabbed him a Gatorade, a Chewy Bar, and two Motrins. He had a HUGE smile on his face which is a vast improvement from his first marathon, when he looked completely miserable. So this made me really happy.
Jon Leaving Mile 17
Two minutes after Jon ran off, it started to hail. HAIL!!!! I’m not kidding. It came down in droves and dropped the temperature by a good 10 degrees. I was really glad we’d bought a golf-sized umbrella the other day because it came in very handy for me as I tried to keep me, my sign, and my backpack dry. Five to ten minutes later, the hail had turned to rain and then stopped all together. Strange, strange weather!
Miles 17 to 26.2
Seeing Heidi on the bridge at Mile 17 was great. It really helped knowing that there was someone along the way that was there for me, cheering me along. She had everything I needed: Gatorade, Motrin, and a granola bar. I was only about 300 feet away when it began to hail. As the smaller than pea-sized hailstones bounced off of the pavement I started to feel them bouncing off of my head. I laughed to myself about the humor of the circumstances: I mean, what are the chances of it hailing on the day of the marathon, less than nine miles from the finish??!! It stopped about 5 or 10 minutes later and I wasn’t too soaked since most of the precipitation was frozen and not actually rain – I guess that was lucky.
The last two marathons that I’ve run I have become so hungry that once I had hallucinations of dancing Snickers bars around Mile 22. I mean this was hunger bordering on delirium. So I held onto the granola bar until after Mile 21 then happily tore into it as the hunger started gnawing at my stomach; the timing couldn’t have been better. Speaking of Mile 21, this was also just after the turn-around between leaving the bridge at Mile 17 and heading back to it around Mile 25. Not knowing the city very well, I found myself constantly wondering “where in the hell is that *@#% turnaround?!” Most people said that the turnaround was at “the wall” for them, but I don’t think I really hit the wall during the race. There was a bit of difficulty running up a hill at Mile 24 (which wasn’t marked, by the way!) but once I got across the bridge the last time and crossed the Mile 25 marker I knew I was going to make it to the finish and would even be happy with my time.
The Finish Line
I packed up my stuff and made it toward the finish line. The faster runners were already crossing over the bridge for the third and final time and running the last mile to the finish. Jon still had a ways to go, but I wanted to be near the finish when he got there.
I found a spot 500 yards away from the finish line and got the sign ready to spot Jon. I got there around the 4 hour mark, and expected him to show up somewhere in the vicinity of 4 hrs 30 minutes. So, naturally, I was shocked when he came skipping by at around 4 hr 15 minutes!
Jon In the Final Stretch
Heading Toward the Finish Line (only yards ahead!)
After the bridge I got to mile 25.2, only one mile from the finish. I put my left foot down as I had done thousands of times before today and my left hamstring cramped up. My whole left leg seemed to go solid as a tree limb. I ran rather clumsily for a few dozen yards until either the cramps went away or I just couldn’t feel them again. Either way I counted my blessings and saw Heidi soon after. I checked my watch and realized that I could end up finishing around 4:15, a dream time for me, and poured it on. My split for my last mile was under 9:00, which is really hard for me to believe considering I had run 25.2 miles by this time!
As I crossed the Finish Line I heard a running commentary over the speakers and for some reason tuned it in to hear that “Jon Connal, of New York, ran 4:15; trimming his personal best of 4:31 by 16 minutes”. I couldn’t believe my time and also couldn’t believe that I had heard the announcement amidst the controlled pandemonium of the marathon finish.
At the Finish Line, they veered the runners off toward the food and drink section and I hovered outside at the exit to try and find him. My sign was sticking high out of the backpack so Jon could see me easily. Because of the sign, a number of runners came up to me and thanked for cheering them on. One guy said, “I saw your sign three times and it helped a lot!” A girl walked by and – commenting on my “Around the World +26 Miles!” side – said, “It’s 26.2 miles! That last .2 really hurts!”. Another guy came up and said, “So did you ever find him?” I laughed and we had a nice little conversation. It was his first marathon and he finished in 4:17, which is great time for a first-time marathoner. He told me that my cheering helped him and that Jon was a lucky guy. Now I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Finally, I found a very cheerful Jon who was quite pleased with himself and his finish time of…
He shaved sixteen minutes off his previous best time!!!! What a stud!
We trudged into the Plaza of Nations where Jon could stretch and get his massage. We traded funny stories about our marathon experiences and waited for his turn at one of the massage tables. Overall, I was completely and pleasantly surprised at Jon’s very happy demeanor. Not that he shouldn’t be happy, but I’m used to a somewhat surly mood after he finishes a long run. This was a lovely way to the wind up a very enjoyable day.
Receiving a Much-Deserved Massage
We walked back across the Cambie Bridge to the car on the other side of the river and went back to the hotel so Jon could have a shower. He had grand plans of going to Moxie’s and having a few beers, but when he got out of the shower he said, “Let’s just order Domino’s”. So we did, and spent the rest of the afternoon resting.
Later, for dinner, we DID go to Moxie’s and each had a beer in celebration. Jon ordered a thick, juicy steak but actually passed up on the opportunity for dessert. He was just too tired to think anymore. He was also walking really funny. We went back to the room and watched the season finale of “Alias”, and were both asleep by 11:00.