Sometimes the most celebrated moments of success, of perseverance, are not ones of legend or record breaking - but ones of triumph. The 2023 Vancouver First Half Marathon was exactly that for me. While I didn't achieve a personal best time - I was 2 minutes and 36 seconds slower - than my 2020 attempt on the same course, it meant a lot more. The last 3 years were full of challenges, from the pandemic putting me out of work for over 6 months, going through a break up and experiencing what I could only look back on in hindsight as depression, I had taken multiple steps away from running. At my absolute rock bottom, I saw over a 90% decrease in my weekly running for almost 30 weeks consecutively.
Sometimes the most celebrated moments of success, of perseverance, are not ones of legend or record breaking - but ones of triumph.
Any fitness I had built up over the span of over a year of training - gone.
After getting back to running consistently in 2022 in preparation for the 2022 London Marathon, I again bumped into hurdles. Dealing with multiple injuries ranging from a severe heel bursitis to an ankle ligament sprain and a hamstring strain, it took all the effort I had to simply keep running. Every run whether it was a tempo run, a long run or even a short recovery run required taping, a brace and still resulted in limping through the ensuing work day. The only silver lining was that the injuries were not getting worse.
Going into the 2023 Vancouver First Half Marathon, I wasn't sure what I was capable of. My marathon build was a modified schedule half focusing on preparing for a fall marathon and half focusing on not aggravating my injuries. I hadn't done a significant amount of speed work and mileage was still less than ideal. Not being one to shy away from a challenge however, I decided I would try to run a bold race. Based on my previous PB of 1:26:21, I placed myself behind the 1:30 pacer (to ensure my chip time would start after theirs) and aimed to stay with them to ensure a sub 1:30. But everyone always has a plan before they lace up and line up at the start.
The group that runs the Vancouver First Half Marathon is always a fast group. Perhaps it is due to the select field size (2023 only had 2417 participants) or a combination of cold weather, flat course and being early in the running season - but people show up to hit fast times. As we cross the start, it becomes evident that there is a large cohort making their way ahead early in the race ahead of the fastest pacer. As a runner, you have a couple of decisions at a time like that during a race. You can either stick to your plan and run a methodical race, or you can dig deep and throw caution to the wind. Doing my best to keep up with the pack, I quickly realized that my watch was malfunctioning. I had noticed on a few occasions over the last week that it was "missing" distance, thereby calculating my pace as being slower than it was. This solidified my decision to stick with the strategy I had chosen as I couldn't even fall back on my own timing. I had to do it by feel.
As a runner, you have a couple of decisions at a time like that during a race. You can either stick to your plan and run a methodical race, or you can dig deep and throw caution to the wind.
Despite the push, I was pleasantly surprised to feel that my ankle had not blown up over the first 10+ KM's - allowing me to keep a somewhat decent pace. I did however, forget about a section of the race between KM 14-15 that consisted of a craggy gravel path around Lost Lagoon that really punished me. I quickly realized a few strides onto the uneven terrain that a searing pain was darting through the inside part of my ankle with every step. There wasn't a lot of time but I made the heavy hearted decision to allow myself to stop and walk for exactly 60 seconds to recover. While 60 seconds doesn't seem like a lot - in that moment, it was an eternity. At that moment in time, I didn't know if I was going to be able to pick the pace up again. I didn't know if I would see the 1:30 pacer stroll on by as I walked. It was a gamble - but it was a calculated gamble.
I watched desperately as every second ticked by on my watch, and when I saw 0:59, I started to jog. I knew that I was close and that there were only 3-4 KM's to go so I needed to get moving. It was at this instant that it dawned on me. Every time someone asks me why I love running, I always tell them that it's because I love being tested. I love to see what I have in the tank, to put myself in the uncomfortable, to see what I'm truly made of in times where you want to just stop. There's no penalty for stopping. I'm not a professional runner, and if I came in another minute or two slower, no one is going to guilt me over it. But I would know - and so with every ounce of determination I had, I pushed on. As we round the last turns into the final stretch, the sounds of cheering onlookers start to pile in. The notorious upwards grind of this 800m had on many occasions past, broken the will of many runners - but not today. I feel a jolt of adrenaline and make a push to sprint finish. I've long held the belief that a sprint finish at the end of a half-marathon or marathon is the best type of sprint finish. After all, runners had just spent the previous 20+ KM's sorting themselves out in terms of pacing and fitness level. The people running next to you at this point? Are as close to your ability level as you could get. You just need a good dance partner. Looking left and right, I find another gentleman willing to race and we dig deep for the longest 10 seconds of the race.
1:28.57 Chip time.
Honestly, I got a little emotional at the end. Not because I was sad but a lot had gone into this race. Hours of training, enduring and there's something magical about tying it all together on race day. I'm extremely proud of this result and it will stand out in my head as one of my greatest triumphs. Sometimes you can't rush things. Sometimes you have to stay the course, you have to dedicate time and effort even if you don't see the results immediately. The journey of running has taken me to a great deal of places both geographically and mentally and I wouldn't be the person that I am today without it. Trust in the journey, the small efforts and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, you just have to wait.