My life in Vancouver has definitely taken a running turn over the past year, as I’ve thrown myself into the running scene and enjoyed, gritted, pushed, found limits, jumped over the figurative running wall, stubbornly succeeded, un-stubbornly failed, and tried to find that elusive escapism that pounding out miles with just you, the trails, great friends and the elements can give you.
However, as much as the enjoyment factor is a large part of the scene, my competitive nature and constant search for targets, times, goals and numbers has found me standing toe-to-toe at the start line of a surprising number of races and distances over the past 18 months in Vancouver. I found myself competing at the 48,000 strong 10K Vancouver Sun Run two weeks ago, along with the just-hoping-to-finish 55K Capitol Peak ultra marathon a week later; both races as far removed mentally as their distances were physically. The first would find me in ultra competitive race mode, where as the other would both humble and surprise me.
Coming into the Sun Run I knew I was probably the most race fit and fastest I’d ever been for the distance, and thus was excited to have some clearly defined time goals in mind, each of them becoming more hopeful than the last. A korfball friend back home had recently finished her 10K in an astounding 37:05; closely following her speedy shoes was my buddy Big Nick (who organises a local 8k run back home in Birmingham) who had a PB of 36:40; and finally there was the quite possibly craziest distance runner I’ve ever known, local running friend Barry, who had a blisteringly fast 36:06 PB from a year ago.
The Sun Run is one of the largest road races in North America, and with just shy of 50,000 people competing and being crammed down West Georgia street for the start, your bib colour (and thus starting ‘pen’) are important factors. Being near the back can see you literally walking the first 2-3k as there just isn’t room to run, and then un-ceremoniously walking the last 2k as everyone crams up again at the finish line – not exactly ideal when you are taking the run fairly seriously.
Bib colours are given out based on time, and although I had run fast enough previously to earn myself a coveted 1st pen, your-own-warm-up-area blue bib, when the colour arrived it was the bright cheery yellow 2nd pen bib, and that had me feeling a little trepidatious at whether I could open up the legs quick enough and get moving from the start; when you’re a runner aiming for a PB you need to be running from the start.
Race day arrived and although I craftily managed to sneak into the blue pen area for some form of warm up (just trundling along past the security with blue bib Han), I stupidly decided to warm up past the line of race marshals who then of course wouldn’t let me back in. I cursed at my ineptitude to not realise this earlier, but consigned myself to the yellow pen and tried to find a position in the area to give myself some chance of a quick start.
Little did I know that by the time this had all happened though the yellow pen was full, and I found myself standing outside the 10ft tall fences, knowing I would need to wait until the race had partially started so I could filter into the actual racing area and shoot off. Nerves were playing up, and this set back was frustrating me no end. Thrown into the nervous mix the Garmin GPS watch was not picking up a signal and I found myself being frustrated and annoyed at the ‘stupid over crowded badly organised race’. Of course, this was just my grumblings and a result of me trying to sneak into the blue pen, but at the time it was all totally justified (of course).
Luckily races are all chip based and your timing doesn’t start till you actually cross the start line, so a few minutes after the necessary national anthem and the historically needed shot of the starting gun I saw the starting line appear, moved myself over to the clearest area infront of me and went ‘like the clappers’ (to use what I feel is an much underused English saying). With no watch to give me a basis for running speed, I was running on pure instinct, finding myself dodging and weaving, often onto sidewalks and grass verges, over the first 2km until I could settle into the race with a clearer line infront of me.
With the three goals in mind, I was planning on running an average of a 3:30 per km pace which would give me a 35min 10k. Although realistically out of my athletic ability, I knew that this pace would give me some slippage to try and sneak in somewhere around the 36min total time, and wanted to start out at that speed and see how long I could hang on for. After 3km the watch picked up a GPS and I could start to see my km splits from there on in, but with no knowledge of how quick the initial 3km had been, my total time would remain a mystery for some time to come. My legs and lungs however were telling me I had gone out quick:
“You total idiot, what the hell was that about” Brain asked Legs.
“Do you know who I am, I’m Nick Wilkins’ legs, I don’t get tired, I just run run run, no-one can stop me …..”
“Urm, hello, Lungs here, sorry to butt in, but I’m kinda hurting up here, if you wouldn’t mind just slowing down a little, I’d feel much better about all this”
“Pain is just weakness leaving our body Lungs, man up”
“hashtag justsaying …..” lungs quietly mumbled
“Im shutting off for the next 30mins, you deal with him Lungs, I can’t be bothered anymore!”
“Don’t stop me noooooooowww, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball ….. ”
“Shit man, this hurts, hey Brain, BRAIN, what km marker was that, was it 6 or 7”
“5! You what? You playing with me dude, do you know what I’m doing down here”
“Deal with it, I’m going to try working out if our bib number is prime or not. So 13 into 143 is ….”
“Ok guys, seriously, really. WTF. Are you joshing with me. I’m dying down here …………….. wait …. no ……. What the f**k, am I going up hill? ”
Thinks about it for a second
“Brain …. Brain, is this a hill? Im pretty sure Left Foot was higher than Right Foot’s previous step ….. Yep, yep definitely higher. It s a mo**er f**k**g hill.”
“Oh FFS, shut it would you. Look, we passed the 9km mark about a minute ago Legs, this is Cambie bridge, last up hill, round the corner and you’re done. And its not even a hill, just a little bridge, get over it (literally and figuratively) !”
“Ha, no shit, this race is easy. Noooo problemo. I’ve had harder sponges than this. I am da’ MAN! I eat 10km for breakfast! Yum yum yum 10km, mmm tasty.”
And so it was as my internal dialogue battled through the race to cross the finish line. I looked at the clock. 39:09.
A slight moment of disappointment before I realised that that was gun time, not chip time, and I didn’t cross the start line for a few minutes. I didn’t know my time; my watch’s screen was showing me splits, average pacing and the like, and not total time.
I saw Barry ahead and he seemed relatively pleased. I was half expecting to see him on the race, but his blue bib meant he just started too far ahead for me to have a chance of seeing him pound out the markers. Barry had hit an impressive sub 38min race, which on the face of it he may have been (relatively) disappointed at considering his previous 10km times. But Barry had decided to run 67km the day before (yes …. 67) and I would say that a sub 38minute 10k after that, is completely
insane outstanding and amazing.
He quickly asked me my time, and I truthfully said I had no idea, other than being sub 39. After a moment of pure confusion and a head shakingly ‘you’ve disappointed me son’ look at how a sub 40min runner could not know his time, he quickly realised that my watch would have been keeping an internal clock of my race time, even if it was not shown on the display. A shuffle through the menu’s and the number infront of me was showing loud and proud. 35:47.
35:47, I was over the moon, but was still hesitant as I wasn’t completely sure if I started it on time, and knew I had momentarily stopped and started it again when it wan’t working. I decided to be slightly wary until I had confirmation.
A minute later Han came blazing in to claim a new PB of sub 41 minutes, and in her usual way didn’t look like it hurt much and still looked fresh enough to race some more. A point justified as she met up with a physio friend shortly afterwards and went on a 15km run around the sea wall before brunch. Again, redefining normality.
I did a small warm down home and quickly jumped on the computer to see if the times had come in. The website was predictably slow and often crashed (as thousands upon thousands of runners, friends and relatives were checking for updates). The computer was just blaring out my gun time on – 39:09.
Yeah I know, thats gun time, but what about chip time?
A small play later and there it was. 35:38. A new PB, at least a minute faster than I was hoping for, and a big grin appeared on my face. I was really happy, not just about hitting targets and goals, but just about pushing myself to a time that I previously thought wouldn’t be possible.
“So sub 35 then hey everyone” the legs chirpily chimed in.
A massive thanks needs to go out to all the PRR supporters and friends on the course who were cheering me and other runners on, it really does help. The two photographs of me running are from LMN Photography (aka Bettie Neels). And yes I realise that running with short sleeve t-shirt and gloves looks a bit camp!