Last week I blathered on about some running book that I didn’t think was very good and then I noticed that there was another book that I think is pretty great and for some reason I haven’t written here about it yet, so time to solve that mishap. Hutchinson is an athlete and journalist and has a PhD in physics and is a regular contributor to Outside, and has written for Runner’s World, The New Yorker, the Globe and Mail, and elsewhere. Malcolm Gladwell thinks “This book is AMAZING!” which is nice, I guess, if you like Gladwell. The first thing I read about Gladwell and running, he made some asinine statement that running with music is “soft.” I don’t run with music, but that doesn’t make me “hard.” Also given that women are twice as likely to run with headphones* as men, Gladwell’s statement comes off a tad misogynistic. Anyway, enough about Gladwell, because while I do not agree on headphones (and some other stuff) we at least agree on Hutchinson’s book. There is a ton of information in this book and I’ve started trying a few in training and races, with good results. I’ve revisited bits of this book numerous times. I believe it’s a must-have in any athletics books library.
Today was the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon. I’ve run it twice before and both were disappointments. Last year I was coming off my first full marathon, healthy and in excellent condition and wanted to break 1:40. It was a sweltering day and I finished 1:40:26. My first crack at the Scotiabank course was 2016. I had just run my first ever half marathon — the BMO Vancouver — and finished 1:46 flat. I was sure I could break 1:45 but was disappointed with a 1:46:31 result. Not only was I drinking way to much then, I was also smoking semi-casually (or -regularly, depending on your point of view…). A cigarette or two on race day served dual purpose, calming pre-race nerves, and, well, nicotine is well known for its laxative qualities. First Scotia Half would also be my last tar-loading. Smoke free and sober, I really wanted to beat myself.
But going into this morning I didn’t have a lot of confidence. I’m coming off a very near 1:40 in Helsinki a few weeks ago; I cut down a bit to try to heal up a blackened big toe and nagging shin splint, and to top it off I picked a fight with a stomach bug on Friday. Plus this course kicked my ass twice already. So I decided it would be a training run. I’d go out and run 4:37/KMs and nail a very respectable 1:37:24 and be happy with that. I had zero intention of chasing the PR I set at the BMO Half at the beginning of May. I went out with cumulative split times for 5, 10 and 15 KM and just ran. At 5 KM I was a bit quicker than planned, and I felt great. I missed the 10 KM split but my per-KMs were coming really fast and still felt great. When I hit 15 KM I checked my watch and I really surprised to find I was a few seconds ahead of PR time. That’s when I decided to just go for it. As I came up Beach Avenue into Stanley Park I saw the finish and the clock and all that registered was 32 and I put my head down and sprinted for the line.I finished 1:32:37, shaving over two minutes off my personal best, and nearly eight minutes off my best on this course, and I could not be happier. I watched and cheered on the other finishers for a bit then walked home, full on running high. Along the way I passed someone lingering in front of their apartment. “Can you spare a cigarette?” they asked. I smiled and replied, “Nope.”
*Sure it’s not a scientifically rigorous poll, but neither is arbitrarily equating earbuds with escapism.
I’m a fan of The Oatmeal so it makes sense that I liked The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. I used to like The Simpsons. I thought How to Lose a Marathon was meh. Inman’s book is good because in the midst of all its Oatmeal stuff there’s some decent thought put into the stuff that got me hooked on running in the first place: the mental stuff. You can read a version of it online (for free) here. Before I read How to Lose a Marathon I couldn’t identify a Cohen-written Simpsons episode if my life depended on it. Now I could at least make an educated guess that if the episode tries really really hard to be funny but just isn’t all that funny and actually gets pretty annoying what with how hard it’s trying (and failing) to be funny then there are decent odds said episode is written by Cohen. I think that when I was first starting out running I would have liked Cohen’s book if it was funny. I just didn’t think it was funny.
This morning I woke up at 4:45 AM and made coffee and prepared to race 21.1 KM and checked Facebook On-This-Day because I’m a masochist who likes coffee. Sometimes there’s a gem. This would be my second run of the BMO Half Marathon, the first being 2016, which was also my first half marathon. I remember not really knowing what I was doing. If only I’d read a book…. Back then I wanted to run 5 min/KM for a nice round 1:45 and then worry about the last 100 metres later. Stephanie was kind enough to have explained to me what a pace bunny is (and tapering, which I recall thinking seemed ridiculous). So with around 7 KM to go the 1:45 pacer passed me, which was demoralizing at the time. I hung on for a bit before finishing 1:46:00. Fast forward to this morning. I really wanted to set a new personal best; I aimed for 4:37/KM— that would get me a new PB with a minute to spare and is my Boston Qualifying marathon goal pace. Then I saw the 1:35 pacer in the start corral, and thought, sure, what the hell. The course starts out fast with nearly 100 metres of descent over the first 4 KM. I passed 5 KM over a minute and a half ahead of goal pace. By 10 KM I’d stopped checking splits, but there’s a timing mat and gun-time clock. It read 43-something*** and I knew I was still well ahead of my goal, but wasn’t sure where the 1:35 pacer was. We entered Stanley Park and passed Lost Lagoon and started the climb up Pipeline Road and he passed me. Pipeline peaks at 15 KM then descends to Stanley Park Drive. I checked my time at 15 KM. My personal best I was chasing I’d split 15 KM at 1:10:00. My watch read 1:06. The seconds didn’t register the math did. I could run the last 6 KM at 5:00/KM and set a new personal best. And let the pacer beat me. Again. So I passed him back and held on with all I had left. Just before the lighthouse at Brockton point, with just over 3 KM to go, he passed me again. I fought to keep him in reach as we exited the park, up Denman, east onto Georgia, a slight left onto Pender and the gentle, cruel uphill slope to the finish. I watch that stupid hat with the stupid ears bounce away in front of me and then I saw the finish line and the clock at it read 1:34 and the seconds ticked up as I ran by.
I finished with an official time 1:34:52 for a new personal best by 3:35 and 11:08 faster than my first half marathon. This is the second time in as many races that the pacer I’ve chased has been ahead of pace. I’ll take that over the alternative any day. Right up until the start at 7 this morning I was a bit bummed not to be running the full marathon. Not anymore.
***I saw the 10 KM clock. It said 43:something. I remember because my second fastest 10 KM race time is 44:06. My official time at 10 KM today is 44:19 but I swear to dog that clock said sub-44. This isn’t the first time this has happened. I do not understand.
It’s National Poetry Month. Why April, you may ask? I did. Seems it was started when in 1996 some members of the Academy of American Poets gave away copies of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land outside of a New York post office. Canada NPMed two years later, making this the 20th annual celebration of April cruelty. I’ve celebrated by reading less poetry than I have since I started keeping track of my annual failure to read 95 Books in one year. I’ve followed Sandra Simonds on social media for a while. The other day she suggested to me on Goodreads that I might like her new collection Orlando and I thought that maybe I should read some of her already published stuff so I picked up Steal it Back and Further Problems with Pleasure, both of which, I should add, come with five-star reviews on Goodreads from Simonds herself. Who am I to argue? As it happens, I like both very much. Last fall one of my favourite people I’ve never actually met Sina Queyras AKA Lemon Hound released My Ariel, which Coach House described as “a poem-by-poem engagement with Sylvia Plath’s Ariel” so I decided that I should revisit Plath (whom I haven’t read since undergrad a lifetime ago) and also decided (since no one could have possibly thought of this before me) that I would read Plath and then the corresponding Queyras, which lasted all of three poems since Coach House are liars. Not to take anything away from Queyras; these poems are pretty great. These aren’t happy poems, but neither are the referral materials.
Don’t call it a resolution but this year I wanted to at least try to once in a while be a bit social and over a quarter into 2018 I haven’t done a very well so I decided this week that I would join the Vancouver Running Co. Thursday night Flight Crew run which sets out at a very reasonable 6:15 p.m. from 1886 West 1st Avenue (which is a very reasonable 2.5 KM jog from my place), for a very reasonable 10 KM weekday evening run. Except that I got Translinked on Thursday and didn’t get home until 6:10 so I missed out. Except that I should have remembered from the two or three other times that I’ve ever joined a social run that social runs never start when they say that they are going to, as Strava let me know later Thursday evening that the Flight Crew took off closer to 6:30. So maybe next week. This week’s long run I did some reconnaissance on the second half of the BMO half and finished feeling very confident that I will new or near my PR on May 6. Less encouraging is that Garmin dropped for the second time in as many weeks. I believe in second chances, which is why I believe it may be time for a replacement.