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May 1, 2016: the day I ran my first marathon

May 1, 2016: the day I ran my first marathon
May 1, 2016: the day I ran my first marathon

In November 2015, I ran my first half-marathon. On May 1, 2016, I ran my first marathon. My experience training for and running my first marathon was, at the risk of sounding cliche, life-changing.


Completing 3 months of focused marathon training was one of the hardest things I have probably, ever done. It was emotional, hard, exhilarating, frustrating, exhausting, and oh so satisfying. 

I ran through the pouring rain many, many times, often alone. I cried during runs, I laughed, I smiled, I thought about a lot, but more often about nothing. I got sick of peanut butter, protein powder, and gels, but never sick of dark chocolate, avocado toast, and gluten-free scones. I realized I can do hard things, I can do things I never thought were possible. Training forced me to push my limits every single week. I will write another post on how much running has changed me, to avoid this post becoming a full-length novel. 

During training, I was very nervous the night before many of my very long runs, having never run those distances before. I even took a day off work to run my last 20-miler, but in my defense I was attending an all-day wine seminar on Saturday, the day before my typical long run day. The day that I completed my first 30 km run, I have rarely felt that proud. I started to believe that while the marathon would kick my ass, it would be possible to finish.


The 2 weeks leading up to the BMO Vancouver Marathon, I was a wreck.


I have a habit of breaking things, but reached an all time high. I’m pretty sure I managed to drop and break something every single day the week before the race. Managing to smash a full bottle of tamari on my fridge door was a fun one to clean up. At least (with tapering) I had a lot of time to clean? During my runs, I was feeling nauseous and I kept crying! Looking back, it is crazy to think how immersed and focused you become on the single act of training and running (or maybe that’s just me…)

The day before the race I spent relaxing, enjoying coffee with friends, and attending the Race Expo with my friend Angela, thankful to have conversation to distract me. The kind messages I received from friends and family throughout the day were also so encouraging!


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And then marathon morning arrived.


It was going to be a warm day and at 6:00 am my friend Pargol (my unofficial pacer) called and suggested I wear shorts. Too bad I didn’t own any! Capris it was. I made my way to the start line around 6:30 am. I passed the finish line on my way to the Skytrain, and the tears started flowing! To think I would (hopefully) be there in a few hours. 


The start line.


A short Skytrain ride away, I arrived at the designated stop and walked 15 minutes or so with a group of runners to the start line. The walk felt like eternity. 3 bathroom stops later (I was just a little paranoid of having to stop during the race) we were off. Within minutes I saw my friend Wade on the sidelines taking pictures and gave him a big wave.


The 10 km mark.


Pacer extraordinaire Pargol and I planned to meet at the 10 km mark where she would join me and run the rest of the course with me. 10 km came and went with no sign of her. I panicked for a minute that I would have to run on my own, but managed to pull myself together, running past another group of friends who were out to cheer. Then 11 km arrived and Pargol was waiting for me, worried she had missed me! We were off together.


Water station at 16 km.


At 16 km my friend Sylvia was volunteering at one of the water stations. Seeing her, albeit only momentarily, was a huge boost! We reached UBC campus and as we descended the infamous UBC hill, passed the halfway mark. Mentally, I knew that once I passed the halfway mark and if I still felt good, I could relax a little and feel a bit more confident that I would finish.


Passing the halfway mark. 


At 24 km I distinctly remember telling Pargol how great I felt, as she regaled me with stories about her love life. Shortly after, I got a muscle spasm in my inner right thigh that lasted the remainder of the race. Things got hard at this point. In Kitsilano, one group of people on the sidelines had a giant table of fruit set up, and oh how I wanted to run over and eat some. And to the people that put a sprinkler out, thank you! It was hot.


Crossing the Burrard Bridge.


Pargol and I saw our friend Christine as we crossed the Burrard Bridge. I wasn’t feeling too terrible but I had let go of any and all time goals. I don’t know if it was the heat or just the fear of pushing myself too hard and not knowing what would happen after 30 km (the furthest I had ever run up until that point). But I could now care less how long it took me. I just wanted to finish, feeling strong and happy. 

Our friends Alyssa and Jan were waiting at 30 km, another huge motivator. Alyssa texted me that morning asking if she could be there waiting with anything for me. I am so grateful for her kindness and that of others during and leading up to the race.


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Making it past 30 km.


From there, we made our way onto the Seawall and it became increasingly hotter. I dropped my iPhone around Second Beach and managed to disable it, leaving me without music for 10-15 minutes. I tried to distract myself by looking for whales (no luck)! Finally, we rounded the corner of Stanley Park, passed the Totem Poles and to the home stretch.


The final, painful 5 km.


Those last 5 km were killer. My legs felt like lead, but I was not stopping at any more water stations, I was going to keep running, no matter how slow it was. And Eminem’s Lose Yourself was going to help get me there.


I tried to soak in the last few 100 m, but really, they were awful. And then I crossed that finish line.


My right leg was spasming pretty badly, but I made my way slowly to the exit and found my friends Nikki and Luke. They were waiting with the best muffin I have ever eaten (very berry from JJ Bean fresh from the oven)! I called my parents, grabbed my bag, and eventually made my way out of the race finish area, found some friends, and later on enjoyed brunch.


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My finish time was 4:10 and if I’m being honest, it hurts a bit.

My watch says I ran closer to 26.5 miles in 4:08, and to this day, that drives me nuts. While I know you’re not supposed to go into your first marathon with a time goal, I felt I could have done better and my training seemed to suggest I could – my goal was sub 4 hours (and my dream goal was 3:45 or 3:50).

I have a mix of emotions in the days post-race. While I was proud I finished, in many ways the training was harder than the race itself. I thought I would feel so happy that I finished, but it partly felt like a failure. I don’t think I have ever sought out to achieve a specific goal, and so clearly not achieved it – oh what a life lesson. And yet, I finished the marathon feeling relatively strong and happy, and having enjoyed the experience, a huge achievement in itself.

The support from friends and family was immense during training, prior to, and post marathon, and for that I am so thankful. You cannot do a marathon alone. The lessons I learned during training and the race are also immeasurable. As someone who has never been involved in sports, I could never imagine how much this experience would impact me.


And so with that, Marathon No. 2 here I come! More on that to come, but I am ready to give it another shot.


If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations. I’d love to hear about your first big race experience! Have you run a marathon before? 

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