Tuesday, May 6, 2008

BMO Vancouver Half Marathon race report


The forecast was for sunny conditions with temperatures around 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit) at race time. I laid out my race wear before I went to bed at 10:30.

I had my alarm set for 4:30 am but I was wide awake by 3:30 am. Oh well, I did manage to get 4 hours of sleep. I had a bagel and Ovaltine for breakfast.

We got downtown shortly after 6:00, well before the 7:00 start time. There was plenty of time to check in my post-race clothes and go to the bathroom.

My wife and daughter woke up at 5:00 on a Sunday to come down with me and to take photos. I really appreciate their support.

I positioned myself about half way back among the crowd. It felt pretty warm so I was worried I may be overdressed in a long-sleeve technical shirt. (For you non-runners reading this, a technical shirt is made of polyester blends designed to wick moisture away from the body keeping you drier and prevents chafing. Cotton is not a runner's friend).

I didn't have time or space to do a proper warmup.

I had two levels of goals going into to the race. The first was to break the 2 hour mark and, more optimistically, to set a new personal best beating my time for at the 2005 Scotiabank Half of 1:56:48.

Mile 1 - 8:53 minute split time

It took just under 3 minutes to reach the starting line after the official start of the race. For the serious racers, it's gun time that counts; for recreational racers like me, it's chip time.

It was pretty tight for the first quarter mile as we quickly made the first turn onto Carral Street and there wasn't much open space to choose your own pace.

As we turned off Beatty onto the Dunsmuir Viaduct I quickly navigated to the right side. My wife and daughter were waiting there for the first photo op. Unfortunately none of the photos turned out.

I eventually settled into a pace following a girl in a red top. Her speed seemed about right.

Mile 2 - 8:32

I continued to follow girl-in-the-red-top as we went east on Prior and I was still on goal pace.

Mile 3 - 8:55

I stopped for some Gatorade at the first water station and walked while I drank it. As a result, I lost sight of girl-in-the-red-top, never to see her again. As I start running again I picked another girl on Cordova Street who seemed to be running my pace. Yes, another girl. It's just easier to be motivated to follow a pretty girl. This one has a tattoo on her right shoulder.

Despite the walk break, I was still on goal pace.

Mile 4 - 8:53

Mile 4 is slightly downhill on Cordova but it turned that we (me and tattoo-girl) were going a bit too slow and I fell behind goal pace.

I passed my wife and daughter near Richards Street, the second location we had arranged for photos. Luckily, they got some good pictures here.

Mile 5 - 9:21

As I passed spectators, some took note of my name on my bib and cheered me on by name. The crowds throughout the race were great and offered support to a complete stranger.

There was another water station so, again, I took a walk break to down some Gatorade. This time I lost sight of tattoo-girl.

I was passed by a pace bunny. Pace bunnies are runners who are designated to run the race in a specific time. They even wear rabbit ears on their hats. If you want to have help pacing yourself to achieve your time goal, you simply follow the appropriate pace bunny. In this case, it was the 2:00 pace bunny. That was not a good sign since my goal was well under 2 hours.

Mile 6 - 9:03

We entered Stanley Park for the most scenic part of the run but I wasn't really taking it in. I was more focused on my rhythm and breathing which was starting to labour a bit. I felt the beginnings of a side stitch and I tried deep breathing to try and stretch it out.

Mile 7 - 9:04

We passed the half way mark and I was over 1 minute behind my time goal. It wasn't looking good for a personal best any more.

Mile 8 - 9:34

Mile 8 is the killer mile as we climbed the hill towards Prospect Point. It's a 200 foot incline over a half mile stretch. However, as opposed to the last few miles where more runners passed me than I passed, I powered up the hill running past countless runners, many slowed to a walk.

I heard a couple of runners comparing the hill to the famous Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon. They said this one is much steeper and longer. Then again, Heartbreak Hill comes at the 20 mile mark in that race.

I caught up to, and passed, tattoo-girl.

Mile 9 - 9:29

Mile 9 is mostly downhill after reaching Prospect Point. I tried to take advantage of gravity and lengthened my stride to run downhill. I passed more runners but I decided stop and briefly walk at the water station. I only drank water this time since my stomach was starting to be unsettled from the Gatorade.

Tattoo-girl passed me again.

Mile 10 - 8:36

Only 5K left so I tried to pick up the pace. I had to do a sub-30 minute 5K in order to break the 2 hour mark. That shouldn't be a problem but setting a personal best was now out of the question. I managed to pass tattoo-girl for the final time.

However, I was passed by a 75 year old senior from Germany. I wasn't embarrassed by that, though. I was simply impressed by his fitness.

Mile 11 - 9:01

As we exited Stanley Park I could see the Burrard Street Bridge in the distance. It looked far. My right knee started to bother me and my gait wasn't smooth. It's at this point that I vowed to give up on my marathon dreams and wondered why I even run races.

A little later, though, my knee felt a bit better.

Mile 12 - 9:05

BC Place was now in sight and I had planned to go all out for the last couple of miles but I found that I didn't have another gear and so I continued to plod along at my (now slower) pace.

Mile 13.1 - 9:39

I found some energy as many of the finishers pushed forward for a strong finish. I was looking for my family on the right side of the road but I heard my name called out on the left. Luckily, they took some nice photos.

My official chip time is 1:57:59, a couple minutes slower than my goal.


I was stiff as I walked through through the finish area to receive my medal, have my timing chip removed and receive a space blanket. The space blanket is a plastic sheet intended to reduce heat loss from the body. I don't really think I needed it given the sunny conditions.

I did a few stretches before entering BC Place Stadium to get some food and pick up my gear bag. We have to go down a set of stairs to get to field level in the stadium. This seemed like a cruel thing to do to runners who have just completed a half marathon. It didn't really hurt but I did feel a bit unsteady going down the stairs.

I met up with my family. They were proud of me despite that I missed my time goal. I told my wife that a full marathon was no longer in my plans. She laughed.

I got a post-run massage. Hopefully this will aid in recovery. When I got home I had an ice bath and a shower. I was stiff and going down stairs was now downright painful. The next couple of days should be fun ;-)


Although I'm a bit disappointed that I couldn't achieve a personal best for a half marathon, I'm still pleased that I came in under 2 hours. The course was challenging, more so than the Scotiabank Half's point-to-point route from UBC to Stanley Park.

I'm already beginning to waffle on my vow not to attempt a full marathon.


  1. Great achievment! I really enjoyed reading your half marathon adventure mile by mile. I'm attempting my first half-marathon (BMO) this May and keep hearing about the "dreaded hill" and was looking to get some dirt on how bad it really is:) I had to laugh when in mile 11, you started questioning why you even run races .... a very familiar question to me, when I'm pushing through a race - but always well worth it in the end! COngrats on completing a full marathon as well! keep running!

  2. Thanks for your post. I was searching to find out just how tough that hill would be. Doesn't sound fun...maybe I'll stick with the Scotiabank!