For the first time in my running career, if one can call it that, I had legitimately made it to the front corral of an event. I had the magic color, yellow, in this case, on my bib number, which granted me access to (almost) the first row. Incidentally, yellow was also the color that marked the bond between this event, the BMO Vancouver Marathon (of which I was planning on running half), and the Boston Marathon. The tragic events that had transpired only a few weeks before still on everyone’s mind, we observed a moment of silence to think about the people that had been affected by these senseless acts.
My mind, however, drifted rather swiftly away from Boston and did something I am, to my dismay, not capable of that frequently: being in the moment. Living in the here and now, not what was or what might be. At this very moment, my eyes looked straight ahead, trying to peak over the heads of the runners in front of me towards downtown and, further back, the slightly snow-dusted peaks of North Vancouver.
What a gorgeous day it was. The sun had just come up, and birds were chirping in nearby Queen Elizabeth Park. I came here primarily to partake in this event, but glad I did not make it the only highlight of this weekend in one of my favorite cities. I caught up with a good friend, watched some hockey, and met an ultrarunner in real life.
On Sunday, May 5, at 7.14am, I was simply content with where I was. At the starting line of an event set out not only to bring out the best athletic ability in everyone around me but also to emotionally share this experience with others. 16,000 runners from over 50 countries, being in this together, bonded by a common devotedness to running.
The beauty of the city
I pondered why I liked Vancouver quite a few times over that weekend. Was it the scenery with the Pacific and the mountains to the north? Was it the friendliness of the Canadians? Was it the cleanliness or the number of parks and greenery Vancouver offers to enjoy that nature all around? Probably all of that, but one crucial factor I noticed is the architecture.
Nearly every recently built high-rise apartment is intelligently equipped with balconies and patios for every unit, making it possible for the occupants to enjoy their surroundings fully. No gigantic, uncreative black rectangles, but brighter, mellower colors. Much of their facades are covered in light beige and light grey tones with blue and green tinted windows. Thoughtfully, city planners turned optical nuisances into pieces of architecture that complement the city’s natural setting. A skilled stroke of a brush as opposed to a tear in the canvas. The Vancouver Sun Building, however, is a different story.
Just around the corner from my hotel, I found the perfect place to carb load before the run on Sunday. With its few tables and seating opportunities, the Basil Pasta Bar felt like a very intimate space, more like an independent coffee shop than a place to have dinner. I put my order in at the counter for the Linguine Aioli and picked a spot by the window. I had an edition of Competitor magazine with me I had picked up on my last trip to REI. Just as I continued reading, a young woman asked if she could join me, taking the other stool by the window. I agreed as I welcomed the company.
It turned out that I had just met my first ultrarunner, a special breed of runners of whom Dean Karnazes is probably the most famous. Emily C., who was also here to carb-load for the run the next day, revealed that she was on vacation and had spent the previous days conquering some of the more strenuous trails in North Vancouver. At 23 years, she had just completed the Umstead 100 in 22 hours and 42 minutes.
I wasn’t starstruck but somewhat amazed and fascinated. Here was a young woman, going to the limit of her abilities and beyond. A place that 99.9% of the people of this planet would not even think about going to. And yet, at the expo and at so many running events and starting lines, people in compression socks, low profile shoes, with yurbuds in their ears are taking themselves so seriously for running 13.1 miles. And here was Emily, who would probably run the 26.2 miles the next day in the same sneakers she wore that evening. I loved how she was not full of herself but just enjoyed running…for really long periods of time.
“I did not get my speedwork in, so I will probably be slow tomorrow, ” she said with a chuckle. A Ph.D. student in Baltimore and outside the United States for the first time, she also filled me in on her training routine. “I usually do ten to twelve miles daily during the week after work. And then a longer run on the weekend”, she told me. The long run would then be in the 20+ mile range. One of the events she competed in involved running multiple loops on an eight-mile course. “Don’t you get bored running loops after a while?” was, I thought, a legitimate question. “Not really,” Emily explained. “Believe me, after running for eight hours or so, boredom is the least of your problems”. Three hours passed just like that, and we both had to get up early for tomorrow’s event. We parted ways, and I wished her the best of luck for her marathon, knowing I needed it more than she did.
The race course, approaching downtown from the south along Cambie Street, was meant to showcase the best of what Vancouver had to offer. After adding a few miles by heading south on Quebec Street and back up to Pender Street, we headed southwest towards the seawall at False Creek. Passing the halfway mark around Sunset Beach, we proceeded north with the sun rising east and the blue skies hinting at another gorgeous pre-summer day.
Huffing and puffing, but most of all thinking I should have trained more, I eventually made it to Stanley Park Drive. This was the part I was looking forward to the most, knowing that running in a green space like Stanley Park would motivate me more than hustling through city streets. The trees provided enough shade to protect us from the increasing warmth of the sun, but a little climb around mile nine sucked a lot of energy out of me. By the time we reached the park’s eastern side, I was hoping to finish in a not-too-embarrassing time, a new PR too far out of reach.
A Hammer Gel and my last cherry-flavored Clif Shot Blok gave me back some long lost energy and I was carrying myself along Georgia Street and, finally, across the finish on Pender Street. For the first time, I could hear the announcer say my name over the PA system when I was coming through the finish due to the constant tracking via the timing chip.
With enough time, I slowly returned to my hotel after hanging around in the finish area, chatting with a few other finishers, and munching on items from the snack bag we had all received. I showered, checked out of the hotel, and had another seven hours on my hand before my flight back to San Francisco. I decided to aid my recovery with some protein, added some caffeine to numb myself from the onset of pain south of my waistline and ended up taking an hour nap in George Wainborn Park before heading to the airport on the Canada Line, an upgrade to the Vancouvers public transport system courtesy of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
I bid farewell to all the Vancouverites who were out and about, in shorts, t-shirts, and short skirts, eating ice cream and sipping lattes in the city’s many green parks and beach areas. Do they know they live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world? Do they cherish it? I genuinely hope so.