Today was the Vancouver Sun Run, the second race on my schedule for the year. It’s one of the largest races in North America – in this, its 30th year, over 45,000 people attended. The Sun Run has been a race I’ve wanted to do ever since I first visited Vancouver back in 2011. I’d seen all these signs and made a mental note to one day, come back and race it. Today was that day!
It’s a downtown course with enough elevation to keep things interesting (including one special kicker up Hornby before hooking onto the bridge).
And today was a great day for it: somewhat overcast, cool, and the rain stayed at bay for the most part.
The sheer size of the event lends to the sense of occasion: the six-lanes wide, arterial West Georgia Street is converted into a half-dozen runner corrals that stretch over five city blocks. Each corral is colour coded and giant balloon arches float above helping runners find where they should be.
Whoever sang “Oh Canada” had the voice of an angel. There’s something about a national anthem that rouses people. You hear voices you’d never expect, and a different look comes over people’s faces. I like to think those looks are mostly of pride and gratitude. That’s what I feel in those moments (and Canada’s not even my birth country). Because it’s not lost on me that a lot of people gave a lot so that I could show up today on this cool Vancouver morning to chase down a fast time. There’s something special about that shared moment - the energy shifts somehow and you feel a sense of resonance. You feel connected to thousands of people you don’t even know. I always get a little emotional in those moments - I feel grateful for every start line and the connection it enables between me and all those people who also showed up to do their best. I’m grateful to participate with them.
I had three ‘mantras’ for today:
- I am ready to hurt
- I run my own race
- I am injury free
And goal times:
- Under 40mins = good outcome
- Under 39 = great outcome
- ‘Dream time’ = 38:30
The first mantra was about leaving the house ready to go where I knew I’d need to go mentally in the latter half of the race when I knew I’d be suffering. It was also a learning from the B&O 5k I raced in Toronto last year where I set a tough time goal but didn’t leave the house willing to hurt as much as I’d need to to achieve it. I got that right today and declared my willingness to dig into the hurt locker from the moment I swung my feet out of bed this morning. My good friend and triathlete buddy Juliet Korver sent me a message that was right on point:
The second mantra was a reminder to stick to the plan and run my race and no-one else’s. This isn’t revolutionary thinking but time after time, I’ve told myself this before the race, the gun goes off and it’s like my lizard brain takes over and the plan goes out the window. All the sudden I’m trying to keep up with this or that guy who’s up ahead or running past me. So today was yet another exercise in the never ending practice of learning to run my own race... "Stick to the plan, man."
Running my own race is also about ownership: everything that happens today is 100% mine. Everything I did do, and did not do. I can’t explain away poor performances with “Oh, I tried to keep up with this one guy and that just blew me out for the last part of the race”. As if trying to keep up with someone were in some way, an admirable strategy for running a race and a fair reason for not doing as well as you’d hoped. Running my own race is thinking that also calms me down at the start line - because now it doesn’t matter what everyone else does: all that matters for my race is me, my goals, and my plan to achieve them. Then the execution, and the outcomes. With that kind of ownership you really set yourself up to learn from each race and improve for the next one.
The third mantra was about staying checked in to my body throughout the race. As things start to really hurt I can sometimes focus too much on handling the hurt in my head and forget about how I’m placing my feet, relaxing my shoulders, leaning forward and just scanning my body and reminding myself “we’re good”. I’d also had a week of the 'tweaks’. My right knee had this weird tweak to it, my left hip felt tight and kept mini-cramping, my right shoulder had an annoying click to it. Sometimes you can over focus on those little niggling things and make them into something they’re not. This mantra reminded me to stay checked-in to my body, and if I did that, I knew I’d have the best chance of an injury free day.
So how’d it go?
Well, the 1st km was about getting the heart rate going and finding my legs. Don’t go crazy, don’t get held up in traffic. That all happened.
Kilometres 2-5 were about staying strong and steady, and not burning too many matches. That mostly happened, though I might have still gone a little too hard for this point of the race.
Kilometre 6: deal with the Hornby climb and Burrard Bridge. Basically, run it strong but not so strong that it causes unnecessary lactate build-up. Check. Pain level is climbing. Also somewhere around here my heart rate strap started acting up. I’d just come up an incline and my watch said I was at 109, and I knew that couldn’t be right. While I don’t hang off the HR numbers, I use them as a sense check for how I’m feeling vs. where my body’s at.
Kilometres 7-9: now we’re hurting pretty good. My lungs and torso felt strained. I go to some not great places mentally. I actually considered stepping off the gas significantly to catch a break. My version of “The Blerch” – what my favourite funny cartoonist The Oatmeal calls it - was saying all sorts of unhelpful stuff around being unprepared, under-rested, etc. Thankfully, this was also that part of the race that I’d decided I was willing to hurt through so you just push on. I did not enjoy it.
Last km: Paaain! Time to lift – and get that last km split back down under 4 mins. I’m stoked to see that finish line; my whole body is well past the red line. I’m toast.
Final times: chip time 40:32, 10k time on Strava 39:49. For me, knowing I can run 10k in under 40 at this point in the season is what I care about – so I go off Strava time and consider my ‘good’ time goal as having been achieved. Clearly I have work to do on hitting that ‘dream time’ – there is speed work in the near future…
And goals 2 and 3? Check and check. I didn’t pace off anyone else. I noticed people passing and said to myself “that’s ok”. Checked-in with my own pace and carried on. And I was constantly scanning my body and separating the good hurt from the bad hurt – of which there was none.
As for the race itself, it was well organized in that they got all the basics right (chip timing, corralling of competitors, gear check and pick-up, course signage and marshalling) but no points for surprise and delight. Email communications could have been better (more clear and concise); they ran out of my size of competitor shirt (but, being plain cotton and not exactly awesome it wasn’t anything to feel miffed about missing out on). At $50 for entry into one of North America’s biggest 10k races, I felt like it was good value and I’d definitely do it again.
The next race is a big one: my first solo triathlon; the Olympic distance at the Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon.