Vancouver: who’s coming with me??

by Allison Macsas

As soon as I found out that I’d be coaching our Spring Marathon program, I pushed for Vancouver as our race focus. As you’ve probably heard by now, Vancouver it is, not just for Spring Marathon but also for Team Rogue! I.am.so.excited.

Why am I so excited? The background

Vancouver is a happy place for me. Not just because of its natural beauty, friendly people, fantastic public transportation and proliferation of fresher-than-fresh sushi, but because I had a really, really great race experience there.

After a less-than-stellar marathon debut in warm, sticky Houston, I chose Vancouver as a possible follow-up – it seemed to be the only race with real potential for cool weather in May. Plus, it didn’t seem to be one of those ginormous events where runners are herded like cattle and transport to the start takes hours of planning. After a glowing review of the race and the city from fellow coach Mark Enstone, I booked my flight, grabbed my passport and made plans to head north!

Suspiciously smooth: Getting there

I arrived on a sunny, dry 50 degree Friday afternoon, quickly passed through customs then followed the signs to the Skytrain where I took a seat with all of my stuff. It was a relaxing 25 minute ride to downtown, where I was dropped two blocks from my hotel. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling, and tend to get suspicious when it goes this smoothly. Where’s the catch? I approached the front desk and waited to hear that they didn’t have my reservation, or that I was in fact on the wrong side of town.

No such thing happened. I was checked in and headed to my room within five minutes. I spent the evening walking a bit around the city, picking up some grocery essentials and marveling at the idea of wearing a coat in May, then headed back to my room to hole up for the night.

This isn’t vacation…yet: Pre-race

The next morning, after an amazing 12 hours of sleep, I headed to the seawall for a shakeout run. It was overcast, 40 degrees and I wanted to run for HOURS. I reminded myself that I would in fact get to run for hours the next day, and cut it off at 45 minutes.

The hard thing about racing in a really great city is that you want to get out and explore, walk the streets, eat the food, wear yourself out on new sights. None of which is smart to do the day before a marathon. I probably did a bit more walking than I should’ve, and probably overdid it a bit on the spicy food (Vietnamese! Everywhere!), but hey – this isn’t the sort of city to be a hermit in, even if you’re traveling solo.

I didn’t spend much time at the expo – it was small, in a makeshift tent and PACKED, but it was only a five minute walk from the hotel and they were handing out free throwaway gloves to everyone. I had the sort of salmon that you can only dream about in Austin for dinner, then set out all of my gear and got to bed early.

Race day

Race morning dawned clear, calm and 35 degrees – absolutely perfect, in other words. Thanks to Mark, I knew that the course would be marked in kilometers, not miles. I wrote 5K splits all over my arm in permanent marker, grabbed a bag of warm clothing and walked the ten minutes to the starting area.

Although I had the benefit of being in the elite field (read: bag drop at the starting line and our own set of porta-potties), I was very impressed at how manageable the race was. The bathrooms had lines of course, but they were moving. Quickly. The start area was easy to get to and there was no need for runners to be lining up a half hour before the start – 5-10 minutes was plenty of time.

At 7:30am, wearing shorts, a singlet, my throwaway gloves and my 5K splits tattoo, I took off! Thanks to the fantastic weather and lots of enthusiastic spectators, the first couple of miles flew by. The first part of the race wound through the financial district and Chinatown, the variety in the streets distracting from the rolling hills. Eventually we found ourselves on paved trails in Stanley Park, the 1000 acre forested oasis where we came upon the halfway mark.

I was feeling really, really good. Official spectators were scarce in the park, but there were tons of locals out walking dogs, riding bikes and all taking the time to cheer us on. We came out of the park along the ocean and through another energetic water stop, this one with an African drum ensemble. As we approached mile 17, I started to get nervous. I still felt smooth, but I knew that the Burrard Bridge was approaching, a 150ft climb that we would have to RE-climb at mile 25ish.

Burrard came and went and it wasn’t so bad! It was packed with spectators, and the downhill made up for anything lost going up. The next six miles ran through residential and university areas, which were pancake flat. As is the case in any marathon, this was the toughest portion mentally. Luckily there were some u-turns involved, which meant that you had runners and their energy in both directions to feed off of! At mile 21, I was finally ready to throw off the gloves – it was a sunny 45 degrees.

Mile 24. I’m hurting, but know that I’m going to make it. All I can focus on is getting back to that damn bridge and getting it over with. Finally, FINALLY the bridge appears. I begin the ascent and, once again, it’s NOT SO BAD. Again, tons of spectators, tons of cheering and the knowledge that all I have to do now is cruise one mile, downhill into the finish line.

Cruise I did! Unlike the dizzy, staggering crawl of a finish that I experienced in Houston, this time I stayed strong all the way through the finish, where I saw the clock – Olympic Trials qualifier, check! – and officially locked in my second place spot. Someone handed me a bottle of apple juice – which turned out to be EXACTLY what I wanted – and I floated on back to the elite tent to grab my dry clothes.

The post race food selection was nothing mind-blowing, but still well done and smaller numbers – 5000 in the marathon, 10000 in the half – made for a pleasant experience. No cattle herding! The ten minute walk back to the hotel was a breeze, and late check out was granted with no issues.

Ahhh…Post-race

Since this WAS Vancouver, I planned to stay for a couple of days. My post-race recovery included hauling my bags to a bus stop across the street then dozing off for an hour as the bus took me to the ferry terminal. Once settled into a comfy seat – okay, I took up the whole row – on the ferry, I was free to gaze at the stunning scenery and reflect on the race for the two hour trip to Vancouver Island. Bliss.

Once arrived, I was met by Tenille Hoogland, who was visiting family in a small seaside town outside of Victoria. We made a great dinner, got a good night of sleep and woke up to a chilly, rainy, unbelievably relaxing day. On Tuesday I took the ferry back to the city where I met up with two fellow Rogues who had run the half marathon. At 10am I found them drinking bloody marys in their hotel bar, and knew we’d be fast friends! We soon headed out for a day full of sightseeing, redwood forest exploring and sushi-eating.

That evening I walked the seawall for miles, watching people, listening to the ocean and playing with my camera before heading to a great little hostel for the night. I arranged a cab which showed up promptly at 3:45am to whisk me to my 6am flight back to Austin.

A year later…

Looking back, I don’t have a single critical word for my experience in Vancouver. Transportation was ridiculously smooth, the city was beautiful, the food was fantastic, the race was extremely well-organized, well-supported and scenic, the people were welcoming and the options for playing tourist were endless. I really want to go back. And I’m going to, along with a whole crew of Rogues! The course has changed this year, but it covers many of the same areas and I have no doubt that it will be just as good, if not better, than in the past.

Working with athletes in preparation for their big race is always rewarding, but throwing a destination element into the mix not only adds excitement and increases commitment levels, but it builds an unmatchable sense of team. We’ll train together, travel together, race together – come be part of it!

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