Make a list, check it twice

This post was originally written in May of 2012, but in honor of this week’s Vancouver Marathon and the beginning of Fall Marathon training and all of the hopes and  dreams that go along with that, we thought it was time to read it again.


by Minh Duong

The day before Vancouver, I sat down in my hotel and put together some thoughts.

  1. Be Patient
  2. Trust your training
  3. Love every moment
  4. Only take with you what are willing to carry–physically and emotionally
  5. Remember why you did this

Be patient

Coming off a hot Austin marathon, I said that I would run only one marathon ever.  I had my reasons: huge time commitment; I love sleeping in; it was off my bucket list; Texas marathons had a chance of being hot, etc.

The main reason is that I am not a long distance runner.  Many around Rogue might be surprised by that statement but it’s true.  I would say that I’m faster than average but that doesn’t equate in experience or skill at the longer distances.  I’ve run mainly 10Ks and 5Ks for many years but Austin 2011 was only my first full and San Antonio 2011 was only my second half.  There is a world of difference in opening full throttle for 10K and strategically running 26.2.  I had experienced that at longer distances, I would start to cramp up if I ran moderately fast especially in heat.

Looking back, I was impatient. Transitioning from middle distance to longer distances takes time.  Deciding to run Vancouver, I approached it with the goal of finishing strong and not qualifying for Boston. Boston would take a few seasons.  For the race at hand, that meant going out slow.

Trust your training

For a while other Rogues like my sister had been trying to get me to join Team Rogue but it was an early morning marathon group.  The target race for the spring was Boston or Vancouver.

Training for Austin, I had done a lot running at too fast a pace.  Even though it wasn’t advised, I ran faster than marathon pace for too many long runs.  By the time Austin arrived, I was a little beat up.

With Team Rogue, I followed the regimen which included learning to run easy.  I didn’t try to “head bang” anymore.  It took me days to recover from Austin.  By the next day after Vancouver, I was fine.

For Vancouver, my coach Jon Schrup worked out plans of 3:25 and we changed it to 3:15.  Most of all I didn’t want a repeat of Austin and San Antonio where I hobbled to the finish.  The plan was broken down into 5K segments and instead of steady pace, we had trained for progressive runs.

Love every moment

The hotels rooms in Vancouver at the special marathon rate went quick so I didn’t get a room in the same hotel with everyone else in Team Rogue.  Strangely enough, all the Team Rogue women who initially wanted to run Vancouver had dropped out but that worked out. I ended staying in the same hotel as the other spring marathon Rogues.  I didn’t want to be part of that Team Rogue sausagefest anyway. 😉

It was beautiful cold and sunny morning and all the Rogues coincidentally wound up in the same subway car for the ride.  While walking to the start, we all happened to catch Allison Macsas starting her half.  I gear checked my stuff and headed to the nearest toilets in the first corral. After about 5 minutes waiting in line, a volunteer was ejecting people from Corral 1 who weren’t supposed to be there even though they were just waiting to use the toilets.  The runners protested but left the corral.  If it was a race in the US, there would have been more than words.  #EveryonewasKungFufighting

The first 5K was mixed.  I was right on target for the first mile but sped up too much for miles two and three.  I blame it on adrenaline and that hot blonde I was chasing. Who can blame me?   I was supposed to average 8:03 but ended up at 7:42.  I saw Michael Wedel pass me and kept just ahead of Ryan Zysk.   I ran into Schrup around 5K and said to him as was running too fast.

For the second 5K, I was focused on slowing down and conserving.  At this point Ryan caught me so we ran together.  We began coming down from the first set of hills. If you can call them that.  At one point a woman was yelling, “You’re almost at the top of the hill!” Ryan and I remarked to each other “That was a hill?”. I had slowed to 8:03 and was being cautious.

The 3rd 5K was uneventful and I don’t remember much of it.  I slowed down based on the hills and feel.  At the end of the segment, I began to pull away from Ryan according to plan and had been averaging running around 7:50.

From 15-20K, we ran by the University of British Columbia and there was an older man advertising for the “Bare Buns 5K”.  He was wearing nothing but a barrel.  That’s what it looked like, and I did not care to investigate further.  I was pacing at 7:30 here with a long downhill.

At the halfway point, they diverted us through a parking lot which I thought was strange but my right knee started bothering me.  For the next 10K, I sped up slightly.  The only thing I really remember was leaving the park behind and running on the bridge that didn’t crest until the end.  I was holding pace at 7:28.

Up until this point everything was going to plan. Around the 20 mile marker, my right quad locked up along with the right calf.  I almost sat down from a sudden loss of balance. From nowhere, Schrup came up and gave me a water.  I took the last of my GU and told him I was going to coast in.  There was some miscommunication as Schrup may have thought I was going to walk the rest.

The next 10K was gingerly trying to finish.  The main problem was the sea wall.  Now on a normal run or in the middle of the marathon, running along the sea wall would have been pretty.  At the end, people are gritting teeth and hanging on and it was unendingly long.  I slowed down to 8:42 by this point hoping I wouldn’t cramp every mile like had happened in Austin.

Past the 35K marker, a woman in pink shorts passed me and something overtook me.  “Oh no she DID-NT (two snaps)”.  So I sped up to 8:21.  By this time it was warm with the sun was high in the sky, and I had taken off my arm warmers and hat.  But running along the sea wall meant sudden gusts of cold winds.  I’m pretty sure the sudden gusts caused my nipples to instantly punch two holes in my singlet.

Past 40K, it was starting to get a bit blurry but I swear that at one point we were running on the sidewalk next to pedestrians.  Schrup met me near the end as I was trying to speed up.  Speeding up brought multiple spasms and he advised me not to slow down to the safe side of redlining.  The last 2.2K was at 7:30 pace.  I finished at 3:26 which was a 20 minute PR from Austin.  Then became the second phase of Vancouver:  the journey of obscene eating.  (Warning many animals were harmed during the gluttony for which I am unapologetic).

Only take with you what are willing to carry–physically and emotionally

I didn’t bring my GPS watch because I hadn’t learned to use it yet (ancient Chinese riddle: Can anyone really learn how use a GPS watch completely).  So I relied on my manual watch and feel.  During training, I purposely didn’t take anything during the runs because I did not want to rely on gels.   For the marathon, I had one GU and portioned it for a third every hour.

Unlike Austin I had a more realistic goal so there wasn’t too much pressure.  When circumstances changed, I changed the goal without any hesitation.  Finishing with a PR was the new goal.  Going minimalist helped me to focus on the race and not anything else.

Remember why you did this

So I had all these valid logical reasons not to run another marathon after Austin or so I thought.  Then in November my friend Stacy died.  Stacy wasn’t a runner but had ran her first 5K (Race for the Cure) in the spring after battling cancer.  It had been a dream of hers and she wanted to run other races, perhaps longer distances.  But the cancer came back, and she didn’t get another chance.

It was a cold slap of reality because she was my age.  See, I didn’t actually have reasons; they were just excuses. For many of us, life presents challenges like work and family that do not allow for us to train and run a marathon.  Stacy had trained and ran despite chemo.  Compared to her, I didn’t have reasons.  All my reasons were really inconveniences and trepidations.

In December, I joined Team Rogue and signed up for Vancouver; no more excuses.  In January, Stacy’s husband sent me these pink plastic bracelets with the words “Faith – Hope – Love  Stacy” on them and asked me to wear them to remember her.  So for the next several months, whenever I woke up at 4:30 am and didn’t want to run, there was that pink bracelet on the nightstand.  No more excuses.

Somewhere in the training I was reminded why I started running again.  Even though we complain about the five pounds of sweat we lose in the summer runs and the early mornings we could have slept in, we love running.  I love running.

Getting to Boston will take some time.  Austin was the first step.  Vancouver was the second and there are many more to go.  The most important thing is that I remember why I run and not let myself become the biggest obstacle to success.  For those of you that have a dream of doing something like run a marathon, visit Kilimanjaro: find a way.  We may not get many chances in life to do what we love.

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