On Sunday morning I ran in the Spring Run-Off 8k in Stanley Park. Last week’s long run gave me a good indication of where my endurance was at, this would tell me what speed I could go.
Except I wasn’t really sure what speed I could go. What I mean is, how fast should I go out? I was thinking 3:40/km sounded pretty reasonable based on my 3:49/km pace in a 10k in November. Plus this course was all along the sea-wall which is perfectly flat, and that 10km had an uphill grind from 5km-7km. Plus, if I was feeling like 3:40 wasn’t going to kill me I could always negative split. So 3:40’s it was.
Morning of, I jogged over to the start leaving myself about 10-15 minutes before the gun. I felt a bit funny running through downtown with a race bib on that had my name in giant letters, but whatever.
The start corral was typical: don’t want to start too far forward and get run-over by someone who probably knew how to run an 8k, but also didn’t want to have to deal with tripping over a guy running in board-shorts who sprints off the start and blows up 200m later. I tucked in about 3 rows from the front.
At the gun, everyone took off in a crazy sprint. We wheeled around the pavilion and started flying into an gentle downhill. In fact, right when the sprinty bit would’ve normally petered out is when the downhill started. I checked out my watch after a minute or so and we were going about 3:20 pace — and it felt so easy!
Note to self: downhill at the beginning of a race is an effective recipe for a Reality Distortion Field.
Easy as it felt, I knew there was no way I could sustain that speed. But 3:40 seemed so much slower! I decided to aim for 3:30’s. A happy compromise. I tried to relax after the downhill and not get carried away. First km was a 3:30 on the nose. Bam.
Things were pretty stretched out already after 1km and I was running with a pack of about four or five other guys. By 3km there were just three of us and things were starting to get painful. Already a few warning bells were going off in my head pointing out that things shouldn’t be that painful before the half-way point. But my brain convinced me that it was okay to be in pain already because “It’s only an 8km! There’s only 5km left!”
The guy leading our pack of three didn’t look to be suffering as much as I felt, so I figured I could probably just try and hang on to his pace.
Not so! Between 5km and 6km he started pulling away from me and the other guy and there was nothing we could do about it. I downgraded the goal of “staying with him” to “keeping him in sight”.
I was just all about the ambitious goals that morning. First I started losing sight of him because of the contours of the seawall, but also around the 6km point my vision started getting cloudy. This has happened to me before in races where I’ve gone out too fast, so it’s not the most concerning thing when it happens. In fact, I don’t even care about it when it happens because of all the pain going on in every single other part of my body at that time. “Oh I can’t see? That’s fine, my hearts about to explode anyway so I won’t really need my vision after that.”
At this point in the race I also had the urge to say something out loud. I don’t know why. Maybe I wanted to see if I could form words? Maybe I wanted to look like I wasn’t hurting? I don’t know. I debated saying “Seven more minutes!” as we were still holding onto low 3:30’s pace. In retrospect it’s a really good job I didn’t say that.
Throughout the 7th kilometer the guy I was running with had started to fade. First he was just off my shoulder, then a step back, then two. I didn’t want him to slow down any more because fear of him passing me was really helping me stay in the low 3:30’s pace. If he all of a sudden started going 3:50/km pace I wasn’t sure what I would end up doing.
So at the 7km marker I yelled at him. “C’mon! One more!“.
At this point we turned off the seawall, right by the world famous “kid dryer”, and were angling to head up a path. And I mean up. What. The. Hell. I’m surprised I didn’t collapse when I saw it. The route was heading up a massive hill. I know Stanley Park like the back of my hand and there are no hills like the one I saw when we made the turn. It was a monster, a mountain shrouded in clouds. Or possibly just a mountain viewed by an idiot whose body was shutting down his vision. Either way, I was freaked out. I was struggling to run on the perfectly flat seawall, how was I going to scale this thing? Why didn’t they tell us to bring ropes!?
I ran at it head on and some how made progress. Slow progress. It felt like riding a bike in sand. The reality is that I was spent. I could’ve maybe held pace for another flat kilometer, but adding in a huge uphill? Nope. Adding what is actually a tiny uphill and on any other day wouldn’t have even registered with me as a hill? Not a chance. I had nothing. I was energy broke. As I was approaching the top of the hill little white spots appeared in the clouds I was seeing. I enjoyed this for two reasons: first, it was something to look at as a bit of a distraction; second, I assumed it meant I was going to die soon which seemed like a very idea nice at the time.
After the hill there was a short flat section. I doubt I managed to regain much speed here. Then, the inevitable: the guy I’d been running with and had yelled at at the 7km mark passed me. Good for him. I hoped he got to live to see the finish.
More uphill. At this point I heard some one on the sidelines yell “Go Elliot!“. Who the fuck was that? I couldn’t see the sidelines clearly, but I was pretty sure I didn’t know anyone there. How did that person know me? Oh right — my name is on my race number.
A few more steps and it was over. I did some hands-on-knees praying for air for a little while, then started walking around. After a minute or so I was pretty much fine. I ate some bananas and cookies, chugged some Gatorade and jogged home. 8k — what’s the big deal?
Final time: 29:18