I stared out the window of the 17th room on the 17th floor of the Hyatt, downtown Vancouver, the 7:00 a.m. sun glancing off a taller nearby building, my headphones stuffed in my ears. Stared at the cloudless contrailed sky and the swimming pool a swan's dive beneath me, and listened to an Enigma song. I inverted into a headstand and stayed up for about a minute. Sunday morning, April 19. Race morning. I flipped out of my headstand and pulled things out of my bag looking for something I could warm up in. Anything. A shirt with sleeves or even shoulders, shorts that didn't expose my upper thigh, but I'd forgotten all of it. I had my racing flats, split shorts, and my singlet with my number already attached. I also had a cotton t-shirt from my race package, which fit. A rare and fortunate warm April morning on the west coast. Slipped my singlet over my torso. Cotton race-issued t-shirt over that. Drank a small glass of water. Rode the elevator down 17 floors and went outside and started jogging.
Eleven nights of sweating through sheets heading into the race. Nights of headaches and a dry cough that sometimes escalated into dry-heaving. I wasn't feeling bad during the days, but the nights were awful. I wasn't sure I would race.
But races always give something back. There are moments we love, even on our worst days. Moments when we actually do notice the scenery on a scenic course, or when our bodies express their perfect cadence, perhaps only for a few seconds but those are the seconds we remember. And so it was I took the ferry to Vancouver for the Sun Run.
The race itself was uneventful. Start at a pace we think we can hold and let attrition wage its war against the pack, the slow squeezing of muscles and lungs, heart and mind. The group I was in hit 5km in 16:00. With 1km remaining Oliver Utting surged hard, and by the finish had put 10 seconds on me to claim the master's title. I was second master in 31:50. This was good, given how I'd been feeling coming in. Most of the race felt sustainable, and I only lacked power near the end.
A week later, the Times Colonist 10km in Victoria. This was the race I was most anxious about. The start is about 1km from my place and I knew a lot of people who'd be out either racing or spectating. If the Sun Run had been a disaster I'd have pretended the local race was never on my calendar. I'd have picked up a Fantastico coffee on my way down to cheering. But I felt good. I felt optimistic, and the truth is I love racing. Plus I wanted to try the new adidas Takumi Sen flat. This Japanese engineered 5.9 oz rapturous thing.
Well, and I'd made a deal with a yogi: I'd come to yoga if she ran the race. I couldn't very well not run myself.
The guy I had to beat for the master's title was Philip Samoei from Kenya. He started in my pack but bolted around 3km and built up a bit of a lead on me by halfway. Not a huge lead, maybe 10 seconds, but he looked strong. I stung my lungs over the next couple of kilometres, up the hill from the cemetery and past the Terry Fox statue, and still I couldn't close the gap, and ahead Philip had caught another Kenyan. I figured they'd work together to the finish; that they'd stay clear. But actually I was feeling pretty good. Burning lungs, sure, but I didn't feel like I needed to slow down and so I kept pushing which eventually paid off. I caught both Philip and the other guy by 8km. There's a short and often decisive hill with a mile remaining. I ran as hard as I could up that and got the gap I needed, and stayed clear to the finish. 31:36, my fastest on this course in a few years.
After these two 10kms I went back to one of my favourite races on the calendar, the Whistler Half Marathon (and 10km). You're not going there for a fast time. You run Whistler because Dave Clarke puts on an incredible event, and you run for the scenery, and here is one of those races during which I actually do notice my surroundings. This course is arresting.
Many courses use scenic as a euphemism for hilly. This one could use hilly as a euphemism for the hors-catégorie it actually is.
I brought the Adidas Takumi Sen flat, having adored them in the TC. If they felt good for a full half marathon they'd be my new every race shoes.
My main competition was Arya, a 1h07' collegiate from Oklahoma who bussed over from Vancouver where he was visiting his Grandma. It's still a relatively small race and all the fast guys were in their track seasons, and so it was Arya and I found ourselves alone in front after three kilometres. We ran side-by-side to 10km and then he tucked in behind me, which made me think he didn't have the bit. I worked the uphill at 14km and he started falling back, so I pressured him a bit more and it sent me clear. Whenever I checked behind on a straight, though, I could see him coming around the last bend. I hadn't finished my past few half marathons with any verve, but I felt strong in this one and I don't think any small part of that was the yoga I'd been practicing for (at that point) five weeks. I wasn't feeling the usual late-race tightness through my hips. I felt like I was popping off the ground better. By some alchemy of these new racing flats and my yoga, I was feeling good.
I've always kind of railed against yoga for runners. There's a positive correlation between tightness and running speed. I also think many runners bring their competitive mindset into the practice, which is a mistake. We push when we shouldn't push, push when we should be relaxing into a posture, breathing into a posture, breathing into change instead of fighting for it. We compare ourselves to someone on the next mat. We want to see improvements and get in a good workout.
But this isn't the yoga practice. We should be looking for small increases in range of motion. Eliminating restrictions. The yoga I do uses the breath itself as the practice, and stretching supports the breath. It's a moving meditation. We breathe through an hour of stretches, then meditate for 20 minutes. Sometimes I feel sprung the next day and my legs have no energy, but in two days' time I feel great. I'm balancing muscle tension. Yoga reduces it, and a short stimulus like strides increases it. An ice bath increases it. If I'm racing on a Sunday, my last yoga practice will be on the Thursday.
And so I came into the last kilometre of Whistler with a lead of about a minute, and I kicked home well. 1h11' which I think would put me under 1h09' on a flatter course, better than I'd raced in two years.
Next up is the Victoria half marathon on October 11, and then I'll be switching to 1500m training and heading back to the Beer Mile World Championships in Austin on December 01. Trying for a sub-5:00.