CHILLIWACK MARATHON, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA,
Last Chance Saloon
It's mid August. A month before the end
of the Boston qualifying window. Richard has a nine minute plus buffer
inside his qualifying time. I have nothing. Europe is in a heatwave.
I've entered a race in Canada, about sixty miles inland from Vancouver.
It's a downhill profile point to point course starting in the hills and
finishing in the small town of Chilliwack.
It feels indulgent and environmentally guilty flying across the Atlantic
for the second time in a year. I've put my family through it for two years
of trying to qualify. There's been the anaemia, the hypothyroidism, the
disallowed short course marathon, the overwork, the other marathons where
I didn't make the time. And although I won't accept it, the slowing with
the passing years. I'm right at the top of my age grade, three months
older and my qualifying time would be 15 minutes slower. None of this
matters. It's just down to what I can do today.
I am in the holding area by the start in the dark and in the middle of
nowhere surrounded by trees and hills. The other runners are quietly getting
ready. Music plays out of the portable sound system. I'm feeling the pressure
but as usual I concentrate on going through my pre race routine. It started
hours ago with a very small breakfast, a warm up run on the hotel treadmill,
shower, loo visits, Ucan superstarch. The transatlantic flight had been
long but OK. I was sitting next to a registered blind guy, He was very
chatty to begin with. He told me he had drunk ten Jack Daniels in the
airport bar at Heathrow. He drank another eight on the plane. Just for
good measure he bought a bottle of expensive whisky from the in flight
duty free. He never showed the slightest sign of being drunk. I lost myself
in a film (Bohemian Rhapsody).
I stayed a night in Vancouver. The hotel had Karaoke night in the bar.
The first song was a couple singing Bohemian Rhapsody. The next day I
got a bus to Chilliwack. It was like being in a Wim Wenders film. The
bus let me off at the truck stop. All the other passengers were carrying
on to the tourist destinations further inland. I was an isolated figure
at the roadside surrounded by a garage/fast food shop and lots of Mack
trucks and trailers. I'd looked up restaurants on the bus and I walked
the mile or so to a Thai place dragging my purple wheelie suitcase behind
me. Nobody else was walking.
The restaurant was like a roadside diner but the food was great. I spoke
to the two local women next to me before they descended into a polite
but tense family feud conversation between themselves. I got a taxi to
the Hampton Inn a few miles out of town where I am staying, did some bits
and pieces and went to bed. I've been staying in UK time going to bed
about 4pm and getting up just after midnight. The race is starting at
6am and the shuttle bus left the centre of town at 3.30am this morning.
The day after arriving I had been to the Expo having got a lift with a
friendly couple from Salt Lake City. The Revel coach at the expo did an
excellent job of breaking down the course into sections and explaining
how best to run each one - the steep three mile start, the gently downward
first half with the average one percent gradient, the undulating part
after halfway with the uphills, the final downhill, the flat miles to
the finish. Basically bank the time on the early downhills but don't try
and maintain it on the harder sections. Run by effort not pace. The Revel
organisers also said that although a downhill course could be faster it
was no easier. They said a lot of people who hadn't trained for downhill
running seized up in the quads after about 16-18 miles and struggled to
The dark and silence lends an eerie air
to the proceedings with the road beyond the start heading out between
the trees. I speak to a few runners about their goals and we are off.
I'm in the 3.30 pacer group again. There are quite a few who I know have
the 3.35 qualifying time so they are looking at three and a half hours
for a five minute buffer. We are all fit and focussed. I know that I will
pay as I have paid before if I stick to this group. My time goal is fifteen
minutes slower than most of them. Because of the early downhills we are
well ahead of 8min/mile pace anyway.
I am disciplined enough to drop back off the group a bit before halfway.
It has been fun running with them but I am content running on my own as
well. I enter my little bubble of concentration. It's a small race in
its inaugural year, there are just under 400 marathoners and we are well
Despite my seemingly perfect preparation I need the toilet approaching
halfway. The remote location comes to the rescue and I cross the roadside
ditch into the undergrowth. I only lose a couple of minutes and I don't
let it phase me.
Halfway comes in 1.42.23 but we have done most of the significant downhill
sections. There is one more steepish three mile downhill section and plenty
of undulations. I run with Jackie Smith for a while who is going through
a bad patch. I tell her 'every time we go up one of these hills we get
to go down the other side'. This seems to cheer her up and a few miles
further on she is off up the road ahead of me.
The aid stations are simple but effective. Support is very sparse and
sporadic but it is enthusiastic at the small pockets of spectators we
pass. They have the same attitude as in the USA with huge positivity.
All marathons are hard. The gradients are taking their toll and I am slowing
but not too badly. This is the crucial part of my race. I keep the Revel
coach's words in mind and just try to maintain effort not pace. My concentration
I haven't dared dream of actually doing it. My confidence has definitely
taken a hit over the previous attempts. It's one step at a time, be in
the moment, hold form.
A few runners pass me. I pass a few but we are spread out and everybody
knows what they are doing. We catch the slower half marathon runners and
I am then joined by a guy with his race shirt wrapped up around his neck.
He tells me he is the 3.45 pacer but the whole of his group has fallen
off the pace. With his duties ended for the day he's running on to get
to the finish quickly.
We come into the outskirts of Chilliwack. The buildings are really spread
out unlike any European town. There is just so much space. As usual my
whole body wants to stop and the salient parts of my brain are recruited
to keep going at the same pace. It's a bit of a compromise as the speed
drops but I still don't fall apart. A few miles left and the time is on
track. I'm not going to go sub 3.40 but the target is a five minute buffer
so 3.45. Maintain focus, welcome in the pain, keep going, don't walk,
don't slow down. We are on quiet suburban streets, final right turn and
the finish is somewhere ahead. I'm in a little space with no-one immediately
ahead or behind me.
There is a small crowd at the turn off the road into the school grounds
where the finish is. A short curving run in with barriers either side,
a sparse cheering crowd and an announcer saying my name.
I've allowed myself to imagine this moment a few times during the training
period. I've thought it might be quite ecstatic and emotional and I might
even cry. It's not really like that at all. It's just relief and satisfaction
but on the whole I just get on with the post run practicalities, sitting
down, dealing with cramping calves, cleaning up a bit, chatting to the
pacer who had seen his pace group all fall away and the woman I had briefly
run with up the hills. Moira texts me with congratulations and tells me
I have to go and collect an award as I'm third in my age group. It's a
small accomplishment but I get a little tag to put on my medal. Another
runner takes a pic for me in front of the race graphic backdrop.
Chip time is 3.43.38. We don't know if we are in Boston but I have a six
plus minute buffer to go with Richard's nine minute plus. We can both
enter in the first week of the qualification window as part of the 5-10
minute under group.
Bobby McFerrin starts singing Don't Worry Be Happy and I sing along. It's
an intimate finish as it's a small race but with plenty of atmosphere.
After a pause to let my stomach come round I drink an alcohol free beer
and eat a slice of pizza and a bit of cake. As usual after a couple of
gels and sports drink on the course the idea of any sugar is unappealing
but it's all there is. Eventually I call a taxi and get back to the hotel
in the middle of nowhere. The tiredness hits, I've just got enough energy
to have a bath, get to the truck stop for milk and walk down the road
to another hotel which has a bar and restaurant. It's low key and quiet
with just a few hotel guests, hardly the place for a post marathon celebration
but I'm too exhausted to care. I order some food. There are some beers
from independent breweries in the area being featured. I like mangoes
and I like wheat beer so I unwisely order the mango wheat beer, much against
the advice of the local sitting at the bar. He's right, it's a bizarre
combination and far too sweet in my post marathon sugar daze. I come back
and the bartender insists on changing it for free. This one is fine but
I can't manage to drink much of it. I head back to my hotel and collapse
The next day I'm revived. I have one of the best Indian meals I've had
anywhere and get the bus back to Vancouver where I have a massage with
a Chinese woman who has run marathons. It is wonderful and she tells me
about running in Vancouver, Los Angeles and her home town in China. She
says I should do that one. It is time for the flight back to London.