26.2 miles. 26.2 miles. Miles. Not feet. Not yards. Not even kilometers. Miles. Every time I finish running a half marathon, the thought always enters my mind, “Who in their right mind would want to run those 13.1 miles again??” Well, clearly, at some point I lost my mind and decided that I should run those 13.1 miles again. But, I have to say, I am SO glad I did!

Let me rewind just a bit. As I mentioned before, I’ve been running (off and on) for ten years and have quite a few races under my belt. I wouldn’t necessarily say I love to run but I do love the excitement of running in a race (and the medals…it’s all about the medals, right?).

Last year, Walt Disney World announced that it would be hosting the inaugural Star Wars “Dark Side” Half Marathon Weekend in April of this year. I was super excited to hear this as I’ve always wanted to participate in the Star Wars races that take place at Disneyland California. The race weekend included three separate events: a 5k on Friday, a 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. So what did I do? Registered for all three! Three races, three days in a row.

star wars weekend

After I had registered and paid a ridiculous amount of money, it occurred to me that I might need to up my half marathon training just a bit. So naturally (or not so naturally) I decided I should train as if I were running a full marathon so I would be more than ready to conquer three races in a row!

I mentioned this training plan to my running buddy, Teresa, and she also agreed it was a good idea (she might deny that now…). Of course, once that was decided, I started thinking, “If I’m already training for a full marathon, shouldn’t I go ahead and run a full marathon?” Sounded reasonable so I started checking out various marathons online.

I had always said that if I were (hypothetically) to ever run a full marathon, it would have to be in a great location. No way would I run 26.2 miles through the streets of Orlando. Or anywhere else in Florida. A “destination marathon” was the only way to go for me.

Enter: the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I had heard of this race before and had always thought it would be a great one to run. Ever since visiting this city four years ago, I have been itching to return. So I brought up the subject of registering for a full marathon to Teresa. For the first time in my life I actually felt like I could do it. I think it’s just as much a mental challenge as a physical one and I was mentally ready (although not yet physically ready).

Teresa was game! (With absolutely NO pressure from me…ahem, not much pressure…some pressure) So we started our full marathon training last fall!

Fast forward a few months, lots of long runs (“why are we doing this?”), a few injuries (“are our bodies even meant to be doing this?”) and that Star Wars Marathon Weekend, and here we were, ready to fly to Vancouver to run in our very first (most likely very last) marathon! 😀

Teresa and I arrived, along with my parents who came to cheer us on (and visit Canada for the first time), exactly two weeks ago today. We stayed in Deep Cove, a community in North Vancouver, which we all loved and which I’ll write more about in a later post.

Picking up our race packets, bibs and shirts at the Health, Sports & Lifestyle Expo!

Picking up our race packets, bibs and shirts at the Health, Sports & Lifestyle Expo!

The race was on Sunday and we tried to take it easy on Saturday, but it was kind-of hard as we were excited to be back in Vancouver again (or for the first time for my parents), and Teresa was only staying a few days and wanted to take advantage of every moment here. But we did try. 🙂

We woke up bright and early Sunday morning (not too hard as the sun rises around 5:30am this time of year 😮) and started getting ready for the race. I was actually a bit more nervous than I thought I was going to be. The longest distance we had run leading up to race day was 23 miles and it hadn’t been too bad, but it had also been a few weeks ago so I was afraid my body wasn’t quite ready for that distance (+3 miles) again.

My parents drove us to Queen Elizabeth Park, the start of the race, and dropped us off with lots of “good lucks!” “I love you’s!” and “we’re praying for you!”.

One of the things we had been a bit worried about leading up to this race was the very real possibility of running it in the rain. I mean, this is the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver does have a Seattle-like climate. So we were really surprised and relieved when the forecast for the day was sunny skies! Actually, one or two clouds would have been welcomed but we weren’t complaining since we got our “no rain” wish!

The morning was cold but as long as we stood in the sun we were fine. We arrived a little less than an hour before the race started and spent that time warming up, hydrating a bit and waiting in line for the porta-potty. 🙂

vancouver marathon race start

(Yes, I know I look like human cotton candy and no, pink is most definitely not my favorite color. Not sure how this outfit happened…)

We were in the very last corral but it was a mass start so we were crossing the start line a little after the gun went off at 8:30am. We had actually driven the course the day before and I was glad that we had. Although now we knew just how many inclines were awaiting us… 😛

Teresa had been experiencing issues with her IT band ever since our 23-mile run a few weeks earlier and we were both worried about her being able to run this race. But she started out great and we really enjoyed the first few miles!

This was probably the least exciting part of the course, mainly due to the fact that it wasn’t very scenic. But we still enjoyed it and thanked God for each kilometer marker we passed. 🙂  And let me just give a shout-out to the amazing spectators – probably the BEST I’ve ever encountered during a race. Vancouver rocks!!

Hot fire fighters ahead? All lies. But Barney the Dinosaur sporting a Shaquille O'Neal cape? Legit.

Hot fire fighters ahead? All lies. But Barney the Dinosaur sporting a Shaquille O’Neal cape? Legit.

At about mile 7, Teresa’s knee/IT band started acting up and she wasn’t able to run as much. I stuck with her until around mile 9 or 10 when she insisted I run my race and she would run her race. SO hard to do!!

It would be one thing if one of us were a faster runner than the other but we’re pretty much both at the same fitness level. But to run ahead of her because of an injury, knowing how badly she wanted to run, was ridiculously hard. I just kept thinking that if our roles were reversed, I would have insisted that she run her race as well. But it was still super hard.

I met up with my parents around the halfway mark so they could replenish my energy gel supply. It was great seeing them in the middle of the race! I told them that Teresa would be coming along shortly and that she was in a lot of pain and probably wouldn’t be able to finish the race. Boy did I underestimate her determination!!!

She is, seriously, a rockstar. I can’t think of many people who would have continued on when they were in so much pain they couldn’t run. I know I probably wouldn’t have!

From about mile 10 on, the scenery became so, so beautiful! The sea, the snow-capped mountains beyond, I just couldn’t take enough of it in. We ran through the UBC campus which was also beautiful, then along the Spanish Banks Beach, through Kitsilano, across the Burrard Bridge, then around Stanley Park along the sea wall. Incredible beauty all around!

Okay, they didn't lie - Teresa found a fire fighter...as in just one

Okay, they didn’t lie – Teresa did find a fire fighter. But just one.

This was a very emotional race for me. I think many things factored into that: 1) running ahead of Teresa; 2) doing something I really never dreamed I could actually do and that I’d trained so hard for; and 3) realizing just how tough getting through all 26.2 miles was going to be. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other. One very slow foot in front of the other. One very painful foot in front of the other. 🙂

One of the things that got me through was my parents. They are so amazing and they spent the entire race driving around to different locations to see me and Teresa and encourage and cheer us on. After the halfway point, each time I saw them I started to cry. I think it was partly due to the fact that I wasn’t expecting to see them again until the finish line. And they just kept popping up and showing their love and support for me. They are the best. I have the best parents (sorry, I do).

Hug for Mom, wave for Dad, then back on the course with the clown

Hug for Mom, wave for Dad, then back on the course with the clown

Like I said, this race was much more challenging than I thought it was going to be. The last few miles felt like they would never end. But I knew I was going to do this – I was going to cross that finish line with a smile on my face! Since we had driven most of the course the day before, I knew when I was getting close and it spurred me on to finish strong(ish)!

Turning that last corner and seeing the finish line 800 meters ahead was a moment I will never forget. The streets lined with people cheering and shouting the most encouraging and supportive words, knowing that I had accomplished my goal, I started crying again. Crossing that finish line was oh so sweet! I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of an accomplishment before!

vancouver marathon finish line

And then I saw my parents again on the other side of the fence and started sobbing…again. I was so, so happy and still in disbelief that I had done it!!! My legs were shot, I wouldn’t be able to walk normally for a couple of days but, I had done it!!!

I spent the next 45 minutes or so walking around, stretching, hydrating and watching the finish line for a glimpse of Teresa. I refused to leave the runners area until she crossed. Finally, I saw her running up with a smile on her face and I started sobbing again and ran toward her to give her a hug. I was so, so, so, so, SO proud of her!!!!! I couldn’t believe she had actually done it!

teresa finishing marathon

This day was one I won’t soon forget. I accomplished something I never thought I was capable of doing. I don’t think a smile left my face the rest of the day – I was so proud! Of myself, of Teresa, of all that we had BOTH accomplished, physically and mentally.

vancouver marathon finishers