"Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not."

Victoria Goodlife Marathon 2011 race report

We kicked off marathon weekend with a poorly planned evening. My g/f was extremely busy during the week, as was I. This was my first mistake. I didn’t have a chance to do half the things I intended, including eating well. I didn’t get to go shopping, I didn’t get to relax, I didn’t get to sleep as well as I’d have liked. I resorted to Gatorade, Gu Brew and Perpetuem for far too many meals.

Nutrition-wise, we did eat well all week though, but the higher than usual amount of carbs, despite sticking to sweet potatoes for the most part, didn’t make me feel that great. Dinners usually consisted of 100% paleo recipes, lots of BBQ chicken and veggies, spaghetti squash bolognese, eggs and bacon, and mostly paleo shepherd’s pie. Was feeling good but paranoid about getting carb loaded. Perhaps unnecessarily?

Training went quite well. Unfortunately, like an idiot, I agreed to join a friend on a too-fast-for-me tempo run about 2 Sundays before the race. We ran 3 x 5 km at 3:50 pace, which is a much faster run than I am used to. I struggled in the wind but felt … Ok. The downside is I tweaked something in my knee. This put a damper on my confidence and further training, but it turned out fine, and gave me no pain during race. (After is a whole other matter!)

In my last week I basically hit my key runs as prescribed. I did what I felt was a critical last tempo run.. 2 mi easy + 4 x 1.2 km @ 4:04 + 2 mi easy. It felt very, very easy, HR less than 170 (max is about 190) and my knee felt good. Did I dare to think I could complete the race at a 4:04 pace?!

We struggled with a late ferry reservation the day before the race (again, bad planning on my part) and I was a stressed out jerk all morning. The second we hit the road I was fine but I’d ruined the mood, and stressed everyone out needlessly. Idiot.

We caught a ferry an hour early, got our race packages and pre-drove the course. I found this to be of basically no benefit on race day. During the run I didn’t see a damned thing but a spot of pavement 35 feet ahead and my Garmin pace! All I cared about was lungs and legs, and incline. Plus it just psyched me out to see how goddamn far 42.2 km is. Not worth the hassle. My g/f felt that it was helpful though, so I guess it’s up to personal preference.

We checked into the hotel, hit the nasty hot tub for a bit. I shaved my skull with a crappy free hotel razor (what an awful experience that is) and we pinned our bibs. I struggled with planning food for the race.. Gels? Energy Drink? Water? I read the “Do what Gebrselassie does” ad from Powerbar and roughly followed that. It seemed like a huge quantity of calories. Certainly a gel and Gu drink ~ 3 hours before the race (6 AM) was nauseating!! I felt ill right up to the start. Ugh.

The Red Dragon got us there in one piece.

We got to the race with lots of time. The crowds were really sparse, and parking was super easy to find. We meandered for a bit, and started to warm up about 25 minutes to race start. Warm-up went really well, I think?? I did about 20 mins of a few light runs, some quick strides, dynamic stretches and some stuff like high knees, butt kicks. Didn’t do too much at all but felt good off the bat, so think it went well.

Gettin' my warm on.

The starting crowd was weird. Very few runners looked fast. I was very near the front, as I predicted a top 50 finish or so. Many slow runners mixed into the very front of the crowd, as always, so I was annoyed at first… But I only got slowed up for a few minutes so it was a non issue. Anyway, the 8:45 AM countdown started, and we were off.

I had been agonizing over my race pacing strategy ALL week. My Vdot I’d be using was 53, and thus my marathon Pace was 4:17, but I felt really confident that was an easily attainable goal, roughly a 3:01 marathon. But what was a reasonable “tough” goal then? At these speeds, roughly at my limit, even 5 seconds per km add up to a lot of time, and a lot of effort. I was worried about starting too slow. I figured 4:15 for 10 km, then 4:10 for 10 more, then re-evaluate?? But then after my easy tempo run I though shit, maybe 4:10 off the bat?! I did the math over and over, calculated scenarios… I think I broke the Cool Runnings pace calculator.

In the end, I realize now I hadn’t made a real decision, and that cost me. When finally the race starts… I take off at 4:00 or better!! Not only that, but a huge crowd of runners is pulling away like I’m walking! WTF! So I stuck with it..

I can honestly say it felt really good, and I was content to slow down a bit on the hills, and relax a touch.. I kept it up though. I eventually did a 40:22 10 km (my fastest to date) and felt “pretty good”. The course through the city was a bit uphill but felt easy, and then a nice loop-de-loop park section with some uphills felt a bit challenging… but I was passing folks, and feeling good. Got a perfectly timed high-five with the g/f as we crossed paths, and felt solid when we finally turned South and ran out towards the coast and the 9 km mark.

Feelin' fine

From the coast we later turned into the neighbourhoods again, and things were still fine. I was running alone, feeling ok. Then I met Dave.

Dave cheerfully ran up beside me around the 12 km mark, and started to chat. “May as well run with you instead of behind you!” I was more intent on breathing than talking but he was also running 4:00 exactly and was super friendly. Oh, and he was 55! Damn him and his old man strength. He chatted a lot, said hi to everyone, and was very cheerful. I was concentrating a lot more, so was a bit monosyllabic. I don’t know if it was helpful to me to have someone to run with. Actually, I’m 100% positive it was not.

I continued to feel “ok”, but my friend Antoine’s advice rang loudly in my ear: “you should feel good at the halfway mark!” (He is a 2:41 marathoner!)

“Fuck,” I thought to myself as I panted my way past the halfway mark. “I do not feel good.”

I was still passing people. Many people were slowing a lot more than I was, and I regretted chasing them so strongly at the beginning. I guess we all make the same mistakes. I wasn’t feeling good though, and as the 25 km mark came around, I started to struggle. The finish seemed very far away.

From there, it all went pear shaped, as they say. I had been struggling with a stitch and cramps in my left abs right from the get-go, and it was getting worse. My right calf, a constant hassle for me, was stiffer by the second. Every uphill started to drain the hell out of me. My pace suffered. A lot. Dave told me to tuck in behind him, which I hate doing, but he got away from me finally, without a word. I was all alone, and a long, long way from home.

I was truly surprised at the rate of my decline! I did some rough mental math and figured I could slow to 4:10 and still do great. Immediately that pace became too hard. Ok, maybe 4:17 (my original marathon pace) … Nope. I was struggling (a lot!) to even hold a 4:30 pace! I did more math… Ok, how about 5 mins per km?! And I still had 12 km to go! Shit! Luckily I willed my miserable body to keep it under 4:30 for the most part, minus a couple really drawn out (20+ seconds) aid stations.

Guys were starting to pass me. Not many, but a few. It was depressing, but I felt no hostility towards them, I only hoped they ran a great race, and felt impressed with their efforts. It’s funny how not-competitive we become when we are in pain. They encouraged me, which helped. At least for a few seconds.

Every step was sheer agony. I wanted to stop and walk. I actually did stop and walk the aid stations. (I had been earlier too, but only for a very split second.) More gels and drink and water. Guts were fine, but was I cramping from too many calories? Was my stitch actually stomach cramps? Who the hell knows.

I actually passed a few guys and was reeling some more in, but I was passed a few more times too. I hate being passed, what an embarrassment. I should buy a singlet that says “I can’t pace.” Amateurish!!

“Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.”


Anyway, I ran my goddamn guts out. I kept thinking of that Prefontaine quote throughout my run. I tried to embrace the pain, keep driving my knees, keep pumping my arms, keep that cadence up. I believe it slightly less now (haha), but going into the race I told myself I was the gutsiest person out there! I have the most heart! I would run until my legs fell off, I told myself! Well shit, I’d better be careful what I wished for…

I honestly don’t remember the entire return trip through the suburbs, but once I hit the coast again (36 km) I knew I was on “the home stretch”. Not much of a consolation, but still.

The look of agony

I had the will, but I couldn’t speed up because my right hamstring really started cramping. Despite that I managed at least one 4:17 km around the 40 km mark. I saw my buddy taking photos and tried to pick it up but simply could not. My leg buckled / cramped hard on me once and I nearly went down, and that really scared me, as I’ve never cramped in a run before. My right foot nearly gave out on me too, on a tiny ridge in the pavement. I was in bad shape.

I was nearing the finish now. The course had so many damned markers.. 25 mi! 1 mi to go! 800 m to go! 600 m to go! Fuck off! Every sign was simply a reminder of my slowness. I agonized over how far each 200 m was. Holy God please let it just end! (Maybe we should have driven this section of the course? Haha.)

I was 100% unable to accelerate to the finish, and stumbled across the line like a drunken goat.

I still raced to a very nice number though, posting a 2:56:56. For the last several km I’d been praying for a 2:55, but the last big hill (“Oh yeah, blame the hill…”) killed that dream. (And note that 4:00 for 30 km had me on track for a 2:48 or so! Dave had told me 2:52, which I just found out today was wrong.) I finished 42nd overall.

The Human Garburator

So my finish was pretty good. I think that works out to a 4:12 min/km, and Oh! how I wish I’d stuck to my 4:10 pace plan 😉 Any reduction of cumulative pain would have been effing glorious. Plus I might have made sub-2:55. But, I’d have learned less.

So this is a pretty major achievement for me. I really only started training at the end of January, and originally hoped for a 3:10… Then my goal evolved to a Boston Qualifier (3:05 for 2013) and finally sub 3:00. I just wish I wasn’t such a goddamn overachiever and had run my plan! By the way, Dave ended up running a 2:53, a PB and 1st in his age category, and 23rd overall. What a performance!

The real conclusion is that I get to increase my Vdot. I started training at 52, upped it to 53 at the halfway point of the plan, and now am a solid 54 (very nearly 55). I will up it again to 55 at the midway point of my next training season. And my next marathon goal will be sub 2:50 for my ‘B’ goal and sub 2:45 for my ‘A’ goal. Aggressive? Yes. Go big or go home.

“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.”

Juma Ikangaa

I truly enjoy training more than racing. I will run more conservatively next time, but train hard. Sub 2:40 is on my horizon (although a bit further now than I thought) and I’m very confident I can get there.

I’m still debating what to do for a training plan for the winter. Mix it up? Repeat Marathon Plan A with a greater peak mileage? Start ultra running on the trails for a season? It’s all up in the air. I do know I’m taking 2 weeks off, and then doing 4 weeks of recovery running per “Advanced Marathoning” (pg. 164) After which I’ll have exactly 24 weeks to the Vancouver BMO Marathon… The exact length of a Jack Daniels’ marathon plan… hmm…

My calves definitely need attention, as well. The stiffness in my right calf is almost always there, and I need to sort it out. Whether that is heel drops, calf raises, massage, stretching or rolling (or acupuncture, for all I know) it is right now my biggest weakness. I can only assume the cramping in my right hamstring was related, since I generally have no hamstring issues to speak off.

My race photos show pretty good foot strike for the most part but my toes are pointing outwards like some sort of duck, wtf is that all about? I need to bring them back in line. My form is a bit collapsed too, need to sort out my pelvic tilt and try to also reduce rotation of my upper body, which feels minimal but always looks shocking to me. I guess I need some quality video… I’ve been meaning to get into a few short barefoot sessions per week, too.

So I’m not unhappy with my race. I felt good, put it all on the line, and found my limit. That’s worth more than an arbitrary 2:52 to me.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love and live.”


  1. Dad

    Awesome Michi ….
    simply … awesome …

  2. Duncan

    Dude, those are some sweet photos. Whoever took those photos must be rad beyond words.

  3. Jeff Anderson

    Hey Mitch – do you still coach?

    • Mitch

      Hi Jeff,

      Replied to you via email, but the answer is: potentially yes, depends on what you’re looking for. We’ll talk!

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