If you’re like me, you’re a casual athlete who plays drop-in soccer on weekends, hits a squash ball on weeknights and owns about a dozen pairs of sport-specific shoes (like ski boots and swimming fins as well as cleats and climbing shoes).
As a casual jock, I run casually. Then I signed up to run half of the BMO Vancouver Marathon. What’s 21 kilometres? I’ll just go for a really long jog on the seawall, maybe circle Stanley Park twice.
Then I was invited to train with Kristina Bangma, a never-in-her-life casual athlete who is also a coach and personal trainer. She writes a cycling column every two weeks for the Courier. In my biased opinion, she’s awesome.
My first Wednesday night at the blue track at Point Grey secondary in Kerrisdale, Kristina singled me out for my running technique, which was laughably bad. She knew it; I didn’t. She was pointed, patient and firm. I couldn’t stop giggling or swinging my legs like a demented show pony. When I run today, I hear her voice: Knees up, shorten your stride, keep your elbows in.
At that early stage, I didn’t know the meaning of sub-four, sub-three or sub-two, nor the significance of 2:10.09. Running the marathon in less than four hours (or three if you’re at the front of the pack), means hitting a sub-four time. Clocking in a sub-two finish applies to the half-marathon, which last year’s fastest woman ran in 1:16.04 and fastest man in 1:06.32. Keddi-Anne Sherbino won the marathon in 2:43.40 and Benard Onsare won the men’s in 2:19.54. The time, 2:10.09, is the Canadian marathon record, which has stood for 37 years.
Those times meant nothing to me that first night at the track. I didn’t know what was fast, what was impressively fast or what would be a fast time for me, the casual runner.
With each track session and Kristina’s guidance, I improved. My technique sharpened and my pace quickened. My 200- and 400-meter splits started to mean something. I learned to settle into a rhythm over longer distances rather than sprint early and suffer later. I loved interval training and worked hard enough to taste the mouthwash of bile that comes with anaerobic exercise.
The longer distance of the half-marathon won’t bring the same joy as running 10 reps of 200-metres at full capacity. I’m prepared to be proven wrong.
Those sprints were important because I had my own times to race against. I ran a single kilometre in just over three minutes, then rested before doing it again, and again. There was no way I could repeat that pace, especially not over 21 kilometres without rest. The world’s fastest marathon runners set their kilometre pace at less than three minutes, 10 seconds per kilometre and then run 42 kilometres. (Holy sh*t, I think now.)
I’d set my kilometre pace for five minutes, 10 seconds and aim for a final time of one hour, 50 seconds. It’s a classic case of defining success. I’m not winning any race, but setting the goal to run a sub-two half-marathon means I won’t hit the course Sunday morning at 7 a.m. as a casual runner.
To the other 99,999 half-marathon and 5,000 full-marathon runners, I found you this (cheesy, ego-boosting) quote from T. Alan Armstrong on goal-setting:
"Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character."