Friday, January 5, 2018

Vancouver's only marathon - the BMO Vancouver Marathon Overview and Experience and why you should run it!

BMO Vancouver Marathon is THE MARATHON to run if you are in Vancouver. We are talking about the 42.195km full marathon (there is also the half-marathon and 8km distances that the race offers, but I've only ever done the full marathon for this event). There are other small marathon distance races around in Vancouver, but nothing matches the amount of organization, effort in planning and the scale of the BMO Vancouver Marathon. Organized by the nonprofit society, Vancouver International Marathon Society, this event brings out the entire community (For those unfamiliar with sponsorships, BMO is the title sponsor of the event, but the event is actually run by a nonprofit organizing group). Points about this event that I love is:
  • World class marathon expo at the Vancouver Convention Center - The marathon expo has always been one of my favourite things about this event. 
  • World class organization - When I mentioned that the entire community is involved, I was not kidding. During the marathon, the city's police and ambulance forces are all connected to the marathon. Every care and detail is put into the race from safety measures to washrooms and more.
  • An add on to the point above.. there's washrooms on course (you have NO IDEA how important that is, try holding your business in for 3 (or in some cases 4+) hours and add on running. 
  • It takes close to 4000 volunteers to make the marathon happen and it's largely volunteer driven.
  • It is rated by Forbes and CNN as one of the most scenic marathons in the world. The course is like 70% by the water and you run in a mix of residential, parkland, city and more. 
The Expo
From the plaza outside, there is a stage where there are performers, activities and flags to welcome people from all over the world. There are usually activities outside as well on the plaza and photo opportunities.  Inside the convention center, there are many exhibitions ranging from running products, nutrition products, other races and travel information. I absolutely love the expo as it's bustling with people, new products and all of that. It gives the running nerd inside of me a nerdgasm.

The full marathon course
The marathon itself have changed over the course of the last 46 years. Originally it was just loops around the Stanley Park Seawall. But now, it goes through many neighborhoods of Vancouver. Often times, the neighborhoods of Vancouver all come out to support the marathon.

The marathon map from the BMO Vancouver Marathon Website

Starting at the Queen Elizabeth Park, there is a slight up hill for the first kilometers and then it is all downhill on Cambie Street (it's a gradual downhill) until 49th Avenue. Cambie Street is big and quite beautiful to run with buildings on the sides. Here you will continue further downhill on 49th Avenue. 49th Avenue is primarily residential areas, and the houses are big. The trees on both sides create a tunnel like feeling to the course.

You will continue on the course until you hit Camosun. This is where the challenge begins. This hill is not exactly that easy to get up to so over the course of a few years, the race has implemented a "hill challenge" where timing mats are placed at the bottom and top of the hill. Runners who are non-elites who races up to the top with the fastest time gets a prize (usually a cheque) - personally, I would take this part easy as I try to go slower at the beginning to reserve my energy reserves.

After the top of the hill you will continue on to West 16th Avenue where there is still a small hill. The left side is Pacific Spirit Park while the right is residential areas. The gel station is up ahead (I highly recommend grabbing some gels here and eating it too so that your energy levels can be replenished). You will continue on to West 16th Avenue until you get to Marine Drive at UBC (where the down hill begins).

Marine Drive is relatively flat at UBC. When you get to the intersection of West 4th and Marine drive is when the massive downhill begins. The views here are gorgeous as you can see the sea and mountains. You will continue to Spanish Banks and all the way to Jericho Beach (slight uphill here) and then on to West 4th Avenue. The course continues on West 4th Avenue until you hit Alma, and then you will continue along 1st Avenue until you are on Cornwall. For many, this is where the real challenge begins. It is roughly 28km into the race and many runners (including me a few times) hit the wall here.

The last hill of the race is here and that is going over the Burrard Street Bridge. There will be lots of people cheering before, during and after the bridge. Once you are past the bridge, you will continue on Pacific Avenue until Stanley Park. Once at Stanley Park, you will follow the seawall all the way around until the finish line in Downtown Vancouver.

  • If you are planning to run the full marathon, do not underestimate it. It does take training and is not something you can just do without knowing what it takes. I've seen people who do not train for the marathon and regretted it during the race (many don't even finish), they underestimate how long 42.195km really is. A good rule of thumb is to have completed a half marathon and a 3-6 month training program before attempting the marathon. Here is a nut-shell edition of how I trained for the marathon:
  • Sign-up early! The rates increase closer to the event date. It's easier to plan training and travels (if need be) earlier. Students get a discount of 30%!! ****NOTE: you have to be 19 to run in the marathon. 
    The Marathon provides shuttle buses for those not in Vancouver
    • If you want to be a part of the excitement, but not ready to run a full marathon by yourself yet... try the relay! Grab a team of 4 and take turns to run it. Everyone on the team gets a medal and the experience (without the 42.195km of pain (though it's one of those hate love things)).
    • Nutrition: The race do provide aid stations and gel stations. That said, everyone has a different taste bud and needs. As with any marathon, it's best to check what supplements are provided before running. I would recommend bringing a hydration pack and your own gels anyway. I've ran this race a few times and sometimes I get experimental (like trying a new gel on the course that I've never taken before during training). Let me tell you... that causes a lot of stomach problems and sometimes your body doesn't know how to handle the new gels. 
    • Do be mindful of hydration. Dehydration (and sometimes over hydration - a condition called hyponatrema) is common. So please be mindful of your hydration levels. Stopping at a water station to drink water takes a few seconds.. getting a cramp from dehydration.. that could take you out of the event and possibly send you to the hospital.
    • Take public transit to the startline. Translink and the marathon work together, so there are shuttles. Information can be found on the marathon website and you usually have to indicate if you are using this service during sign up.
    • Pace Bunnies : The race offers pace bunnies (not real bunnies silly, but people who will run holding a stick with a time written on it) to keep you at a constant pace throughout your race. Every bunny have their own strategies but for speeds slower that 3:30 for the marathon, many will do 10-1's (meaning they will run for 10 minutes and walk 1 minute). You don't have to stay with a pace bunny, but they do help you gauge an estimate of what your finish time will be.

    There are all my thoughts for now, I will probably post a Part 2 edition later on. Feel free to let me know what you think so far and if I missed anything. Cheers and happy training <3

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