Alarm: 4AM. I haven't slept well but I get up because Brian is coming to get me. And I paid. Can't forget that part. I voluntarily handed over 85 of my not-so-hard-earned dollars for this.
Breakfast: A bowl of cereal, two pieces of toast with PB and J, a banana. I packed my backpack the night before so I'm ready before my 5:20 pick up time. I lay down on the couch and wonder if I remembered to unlock my front door for Brian. I'm asleep again when the heavy Sunday morning paper thudding against the door wakes me up. That paper guy is hardcore. Up this early, even on Sunday. I lay back down on the couch but Brian is right behind the paper guy and the sound of his car means it's time to get going. It's 5:20 on the dot and the Internet tells me it's already 9 degrees. It's going to be a great day for a run.
En route: We pick up Parmi and Balbir, 2 of only about 10 brown guys we'll see all day. This becomes a recurring joke. I make Brian stop so I can grab a coffee, we hit the Skytrain and soon arrive at BC Place.
On Site: BC Place is buzzing with people but not anywhere near as crowded as it was two weeks prior for the Sun Run. Within about 2 minutes of getting inside, Balbir has somehow found a small group of other brown guys. There are now half of all the brown runners standing in a group of five. Brian, Parmi and I make more jokes.
On the line: Lots of excitement as we move into the start corral. It's warm, and I've already dropped my extra T-shirt and custom made race gloves fashioned from old tube socks. As the runners crowd towards the line in anticipation of the starting horn, I joke aloud "Now everyone start pressing against one another", imitating the tone of the race announcer. A tall, male runner just in font of Parmi looks back at me, and nods his head in silence, then gives Parmi a high five. I can't tell if he's excited about the race or the pressing against each other. It won't be the last time today that we make a new friend.
On the way out: First three miles are nice and easy with lots of chatter and lots of other runners around. Balbir has Boton on his mind and takes off right out of the gate. I'm in charge of making sure that we don't start too fast and it's a challenge right away to keep Gunner and Parmi reigned in. I tell Brian that running slowly will be the best decision he's ever made and the stranger beside him starts laughing.
We're at about mile 3 when we see the leaders doubling back, a Polish runner barely leading a group of about five. As they pass, Brian says scolding "Ooh, they've gone out too fast." More laughs from the crowd.
First three miles are right on track, about 30 seconds slower than race pace. We had discussed our race day strategy and had all agreed that we were there mostly to have a good time. We would shoot for something around 3:45; an 8:40 per mile average.
After the first three miles I pick up the pace and try to hold it at 8:30 to make up some of the time we gave away. It's easy running through the streets of Vancouver on a beautiful sunny day. We wind out and back, through Gastown towards Stanley Park. Parmi can't believe that anyone can talk as much as Brian and I. I offer my thesis that redheads are stereotyped as losers and nerds in the media and Parmi says that has happened because it's true. Several runners chuckle and offer me sympathetic looks. Inside Stanley Park, we hit halfway and the clock says 1:58. Brian would later tell me that at the time he did the math and thought, "Hey, we're right on track for a 3:45!" Need glycogen, anyone?
On the way back: Just outside Stanley Park, I confess that for the last several miles I have had the theme song to "The Littlest Hobo" stuck in my head. I hear at least two people around me say 'Aw, man, now it's stuck in my head." I laugh to myself. Good luck with that. Parmi seems angry now that Brian and I are still talking. The pace is less comfortable, the chatter has died down and the crowds have thinned out through Stanley Park. We are keeping ourselves entertained by seeing who can have the most spectators cheer for them by name. Brian is losing and runs by a large group of people yelling "say my name, say my name!" Not surprisingly, none do. Parmi and I forget about our sore legs for a moment to make fun of Brian.
We approach the on-ramp to the Burrard Street bridge and the start of a 100' climb to the top of the bridge deck. The merge lane is narrow, just one car wide, and is lined with spectators, several hundred over a span of only about 50-60 meters. On the sidewalk and on the median, on both sides of the road people are standing and cheering, waving signs and ringing bells. I'm surprised that it's as loud as it is, and I can feel the emotion rising in my chest realizing that these strangers are cheering for me, for Brian, for Parmi. I have to concentrate to keep the tears from falling. It lasts only a few seconds and we're off up and over the bridge.
The climb up the bridge is long . We back off the pace a little knowing that we can make it up running down the back side. It's happened without our realizing it, but the talk has almost stopped altogether. The steady pace is starting to wear on every one's legs. I grab a stick of Vaseline and rub it on the inside seam of my shorts. I joke to Brian, "I've never done that in public before" and an old man behind me says "Oh, I think you have!" I laugh and almost fall over.
We see Balbir on his way back and he's running strong. It looks like he's on his way to putting up a qualifying time.
A long false flat out to the 20 mile turn around. The three of us are running together but not as a tight little pack like at the start. Parmi is a couple meters to my right and Brian is about 5 meters back. The only talking we hear now is from the sidelines, and from the water station volunteers shouting what they have to offer. I take a sponge and empty it into my hat to try and cool off.
We hit mile 19 and I can feel Brian and Parmi dropping off the pace. I look at my watch and it says 2:20. I think, "If I can run 7 miles in the next hour and 10 minutes, I have a shot at 3:30!" I decide that I'll keep things steady until mile 20 and if Brian and Parmi are still falling off I'll crank it up for the last 6 miles.
Mile 20 turnaround and I'm running alone. I stop to walk through the water station as I pull out my iPod. I brought it along in case we got separated and now I'm glad I did. The headphone cords are crazy tangled and I have to walk well past the end of the water station. Parmi passes me as my glycogen depleted brain tries to untangle what seems like the world tightest knot. I give up trying to untangle it and slide the knot just far enough down the cord so I can get the headphones on my ears. I fire up some Andrew Bird and I'm off again, with a PR in my cross hairs.
Andrew Bird is my music of choice for all my tempo work and the old memories kick in. I look at my watch and it says 7:34 min/miles. I catch Parmi in less than a minute. My legs feel loose and fast and I'm running smoothly. I'm relaxed and reeling in runners like crazy. This lasts two miles. Then reality kicks in. My legs did not appreciate getting jerked out of their rhythm with all the up tempo running and I can feel them staging their revolt. My left calf fires off a tiny test cramp, as does my right hamstring. I tell myself I should slow down so I don't start cramping up. It's really the safe and sensible thing to do.
Back over the Burrard Street bridge and this time it's a mother. Every time I look up I see another person stopping to walk. I stop looking up. Not one runner is talking now and the crowd has thinned so much it feels like we are all marching in a long thin line. I have lost track of the number of time spectators have called my name and I'm convinced that they are calling out all our names now, fearful that if they don't, one of us might just collapse at their feet. It's probably true. I stop in front of some nervous on lookers, but just to stretch out a cramp.
One mile left and I check my watch. 3:30 is gone but I have a chance at a PB if I can keep moving. Legs are heavy and the crowd is starting to swell with people. The iPod is on but I can't hear it over the sound of the two voices inside my head: one telling me to stop and rest and the other driving me to keep my legs moving.
I'm in the corral with 400 meters to go, running through cramps in my hamstring and calf. I check my watch one last time and it tells me I'm a minute past my PR so I cruise over the finish line looking up at all the people standing and cheering on the catwalk above.
The official clock said 3:54.