BMO Vancouver marathon in 3h40 - long runs, speed work, meditation and mental fitness.

BMO Vancouver marathon in 3h40 - long runs, speed work, meditation and mental fitness.

On May 5th 2019, 5147 racers finished the BMO Vancouver marathon.

It started at 8:30am on a clear day at Queen Elizabeth Park, went down to Cambie street, then turned right on 49th Avenue till Marine Drive. It then went up to UBC campus, around it, back to the shoreline along Marine drive again to reach Alma street and Cornwall along Kits pool. After a small detour in Kits Point, it went back to Burrard bridge, down to English Bay, around Stanley Park and finally arrived downtown on Pender street.

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The course of the race is amazing, very scenic and this particular day, except for a bit of wind at the end, when arriving in Stanley park, the conditions were optimal.

Before the race, leaving the house. It’s a bit too early for me…

Before the race, leaving the house. It’s a bit too early for me…

Started training mental fitness early on.

Last year, I completed the BMO 2018 and had the very bad experience to hit the famous wall of the 30km, ending up walking/running all around Stanley park, being passed by the 4 hours group and finishing in 4h20, a very painful day. I then decided to tackle a bit more this type of race. 42.2 km is a long way…

After doing some research of why marathon runners heat the infamous wall around 30km, I discovered that there are multiple reasons. Some are purely physiological, and others, mainly mental. It seems that our brain takes a big part in the limitation of our endurance capabilities, hence a new training field: mental fitness.

Mental fitness is basically our capacity of pushing our pain limit. The mind is tricky and also very conservative. In imposing to stop when we start to feel the pain, it sends a red flag message to our body: “Be careful, you’re entering in a zone where you can injure yourself”. In improving our mental fitness, we delay the moment when our brain takes control and shut down our system.

So how to train our mental fitness?

Well like every training it needs to be done on a long term basis. Whenever you go out, try to set up things to achieve, sometimes it’ll easy, sometimes you’ll have to overcome obstacles – bad weather, feeling shitty, not wanting to train…, that’s when you’re in mental fitness training mode. Another part of the training consists in knowing all the little voices in your head telling you that “you’re not worth it”, “why are you doing that”, “are you crazy”… and gently keep them at bay. That demands a clear understanding of indeed why you’re pursuing such an endeavour and have ways to quantify/qualify the various reasons: ie “I like the social aspect of training, such and such are interesting people to hang out with, I love being out and feeling my body moving, it keeps me in shape, I look forward to the finish line”… whatever it is, make it very personal as ultimately when you’ll race a marathon, you’ll be by yourself.

Discovering meditation and practising yoga.

I joined Yyoga in September 2018. Meditation, Yin, Flow, Power, Hot with different teachers, sharing their passion with their own styles and personalities. For the first time in my life, I meditate. I heard of it before (Pretty darn difficult to live in Vancouver and not to hear about meditation…), but had no clue about how to do it and what were the real benefits, same thing for Yin, the surrender yoga practice. These two classes, done in the evening, are specific to learning how to disconnect and being present.

One of my big issues was fear. I knew what was coming regarding training load and very often, especially before falling asleep, I started thinking and one thing leading to the next, I was building up fear and anxiety.
The day of the marathon, I meditated 10 minutes and felt in peace, ready to go.

Shaping your core and stretch.

Running is very taxing, every step transmits an impact to our body. A good way to contain the pain is to build a strong core. For this one, I joined the Yyoga fitness classes – Yfit and TRX and I did that 3 times a week. Any power, hot , flow yoga complement the fitness endeavours, hatha yoga and stretches after exercising allow a good recovery and flexibility.

Long runs and speed work.

And least but not last, you need to run… starting in November 2018, I ran three times a week. Tempo run on Monday (45 minutes) on a treadmill, this way no matter what, I had to follow the speed, speed work on Wednesday (45 minutes) and long runs on Saturday morning with the Forerunners running clinic. Being part of this group made a huge difference. Long runs during the winter are not the most appealing moments and having a group of like minded people allows completing them and feeling part of a training group with great guidance and specific advices.

Running the marathon in 3h40 and being cheered by your team!

In February, I ran the First Half marathon in 1h45, secretly I wanted to aim for a 3h30 time for the marathon. So I decided to start with a 5min/km pace and go from there. When I arrived at the start, everything felt great and relaxed. I went near the 3h30 group and off we went. Except for the first 2 min when my little voice started to ask “why I was doing these race…”, yep I heard it, but pretty soon, I shut it down and until the 37km felt pretty good, running around my 5min/km pace.
During the training, when doing the long runs around UBC along the race course and arriving at the anchor where we see Stanley park, far far away, I forced myself to feel good and relaxed, visualizing that it was not that far away. Race day, it worked, I felt confident (last year was just the opposite).
Around the 30 - 33km, I made sure the infamous wall was kept at bay and it was, but when I reached the 37km, I knew that I just had to run 5 more km, but my body started to feel tired. That’s were the team cheering made the difference, having both my wife and son on their bikes going from points to points cheering, remembering the text my daughter sent the previous evening (she was not in Vancouver the day of the race), having spent relaxing time with friends and family, remembering their faces, all this allowed to go one step at a time closer and closer to the finish line, the last 15 minutes were run at a 5:40/km pace and there’s nothing I could do, this year I was not in the 3h30 group.

Finally at 200m of the finish line, my two hamstrings started cramping… “oh no, you cannot do that to me” I kept repeating to myself, “you cannot!”, and I don’t know what made the difference, probably the combinaison of all the training, but I was able to finish running and achieving my PB of 3:40:37.

I felt tired obviously but so happy! The selfy with Clem illustrates the energy and happiness. Then a little voice started: “You know maybe next year you can break the 3h30…” Ah shut up voice, just enjoy the moment!

A happy camper, downtown Vancouver…

A happy camper, downtown Vancouver…

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Originally from France, I moved to Vancouver, BC in 1997 after falling in love with the city while searching for a training base for a round-the-world athletic expedition. I’m an athlete turned actor, and very much involved in endurance sports. Three times IRONMAN® finisher.