Sean Martin is one of the three runners we profiled in our documentary series Running Vancouver.
Sean’s journey had begun when his daughter Shaelyn was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer, at just 8 weeks old. With Shaelyn then 5 years old and healthy, Sean had joined the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada’s Team In Training to honour her battles with cancer as he trained for the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon.
Now almost a year later, we caught up with Sean for a follow-up interview to see how he’s been doing since the race as he prepares to run the 2014 BMO Vancouver Marathon.
You smashed your goal of sub-4 hours at the BMO Vancouver Marathon by almost 14 minutes. How did it feel to finish your first marathon and to exceed your expectations by so much?
To finish it and to also break the 4 hour goal I set for myself felt incredibly awesome. I had started training (with Team in Training) seven months before the race. The program I followed progressed gradually every week and ensured I was constantly increasing my endurance and fitness while keeping the risk of injury low. Before this, the only race I had run was the Scotia Bank Half Marathon in 2012. While training for the Scotia Half, I had injured myself (although I was able to complete the race), so for the BMO, I tried to not push myself too far too fast and to listen to the coaches so I could handle the high mileage that marathon training brings.
Through the winter and early spring, our long training runs were in the high 20 to low 30 km range, and the focus on recovery (after the runs), nutrition, rest, and strengthening exercises became just as important as the running itself. Our training runs never went beyond 32 km and, on these long runs, we kept a slower pace than what we expected to do on race day to prevent injury and gradually increase endurance.
It wasn’t until late-winter when I thought I might have a shot at the 4 hour mark for the Marathon and I made it my goal to try and beat this time. I was nervous about it though, because the marathon would be 42 km (farther than I have ever run at one time before) and I would also need to run it at a faster pace than I ever did during my many months of training. Another challenging factor that didn’t come up until race day was the temperature – since I trained during the winter and spring months, I got used to running long distance in temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius (and much of the time under 5 degrees). The day of the race saw an unforeseen increase in temperature and the high for the day was 24 degrees. It was the hottest day for a BMO Vancouver Marathon on record and I know this caused an issue for many runners.
The morning of the race I felt really good. I had the perfectly planned music mix (Eye of the Tiger was song #1) and I was super excited. I had to really focus on the advice the coaches gave me to not start out too fast, that it was a long run and I needed to ensure I could finish strong. At the start of the race, I felt like I could sprint the whole thing. But I did stay focused, I managed my energy well and kept a fairly fast and consistent pace.
At the 21 km mark I felt some cramps in my calves which I never had happen before and that scared me a little. I was worried that my calves might cease up and the heat was taking a toll, so I started to double-up on the water at every station. The cramps went way and I settled into a steady pace.
For the last 10 km or so, I was hanging in there with the 3:45 pace runner so I knew I had a really good shot at breaking 4 hours. As I was getting down to the last few km’s, it was getting harder to keep up with the pacer. My legs were burning and the butterflies in my stomach were going crazy. I was really looking forward to running the final stretch of the race were I knew my family would be waiting to cheer my in. In the last km, I really pressed it with everything I had and I was sure by that point that I’d come in under the 4 hour mark. I wound up coming in at 3:46 and it felt great. The finish line marked the achievement of a milestone goal that I had set seven months earlier. It was the culmination of a lot of commitment, training, and determination. And it was truly all dedicated to my family and the perseverance my youngest daughter, Shaelyn, recovering from leukemia.
Almost immediately after the run I knew I was going to run the marathon again the next year. And now the next BMO is almost here (coming up May 4th) and I’m getting ready to run it again. I’ve been training hard since the Fall because I want to improve my time by quite a bit.
You ran as a member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada’s Team In Training and managed to raise a significant amount of money for the cause. How did running with the team help your training and affect your experience at the race?
It was truly an honor to be a member of Team in Training (TNT). It was a personal mission of mine to help give back and be a part of a cause whose mission is to help ensure a cure for blood cancers becomes a reality. This cause hits very close to home since my youngest daughter is a Leukemia survivor and my mother in law is a lymphoma survivor. I dedicated my effort to complete the marathon to them. A very good friend and colleague from my work, Tony Graaf joined the Team with me and together we raised over $16,000 for Leukemia and Lymphoma research.
My experience with Team in Training was great. They have very knowledgeable and experienced coaches that ensure the members are progressing at a gradual pace. They also bring in many advisors to educate the Team members on topics like proper running equipment, the importance of a nutritional diet and how to optimize your diet for peak performance. They also teach you how to properly care for your body to reduce the chance of injury and to ensure you can reach your full potential. Our weekend training runs started at Granville Island every Saturday. Before every run, the Team would gather in a circle and have a “mission moment”. It’s when one Team member would tell the group about why they joined Team in Training. These moments were very inspiring and energizing to everyone. It reminded us of the bigger picture and how we were all helping to make a difference. It gave us motivation on the coldest, rainy winter days.
At the race, all the Team in Training members were wearing their purple jerseys and everyone had decorated them with things that reflected the reasons they were running and who they were running for. It felt great to be a part of the Team. There were TNT coaches positioned throughout the race course and they watched for the purple jerseys of TNT members. When they saw you, they would run alongside you and make sure you were doing ok, and give you encouragement. I can’t tell you how valuable this was. I didn’t take enough gels on the course and I was very lucky that the coaches had plenty packed on them and they gave me lots of them throughout the race. Without their help, I don’t think I would have broken my 4 hour goal.
I joined the Team in Training again this year and I very happy to say that my daughter has been chosen to be the Honored Hero. We hope her story will help the other participants connect to Team in Training’s mission: To help fund research to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. My daughter is now 3 years post-treatment and she’s doing great. Shaelyn made phone calls to all the Team in Training members this year to wish them good luck and to thank them for their participation.
Training wise this year, I’m not running as regularly with the Team in Training’s BMO’s group since I’ve been focusing on my own specific training goals. Last year, I was nervous about just completing the marathon. But this year, I’m very focused on running a really fast time. I’m staying in touch with Team in Training though and I’m looking forward to wearing the Purple jersey once again.
Since running the 2013 BMO Vancouver Marathon, you ran the Scotia Half-Marathon. Tell us a bit about your experience there and how you did!
Running my first marathon made me catch the running bug for sure. After BMO, I ran the Scotia Bank Half marathon (in June 2013). This was the second time I ran Scotia and I cut 11 minutes off the time I did the year before (came in just over 1:38). I was very encouraged by my time and I was motived to continue to try and increase my performance.
After Scotia and through the summer, I started to run less and got on the bike to train for the Granfondo (which goes from Vancouver to Whistler). This was the second year that I was riding in this event and I really wanted to improve my time by a lot (I did 6 hours on my first ride). Thanks to all the marathon training and a much better bike that I borrowed from a friend, I was able to cut almost an hour off my time and finish in just over 5 hrs.
Once the Fall, came I started running again and my last race of the year was the Fall Classic Half-Marathon at UBC. I came in a hair over 1:37 which was a PB but it still left me a little disappointed that I wasn’t under 1:35. I decided after this race that I was going to train really hard and serious over the Winter/Spring months and I set a really ambitious goal of running the next BMO marathon in 3 hr and 10 mins or less (in order to qualify for Boston). I knew this was going to be tough so to start training efficiently, I got a performance assessment from the Peak Center for Human Performance in Vancouver, like Karl did in Episode 2 of the documentary. This gave me valuable information about how I can make the most of my training. I learned about the importance of staying within a target heart rate zone on my long runs, and how many carbs I need to be replacing as I go (which is a lot more than I thought!).
My training this year has gone really well. After my long runs, I’m feeling good (not as sore as last year) and my track training on Wednesday’s is pushing me harder to gain more speed and I think it’s working well. It helps that there are several faster runners than me at the track nights so I always have someone to try and chase down.
In mid-March this year, I did the Green Socks Half marathon. To give me confidence that I could have a shot at the marathon goal time I set for BMO, I wanted to do the Green Socks in under 1:35. The weather for the race was very rainy and the course was muddy and slippery. I came in just a few seconds under 1:36. So I was a little disappointed a first, but I do think the conditions certainly cost me some time and if the weather was clear and the course was dry, I would have been faster. So I’ll take this PB and continue to focus on BMO (which is coming up fast!).
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of running their first marathon?
I would tell them to stay positive, to stay focused, and progress with their training in a gradual way and not press it too far too fast. It takes time to build up the ability to run long distances, there are no shortcuts to be able to just go out and run a marathon. This takes a patient approach, which was a little difficult for me at first, but made a lot of sense once I started to get used to running longer distances.
I would also encourage people to focus on their recovery from running too and not just the running itself. Lots of foam rolling and ice can help get you feeling re-charged and ready to go again in a shorter amount of time. Listen to your body and know if you need some extra help. For the BMO last year, about 4 weeks before the marathon I had really bad IT Band pain in my left knee. I saw a specialist several times in the weeks leading up to the race and that really helped me and allowed me to run a pain free race.
Even though I wanted to break 4 hours in my first marathon, the real goal was just to finish it, and that’s what I would recommend to everyone that is going to run their first marathon. Run your own race and don’t worry about keeping up with faster runners. Whatever time you come in at can be your benchmark to improve from for the next time.
What’s next for the rest of the year and for 2014? Any more races planned?
So far, I’ve been pretty fixated on the 2014 BMO Vancouver Marathon. But I’m sure I’ll do the Scotia Half again too. I really like the course (which is similar to BMO) and I would really like to get a PB there.
Another race I’m looking forward to this year is the Ragnar Relay in Washington in July. We have a team of 6 runners (mostly Team in Training alumni members) and we are going to take turns running a total of almost 300 km. That should be really fun (and tiring!!). Another one I’m sure I’ll do is the Fall Classic in November. It’s a nice course at UBC and signals the end of the 2014 racing season. I likely might toss in some more races here and there, but these are the ones that I’ll do for sure.
Be sure to also read the post-race interview with Karl Woll that we did last year. Haven’t seen the documentary series? Watch it below!