By: Matt Setlack (start line photo by Christopher Morris)

The 2017 BMO Vancouver Half Marathon experience from 05 to 08 May 2017 was like no other experience I have ever had before. I have had the incredible opportunity to compete in races across North America and around the world but none of them have come close to the elite hospitality experience I had at BMO Half.

Do you ever have those days when everything clicks and slides effortlessly into place? The experience I had at BMO Half was just like that from the time I left to the time I returned. There were no hang ups and rarely any waits; I parked at the airport, walked towards the shuttle bus stop and just as I turned the corner, the bus pulled up. I could not have planned that if I tried.

Friday 07 May 2017

I left Edmonton in the early morning and flew non-stop to Vancouver. Emily and I met in the race hotel (Coast Coal Harbour Hotel; probably the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in) and walked to the Race Expo at the convention center (only a couple blocks away) to pick up our race numbers. We met a lot of great people from Saucony there and I also had the chance to connect with John Stanton, the founder of Running Room. He invited us to the Free Running Room 3k Friendship Run that was scheduled for the next morning.

 Matt Setlack and John Stanton at BMO Vancouver Marathon Expo

Matt Setlack and John Stanton at BMO Vancouver Marathon Expo

In the afternoon, Matt and Sarah Clout picked us up and I had the opportunity to see a horse dressage competition. Sarah was competing in it that weekend and she ended up taking home the First Level Amateur Division Championship. I had no idea that there was so much to dressage as there is. It was really interesting to watch and have Matt and Sarah there to explain the rules to me.

 Matt Clout, George and Sarah Clout at Southlands Riding Club

Matt Clout, George and Sarah Clout at Southlands Riding Club

Around dinner time, food was prepared for the elite athletes in the hospitality suite (chicken, rice, vegetables, fruit, fruit to go bars, water, carbonated and flavoured water, etc). Lynn Kunuka was the Elite Coordinator and she did a phenomenal job. Just outstanding! Arlene and Cheryl were in the hospitality suite kitchen getting all the food ready for the athletes. I was extremely impressed with the food that they provided for us; it was exactly the type of food that we eat at home.That night, I watched Nike's Breaking2 commercial, which was very impressive. Eliud Kipchoge ran a 2:00:25 marathon time trial on a formula 1 race track near Milan, Italy.

The whole BMO Half experience felt like a family reunion. Many of the elite athletes and volunteers hung out in the hospitality suite and we got to know each other.

Saturday 08 May 2017

Emily and I decided to go to the Free 3k Running Room Friendship Run at the Vancouver Denman Running Room. This was the first time I had been to a Friendship Run and was expecting just an easy 15 minute jog and done but when I got there, there were tents set up, there was a start/finish line arch, free refreshments available and photographers/videographers walking around. I felt a little like I was on the set of a movie that was being filmed. 

 Running Room Athletes Daniel Kipkoech, Matt Setback and Jane Murage

Running Room Athletes Daniel Kipkoech, Matt Setback and Jane Murage

John Stanton gave a speech, the Running Room pace bunnies were introduced and many of the elite athletes were introduced. A cheque was presented to the Thunderbirds Track Club by John Stanton. The 3k run went off without a hitch and then it was time for the BMO 2.5k Kids Run.

The BMO 2.5k Kids Run was definitely one of the highlights of the entire BMO Half Marathon Experience. Jim, Mary, Daniel, Jane, Emily and I drove over to the run. Lynn, Kip, Mike were already there. As soon as we arrived, they called us up on stage and introduced us. I was thinking, "I think the race organizers have maybe mistaken me for an elite runner/Olympian or something". haha The national anthem was sung before the race (I really like it when race organizers do this) and then we got to cheer the kids on. Lynn gave everyone blue BMO Saucony t-shirts that read "ELITE" on the front and back and then we were then given BMO Kids Run medals to present to the kids as they crossed the finish line. It was so awesome! I felt like a million bucks!

 Kip, Daniel and Matt (Photo by Mary Hinze)

Kip, Daniel and Matt (Photo by Mary Hinze)

 Daniel, Emily, Mike and Kip

Daniel, Emily, Mike and Kip

After that was done, we went over to the podium and got photos taken with any kids who wanted their photo taken. There was a huge lineup of kids. Then the kids started asking for our autographs! haha I was thinking, "I think you have the wrong guy (reference myself)". This event was so much fun and I had such a great time that my face actually started getting sore from smiling so much. I didn't know that was even possible. After the entire event was over on Sunday, we took the elevator with a family comprised of a father, two young girls with BMO 2.5k Kids Run medals around their necks and a mother with a BMO Full Marathon medal around her neck. We were wearing street clothes (unusual, since we usually wear running clothes) and the dad recognized us and said to us, "You guys are the elite athletes who went up on stage yesterday". It made me very happy to see an entire family partaking in the event. They looked very proud of themselves for finishing their races.

 BMO 2.5k Kids Run (Photo by Mary Hinze)

BMO 2.5k Kids Run (Photo by Mary Hinze)

A course tour of the BMO Half was scheduled for 12:30 pm on Saturday. I thought there would be a bus or a 15 passenger van. Because of Vancouver traffic, we ended up getting back to the hotel a little later than expected. When we got to the elite suite, we realized that the tour wasn't an entire bus/van, but was instead just a group of elite athletes that would be driven over the course by one of the volunteers. Ferg Hawke volunteered to take anyone for a course tour. Emily and I asked to go but nobody else showed up. Jonathan also volunteered to navigate the course tour. We left the hotel, walked to the vehicle, got inside and realized it had a leather interior and was freshly cleaned (and I mean immaculate). We asked the other volunteers at the finish line arch if we could drive through since the other end of the street was blocked off and they said, "sure". So here we are driving/slaloming around these blue baricades trying to look like we belong there. It was pretty funny. Ferg drove over the entire 21.1k course for us in his own vehicle during Vancouver rush hour traffic while Jonathon navigated and called out the km splits as we passed them. Emily and I were thinking, we are so lucky; I can't believe we're actually getting a personal course tour. This is incredible! This tour ended up helping A LOT during the race since we knew exactly when and where the next turns were coming up. This was my first time doing this race. Thank you so much, Ferg and Jonathon for the amazing course tour! We really appreciate you guys going out of your way to do that for us!

We returned to the hotel and it was time for the technical meeting at 4:30 pm. Lynn gave us a complete run-down of the course and what the sequence of events would be and then the course director, Eric Chene actually came in and went through the half marathon and full marathon courses with us on the course map. After that, we had a pasta dinner together. There was more than enough food to go around. During dinner, I met an interesting gentleman and as he was talking, I was thinking, "this guy has the perfect voice to be a narrator for a film or an announcer or something". Turns out the gentleman I met was, Steve King and he was the announcer for the BMO Half and Full. He is the elite of race announcers!

Sunday 07 May 2017 (RACE DAY)

We woke up at 4:30 am (who schedules a race start for 7 am? haha) and went to the elite suite where Arlene and Cheryl had food all set out ready to go. The bus left at 5:30 am to take us to the start line. They had a gym open for us to warm up in with bathrooms to use. This was absolutely perfect. There was even a special passageway blocked off for the elites to get to the front of the race start line. How cool is that! I saw John Stanton up on the stage; he gave me a thumbs up and I waved. While we were warming up inside, the national anthem was played (love it when they do this). The weather was perfect with the temperature around 6-8C and the wind 11kph from the ENE. There was a Tesla electric car at the start line and I believe it was used as the lead car.

The gun went off and the pace was really slow. I was thinking, "this is like ultra-marathon pace" and we were running a half-marathon. No offence to ultra-runners out there :) I was waiting for the Kenyans to blow past me but they stayed behind me for like 500m. On the way down Cambie Street, the first 3 km or so are straight downhill (with a small uphill bump to cross over Cambie Bridge). I wanted to take advantage of gravity on the downhill so I tried to maintain the proper effort and not worry about pace. Knowing the course enabled me to take the tangents (run the shortest distance on the inside of the turns). As I was crossing over Cambie Bridge, I saw the lead pack ahead of me way over on the left hand side of the road while I was on the right hand side of the road because I knew that a right hand turn was coming up. I have studied the USATF Course Measurement and Certification Procedures Manual and have a pretty good understanding of exactly how race courses are measured.

 Benard, Andrew and Matt running as a team (Photo by Alvin Lee)

Benard, Andrew and Matt running as a team (Photo by Alvin Lee)

From Cambie Bridge at about 3k to about 6k, I ran by myself and then caught up to Kenyan runner, Benard. As I was passing him, he picked up his pace and we ran side by side. Then Ireland's Andrew joined in on the fun and the three of us ran together for pretty much the rest of the race. We didn't say a word to each other (besides me saying, "tangents! take the tangents!") the entire race. In retrospect, I'm not sure if Benard knew what that meant...because we rubbed elbows several times. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that we were going to push each other to the finish line, two guys would run in front, one behind and then we would switch. I felt like Benard and Andrew surged on the uphills and then slowed down on the downhills and flats because I would fall off the back by 10-20m and then make the ground back up on the downhills/flats. Thank you to everyone who cheered for me during the race. It really did make a big difference. 

With about 1.5k to go, Benard and Andrew really picked up the pace and I fell back at least 20-30m but I kept running pretty hard slowly closing the gap until we were on the final 500m stretch up Pender Street (very slight uphill). I was thinking, "there is no way that I'm going to run with these guys for 15k and then getting dropped in the end so I ran as fast as I could (grunting and spitting all the while...there may have even been froth coming from my mouth like a rabid dog). In the final 50 to 100m, I could see that Andrew (from Ireland) was in the middle of the street, Benard was just to the left of him and I was to the left of Benard. I think I had a bit of an advantage coming from behind because they could not see me. With 10m to go, I got a little jolt of energy (from where, I'm not sure) and Benard and I were literally neck and neck (photo finish style). It was very tight at the finish line and we rubbed elbows a bit as we raced to the finish line. In the end, Andrew came through in 5th in a time of 1:09:23 and I came in 6th in a time of 1:09:24. I was happy to have set a new personal best in the half marathon by 2 minutes 4 seconds. I believe I was the 2nd or 3rd Canadian overall. Emily also set a new 2 minute PB running 1:13:28 (2nd woman overall, 2nd Canadian). It was fantastic to see Emily finish the race a few short minutes after I finished my race. We also saw each other at the two 180 degree turnaround points on the race course. As we passed each other, we bellowed out words of encouragement to one another. Emily said that this really lifted her spirits.

 Emily at the finish (Photo by Mary Hinze)

Emily at the finish (Photo by Mary Hinze)

 Jane Murage (3rd), Natasha Kodak (1st) and Emily Setlack (2nd)

Jane Murage (3rd), Natasha Kodak (1st) and Emily Setlack (2nd)

After Emily crossed the finish line, I asked her how she did, she said, "I ran a 2 minute PB". She then asked me the same and I said, "I ran a 2 minute PB as well". This is the second race in two weeks that we have both set new PBs in races together.

After we finished, our bags with warm-up gear were waiting for us at the finish line. Thank you, Ferg for bringing all of our bags to the finish line. It was just perfect how they were right there waiting for us. This was a point to point course. Medals were given out and post-race interviews were done. The entrance to the race hotel was literally 10m from the finish line (Pender Street entrance) so we could be in our hotel room within 5 minutes.

Emily and I did our warm-down going backwards over the marathon course so we could watch Mike Trites and Marty Robertson finish their races. Mike ended up placing 1st Canadian.  

 Announcer Steve King (L) and Mike Trites (R) - 1st Canadian in the BMO Vancouver Full Marathon

Announcer Steve King (L) and Mike Trites (R) - 1st Canadian in the BMO Vancouver Full Marathon

 Emily and Mike

Emily and Mike

Mary gave us hospitality lanyards/passes and we could go into the hospitality/VIP section right at the finish line. There were food tables set up, cappuccino machines, sandwiches, washrooms, unlimited beer and wine available. You could eat and drink as much as you wanted while cheering for fellow runners as they crossed the finish line and talking with friends. Everything was complimentary! The sun was shining. It was absolutely incredible!

That night, Emily and I decided to splurge and go out for dinner (when we are on our own we usually end up eating peanut butter sandwiches on a park bench somewhere or having a picnic down by the water). We went to Cardero's, which Matt and Sarah Clout introduced us to. We love this place!

 Emily and I having dinner at Cardero's

Emily and I having dinner at Cardero's

Monday 08 May 2017

We received an email and a note from Lynn asking if we would like to go for a post-race shuffle at 9 am the next morning. We went out for a 30 minute easy shuffle with Lynn, Allison, Mo and Andrew.

The rest of the day was spent taking it really easy and then walking along the water. We are always extremely cognizant of how lucky we are to come to beautiful places like Vancouver where the grass is green, there are flowers everywhere, birds are chirping and the sun is shining. We ran into Mike Trites and talked with him for a while. Our return to northern Alberta was uneventful.

Thank You

I owe the following people a debt of gratitude for all the volunteer work they did in organizing the event and spending their time to ensure the athletes were taken care of extremely well.

Lynn Kanuka - She was the Elite Coordinator the BMO Vancouver Half and Full Marathon. She is full of life and an Olympic athlete herself who still holds the Canadian 1,500m record (click here). She does an incredible job of treating the athletes remarkably well. Lynn always has a smile on her face.

 Lynn Kanuka and Mary Hinze (Photo by Debra Kato)

Lynn Kanuka and Mary Hinze (Photo by Debra Kato)

Jim and Mary Hinze - I had the priviledge to meet Jim and Mary for the first time at the Vancouver Sun Run this year. Jim and Mary are two of the kindest people I have ever met. There is a positive energy surrounding them. I had just met them but by the way they talk to you, it's almost as if you have known them for years. They are very respectful people. They are both extremely considerate and I feel like they would give you the shirt off their back to keep you warm.

 Jim and Mary Hinze - Two of the kindest people I have ever met.

Jim and Mary Hinze - Two of the kindest people I have ever met.

Graham White - Executive Director of Vancouver International Marathon Society. Thank you for putting on a phenomenal race.

 Graham White - Executive Director of Vancouver International Marathon Society

Graham White - Executive Director of Vancouver International Marathon Society

Arlene and Cheryl - These wonderful ladies volunteered their time to prepare the food in the elite hospitality suite and ensure everyone had anything they needed. They were so kind and caring and really made Emily and I feel at home with their pleasant and caring way. They got up before 4:30 am on race morning to open up the elite suite so athletes could have breakfast before their race.

Ferg Hawke - Ferg is a machine. He has competed in the Badwater Ultra-marathon and competed with Tony O'Keeffe at Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii. His son, Carter finished the marathon in 3:04:58. Thank you, Ferg for taking us on a course tour.

Jonathan - Thank you, Jonathan for navigating the course tour for us. We would have been lost without your help. It was a pleasure to hang out with you after the race.

Running Room and Ronhill - Thank you very much for your amazing support. I am able to do what I love because of you. 

All Organizers and Volunteers - Thank you for helping to put on an amazing event. Races like this could not happen without the hard work and dedication of hundreds of volunteers. Thank you! 

My next race is the Canadian Road 10km National Championships in Ottawa on 27 May 2017.

BMO Half - Beautiful Fast Course, Outstanding Elite Hospitality, Friendly Volunteers!