Saturday, November 29, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Ghost of Seattle Marathon

Today, I ran the Ghost of Seattle Marathon.  This is the third race of the Seattle Quadzilla.  It follows the original course of the Seattle Marathon.  It’s a double-loop.  Each loop starts with a lap around Seward Park and then does along out-and-back along the western shore of Lake Washington.  The Seattle Marathon still includes a portion of this course, but in that race we run in the streets.  Today, the streets were open to traffic, so we ran on the sidewalks.

When I woke up, it was 34 degrees.  That was as warm as it would get.  The temperature would drop a few degrees during the race.  There was also a chance of snow flurries.  I’ve run in similar conditions before, or so I thought.

Although I knew how to dress for these conditions, I had to resist the temptation to pile on extra layers.  My bout with hypothermia yesterday made me nervous about going out in colder conditions today.  I wore tights, a polypro shirt with a singlet over it, polypro gloves and a warm knit hat.  I also brought extra gloves and two jackets, which I left in the car.

Before the race, it was raining and drizzling intermittently.  Just before the race started, the drizzle changed to snow.  At first, it was just a few flakes.  What caught me off guard was the wind.  When I’ve run in cold wet conditions before, it wasn’t this windy.  I started to worry that it might be as windy as yesterday. That would be bad, since it was 20 degrees colder today.

I added one more layer.  It was the lightweight hooded jacket I got at the finish of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.  It was meant as a throwaway, but I saved mine, and I’ve worn in in two races this week.

We started by running south for about half a mile to get to Seward Park.  I could tell we had the wind at our backs.  That meant we would be going into the wind when we started the out-and-back part of the course.  That’s about five miles long.  I started at a conservative pace.  I wasn’t going to look at my watch.  I was going to conserve energy.  I didn’t want to run out of gas later, if I was struggling with the cold.

As we started our loop around Seward Park, we turned into the wind.  It was cold.  Also, it was snowing harder.  My hands were already getting really cold.  By the time I finished the loop, I knew I needed a second pair of gloves.  Before getting back to the start/finish area, we ran close to where I parked my car.  I ran over to my car to get my second pair of gloves.  They’re cotton, which isn’t so great in wet conditions, but I needed an extra layer to keep my hands from freezing in the wind.  While I was there, I also got my other jacket and put that on too.

By now, the snow was really coming down.  The snow started to collect on my gloves and melt.  As they got wet, I started to wonder if they were doing more harm than good.  Within a mile, my hands were numb.

I didn’t carry a bottle today.  There was an aid station in the start/finish area, which I would pass three times during the race.  There was also an aid station in the middle of the out-and-back section.  I would go by that one a total of four times.  That meant I could get a drink every three to four miles.  As long as I drank at each aid station, that was sufficient.

I was really cold going into the wind on the out-and-back section.  For the first few miles, we were right next to Lake Washington.  The wind was blowing right off the lake.  Besides being cold, it was tiring.  I got through it by reminding myself that the wind would be at our backs coming back.

Before long, the snow stopped.  It would take a long time for my gloves to dry, but it was a relief to know that I only had to contend with the cold wind.

After the turnaround, I started feeling warm within a mile.  Under my jacket,
I could feel some perspiration.  Before long, I also felt perspiration under my hat.  With my core nice and warm, and without the headwind, I hoped my hands would eventually warm up.  That was too much to ask.

It was tiring running into the wind, but it didn’t feel easy running with the wind.  I think the previous two races took too much out of me.  I was never running fast, but it never felt easy.

I finished the first half of the course in 2:06.  That was disappointing, but not entirely surprising.  I knew I would get slower in the second half.  I was tired.  At the aid station, I was able to drink a cup of hot cocoa.  At first it was too hot to drink, but I added just enough cold water to make it easy to drink.  That was wonderful.

As I started my second lap around Seward Park, I turned into the wind again.  It was much stronger now.  I could see white caps on the lake.  I was only running into the wind for the first mile of this loop, but it was tiring.  It was also bitter cold.  The north end of Seward Park is surrounded by the lake, so it’s really exposed to the wind.

As I gradually turned out of the wind, it was still cold, but less tiring.  I briefly had the wind at my back, but then I was sheltered from the wind by the peninsula.  I only had a brief respite from the wind before I would start the next out-and-back.  It wasn’t enough time for my hands to warm up.

The next five miles were brutal.  The wind was much stronger.  I was getting worn out trying to fight the wind.  My hands were painful, and I could no longer move them.  I knew they would be better on the way back, but in the meantime, I worried about frost bite.

When I eventually reached the turnaround, I started to get warmer.  Surprisingly, I noticed a difference in my hands first.  They were still cold, but they no longer hurt, and I could move my fingers again.  In time, I noticed perspiration under my jacket and hat.  I unzipped the front of my jacket.

Once again, running didn’t get easy.  It just wasn’t as difficult.  I wasn’t getting any faster.  My legs got pretty cold going into the wind.  They weren’t as bad a yesterday, but they didn’t quite feel normal.  I shuffled along as best I could.

In the last few miles, I was more exposed to the wind.  Going around a bend in the shoreline, I was right at the water’s edge.  I had about a mile to go.  Suddenly, I could feel the tailwind pushing at my back.  For the first time, I felt like I was going faster.  Some of the gusts seemed to lift me off my feet.  I’ve never felt such a strong wind.

I had been ignoring my watch for most of the race, but I finally pushed up the sleeve of my jacket so I could see it.  As I got closer to the finish, I heard my watch beep.  It displayed my split for the 26th mile.  It was 10:03.  Even with the wind pushing me, I couldn’t run a ten minute mile.  I hate to think how slow I was running into that wind.

I finished in 4:23:17.  Normally, I would be pretty disgusted with that time, but I had seen the handwriting on the wall.  Battling the elements each day is really taking something out of me.

Before doing anything else, I rushed to the port-o-potty.  I had been holding it for about half the race.  I couldn’t stop earlier, because my hands were useless.  Now they finally worked again.  Next, I got my finisher medal.

In addition to the medal, this race also has a nice hooded sweatshirt.  It was nice to get something warm for the cold weather.  I didn’t pack enough warm clothes.

I stayed in the finish area just long enough to have some hot food and hot cocoa.  They had the food in a tent with heaters.  As soon as I ate, I walked back to the car.  I had to rush back to the hotel so I could check out.  Tomorrow’s race is downtown, so I moved to a downtown hotel.

Of the four races in the quadzilla, this is normally my favorite.  I like this course the best.  Unfortunately, I was too preoccupied with the cold wind to be able to enjoy it.

Tomorrow is the Seattle Marathon.  The temperature will be in the upper 20s.  It’s supposed to by sunny, but it sounds like it will be just as windy as today.  I don’t honestly know how I’m going to endure such strong winds on a day that’s colder.

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