Sunday, November 30, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Seattle Marathon

Today, I ran the Seattle Marathon.  I’ve done this race twice before.  I ran it in 1990 when the course was completely different.  Last year, I did it as part of the Seattle Quadzilla.  This year, I did it as part of the quadzilla again.

This race starts and finishes downtown, near the Space Needle.

After yesterday’s race, I checked out from my hotel in Renton and moved to a hotel that was only a few blocks from the start.  The expo was at the Westin, which was a little over a mile away.  Last year I walked.  This year I took the monorail, so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time outside.  It was getting colder.

In the Wishbone Run and Ghost of Seattle Marathon, I had to cope with different combinations of cold, wet, windy conditions.  Today was another cold day.  When I woke up, it was 25 degrees.  It would warm up a few degrees, but not much.  The good news is that it was a sunny day, so I wasn’t going to get wet.  The bad news is that it was another windy day.

When I checked the forecast last night, it looked like winds would be 20 mph, with gusts up to 36.  I checked again this morning, and the wind forecast wasn’t as bad.  We would always have winds of at least 10 mph, but that’s a lot better than 20.  The “real feel” was forecast to be 17.

I neglected to pick up a gear check bag at the expo.  I never saw where we were supposed to get those.  I didn’t realize I didn’t have one until this morning.  Ever since the Boston bombings, large races have insisted that you use only the clear bags that they provide.  I didn’t have an acceptable bag.  That meant I couldn’t wear extra layers to the start unless I was willing to part with them.  All I had that I was willing to throw away was a heat shield that I saved from another race.  I wouldn’t have any extra layers to wear after the race.

Despite the revised forecast, I braced myself for the worst.  I wore two pairs of tights on my legs.  I wore three shirts, two of which had long sleeves.  I wore two pairs of gloves.  I also had a lightweight hooded jacket, but I had to be careful that it didn’t obstruct my race bib.  The timing chip was on the bib, and it might not work if it was covered up.  I had so many layers I felt like the Michelin Man.

I only had to walk a few blocks from my hotel to get to the start.  I arrived 30 minutes early, so I could take part in a group photo for runners doing the quadzilla.  There was also a group photo for Marathon Maniacs.  I didn’t have any warm-up layers, so I had to make do with my throwaway heat shield.

A few of the runners who did the quadzilla
Unlike the first three races of the quadzilla, the Seattle Marathon is a large race with thousands of runners.  It’s so big that they close down I-90, so we can run on the freeway.  We started at Seattle Center.  After running through part of downtown, we take a ramp that leads us onto the freeway.  After leaving downtown, we eventually get to the I-90 floating bridge that crosses Lake Washington.  I was worried about this section, because winds would be strongest here.  It’s completely exposed.  After crossing the bridge, we turn around and cross it again.

The next several miles overlap with the course we ran yesterday, including a loop around Seward Park.  Finally, we have to negotiate some tough hills before returning downtown, where we finish inside a stadium.

I didn’t know how fast I could run with so many layers.  I didn’t know if I could’ve run fast under optimal conditions.  My legs were fatigued.  I accepted that I would be slow.  I just wanted to finish, and I didn’t want to get chilled to the bone again.  Accordingly, I lined up farther back than I usually do, and I started at a conservative pace.

My legs felt better today than they did the last two days.  Wearing two pairs of tights didn’t seem to slow me down.  Once I started running, it didn’t even feel unusual.  I felt like I started a little faster today, although I wasn’t looking at my watch.

The first time I reached an aid station, I had a cup of Gatorade that was half frozen.  It was a Gatorade slushy.  I wondered if I would need to limit my intake to keep from getting cold.

On the ramp to I-90, I eased up.  I was wearing quite a few layers, and it’s easy to work up a sweat running uphill.  After the ramp leveled out, we entered a long tunnel.  The next aid station was inside the tunnel.  It was warmer in the tunnel, and we were sheltered from the wind.  The Gatorade at this aid station wasn’t frozen.

I was getting warm in the tunnel.  I was tempted to remove one pair of gloves, but I waited.  I knew we would get a blast of cold air as we left the tunnel.  Immediately after the tunnel, we crossed the floating bridge over Lake Washington.

The bridge is about two miles long, and we crossed it twice.  Thankfully, the wind wasn’t anywhere near as strong as it was yesterday.  I didn’t see any white caps on the lake.  I could see from the ripples on the lake that the wind direction was the same as yesterday.   That gave me a good idea what to expect.  About half of today’s race overlapped with yesterday’s course.  I knew where we would run into the wind and where it would be at our backs.

At about six miles, I was passed by the 4:00 pace group.  I didn’t want to expend too much effort to try to stay with them.  With so many layers, I had to be careful not to overheat.

After crossing the bridge once, we briefly entered another tunnel.  The third aid station was inside this tunnel, so I again got to drink Gatorade that wasn’t frozen.  After the aid station, we immediately turned around to cross the bridge again.  As I started crossing the bridge, I noticed the great views of the city across the lake.  It was a bright sunny day.  I could see some of the downtown buildings over the hillside.  Farther away, I could see the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains.

About halfway across the bridge, I started getting warm.  I only had one layer I could remove.  That was the hooded jacket.  I took it off and tied it around my waste.  As we left the bridge, we turned left and started heading south alongside the lake.  For the next 11 miles, we would be repeating yesterday’s course, but with two differences.  First, we were running in the streets instead of on the sidewalk.  Also, we would run around Seward Park in the opposite direction.

For the next three miles, we mostly had the wind at our backs.  I had to take off one pair of gloves and tuck them under my belt.  Even still, I started to overheat.  I had to slow down.  Suddenly, everyone around was passing me.  I was willing to accept a slow time today.  That was a price I was willing to pay to make sure I was warm enough.  The previous two days scared me.  I would rather overdress and have to go slow than freeze my ass off for a third straight day.

During the loop around Seward Park, I got my first taste of headwinds.  I got cold quickly.  I put the second pair of gloves on again.  Halfway around the park, I reached the half marathon mark.  My time was 2:00:44.  I was surprised to be that close to a four hour pace.  I knew, however, that the second half would be tougher.  We would have several miles into the wind.  Then we would have some tough hills.

The cold seemed to rejuvenate me.  I was now keeping up with the runners around me.  As we left Seward Park, I could see that the wind was stronger now.  There were white caps on the lake.  It wasn’t as bad as yesterday, but it was much stronger than it had been an hour earlier.

As I began a six mile stretch that was all into the wind, I started to speed up.  Now I was passing everyone around me.  I was motivated to get through this section as quickly as I could.

I considered putting on my jacket again, but I waited too long.  Within a mile, I couldn’t move my fingers.  I couldn’t untie the knot that was holding the jacket around my waist.  Although I was getting cold, it was tolerable.  My biggest concern was my hands.  It was several degrees colder today.  Today, I had to be more concerned about frostbite.  Once I get cold, I lose all circulation to my hands.  They turn white.  That makes me more vulnerable to frostbite than most people.

I picked up my effort and tried to get through the next six miles as quickly as I could.  My hands were painful, but in a way, that was good.  When you can’t feel them at all, that’s the time to worry.

After we crossed under the freeway, I started to notice views that I somehow missed yesterday.  Looking to my right, across Lake Washington, I could see the Cascade Mountains.  There aren’t many places where you can run through a city and have views of two different mountain ranges.

We eventually ran past the northernmost point of yesterday’s course.  Then we reached a neighborhood of rolling hills.  I saw the hills as an opportunity to work up a sweat.  I didn’t actually want to get sweaty, but I was hoping to warm myself up to the point where my hands would get warmer.  It was starting to work. After a few small hills, I could once again move three fingers in each hand.  To badly paraphrase Meatloaf, “Six out of ten ain’t bad.”

As we reached the 20 mile mark, I checked my watch for the first time since the halfway mark.  I was about four minutes slower than a four hour pace.  I wasn’t too disappointed.  I knew the next few miles would slow me down anyway.

We still had to go a little farther into the wind.  Without any hills, I started to get cold again.  Then I saw the runners ahead of me making a left turn.  The runner next to me said, “This is it.”  As we turned onto THE HILL, I said, “This is better than six miles into the wind.”  He agreed.  I also told him that this was our best chance to warm up.

The first block is steep.  Then it levels off as you cross a street.  After another short block that’s also steep, you turn left.  The rest of the hill isn’t as steep, but it goes on for about three more blocks.  I chugged up the hill slowly.  There was an aid station at the top.  As I reached for a cup of Gatorade, I realized that all my fingers were working now.  I’ve never been so happy to run up a tough hill.

After running down the other side, we entered Washington Park Arboretum.  The terrain is rolling, but the trend is uphill.  These miles were slow, but my legs felt good.  I was in a nice slow-but-steady rhythm.

Around 22 miles, I reached an aid station with several port-o-potties.  Since my hands were finally usable, I was able to make a bathroom stop.  When I left the bathroom, I ran halfway up the next hill before realizing I had left a pair of gloves behind.  I still needed both pairs of gloves, so I had to go back.  Thankfully, it wasn’t occupied.  I got to run that hill twice.

Even after leaving the arboretum neighborhood, there’s a gentle uphill trend until the last mile.  With just over a mile to go, we crossed I-5.  I looked to my right, and across Lake Union, I could see Gas Works Park.  That’s where we started running on Thursday.  As I neared the end of my quadzilla journey, I could see where it began.  In between were over 100 of the most difficult miles I’ve endured.

The last mile starts out sharply downhill.  After being on high ground, we needed to descend to get back to downtown.  It didn’t seem as uncomfortable as it did last year.

With a half mile to go, I passed an unofficial aid station set up by the Hash House Harriers.  I had a beer to celebrate my quadzilla.

The finish line is on a football field.  The field was still covered with snow from yesterday morning. 

I sprinting across the snow-covered field, finishing in 4:17:21.  I received my finisher medal and then went indoors where Steve Walters gave me my quadzilla medal.

The recovery area, with all the post-race food, is inside the stadium where it’s nice and warm.  After another cold race, it was nice to be able to relax and greet friends in a comfortable environment.  Since I didn’t have any warm-up clothes, it was nice that I only had to walk two blocks to get back to my hotel.

I did the Seattle Quadzilla last year, but I questioned whether it counted because it didn’t rain during any of the races.  This year, it was the real deal!  Now, I’m a real runner.

When you’re running marathons every day, there isn’t much time for shopping or sightseeing.  I don’t fly home until tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll have some time in the morning to see more of downtown.  I’ve been waking up at 4:30 every day, so I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting an early start.

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