Today, I ran the Wishbone Run. This is the second race of the Seattle Quadzilla. It’s usually a 27 trail run in Gig Harbor, but because of logging in the area, this year’s race was held on paved paths in Tukwila.
Tukwila is right next to Renton, where I’m staying for the first three nights of my trip. That meant that even though this race started at 7:30, I still had time to eat breakfast at the hotel before driving to the race. I didn’t eat that much, but I had plenty to drink. I wanted to start this race well-hydrated.
When I woke up, it was 53 degrees and raining. I expected the temperature to drop to 51 and then stay there throughout the race. The rain might stop, but it would most likely come back. The hourly forecast showed the chance of rain increasing throughout the morning. There are two ways to dress for rain. You can wear some type of rain gear to try to stay dry, or you can accept being wet and wear clothes that will keep you warm enough. I didn’t want to wear a rain poncho in strong winds, so I opted to wear warm tech clothes.
This is another no frills race. There’s no entry fee, but runners are asked to make a$20 donation. The donations go to a local food bank.
The course is a double out-and-back. According to the website, there are aid stations at the turnarounds. My recollection is that last year there was also an aid station in between. Not wanting to repeat the mistake I made yesterday, I carried a handheld bottle.
Last year, there were two places where I followed other runners who made wrong turns. It was the first time anyone had run this course. This year, during his pre-race briefing, the RD went out of his way to make sure we knew where the first turn was. He also mentioned another place where we would turn left instead of right after crossing a bridge. He said this was different than last year.
It wasn’t raining when the race started. I realized I would be overdressed until it started raining, but I expected the strong winds to have a cooling effect. I also planned to start at a slower pace today.
I ran the first two miles in nine minutes each. I felt sluggish and some of my muscles were tight. The tightness eventually went away. The sluggishness didn’t. I eventually slowed down. I had hoped to break four hours today, but I abandoned that goal in the early miles.
When we reached the second spot where some of us made a wrong turn last year, it was conspicuously well marked. There’s no way anybody could have missed that turn.
At four miles, there was an aid station. I didn’t know for sure if there was one at the turnaround, so I filled my bottle. Better safe than sorry.
Most of the course is on the Green River Trail. We cross the river in a few different places. As we approached one of the bridges, I saw about a dozen runners on the opposite bank. They were running in the opposite direction. That didn’t seem right to me. As we crossed the bridge, I told the runner next to me that I wasn’t sure if the people ahead of us were going the right way. She pointed out the orange arrows on the pavement. There were several arrows pointing to the left. There was one arrow coming back from the right. Was it possible that we go out one way and comeback form the other direction? I had my doubts, but I followed the other runners. The remarks at the pre-race briefing made me think I must have been wrong.
The arrows quickly led us off the trail, down a hill, and through a neighborhood. Then we turned right onto a sidewalk along a major street. There were two other runners with me. We were soon joined by a third. We all realized by now that we were off the course. Then the orange arrows ended.
Off in the distance, we could still see a runner ahead of us who had gone the same way. We was wearing a Waldo outfit. Before long, he was out of sight. It’s possible he turned, but we didn’t see where. Nobody said it, but we were all thinking, “Where’s Waldo?”
We had to improvise. We ran until our watches said we had gone 6.75 miles. Then we backtracked. We would run it correctly in the second half. We were all pretty sure we made our wrong turn after crossing the bridge.
By now, I was really glad that I filled my bottle at four miles. I had enough Gatorade to make it back to the same aid station. It still wasn’t raining, and there also wasn’t much wind. I was overdressed, so I was getting hot. Today, I was careful to stay well-hydrated.
As I neared the end of the first out-and-back, I was wishing it would rain soon. In the meantime, I was overheating. I finished the improvised first half in 4:05. Shortly after I headed out again, it started to rain. It went from drizzle to a steady rain within a minute. The drops felt ice cold. The wind I missed earlier was here now, and it cut through me like a knife. This was a distinct case of “Be careful what you wish for.” I got more than I bargained for.
It didn’t take long before I realized that the shirt I was wearing didn’t shed water like the polypropylene shirt that I usually wear in cold wet conditions. I packed that shirt, but I wanted to save it. The next two races will be much colder, and they might also be wet.
I quickly realized that my shirt wasn’t keeping me warm, now that it was wet. If it had started raining before the halfway mark, I would have run to my car to get a rain poncho. By the time I realized I needed one, I was almost a mile into my second lap. Going back now would add almost two miles to my race. I decided to tough it out.
After another mile, my hands got so cold they began to feel painful and tingly. My feet started to feel rubbery. Now I wished I had returned to get a rain poncho before I had gone too far. I had thoughts of going back – not to get a poncho, but to drop out. It’s not that I wasn’t willing to endure the discomfort. I was getting scared. I still had about 11 miles to go, and I was starting to worry about hypothermia.
I was wearing sunglasses with clear lenses. The outsides of my lenses were covered with water drops, and the insides were fogging up. Puddles were forming, and I couldn’t see them. I could see just well enough to stay on the course, but the puddles seemed invisible against the dark pavement. When I splashed into them, cold water soaked through my shoes. Aside from having heavy wet shoes, it was one more thing making me cold.
When I reached the aid station, I briefly entertained thoughts of dropping. Other than other runners, the aid station volunteers were the only people I would see for the next eight miles. While I was tempted to ask if someone could give me a ride back, it seemed too selfish. Even if one of the volunteers was willing to do that, they would have to abandon the aid station. I hesitated at the aid station, but didn’t say anything.
I still considered turning around, but I would now have to run four miles in the cold rain just to drop out. I pressed on, even though I couldn’t imagine running another nine and a half miles in this cold. My bottle was still half full, so I didn’t bother to refill it. My hands were so stiff that I could barely squeeze the bottle to drink. I also wasn’t going to be sweating much.
Sabrina Seher caught up to me at the aid station. Sabrina always wears shorts no matter how cold it is. Seeing her enduring the cold in shorts and a singlet made me think I should be able to tough it out with all the clothes I was wearing.
When we crossed the bridge, we turned right. I saw Steve Walters coming back, so I knew we were going the right way this time. Before long, I started seeing signs saying that the trail was closed for construction. I saw more runners coming back, so I was reassured. This was the right way.
After crossing the bridge, we were more exposed to the wind. It was stronger and colder. I assumed we must be going into it. It was still more than two miles to the turnaround. I was struggling with the cold, but I kept myself going by telling myself that we would have a tailwind coming back. Hopefully that wouldn’t be as cold.
When I made the turn, I discovered I was wrong. We had actually been running with the wind. Now we really did have a headwind, and it was MUCH colder. It was also getting tired running into it. At times, there were gusts that almost stopped me in my tracks. I was getting scared. It would take me another hour to finish. I pressed on, because I didn’t have any other choice. We weren’t within sight of any roads.
After another mile, one of my shoes came untied. I couldn’t tie it. My hands were completely numb. The only way I could hold onto my water bottle was to push the hand strap over my wrist. I caught up to three other runners and asked if any of them had working hands. One stopped to try to tie my shoe. She couldn’t tie a bow, but was able
to knot it for me. When I resumed running, I realized that stopping, even briefly, had been a mistake. When I wasn’t moving, I got colder. My legs barely worked now.
I forced myself to keep moving, but I was slower now. The first stage of hypothermia includes loss of blood flow to the extremities. I was already experiencing that in my hands and feet, and now it was starting to affect my legs.
As I got closer to the bridge, I told myself that the wind wouldn’t be as strong on the other side. It wasn’t as exposed. I didn’t know it that was true, but I needed hope, even if it was false hope.
As I crossed the bridge, I started having symptoms I’ve never experienced before. My whole body was shivering. I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering. Then the muscles in my neck, face and jaws felt weird. It’s hard to describe. It’s like they were stiff and they were shivering at the same time. I started to have difficulty breathing.
When I got back to the aid station, I again briefly thought about asking for a ride to the finish area. This time it didn’t seem selfish. I was now afraid for my life. I didn’t ask, because I couldn’t risk stopping, even for a minute. If I stopped again, and they couldn’t give me a ride, I might not be able to continue on my own power.
I kept checking my watch to see how much farther I needed to run. It was tough to read my watch. Visibility wasn’t the only problem. My brain was getting fuzzy. Somehow, I had enough focus to look for course markings and recognize landmarks along the route. Other than that, I couldn’t think clearly. At times, I thought I might black out at any moment.
After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the only part of the course that’s alongside a major road. I only had a mile to go. I saw another runner ahead of me and did my best to follow him in. My legs were completely stiff. My muscles didn’t seem to work normally. I don’t know how I kept moving forward. I seemed to be running on willpower alone.
I eventually finished in 4:20:29 and got my home made finisher medal.
I walked over to the food table. The volunteers could see my hands were shaking and suggested I hold boiled potatoes in each hand. That was warming up my hands, but the rest of my body was getting colder.
Steve Walters, who won the race, was still in the finish area. I ate the potatoes and asked Steve if he would make sure I got to my car. One of the volunteers helped me get the keys out of my SpiBelt. Then Steve wrapped a sweatshirt around my shoulders and walked me to my car. I didn’t eat any other post-race food, which is a shame. Among other things, they had huckleberry pancakes. I had food at the hotel, and that would do.
Once I was sitting in the car, I knew I would be OK. I was sheltered from the rain and the wind. It took me two tries to turn the key, but I started the car and turned the heat on. It was taking a long time to get heat. In the meantime, my wet clothes were making me colder. I decided to drive back to the hotel immediately. My hands were shaking, so I didn’t know at first if I could control the wheel. I drove slowly through the parking lot, not turning onto the highway until I was sure I could drive safely. I drove slowly, which probably irritated the drivers behind me. Fortunately, it was only a five minute drive.
I didn’t take an ice bath today. I immediately took a hot bath. When I was warm enough, I ate some snacks in the room. I had tea, chocolate milk, potato chips and pie. When I was done eating, I was cold again. I went to the whirlpool. Then I took another bath to rinse off the chlorine, and I stretched.
When I had time, I looked at the label of my shirt. I had assumed it was some type of tech fabric. It was 100% polyester. I learned three lessons about tech shirts today. First, when you get a race shirt that feels like a tech fabric, check the label. Second, for wet conditions, stick to polypropylene. Accept no substitutes. Finally, when it comes to wet conditions, polyester is almost as bad as cotton.
I didn’t mention this to anyone, but this was my 250th lifetime marathon or ultra. That’s not a major goal. It’s just a milestone on my way to 300, which IS one of my lifetime goals. Still, I thought it was something I would celebrate at the finish. Instead, I was only celebrating my survival. I was scared today. The last several miles weren’t even about finishing a race. I just wanted to get to safety, and I didn’t like my chances in those last few miles.
Tonight, I’m having dinner with a few friends at Smoking Monkey Pizza. It’s my favorite restaurant in Renton, and it’s becoming a tradition.
The forecast for tomorrow morning is low 30s and snow. Sunday will be even colder. Are we having fun yet?