Saturday, July 4, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Flat Marathon

Today, I ran the Flat Marathon on Sauvie Island.  It was the second race of the Firecracker Triple.  This is the 5th time I’ve done this race.  In 2010, I did it as a standalone event.  In 2011, it was the last race of a triple.  In 2013, it was the first race of a quadzilla.  Last year, it was the first race of a triple.

Sauvie Island is a large, relatively flat island in the Columbia River valley.  It’s mostly farmland.  The race starts and finishes at the Pumpkin Patch.

There’s a marathon and a half marathon.  The half marathon course is one big loop.  The marathon course includes the same loop, but also includes a long out-and-back.

Like yesterday, today was hot.  The overnight low was 66 degrees, but the forecast high was 94.  Just as significantly, it was a bright sunny day.

Most people struggled with the heat yesterday.  That course was mostly shaded.  Today’s course had a few shady spots, but most of it was wide open.  The sun makes it feel about 10 degrees hotter.

Yesterday evening, I felt a little bit stiff, but not unusually sore.  Then I tried to sleep, and I couldn’t get comfortable.  Rolling over in bed seemed to be too much for my fatigued muscles.  The more I tried to get comfortable, the more my legs hurt.  I only slept for about two hours.  Eventually, it was time to get up.

There’s only one bridge onto Sauvie Island, and traffic gets backed up if you don’t get onto the island early enough.  The race started at 6:30, but I left before 5:00, so I could be there before 5:30.  The snack shack was open, so I had a cup of hot cocoa.  At 6:00, we had a Marathon Maniac group photo.

My legs were unusually stiff this morning.  The race has a downhill start.  I could have used the hill to force myself into a fast pace until my legs loosened up.  That’s worked in the past, but it seemed like a bad idea on a day when I could easily overheat.  Instead I started slow and accepted that I would never get any faster.  As we left the Pumpkin Patch, we got out first views of hills on the west side of the river valley.  I was carrying a camera in my fanny pack, and stopped from time to time to take pictures.

After running a little over a mile, we reached the west side of the island and ran under the Sauvie Island Bridge.  Then we gradually worked our way up the west side of the island.

On our left, we had views of the channel and the hills beyond it.

On our right, we had views of the farms.  There were lots of berry patches.  At a few, you could pick your own berries.

I was only about two miles into the race, when I started to feel soreness in my left arm and shoulder.  Your arms can get tired toward the end of a race, but I’ve never felt this kind of discomfort so early in a race.  I didn’t know if my arm was tired from yesterday’s race or if it was from the way I slept.  I often sleep with one arm under my pillow.

After a few more miles, I also noticed some discomfort in my left wrist and the left side of my chest.  That worried me.  Pain or numbness in your left arm can be heart-related.  Given how hot it was in yesterday’s race, I had to take it seriously.

I did a quick inventory.  My breathing felt nice and easy.  My pace was slow, but only because I was stiff.   I didn’t feel like I was working unusually hard.  I expected to get hot later, but for now I was still comfortable.  In the absence of other symptoms, I chalked it up to sore muscles.

The aid stations had water and an electrolyte drink.  I wasn’t carrying any fluids with me, so I usually drank one cup of each.  Most of the aid stations also had gel packets.  Knowing I wouldn’t be fast anyway, I took the time to stop and eat a gel whenever I saw them.

After stopping briefly at one of the aid stations, I noticed my left arm felt better.  Maybe the brief rest break made a difference.  Maybe I was more relaxed.  After that, it was never an issue again.

Sauvie Island is so large it’s in two different counties.  About a mile before the turnaround of the long out-and-back section, we crossed the county line.  There’s a noticeable difference in road quality.  It’s been like this for at least five years.

Most of the farms we passed grew fruit or flowers, but we also saw some sheep.

On the way back, we had different views of the channel.

Near the 15 mile mark, one of the local residents was handing out small cups of blueberries from her farm.  That was a nice treat.

Most of the out-and-back is exposed to the sun.  It was getting hotter, and I was longing for relief from the sun.  The last mile of this section was shady.  It felt good while it lasted, but it wasn’t enough.  As we made the turn to resume the big loop, I took consolation in knowing we had less than 10 miles to go.  I knew from the outset I would be slower than yesterday, but I set a goal of breaking 4:40.  That was an attainable goal, but I couldn’t slow down much.

Between 17 and 18 miles, there’s a shorter out-and-back section.  This makes the loop come out to the right distance for the half marathon.  It was mostly residential, but also took us by some gardens.

As we got back onto the loop, we began cutting across the island.  It was four more miles to reach the east side.  There was a nice breeze on this section that helped keep me from getting too hot.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see some shady spots that I didn’t remember.

With about five miles to go, I noticed some minor soreness in my right leg.  I couldn’t tell for sure if it was my groin or chafing.  I had been sweating quite a bit.  In PT, I’m sometimes asked to rate pain on a scale of zero to ten.  This was only a one or two.  I had other sore muscles that were more like a three or four, so I didn’t worry too much yet.  Then I momentarily felt a twinge of pain that was more like a four or five.  It wasn’t constant, but I was concerned.

Earlier in the race, aches and pains sometimes went away after stopping briefly to eat a gel or take a picture.  I needed to take a bathroom stop anyway, so I hoped that the brief rest break would make a difference.  As I resumed running, my legs were a bit stiff.  I felt some discomfort as I worked to overcome the stiffness.  Once I got back to a steady stride, I felt OK for the rest of the race.

At 22 miles, we reached the east side of the island and turned onto the road that would take us back to the Pumpkin Patch.  Here, you get the distinct feeling that you’re on the home stretch.  You can see all the way across the island to the hillsides that were previously so close.  As you continue running, they slowly get closer.

The last four miles are always difficult.  I’ve done this race five times, and I’ve always had to fight my way through these miles.  By now, it’s always hot.  This year, it was hotter than usual.  I knew by now that I would break 4:40.  I just had to maintain my effort for a few more miles.

Most of the time, we were running on the right side of the road.  With two miles to go, there’s a row of trees on the left side of the road.  Everyone moves to the left to seek out the shade.

You can’t see the Pumpkin Patch until you’re almost there.  You mostly see vast acres of farmland.  With a mile to go, you see this grove of trees, like an oasis in the middle of the desert.

The Pumpkin Patch is just beyond those trees, but you have to get past them before you can see it.  Finally, with about a half mile to go, you can see the buildings.

I finished in 4:36:23.  Most years I would be disappointed with that time.  This year I was happy.  I was 10 minutes slower than yesterday, but I actually held up better in the second half.

They had a new design this year for the finisher medal and T-shirt.  They combined last year’s pelican with an American flag in the shape of a heart.

They also had colorful race bibs.  At the bottom of our bibs were coupons for strawberry shortcake and a hot dog or veggie dog.  My first order of business after finishing was to have some strawberry shortcake.  The strawberries are grown on the island.

Before leaving the island, I stopped at the Pumpkin Patch Market to buy a small cherry pie.  I do this every year.  This will be tomorrow’s pre-race breakfast.  Whatever part is leftover will be part of my lunch.

I feel relieved to have made it through the first two races of the triple without my groin injury being a major issue.  I felt it briefly today in the late miles, but I haven’t felt any discomfort since the race.  I’m sure it helped that I took an ice bath after the race.  I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be OK tomorrow, but I’m still nervous.  Wish me luck.

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