Sunday, November 29, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Seattle Marathon

Today, I ran the Seattle Marathon.  This was the fourth and final race of the Seattle Quadzilla.  This race is much larger than the first three.  I don’t know if the race organizers are even aware that the other races exist.

This was my fourth Seattle Marathon.  I first ran it in 1990, when it was run on a different course.  It was the third time I’ve run it on the current course.  It was also the third time I’ve done it as part of the quadzilla.

I chose to stay on the north side of downtown, so I could walk to the start of this race.  The start is just outside Seattle Center, near the Space Needle.  The start was just three blocks from my hotel.  The race didn’t start until 8:15.  Even allowing time for pre-race group photos, I had the luxury of sleeping in.

It was another cold morning.  It was 31 degrees at the start and stayed cold for the next few hours before gradually climbing into the low 40s.  Having the same weather four days in a row took all the guesswork out of what to wear.

At 7:45, there was a Marathon Maniacs group photo just outside the stadium where we would finish.  Then there was another group photo for everyone doing the quadzilla.  Several quadzilla runners were doing the marathon walk, which started an hour earlier, so they missed the photo.

This race has a six hour time limit.  They keep the finish line open until everyone is done, but after six hours the roads are opened to traffic.  That gave me a strong incentive to break six hours, even if it meant running the whole way.  The last mile is on busy downtown streets, and I didn’t relish the idea of running on the sidewalks and waiting for the lights at every corner.  Yesterday’s race took me 5:49, even though I ran the whole thing.  That made me nervous.

The race started right next to the Space Needle, but it was so foggy we couldn’t see it.  We ran underneath the monorail for the first mile.  Then we continued running south along 5th Avenue until we reached the south end of the downtown area.

In the first mile, I got the sense I was running too fast.  The pace already felt tiring.  I suspected I was getting influenced by faster runners around me, so I tried to ease up.  I hit the one mile mark in 10:53.  If that pace felt too fast, I was in trouble.

The second mile was mostly downhill, but it was a little bit slower at 11:06.  Then we entered the ramp onto I-90.  That forced me to slow down.  Over the next several miles, I averaged just under 12 minutes per mile.

Seattle is one of the few cities I know that will close down a major section of a freeway for a race.  We ran on I-90 for the next six miles.  We were able to avoid some major hills by running through this tunnel.

Inside the tunnel, I started to get warm.  As we left the tunnel, I immediately felt a cold draft off the lake.  Next, we ran across Lake Washington to Mercer Island.  As soon as we got there, we turned around inside another tunnel and ran back across the lake.

Normally, you get good views of the lake from the bridge.  Today, it was too foggy.  I couldn’t see much of the lake, but I did get to see most of the other runners.  Running across the bridge, I saw runners who were on their way back already.  I saw most of the other runners who were doing the quadzilla.  I also saw a few other friends.

The bridge is flat in the middle, but slopes up at each end.  As I was reaching the end of my return trip across the bridge, I started getting warm, so I took off my jacket.

When I was able to run marathons in 3:30 or faster, I rarely had to make bathroom stops during races.  Now that I’m taking between five and six hours, I almost always have to stop.  At the eight mile mark, I passed a port-o-potty.  I wanted to stop, but I waited.  Lately, my legs have stiffened up whenever I stop, forcing me to slow down.  I couldn’t afford to have that happen this early in the race.  I held off on a bathroom stop, in hopes of maintaining my current pace for the first half of the race.

As we came off the bridge, we started running through neighborhoods that were also part of yesterday’s race.  Today, we had the privilege of running on streets that were closed to traffic.  Before long, I saw a pace car, followed by the lead runners.  They had already run around Seward Park and were on their way back.  Soon, I started seeing runners I knew.  By the time I reached Seward Park, I saw everyone who was on pace for 4:10 or faster.

Next, I ran the loop around Seward Park for the third time this weekend.  It was still too foggy to see the lake.  I could only see the road below me and the trees above me.

I reached the halfway mark in 2:34:41.  That was almost eight minutes faster than yesterday.  That meant I could afford to do some walking when I reached the tough miles later in the race.

As I was leaving Seward Park, I started running with John, who was also doing the quadzilla.  John was experiencing knee pain, and running with me helped him get through a bad patch.  Running with John also helped me.  He helped keep me on a consistent pace.  We were still clicking off 12 minute miles.  The longer I could keep up that pace, the more I could afford to walk the hills in the late miles.

I was still holding off on a bathroom break.  John needed to make a bathroom stop at 16 miles, so I stopped too.  When I resumed running, I had to work to get back into my rhythm.  I was able to do it.  In fact, our next two miles were a little bit faster.

John and I kept up a consistent pace between 11:30 and 12:00 until we passed the 19 mile mark.  Then we began the hilly part of the course.  At this point, I knew I could afford to walk all the hills.  John was worried if he started walking, he might not be able to run again.  I told John to go ahead, and I walked the first hill.  When I crested it, I resumed running.

I reached the 20 mile mark in 3:59.  If I had to, I could walk the rest of the race and still break six hours.  I continued to walk the hills and run everything else.

In the 21st mile, there’s a particularly tough hill.  It starts with two short blocks that are steep.  Here even my walking was slow.

Then we turned left onto Madison Street.  It was still uphill for about half a mile, but here it was more gradual.  I was able to power walk it.  I was almost keeping up with people who were running the hill.

That’s the worst hill in the race, but not the last one.  After a long downhill, we turned right and ran by the Washington Park Arboretum, followed by Interlaken Park.  The parks gave us some scenery that was a nice contrast to the urban landscape.

Running through the parks, we had constant rolling hills.  I continued to walk uphill and run downhill.  I soon reached my favorite mile marker of the weekend.  Including the first three races, I could now tell myself, “100 miles down, 4 to go.”

Running through Interlaken Park, I started getting cold.  I don’t know if it was the shade or being on high ground, but it seemed 10 degrees colder.

With about two and a half miles to go, we crossed I-5.  I thought we were entering downtown.   I forgot that after coming down a ramp, we would cross back under the freeway.  We still had to run on the east side of the freeway for another mile before crossing it again.

When I reached the 11 mile mark of the half marathon course, I looked at my watch.  I had 2.1 miles to go.  If I could run them in 33 minutes, I could break 5:30.  That surprised me, but it gave me a strong incentive to run the rest of the way.

Just before reaching the second bridge over I-5, I got my first view of the Space Needle.  That made the remaining distance more tangible.

Looking to my right, I could see Lake Union.  As I crossed the freeway for the last time, I took one last look across the lake.  I could see Gas Works Park, where Thursday’s race started.  I could see Kite Hill.  I had come full circle.

After running down a ramp, I reached the 25 mile sign.  Despite stopping to take pictures, I still had 20 minutes to run the last 1.2 miles.  As I turned to run through downtown, it was initially downhill.  The hills were just steep enough to be uncomfortable.  As I got closer to the finish, I had to go up one last hill.  I wanted to walk, but kept running.

The finish is inside a stadium.  I entered the stadium and ran across the football field, finishing in 5:25:49.  This was by far my fastest marathon of the four, despite walking most of the hills.

The recovery area is indoors.  Just outside the doorway, I was met by Steve Walters.  Steve finished two hours earlier, but was still there to give me my quadzilla finisher medal.

In was nice to get into a warm building immediately after the race.  There, I met several other quadzilla finishers and had some post-race food.  When I went back outside, I was surprised how quickly I got cold.  Fortunately, I only had to walk a few blocks to get back to my hotel.

These four races brought my total for the year to 49.  I just have two more.  Next weekend, I’m running the St. Jude Memphis Marathon.  The following weekend, I’m doing the Honolulu Marathon.  Then I’m taking nine weeks off to get healthy.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Ghost of Seattle Marathon

Today, I ran the Ghost of Seattle Marathon.  This was the third race of the Seattle Quadzilla, but the race has a much longer history.  The Seattle Marathon was originally held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Later, it was moved to Sunday.  NW Ultras organized this race to take its place.  Held on Saturday, it uses the same course that was originally used for the Seattle Marathon.  The Seattle Marathon had to abandon this course when the race got too big.  Ghost of Seattle is still a small race, so this race venue still works.

The race starts and finishes at a small park on the shore of Lake Washington that’s about half a mile north of Seward Park.  The course is a double loop.  Each loop begins with a lap around Seward Park.  After returning to the start/finish area, we run an out-and-back along the west shore of Lake Washington that takes us about two miles north of the I-90 bridge before returning to the start/finish area.  Then we do it all again.

The current Seattle Marathon course also includes a lap around Seward Park, but run in the opposite direction.  The Seattle Marathon also includes the same section alongside the west shore of the lake.  The difference here is that the Seattle Marathon is run in the streets, while Ghost of Seattle stays on the sidewalks.  This makes the entire route seem familiar, while still having its own distinct character.

There’s no parking at the start, so you need to find street parking.  The earlier you arrive, the closer you can park.  That, unfortunately, meant getting up earlier today.   I was already familiar with the race venue, so I knew the best places to park.  I was driving from the opposite direction this year, so I allowed a little extra time for the drive.  I got there just after 5:30 and found parking about a quarter mile from the start/finish area.

Runners are encouraged to bring blankets, which are donated to a local charity.  We can use our blankets to keep warm before the race, and then leave them behind when we start running.

The marathon started at 7:00, but they had an early start at 6:00 for runners expecting to take more than six hours.  I expected to finish within six hours, so I originally signed up for the regular start.  Since I was there before 6:00, I switched to the early start.  That gave me just enough time to take off my warm-ups and drop off a gear bag before we started.

Today’s weather was nearly identical to the first two days.  It was cold at the start, but gradually warmed into the low 40s.  There was a dense fog hanging over Lake Washington.

There were aid stations every three to four miles, so I didn’t need to carry a bottle.  It was a cold enough day that I didn’t need to drink more often than that.

Because of the early start time, it was still dark.  I started the race carrying a flashlight.  A few minutes into the race, I met a runner named Emily, who didn’t have a flashlight.  She was doing the 50K race, which also started at 6:00, and she didn’t realize it would still be dark.  I ran with Emily, so we could share the light from my flashlight.

I probably started a little too fast.  On my own, I probably would have slowed down, but I kept running the same pace, so I wouldn’t be slowing Emily down.

After the first lap around Seward Park, we ran through the start/finish area.  Then we began the out-and-back section.  After about five miles, there was enough light to see, so I was able to turn off my flashlight.  There was no longer any need for Emily to stay with me, but we ended up running together for about three more miles.

Here, we were running on asphalt paths near the lake.  In a few spots, roots under the path pushed the pavement up, creating bumps you could trip on.  I was glad we didn’t reach this section until after dawn.

Later, we left that path to get up to the street.  Then we were running on a narrow sidewalk.  There was enough room to run until later in the race, when there were runners going both ways.  Then it got crowded.

There were two differences between the marathon and 50K courses.  First, the 50K had a longer out-and-back.  After the marathon runners turned around, 50K runners had to go about a half mile further before they turned.  They also had to do an addition lap around Seward Park at the end of the race.  When we reached the marathon turnaround, I turned, and Emily kept going straight.  After that, I ran by myself.

On my way back, I stopped to use the port-o-potty at an aid station.  When I resumed running, my legs were stiff, causing me to slow down.  A couple miles later, Emily caught up to me, even though she had run about a mile farther.  By then, my legs were loosening up, and with effort I managed to run at her pace until we reached the start/finish area.

For me, that was the halfway mark. I got there in 2:42.  That was considerably slower than yesterday, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to do as much walking in the second half.  I stopped to put my flashlight in my drop bag.  It was still cold, so I didn’t need to discard any layers of clothing yet.  After taking the time to eat a PBJ, I started the second half.  My legs were stiff again.  This time I was never able to loosen up.  I was slow for the rest of the race.

Now that I was going slower, I wasn’t generating enough heat to keep warm.  My fingers got cold, even though I had two layers on my hands.  It was still only 9:00, and it wasn’t much warmer than it was at the start.  The loop around Seward Park is well shaded.   Even where I was out in the open, I couldn’t see the sun.  The lake was still covered with a heavy shroud of fog.

When I passed by the start/finish area again, I checked my watch.  I was curious to know how long it would take to get from there to the turnaround.  Then I could determine how much walking I could do.

By the time I reached the I-90 bridge, the fog was beginning to lift.  I could see Lake Washington for the first time.  I reached the turnaround in 4:41.  It took me 1:08 to get there from the start/finish area.  If I ran the same pace coming back, I’d finish in 5:49.  That’s if I ran the whole way and didn’t slow down.  I was confident I’d break six hours if I ran the rest of the way, but I couldn’t afford to do much walking.

I was finally warm enough to take off my mittens.  After crossing under the I-90 bridge for the last time, I was warm enough to take off my jacket.  Once the fog burned off, it felt warmer.  It was a sunny day.

It’s been about 10 weeks since I last ran a marathon without doing a substantial amount of walking in the late miles.  Today, I had to tough it out.  At times, my pace felt glacial, but I kept running.  Sometimes I could pick up the pace a little, but before I knew it, I was glacial again.

As I neared the finish, I was able to see across the lake to Seward Park for the first time.

I eventually finished in 5:49:07.  I was able to maintain my pace in the last five miles, but I never got to walk.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to break six hours tomorrow.  Tomorrow’s race has a hilly section in the late miles, and I may need to do some walking there.

For a small race, this one gives you a lot.  Our race shirts were nice hooded sweatshirts.  We also had a substantial amount of food in the finish area.  It included chili cheese dogs and soup.  After a cold race, hot food tastes great.

Saturday is always the busiest day of the quadzilla, because I also needed to pick up my race packet for Sunday.  This year, I didn’t need to change hotels.  I was already downtown.  I just had to walk to the Westin, where the Seattle Marathon expo was held.  It was a little over a mile each way, but the walking will probably help me recover from today’s race.

Three down, one to go.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Wishbone Run

Today, I ran the Wishbone Run.  This was the second race of the Seattle Quadzilla.  This is the only race of the four that’s not in Seattle.  It’s in the southern suburb of Tukwila.  The course is a double out-and-back on paved trails along the Green River.

This race has no entry fee.  Instead, each runner is asked to bring a $20 donation for a local food bank.  We also each bring food to share after the race.

Last year, the weather was horrid.  Heavy rain, strong winds and inadequate clothing caused me to become hypothermic.  I was afraid I would collapse before I could make it back to the finish area.  Thankfully, this year’s weather was much more reasonable.  Just like yesterday, it was chilly, but with sunny skies.

The first two times I did this race, I was staying nearby in Renton.  This year I’m staying downtown, so I had to allow time for a longer drive.  Packet pickup was before the race, so I got there at 6:45.   The race started at 7:30.  Before the race, the volunteers were making hot cocoa and cider.  The stove became a popular place for runners to warm their hands on another freezing morning.

There’s an aid station at the start/finish and another one about four miles in.  We also go by that aid station with four miles left, so each out-and-back has aid every four to five miles.  On a cold day, that seemed like enough, so I didn’t have to carry a bottle.

I had three goals for this race:
  1. Finish.
  2. Keep my time under six hours.
  3. Don’t make any wrong turns.
The race started across the street from a park and ride.  After almost a mile on city sidewalks, we moved onto a paved trail that took us alongside the river.

It was 31 degrees at the start.  I was wearing an extra layer today, but I still felt cold in the early miles.  It would warm up eventually, but there was still a thick layer of frost on the ground.

We crossed the river in three places.  Here’s a view of the river from the second bridge.

I was running with an elastic bandage on my right leg.  It’s tough to wrap my leg without putting too much tension on the bandage.  I always try to put it on with as little tension as possible.  This time, I apparently made it too loose.  After a few miles, it felt like the bandage was riding down on my leg.  After a few more miles, I could feel it down near my knee.  It wasn’t doing me any good there, and I was afraid it would irritate the tendons behind my knee.

There wasn’t much I could do about it.  The wrap was under my tights.  I couldn’t remove it until I could find a bathroom.   I was also wearing KT tape.  I had to hope the tape would provide enough support.

Two years ago, this was a new course, so none of the runners were familiar with it.  The lead runners missed the turn onto the trail in the first mile, and the next few dozen runners followed them.  Later, I followed the runners in front of me on another wrong turn.

Last year, several runners in front of me turned the wrong way after coming off this bridge.  We were supposed to turn right, but there were arrows pointing to the left.  Those were left over from some other race.  I thought we were supposed to turn right, but I followed the crowd.

This year, I made it all the way to the turnaround without making any wrong turns.  I did not, however, make it all the way back.  With a couple miles to go, I came to a spot with orange arrows pointing one way and white arrows pointing the other way. I wasn’t sure which arrows were for us.  I was by myself at this point.  I went the way that looked familiar.

Before long, I saw some runners coming toward me.  I assumed they were already on their second out-and-back.  Then I noticed one was wearing a half marathon bib.  They only do one out-and-back.  I asked, and she confirmed she was heading toward the finish. That meant I wasn’t.  I somehow got turned around and was running the wrong way on the trail.  I immediately reversed course.  I don’t think I was going the wrong way for very long.

By the end of my first out-and-back, I was noticing sore soreness in my right leg.  I wanted to re-wrap my leg, but there weren’t any bathrooms along the course.  I had to wait until I got back to the start/finish area.

I reached the halfway mark in 2:26.  I went into a port-o-potty and rolled down my tights.  The bandage was behind my knee.  I unwrapped it, which was a time-consuming process.  The bandage was sweaty.  I was tempted to re-wrap my upper thigh, but there was no guarantee I’d get it right the second time.  Most likely, I’d overcompensate, and make it too tight.  That could do more harm than good.

I rolled up the bandage and stuffed it in my fanny pack.  I’d have to make do without it for the second half of the race.

Before heading out again, I got a cup of hot cocoa.  It was too hot, so I added some water.  It was still hot, so I had to sip it a little at a time.  While I was working on the hot cocoa, I ate a cookie and a PJB.

As I started my second out-and-back, I checked my watch again.  It read 2:33.  When I tried to resume running, my legs were stiff.  Maybe stopping for seven minutes wasn’t such a good idea.  I could barely run at all.

I forced myself to run.  It took a persistent effort.  I was never able to get back to my previous pace, but I was running again. There was good news.  My leg wasn’t sore any more.  The seven minute rest break helped.

I assumed my leg would eventually get sore again.  Ideally, I could manage that with walking breaks.  For now, however, I was still too cold to walk.  I was still wearing all my layers.  It was taking longer to warm up today.

I ran as far as the aid station.  By then I was able to remove my mittens.  I continued running to the turnaround.  By then, I was finally able to remove my jacket.  I knew if I started walking, I’d immediately get cold again.

At times, I felt warm.  Then I’d run through the shadow of a building, and I’d get cold again.  Indeed, where there were shadows, there was still frost on the pavement.  I forced myself to run until I got back to the aid station.

I stopped at the aid station to eat a fruit bar and drink two small glasses of Gatorade.  I looked at my watch.  I could now afford to walk the rest of the way, and I’d easily break six hours.  That’s exactly what I did.  I was noticing a little soreness in my leg, but it never got as bad as it was in the first half.  Now I wasn’t taking any chances.

At first, my walking was slow.  I worked at it, and gradually picked up my pace.  Walking the rest of the race ensured I wouldn’t make my leg any worse.  It was also a form of active recovery. I walked the late miles of yesterday’s race and started today’s race without any residual soreness.  I’d be happy if I could do that again.

I never knew exactly how far it was to the finish, but I was confident I had enough time. Then I saw a line across the pavement marked “1 mile.”  I was reading it upside down.  There are markings from a lot of different races, but it seemed plausible it was the one mile mark of this race.  I checked my watch again. If I had one mile to go, I could walk it and have a good chance of beating my time from yesterday’s race.  I worked hard to pick up my pace.

Eventually, the trail ended, and I was on the sidewalk again.  I could see the I-5 bridge in the distance.  That was just beyond the finish line.  I couldn’t judge exactly how far it was, but I was sure I had enough time to walk it.  As I got closer, I became more confident I would beat yesterday’s time.  It wasn’t going to be close.  I finished in 5:41:58.  I beat yesterday’s time by five minutes!

This race used to be held on forest trails in Gig Harbor.  The company that owned the land started logging three years ago.  Now we run on paved trails by a river, but the finisher medals still reflect the race’s roots.

Post-race food always includes huckleberry pancakes.  Besides pancakes, I also had hot cocoa and a PBJ.  Later tonight, I’ll have dinner with a few friends at Smoking Monkey Pizza.  This has become a part of the quadzilla tradition.

I finished the race, and I broke six hours.  I wasn’t able to avoid wrong turns.  The course isn’t that complicated, but somehow I always mess it up.  Two years ago, I followed other runners on wrong turns because I didn’t know better.  Last year, I followed other runners on a wrong turn, even though I should have known better.  This year, I made a wrong turn all by myself.

I’m halfway through the Seattle Quadzilla.  I still have two marathons to go.  I think I’m going to make it.