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.

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