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.

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