Tuesday, April 03, 2007

3/31-4/1/07 Yakima Marathon and Big-D Texas Marathon

“You aren’t running Yakima?” I’ve heard this question for several years. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon is held every year at the end of March or beginning of April, and it always seems like I have something else planned. Last year, for example, I chose to run the Moab Marathon. The race is a 2 ½ hour drive from Seattle and tons of my friends do it every year. This year it was even chosen as the annual reunion location for my running club, the Marathon Maniacs. Completely coincidentally, it also happened to be the weekend where I’d hit marathon #100 (including my two ultras). And the race director of Yakima? He just happens to lead the US version of the 100 Marathon Club. So I had to go.

Yakima happens to be a Saturday race… which opens up possibilities for “doing a double” if a Sunday race with reasonable logistics could be found. I did find one, although I stretched the meaning of “reasonable”. Usually, a good double is one that only requires a short (for me, less than five hour) car drive between the two races. The race I found was the Big D Texas Marathon in Dallas. To achieve the double, I’d need to finish Yakima quickly, immediately drive 2 ½ hours back to the airport in Seattle, catch a plane to Dallas that would land around 11p, crash for a few hours, and get up and run again. No problem! It would give me a chance to visit my parents after the race, too. Ok. I’m in.

Let’s start with Yakima. The race doesn’t actually involve the town of Yakima; it is a point-to-point course between Ellensburg and Selah, Washington. This means a shuttle bus… in this case, an early shuttle to the start. In fact, the race finishes nowhere near the morning shuttle’s parking… so there’s another shuttle from the end back to the parking. The course is run through the Yakima River Canyon along a road that mostly parallels the river as it flows downstream. The canyon can make things windy. And following a river downstream? This indicates a mostly downhill course – but gentle, nothing on the order of St George or Tucson. There are a couple little ups along the way, and one challenging “take no prisoners” hill between M21.8 and M23. After that is a screaming downhill to the end.

The weather on race morning was perfect for most people: crisp, partly cloudy, and not much wind. Of course, Island Boy was in four shirts while most people had on one. The starting area was a sea of Maniac yellow, red, and black. And one dude in pink. Of the 500ish participants, probably 100ish were Maniacs. Pretty impressive for a club that had humble beginnings four years ago.

I had big difficulties choosing a goal for this race. Once upon a time, it was going to be a go-fast race. But I’m not quite “there” yet, and I had turned the weekend into a double anyway. I’ve also figured out over the past year that I’m a fairly poor downhill runner. In fact, it was the Moab Marathon on this same weekend last year that showed me just how poor I am. So I decided to run by feel – I decided to use the long downhill stretches to mess around with my stride, try different versions of “lean forward”, maybe go really fast sometimes and hold back on others. The point was to try to discover reasonable form that felt comfortable and allowed me to stay in control without constantly braking (and trashing my quads). From a time perspective, I also needed to come in ahead of the 4 hour mark so I’d have enough time to shower and drive without raising the attention of The Man.

8a, and off we went. The first few miles were easy… I had a lot of people to meet and greet. There was my friend who had to have a kidney removed late last year; Yakima was her first race since the surgery. There was my friend who is seven months pregnant, runwalking the marathon. There was the 15 year old Maniac, who I’d see throughout the race. There was a Hippo, a Slug, and a Possum Otter. Lots and lots of cool people with cool stories.

The first little up occurred at M5. This allowed me to settle into my groove. I hit M13.1 at 1:50… it would turn out that I was running a bit too quickly in the first half, but I certainly had a lot of fun messing around on the downhills. Additionally, the scenery of the canyon was stunning. Lots of time to get lost in my own mind. I was able to stay around 8:30/mile through M17, but I could tell when my body (actually, you know what? I really think it was my brain) switched into the next lower gear. Around M19, a Maniac caught me and said, “aren’t you running a little fast?” Er… well… yeah, I was… but still… don’t say that, maaan. He was right, though.

As I approached M21, the one major hill on the course was visible in the distance. I could see all the way up, which, as I learned at Big Sur, is a mind trick that makes a normal hill seem harder. At M21.8, I started up the hill. There was a sign that read simply, “False top at 0.6, actual top at 1.2.” Whoops. So I really couldn’t see all the way up. I set an instantaneous goal of running all the way up the hill, no matter what it did to my pace. And so I did. I passed a lot of people walking. My pace at the M23 marker? 11:20 for that last mile. Yikes. But I did run the whole hill, so… good for me.

Time to run downhill. Ouch, ouch, ouch. As I approached the finish line, I saw the big clock at 3:49:xx, so I sprinted to see if I could beat 3:50. The good news is that I did – my official time was 3:49:55. The bad news was that this completely artificial goal ensured that I would hyperventilate at the finish and freak out all the volunteers. “Are you ok?!?!” Yeah. I was fine.

My splits for this race were pretty rotten: 1:50/1:59. On the other hand, M26 was my fastest mile of the whole day: 7:46. Of course, it was gravity-assisted, but it was still nice to be able to spin my legs that fast at the end. It wasn’t so nice not being able to breathe.

I got my drink and my bagel and went to find the shuttle. The shuttle did not come, so a nice guy gave me a ride. And it was time to drive back to Seattle. In retrospect, this really sucked. My favorite part of most races is hanging out at the finish line and talking to people. I didn’t do that after Yakima. We all get different things out of running, and I just learned that one of mine is more important to me than I thought. And PS, that was #100. I celebrated in the car by eating a big bag of chex mix.

But drive back I did. My plane was late to Dallas, and I finally got to sleep at 1:30a. That was a looooong Saturday. 3 ½ hours later, it was time to get up. Ugh. My legs felt fine, but I was very very sleepy and my back hurt. Also, the Dallas pollen and the evening on an airplane made me stuffy. Then again, it was 52 degrees outside, and the forecast predicted a really enjoyable day for Island Boy – blue skies and 75. Everyone else would grumble about the heat, but I had to get out there and soak it up.

The Big D Texas Marathon is only four years old, and I have not done it before. In fact, the only things I really knew about it was that it was small and somewhat hilly. It is a loop course (no shuttle!) that starts and ends at Fair Park. For the record, Fair Park is a dump… I was really sad to see how this place has been frozen, stuck in 1975.

Having now completed this race (oops, it seems I’ve skipped to the end), it is easy to compare it to the two other local marathons, which I have done. It is hillier than Dallas White Rock (DWR), and about as hilly as Cowtown. None of the hills are steep, and as a loop, the course is completely fair. Except for the few miles by White Rock lake, the whole thing is consistently going up or down, though. Although it doesn’t share many of the same streets as DWR, the course is quite similar. DWR is a loop that starts downtown, runs though some nice neighborhoods, runs around White Rock lake, passes through more nice neighborhoods, and finishes downtown. Big D has the same progression except that it starts and ends at Fair Park instead of downtown. And it goes the opposite direction around the lake.

I’ve always liked DWR. It is a well organized race and lots of spectators come out to cheer you on. I have to say, though, that I liked many aspects of Big D better. It is a much smaller run, so you are never trapped in a pack. Additionally, this race is held in late spring – and believe me, green beats DWR’s December brown by A LOT. Green also means that much of the course, except for the last section, is quite shady. This is important because spring can also mean HOT. I was also surprised by the number of spectators. Not wall-to-wall, and not the same as DWR, but there were lots of people in their front yards and at the intersections. DWR beats Big D in its after-race food, but Big D was ok, especially for a smaller race.

And how was my day? I had two goals. The first was simply “finish upright”. The second is a little harder to describe. I wanted to set a double PR – that is, combining the times of the two races in a double weekend. The problem with setting this goal was that I didn’t know enough about the course, and the weather was warmish. I love running in the heat, but it doesn’t make me faster.

I was pretty much zoned out for the entire race. I chatted a bit with a woman who had come from North Carolina. At M23, one of my Maniac friends caught me. He’s a TNT coach and so he was decked out in purple… but he took a second to chase me down, check on me, and explain the last part of the course. Thanks, Phil.

Robert Lopez… all the way from Seeee-at-el
. 4:03. I could tell at M17 that I wasn’t going to beat 4… but at that point, I figured I’d plod in at 4:10ish. I recovered a bit, I suppose. My splits were definitely more even than the previous day: 1:59/2:04. I did finish upright, and with a big smile on my face. And I did finish with a new double PR. I also enjoyed the race very much. It’s always nice to go into a race with no expectations and be pleasantly surprised.

Incidentally, Texas is now 2-for-2 in that category. I ran Cowtown in February, fully expecting a crap race of epic magnitude, because that’s how it used to be. But it wasn’t crap – it was great. And Big D was great too. Alright!

Next up: the little local Easter Marathon on 4/7. My report, if I write one, will be very brief. I’ve done the course a number of times for other holidays, and unless the Easter Bunny shows up, there won’t be much to say. Maybe I’ll have a good story to tell. Or some jokes. We’ll see. If I don’t count my two ultras, then Easter will be #100.

If I don’t write a report for Easter, the next race is Glass City, in Toledo, on 4/15.

See you at one or the other.

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