Monday, June 18, 2007

06/17/07 Estes Park Marathon

Estes Park, Colorado is a beautiful small town just over an hour northwest of Denver. Surrounded by mountains and small lakes, it sits next to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Two kinds of critters come to Estes Park in droves: elk and tourists. Sometimes the two don’t get along. In fact, the marathon apparently almost got canceled because a mom elk and her baby decided to take up residence on part of the course the day before. Mom elk are quite protective. They are also really big. Luckily for the marathoners, “residence” was a temporary thing and the elk moved on.

Estes Park is way up high… 7500 feet. The marathon is advertised as “the highest paved marathon in the world.” The area’s geography also can make Estes Park a windy place. And holding a marathon in June means that it might be hot. Sure enough, all three factors came into play for race morning – it was hot, it was windy, and there’s no getting around the fact that the race is way up high. The course itself is basically a loop – we started at the middle school and finished on the high school’s track next door. But the course does not make a simple loop shape. Instead, after a quick one mile loop around the schools, we headed out for some gorgeous (though tremendously challenging… I’ll come back to this), meandering trips through the hills, by the lakes, and around the town. The race went all over the place. In fact, there were other races that are happening at the same time. They all ended at the same finish line, but they all started in different places and had somewhat different courses. This made for some interesting middle miles in the marathon as we spotted runners on totally different paths going in other directions. “Are we lost?” No. The course was supremely well marked and had tons of red shirted volunteers at the turns. We were just witnessing other races in progress.

And now, a quick word on hills. By running over 100 marathons all over the country, I’ve learned that the word “hill” conjures up different images to different people in different races. The hills in the Estes Park Marathon were not hills nor Hills; they were HILLS. Somewhat steep – not trail marathon “I better walk it” steep, but hard work. And two of them were really long. The first one started around M1 and didn’t crest until M5.9 at the highest point on the course – over 8,000 feet. The second one started at M16 and crested around M20. In both cases, the road twisted around and around and we just never knew whether we were nearing the top until we got there. However, the course is a loop, and so it is very fair. All that elevation we gained we got back in various downhills along the way.

Race morning itself started out weird. At 6a, reported that it was 48 with a “feels like” of 44. So I bundled up in three shirts plus a throwaway layer and headed out for the school, which was about a one mile walk. Immediately outside my hotel’s door, I was blasted by hot air. It was the opposite of a chill factor. Wow. Off came the shirts… it was going to be an unexpected singlet-only day at 7500 feet.

I met quite a few maniacs, 50-staters, and coolrunners before the start. A couple folks were from Colorado, but most of us were a bit apprehensive about the altitude and the heat. We should have been a little more worried about the hills and the wind… but we didn’t know about them yet. It would not take long to learn.

My goal for the day was basically “sightseeing”. I burned myself out the day before by attempting to run Marathon to Marathon fast… and blowing up in the middle. Then there was that pesky altitude thing. The heat I did not mind one little bit, but I knew it wouldn’t make me faster. The hills and the wind? Treats yet to be discovered. I figured that sightseeing at 7500-8000+ feet meant a 5 hour finish. But I really had no idea.

7a, 3-2-1, we were off. My legs forgot my plans, and I went out too fast, somewhere between 8:30-8:45 pace. 3 minutes in, and I was immediately paying for this. It felt like someone hit me in the chest with a shovel. I adjusted my pace somewhat, but I also decided to tough it out for 10 more minutes just to see if my body would adjust. Altitude is weird. Aside from some definite altitude sickness problems at Leadville (12,000 ft), it doesn’t usually do much to me except slow me down. So when I feel short of breath at the beginning of a high race, I start wondering if it is real, or if my mind is messing with me, or if I’m simply not warmed up yet. The truth in this race was basically a little of all. Around M1, we started up the hill… and this adjusted my pace a bit for me. However, I kind of got into the hill, I forgot about being worried about the altitude, and my breathing began to regulate properly. Silly mind.

Ah, but then the wind started. As I got higher and higher up this hill, it started to get really gusty. I played leapfrog with a maniac/coolrunner friend named Amy. After telling Amy that I thought the hill would go on until M7 based on the elevation chart, we crested at M5.9. Ha. Heading down the other side towards a small lake, the wind absolutely howled. First it was a headwind that I thought might blow me back up the hill. Then we turned and it became a side wind that staggered me a few times. It was amazing, but it came with amazing views. It was warm and it wasn’t raining. I wasn’t a big fan of the wind, but it was an ok price to pay for the other aspects. I did have to switch to “backwards hat running”, though, and it felt strange.

As the course led us back towards town, the wind died down a little bit. Temporarily, at least. Around M8, Amy was just in front of me and came within about 10 feet of an elk. At first I thought it was one of those goofy statues that people put in their yards. Nope. When I went by, up popped the elk’s head. I said hello. He looked at me. A few things about this elk. For one, it didn’t try to eat me. Then again, it wasn’t a mom with a calf. For two, elk are big! For three, he (she? No horns) had no fear of me. He didn’t spring away like a deer. Pretty cool. Goodbye, elk.

The town section of the course was interesting. I made a quick pitstop in a real non-porta potty. Around M10, we ran in a coned off lane of the main road. Down an embankment by a lake was a bike trail… and lots of runners. This was the “Am I lost?” section. I wasn’t. It was also the only part of the race where a lane was coned off for runners. I was thankful for this section, and would miss the cones later on. We cut over to some bike paths and circled the lake. I hit the half at 2:05. The wind was starting to whip us around a bit again.

At M15, we zigzagged through a neighborhood and then turned onto a major road. This one did not have cones. During the pre-race announcements we were sternly reminded to run single-file, and we were told that running more than two abreast might get us disqualified. I now understood why. This was a fairly busy 2-lane road, and it had no real shoulder. Ugh. It would turn out that we’d keep this experience with us from M15 all the way until about M23.

Around M15.5, we started up the second of the two giant hills. Up and up we went. Lots of people were walking. I ran most of it, except I did walk the aid stations.

The aid stations, by the way, were generally plentiful… and by the last 8 or so miles, they were very frequent. I needed that. As we headed up the hill, my throat started closing up. Between the altitude and the wind, I was getting dehydrated and I think my throat just physically dried out. I was taking two or three cups at each station. These were full cups too, so I was easily going through 15-20 ounces every mile. And my pace was mushy oatmeal. I wasn’t wheezing… I was breathing pretty much like I normally breathe in the later miles of a marathon. But whereas my pace in the late miles of a “bad day” is usually around 9:30, these miles were all 11s and 12s. That was all I could do, especially going up the hill.

I was between M17 and M18 at the 3 hour mark. Usually, I am between M20 and M22.

The actual crest of the second big hill was somewhere between M19 and M20. I’m not exactly sure where. I do know that I ran an 8:40 mile heading into M21. That was a nice downhill, and it felt like I was running much faster. It was also short-lived. The rest of the course was roly poly. Up we went, down we went. Sometimes the wind helped, and sometimes it did not. Amy had gotten pretty far ahead of me, and I lost sight of her somewhere in this section.

At M23, we turned by the Stanley Hotel. You may know this as the hotel from the tv version of The Shining (and also where King was when he wrote the book). What a cool thing to encounter during a race! However, it was a bit of a letdown to realize that the hotel is not, in fact, in the middle of nowhere. It is, in fact, near the Safeway.

Around M24, we cut back onto the bike trail we had used earlier in the race. All the volunteers were very encouraging. At M25, we hit the last aid station. While I was looking down, a volunteer decided to blast me in the face with a super soaker. NO. Just, no. If you ever volunteer at a race, please don’t do this. Ask first. For one, it is M25 and we’re all incoherent (though possibly in need of drenching). For two, I was looking down, and it was totally unexpected. For three, don’t shoot me in the face. Wearing glasses is a double-edged sword – they protected my eyes from the blast, but when they got wet, they immediately fogged over. Boo.

No matter. At M25.8, the bike trail cut down a ravine. Up at the top were people hooting for us. Cool. At M26, we entered the “stadium” (a field with some bleachers and an excellent track), ran around the track, and that was that.

4:24. Huh. Well, I beat 5.

Some of my maniac friends, including Amy had already finished. We talked for a bit and then went searching for the post-race party. It was great! Sandwiches, burritos, cookies, ice cream, fruit, beer, soda, music. From the party, we had a good view of the bike trail. When we spotted more friends (two more maniacs and coolrunners), I chugged back over to the finish to give them a woo. While I was there, I was met by a coolrunner spectator. How nice!

I have a list of “Hardest Road Marathons”. This is a work in progress because I tend to register for tough races. Estes Park is now going towards the top of the list. I still think Crater Lake is harder. But not by much.

Aside from being very thirsty, I felt great. I dig warm/hot races a lot more than cold races, and having incredible scenery just made everything enjoyable. Hard, but fun hard.

Up next? My goal race for this part of the year, and the race I’ve been excited about for eleven months and three weeks. It’s time for the Kona Marathon.

I’ll see you there. Wear sunscreen. I recommend Banana Boat Sport, in the orange tube.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

06/16/07 Marathon to Marathon

Most of the color commentary for this race adventure is actually in yesterday's post. That might be more of an entertaining read.

Hot day, but not like it could have been. Clouds moved in around the 90 minute mark which helped. However, the clouds signaled that a front had just moved through. We didn't get any rain; it stayed muggy. But the front shifted the winds around so that, once again, got the wind backwards in its forecasting. The tailwind from the start through about M10 became a pretty entertaining headwind from M16 until the end. The good side to this was it kept us cool.

I decided today to make an attempt at 3:30-3:32 knowing full well that the heat would possibly nail me, and also knowing that it would only work out if I had a potty-free race. So if I blew up, I was prepared to deal. At least it would be good heat training for next week in Hawai'i.

I went out with two guys and the first place gal, who were also trying for 3:30. I didn't really chat; I listened. Things were going well, even though it was a little hot - the race started at 6a, and it was at least 70 and 75% humidity at the start.

The miles flew by. In this race, the aid stations have a contest for best theme. The little song they were playing at M7 got stuck in my head. It wasn't a good song. Boo. They didn't get my vote.

M13.1 at 1:44. Perfect. Unfortunately, it wouldn't stay perfect. My stomach started to assert itself. It was clear that "potty-free race" wouldn't be in the cards. Not a lot of portapotties in this race. Not even a lot of trees, although there were gullies that would serve. Except that it wasn't that kind of potty. Uh oh.

This race also has a relay, and the relay points (5, 10, 15, 20.5) are the only place where they placed lonely portapotties. I kept the right pace until 15, but it was time for pitstop.

After that, I could not run the same pace. Wasn't going to happen. I tried.

At M16 we turned northward into the headwind. Ugh. It kept me cool, but it wasn't very fun.

At M20.5, the aid station had a Hawai'ian theme. They got my vote for best theme :-).

I was really struggling, but so was everyone else. I passed a ton of people even though I was now chugging 9:30s instead of 8:00s. And that was a chore. A few people passed me.

I passed a woman who looked an awful lot like the "first place woman" from earlier. I'm not 100% sure if it was her. If so, she completely blew up because she was walking. Not resting getting ready to run again... I mean "I'm done" type walking. I was going to see if she wanted to run with me, but she wasn't giving off that kind of vibe so... onward...

Towards the end, the aid stations were about half a mile apart. For the back of the pack, this would be extremely important... it was getting up around 90.

And I was done. The announcer thanked me over the PA for coming from Seattle.


That would be a 1:44/2:02 split. Yikes. Even factoring out the 3 minute potty stop, yikes. The wind broke me a little, but I clearly went out too fast for the conditions and my body today.

Last year I ran a 3:45, but I wasn't running a bunch of doubles. Then again, I ran a much more even race last year.

Ah well. I'm not sore and I feel ok. Which is good because tomorrow is the Estes Park Marathon, at 8000 feet.

Should be interesting.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Setup for tomorrow's Marathon to Marathon

Marathon to Marathon is a small, uh, marathon held each summer in Iowa... usually, if not always, the same day as Grandmas. You can guess why it is named this way: it's a point-to-point course from one little town (Storm Lake) to the even smaller town of... wait for it... Marathon, Iowa. It ends at the community center, which is an odd place that consists of the old high school gym, a bathroom, and a couple hallways. The rest of the high school? Torn down. But they left... just... that... much... :)

I ran a 3:45 on this course last year, which is pretty good for me. The course is absolutely pancake flat; it is perhaps the flattest course I have ever run. However, that doesn't mean it is a super turbo fast course. There are a couple significant weather gotchas. For one, it's the middle of June. It could be thunderstormy... which is what it was supposed to be last year, but just stayed humid instead... or it could be H O T. And it is supposed to be H O T tomorrow. The second gotcha is wind. It is always windy here, and this course heads north and east (but not northeast... I'll get to that in a second). If the wind is coming from one of those directions, well, you are in for a very long day. Then again, if the wind is coming from the south and/or west, then that can help balance out the heat. Tomorrow it is supposed to be blowing from the south. I hope this is true, but I got burned last weekend at my race in Port Angeles. We were supposed to get a tailwind, but we got a headwind instead.

So why am I writing this race report the day before the race?

Tomorrow will be my 25th marathon-or-longer of the year. That's an artificial milestone number, but it is a lot in any case, and sometimes I kind of run out of new and cool things to say about races. This part of the US has its charms, and it is pretty in its own way, but there will be no jaw-dropping sights for me to write about afterwards. Corn. And I'm not going for a super PR or a BQ. I won't be writing about how I employed great strategy to win the race either.

So writing comes down to two things at a race like this. And, believe it or not, these are two of the main reasons why I like to travel around to race anyway.

1) I like to meet people at these things. Sometimes it is people I already know... it is a real kick to find someone from Florida at an Iowa race that I previously ran with in New Mexico. Sometimes it is new people. Sometimes I help them with their goals. Sometimes they help me with mine. I may have stories to tell about this. Then again, I may not. Youneverknow.

2) I like to come to places considered "the middle of nowhere". A race gives me a reason to travel to places I otherwise never would have thought about going. The places don't have to have jaw-dropping sights. Most places are unique in some way(s). Collecting little observations is fun.

Tomorrow, I'll add a post with some race stuff (assuming I find internet access).

For now, here are some observations about middle-of-nowhere Iowa.

Roads in Iowa go north-south or east-west. All of them. If where you want to be is diagonal from where you are, forget about going "as the crow flies". You will not utilize the hypotenuse of the triangle. You WILL go over here.... turn... and then go over there. Pythagoras would have an aneurysm.

I managed to hit Okoboji, Iowa (population: very small... SAL-UTE) at 5p. And I got stuck in rush hour traffic. Really. Who knew?

And so I stopped at a convenience store to get a drink. The store was (and is) called KUM & GO. Oh, man. This is a fairly common chain of stores in this part of the country, but it still makes me laugh every time I see one. You have to wonder whether that was an unfortunate choice of names... or completely intentional.

Here's the thing about Okoboji. There is the University of Okoboji Marathon. Fair enough. One of my coolrunning buddies, Aamos, has run that one (winning it last year, and coming in second the year before while managing to almost get lost).

Except for one thing. There isn't really a University of Okoboji. HA. Here is their entrance exam, however.

Later on, I stopped at Taco Johns to eat. Like K&G, Taco Johns is pretty common in these parts too. At this particular Taco Johns, there was a TV for customers to watch... like at a bar. They had the US Open cranked up. I can tell you that televised golf is not improved by cranking it up.

And with that, as I sit in the lovely Super 8 in Storm Lake Iowa, I realize that I need to go to bed. I have to get up at 4:30a. Too bad my body thinks it is 6:30p. Sleep ain't happening.

Besides, the guy across the hall is watching wrestlin'.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

6/8,9,10/07 5k + ultra + marathon = fun

The calendar for this past weekend started out innocently enough. I planned to run the North Olympic Discovery Marathon in Port Angeles WA. I had heard that it was a fun race, and I wanted to see the Olympic peninsula. Then, I learned it was also the weekend of the Lake Youngs Ultra. That's a course I've got a little history with: last time I ran a race there, I came in last (here... scroll down to the middle of the page). The ultra was scheduled for Saturday and NODM for Sunday. Aha, a good opportunity for an "easy logistics" double.

Well then I noticed that the Fremont 5k was scheduled for Friday evening. This was intriguing for several reasons. In all the years of this local race, I've never done it because I'm usually traveling on Fridays. Also, I wondered how my body would stand up to three consecutive, though very very different, races. But most importantly, I wanted to run a 5k to better gauge my current fitness. I haven't run a 5k since April of 2006.

Ok, let's do three races. But, let's make it harder on ourselves. First, we'll do a 4 mile recovery run in the morning. Then we'll run a 4 mile "warm up" to get to Fremont. This way, we'll be ok for the 5k... but completely beaten-by-hammers tired for the rest of the weekend :-). And so that's what I did.

The Fremont 5k isn't a particularly large race, but after 1.2 miles on the street, the course merges onto a narrow bike trail... including a brief out-and-back section. This makes the race feel a bit larger. This year, the race was a championship race for some series, so it attracted quite a few fast people. I did not get in their way. My goal was to run 6:45 miles, but this wasn't a completely firm goal. The whole reason to do this race was to see what I could actually do. 6:45 was a best guess. It would turn out to be a close-but-no-cigar guess.

The course itself is somewhat flat, but not pancake flat, and it has a gentle uphill in the first mile. Off we went, down for a few blocks and then up. I passed M1 at 6:49. Hmmm, a little slow, but then again at least I wasn't wheezing and I was sure I could hold this pace. Here came the leaders in the other direction, including local phenom Rose, who was dressed as Wonder Woman. WW would run a sub-18. About M1.2, we jumped up onto the bike path and headed towards the turnaround. It was here that I was passed by the dude with the stroller. He was running somewhere around a 6:30-6:40 mile, and watching him navigate the U-turn without dumping the contents (aka kid) was a thing of beauty. Then I was through the turnaround and back down the path.

M2 at 6:50 pace. Running, running, running. Guy next to me spit on my leg. Ugh. M3 at 6:51 pace. Uphill finish. 21:12. A Rush time. If I was focused on 5ks right now, I wouldn't be thrilled with that time. But it was ok, and I wasn't horribly far off from my guess. I also realized how differently my body responds to evening races. There's another evening race in Seattle... a 5k held at midnight on the 4th of July. It is a challenging course, but I have never EVER been able to run it well. I think the time has something to do with it.

I had planned on jogging the 4 miles home, but I caught the bus. And went to bed.

Saturday morning, 4a alarm, time to head to Lake Youngs. I don't have a lot to say about this race... 3x 9.6 mile loops on a wide trail (except for about a mile of single track) around a lake. Interestingly, the lake is not visible ANYWHERE except for about ten seconds if you are looking in the right place at the right time. This trail is awesomely hilly. The hills are completely runable during the first loop, but by the last loop, there's a lot of power walking. Last time, I ran a 5:11 in 96 degree heat and came in last.

My goal for Saturday was simply to put in good miles and hopefully beat 5:11. Since it was 52 instead of 96, that seemed like a reasonable goal. Of course, I didn't figure in the previous night's 5k and all the other Friday miles. I felt absolutely beaten. I started off with my Bestest Running Buddy (BRB - see my Tacoma report), and it was obvious very early that I was gonna need her to pull me to the end.

Around and around we went.

"Hill," she said.
"Hill," I agreed.

The first loop went well, except that my stomach issues decided to assert themselves. And I had even eaten properly the night before! No pizza, Taco Bell, or ice cream. Blah. The second loop was slower. The third loop? That's when the rain came. And not the typical Pacific Northwest drizzle. I mean RAIN. Blah. BRB and another friend (let's call them "otters") stayed with me as I started to melt, like the Wicked Witch of the West.

And we were done. Saw lots of deer. Had great conversations. Not a good day running. 5:17. Given how I felt, it was ok even if it wasn't 5:11. Six minutes in a long race was no big thing... and mostly due to my stomach anyway. Just happy to be done.

Time to drive over to Port Angeles to sit in a bathtub and wait for what the next day might bring. I made sure I ate some ice cream... or at least an ice cream-like thing. A blizzard. With oreos. That helped.

What did the next day bring? Sunshine! At 7a, at least. That would change. NODM is a point-to-point course, which means a shuttle, and the race does not start until 9a. Very late for a marathon. Rode the shuttle, met a bunch of Maniacs I did not previously know, and also met a couple people from the coolrunning website. That was fun.

Before the race, everyone gathered inside a clubhouse-like building. I met a couple people from Hawai'i in here. Also fun. I chatted with a nice young woman from Colorado. As we were getting up to walk to the starting line, I randomly asked her what time she was shooting for. Maybe I'd run with her. "I hope I'll beat 3". Uh, ok. I wouldn't be running with her :-). She would ultimately not beat 3, but she did come in third overall female.

At the starting line, someone mentioned we'd have a tailwind for most of the race. Cool! And, it would turn out, a lie! Also, quite ominously, the black clouds were dumping over the Olympic Mountains. My goal for the race was simply "finish upright". I felt completely beaten up, so "upright" meant something around 4:15. Maybe a little bit faster because NODM has a flat course. Or so I thought. This to, it would turn out, was a lie!

Off we went. The first 5 miles made a loop through the town of Sequim (pronounce it "Squim"), then we dumped onto a bike path and headed off back to Port Angeles. That tailwind? Was a headwind. A cold headwind. Some people described it as really terrible; I didn't think it was too serious. It was a bit annoying. Starting around M10, the mile markers got fairly squirrelly. I've learned that I can judge my underlying mood based on my reaction to mismarked miles. I found them to be annoying, like the headwind. Uh oh.

The bike path went through the woods, by neighborhoods, near stinky farms, and over some streams using old railroad bridges. All in all, it was quite pretty.

And then. Then we hit the hills. These were not the long, gradual rail-to-trails hills. These were little, steep ups and downs. None long. All steep. A couple switchbacks. Flat? Ha. Nope. It certainly made the course more intriguing, and on a better weekend, I would have enjoyed it more. But between the beaten-by-hammers legs and the headwind, it wasn't quite as fun.

At least those black clouds hadn't started dumping rain.

Until M16. At that point, the skies opened up. Like the day before at Lake Youngs, this was a cold, soaking, steady rain. 10 more miles of it. And more hills. Ugh.

At M22, the course suddenly veered to the water's edge, and the hills were behind us. The rest of the run was next to the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Very pretty, even on a dismal day. Alright, I was done with this. I sped up as much as I could just to be done. Because of the strangely marked miles, I can't say for sure exactly how much I sped up. However, I do recall thinking at M20 that I'd finish between 4:05 and 4:10.

Actual finish? 3:57. Nifty.

That's no great shakes, of course, compared to some of my other recent times. Beating 4 on the backend of a double (for the second consecutive time) felt great, though. Especially when considering the 5k and the fact that the frontend was a 28.8 5+ hour ultra. And double especially when considering the sneaky NODM hills, the headwind, and the rain. No stomach issues either. Blizzards are great. The soft-serve kind.

I would have been just as happy to run the expected 4:15. I was just happy to be done.

But not done with the adventure. I'll spare you from reading the story about waiting for the ferry. Holy smokes that line was long.

Next up: my 4th double in 5 weeks. Saturday is an obscure marathon in Iowa, called Marathon to Marathon. I ran a 3:45 there last year. Sunday is way-up-high in Estes Park, Colorado.

I'll see you there. If you don't mind, please bring me an oxygen bottle.

Monday, June 04, 2007

06/03/07 San Juan Island Marathon (new PR!)

The San Juan Islands (of which, San Juan Island is the biggest) are in the Puget Sound about 60 miles from Seattle. The islands have a very interesting history, including The Pig War of 1859, between the British and the Americans. Getting to the San Juans is an adventure in itself - the main method is by ferry. This is very popular, which means that you have to get to the ferry early and wait... and the ferry dock is in Anacortes, which is about 90 minutes north of Seattle. Alternately, you can take a seaplane from downtown Seattle. This is the fun way... so it's the way I chose to go.

And why? They have a marathon, silly. It isn't a very big marathon. Last year's version had about 60 finishers. This year, it was about 80... plus a half marathon with another 130.

I've been running a lot of hilly marathons lately, and this was no exception. In fact, it was possibly the hilliest... only one of the hills was the long, multi-mile type... but it had endless, steep ups and downs throughout. And that one long hill came between M21-M24. The course also featured an uphill finish from M25.8 all the way to 26.2. The course basically forms a figure-8: A big loop through M20 that takes runners across the island, and a smaller loop from M20 through M26. In the middle of the big loop, there's an out-and-back from M8-M14.

The race started pretty late, at 8:30a, to give people taking the early ferry enough time to get to the start. This was excellent for me. I had come over the day before, so this meant I got to sleep in and eat more of a real breakfast than I normally would. Race morning was bright blue skies... but a little bit nippy. Or so I thought. I walked out to the start dressed in three shirts. However, about halfway through the Star Spangled Banner, I realized that I was already cooking. Uh oh. I quickly shed all my layers except for the pink singlet just in time for the airhorn. GO.

And we were off. I had heard that the course was hilly, though at this point I did not know HOW hilly. I decided to work on my downhill running... which meant that I wasn't going for even splits.

I hit M1 at 7:30. Well, huh. If you've been reading my reports, this should strike you as kind of fast. We headed up hills. After a few miles, I noticed that I was running the ups at about 8:15 and the downs at sub-8. Somewhere in here, Annie caught me. Let me tell you about Annie.

Annie is a female maniac - a superstar female maniac. Definitely one of the fastest in the club. On a good Annie day, she's a sub-3 marathoner. She has also won two events in the same weekend. She's super duper nice... but I've never had the chance to run with her because I'm simply too slow to keep up.

However, the planets aligned. She was running slightly slower today than some races, and I was running quite a bit faster. So we ran together some and talked, we played leapfrog for awhile... and I learned a lot. She gave me tips on running down hills. I watched how she handled aid stations and I listened to her thank all volunteers and encourage ALL runners as we passed them. She was great. Annie is a real ambassador for our club, and for faster runners in general.

I was able to hang with her through M11. We had been running about 200 yards behind another female... and as we approached the turnaround in the out-and-back section, it became apparent that this other gal was in first place. Without saying a word... she didn't need to, the goal was obvious... Annie sped up just barely. Off she went. I held my speed. By M13, Annie and other gal (Jodi - last year's winner) were running together. It was pretty clear that they were chatting :-). Cool. This was fun to watch.

Oh. I hit M13 at 1:42. This would have been a half marathon PR at 13.1 (probably 1:43ish). It's almost always a bad sign to hit the halfway point of a full at half PR speed. But I was having fun with the hills, and I had no time goal for the finish. So I decided to push and see how long I could hold it.

The hills. The hills. On and on they went. On and on I went. My pace was not steady, but I stayed between 7:45s and 8:20s. Though they were slowly pulling away, I kept Annie and Jodi in sight until M20... the end of the first loop. It helped that the course was extremely scenic. Lots of nice countryside and oceanside to view, especially in the out-and-back.

The traffic throughout the course was occasionally annoying, especially as we weaved through the slower half marathoners. The half had started at the same time as the full, and the first loop was essentially the half course... but the half skipped the out-and-back section, which ensured that when we merged back into the loop, we merged in with half marathoners going at a much slower pace.

But I tried not to worry too much about the traffic. I tried to ignore the number that the sportsdrink (Gleukos, not as nasty as ultima, but not tasty) was doing on my stomach.

The second loop was prettier... and hillier. By this point, all the runners were so spread out that I saw absolutely nobody. Not one soul. When I lost Annie and Jodi, I really lost them. Most of the roads in this loop had no course control and all the roads were open to traffic. Luckily, there wasn't much traffic... but "follow the spray painted arrows" got worrisome when the spray painted arrows didn't make a frequent appearance. No problem. I hit two waterstops, so I knew I was on the right path.

At M24, the 3rd place female (Anntionette... she of the 'cool tattoos!') caught me. The hills continued. We didn't talk to each other much, but she was definitely helping me get to the end. She was running about 10 feet in front of me.

At M25.8 we came to a turn that we had visited before. This was the start of the second loop... which we had already done. Turn left to do the loop, turn right to finish. Anntionette tried to turn left.

"NOOO!" I screamed, "Turn right, go right, go right!"

Whoops, she corrected. We headed up the hill together towards the end.

"You're third, you know."
"I know."

She went into sprint mode about 100 yards before the finish... usually I do this too, but not today. She was screaming. Just before the finish, I saw Annie sitting on the side of the road. She gave great encouragement to Anntionette... and then she gave some to me. Thanks, Annie.

3:34. A new PR. My fifth marathon in three weeks, and I PRed twice.

After the race, Anntionette thanked me for pulling her towards the end. This was funny, because she also pulled ME to the end :-). However, I think she was pretty close to me for most of the second loop, and I helped her not get lost. Anyway, she repaid that in the last two miles when I was feeling pretty done.

Overall, I didn't run a particularly "smart" race... my splits were 1:43/1:51. I attacked those hills, though. Only two people passed me during the race - Annie (#1 female) and Anntionette (#3 female). Nobody else. And it would seem that pretty much everyone else had a slower second half. Many of the guys that were running near me at the halfway point finished 10-15 minutes behind me.

I guess I had a good day. It was fun. It would turn out that I came in 3rd in my age group and 14th overall.

And on the way home on the seaplane, I saw whales!

Next up: A big weekend. 5k on Friday, local baby ultra (28.8 miles) on Saturday, North Olympic Discovery Marathon (in Port Angeles WA) on Sunday.

I'll see you there.