Wednesday, December 05, 2007

11/22,24,25/07 The GA/WA Almost Triple

Thanksgiving weekend is generally the worst weather weekend of the year in Seattle. One year, the weather was so crummy that one of our famous floating bridges actually SANK into Lake Washington. And... it happens to be Seattle Marathon weekend each year. I don't know why the organizers picked this weekend for the race, and last year was a particularly brutal year weatherwise. Wind and relentless horizontal rain that then turned into a big snow storm later in the day. Yuck.

Nonetheless, it is the home race, and so I've done the full or the half every year since 2001. I ran it with a friend that very first year. He is one of those life list people who needed to mark off "run a marathon"... and so we did. Of course, the weather was terrible. We had fun, including a Guinness stop (he's Irish), courtesy of another friend at M24. We finished at 5:03. Only then did he reveal his sub-5 goal. Whoops. I guess I shouldn't have organized the beer surprise.

Last year, I ran it as my fourth marathon after my break. As I wrote above, the weather was terrible even by the standards of "worst weather weekend of the year", and I limped to the finish at 4:25. I was somewhere between wet fish and frozen popsicle. My skin was gray. Ugh.

NOW... it turns out that this weekend provides the extreme runner with a double opportunity (two marathons in two days) that, for a Seattle resident, offers the easiest logistics imaginable. There is a very low-key marathon/50k held on Saturday called the Ghost of Seattle Marathon. It is named oddly because it utilizes one of the old Seattle Marathon courses. And it isn't like this old course is out in the sticks; it's really the middle miles... the easy miles... of the current course. So, a motivated person can run two marathons in two days in the same area. How cool is that?

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL... you also get a set of steak knives. See, Thanksgiving week presents a special opportunity for running an extra marathon. The Atlanta Marathon happens to be on Thanksgiving morning. The logistics of this race would be dicey because 1) the race does not allow day-of-race number pickup and 2) flights out of Atlanta after the race on turkey day basically end at 2p. The race starts at 7:30, so this would mean a strong finish, a quick shower, a power-hike to the closest MARTA (light rail) station, and fingers-crossed, no issues along the way. I found suitable flights, although my return flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30p. No stress!

So I signed up for all three races. Officially, this was not a triple because the races weren't on consecutive days. I got a rest day on Friday. It was an intense weekend nonetheless.

I didn't know what to expect from the Atlanta Marathon going into it. The web site made it seem like a small race, and I figured that as a track club thing held on a holiday morning, it would be laid back and not really supported that well. All I knew for sure about it was that it was supposed to be "kind of hilly".

I flew into Atlanta on Wednesday and ate a late lunch with a friend. Because of my flight schedule and a horrible sinus and/or migraine headache that punched me out in the evening, that late lunch (a CPK pizza) would represent all of the calories I consumed before the marathon. I could write what my original goals were supposed to be for this race, but I don't need to do that... you can tell what happened based on my food intake.

On a positive note, when I woke up on Thanksgiving morning, my headache was gone. I've begun to get these fairly consistently after flights lately. After many years of traveling, I think my body is finally tired of it. But I felt ok when I woke up. On another positive note for the residents of Atlanta, the morning started with light showers interspersed with periods of heavy rain. Why is this good news? Because Atlanta had been suffering through months of serious drought. This was the first measurable rain in, like, forever. On race morning. Oh goody. Yay for the residents of Atlanta, but boo for the runners. On the other hand, the temperature was mild and the rain helped with the swamp-like humidity.

I'll be brief with my race comments:

1. I was wrong about the organization of this race. It was a bigger deal than I expected... tons of runners in the accompanying half, great aid stations, porta-potties, and even some spectators. Very friendly volunteers and police considering the holiday morning.

2. The course was an upside down balloon-on-a-stick... meaning that it was a loop with a long out-and-back section in the middle.

3. The website noted a 5 hour cutoff, and the organizers weren't kidding. As I ran the back portion of the out-and-back, the city was already picking up the cones on the out lane. And I was running at a pretty fair clip.

4. Saying that the course was "kind of hilly" is a bit of an understatement. The course was quite challenging.

5. Originally, I was going to use this as a go-fast attempt, but my food from the day before wasn't going to allow that. Plus the course was quite difficult and the weather was crummy. I decided to go for "about 3:45"...

6. ...and that lasted until about M8 when my body decided that it needed to conserve fuel. I had to switch from 4th gear to 3rd. And my goal became "about 4". That goal was reasonable, and even though I really had to press through the hills in those last miles, I achieved it.

3:55. Overall, a bit of a blah finish. I was completely wiped - I gave it everything I had just to beat 4. The power hike to the MARTA station afterwards was rough. I made it.

That brings us to Saturday's Ghost. The Ghost course was a loop from the start/finish area followed by an out-and-back. Half marathoners did this once, full marathoners did it twice. There was also a 50k: the full marathon plus an extra loop. The course was essentially M8-M18 of the current Seattle Marathon course, and it was flat flat flat. Ghost is always a "fun run". No numbers, no mile markers, and two aid stations. Oddly, the night before the race, I noticed on the website that the organizer had made some adjustments to the course. Apparently, it had been long in years past, so he chopped some off. But, huh, it looked like he chopped A LOT off. 1.5 miles. Strange.

Race morning was crisp but clear. And no wind. A few people had started an hour early. I started 30 minutes early. By myself. I knew that a few medium-fast runners would be there, so my goal was to use that 30 minute cushion to stay near the front. I'd try not to get overtaken until I was headed towards the finish. I had absolutely no time goal in mind. I pace poorly on courses without mile markers, and since the organizer had changed the course, I couldn't even go with a "beat my last time on this course". I just ran and tried to keep my cushion once the regular race started.

At the end of the first half, I knew something was up. I ran a 1:47, which is a good first half for me, but I knew I hadn't been running that hard. I did the next loop and as I passed the start/finish on my way into the out-and-back section, I overheard a half marathoner at the finish say that her Garmin had measured it as 12.55 miles instead of 13.1. I did some quick math in my head... yeah, that fit with how I felt during the 1:47 half. The course was short. Sigh. I don't know why he cut out what he cut out. Nevertheless, I kept going. Officially, I finished at 3:37. Then I ran an extra mile to make things add up.

I wasn't too bugged about it... it was billed as a fun run. So I stayed and talked to people and had fun. UNTIL...

...I gave a friend a ride back to her car. As she got out, I was absentmindedly chewing on some food when I bit into something hard. My mind flashed "ew, bad peanut", and I spit it onto the ground. Then I drove off. About 10 minutes later, I realized that my mouth felt strange. I said ahhhh into my rearview mirror, and the horror presented itself. The horror! That was no bad peanut. One of my crowns (I have two) had popped off. And I had spit it onto the ground. I saw a little nub of a tooth in my mouth. The horror! And it was starting to hurt. Crap.

So I turned around and drove back to the park. 20 minutes had passed. Would my crown be on the ground somewhere? I had spit it into a parking lot. Would it be crushed? I started looking for it. The owner of the SUV I was rooting around spotted me and came over to see why I was messing with his truck. "I lost my tooth." (From a creative writing perspective, it would be more fun to quote myself as having said "I loth my toof"... but it came out pretty normal)

I found it. Yuck. I put it in my pocket. Every inhale of cold air was painful. I called my dentist. Holiday weekend. No one around until Monday. Awesome.

And that brings us to Seattle Marathon morning. This course is a HARD course. It isn't hilly throughout like the Atlanta course... but Seattle has some very tough hills between M18 and M25 - right when the tired runner is in the mummy-leg zone. By the grace of God or a stroke of good fortune or just random chance, the weather was amazing on race morning. THIS NEVER HAPPENS.

I've never run Seattle fast, and I wasn't planning on running this year's race fast. As my 3rd marathon in 4 days, I just wanted to beat 4. If I could do that, it would be a first on this course.

Seattle is Maniac Central, so a ton of Maniacs do this race. I saw lots of people I knew and as we headed out onto the course, I kind of got swept up in the moment. By M4, I'd put in a couple 8:0x miles. We headed out onto the floating bridge for the race's neat out-and-back section from M4 to M8. This is my favorite part because I love watching the leaders coming back, and I like seeing all the other runners I know in front of me and behind me.

There was Maniac Annie in 3rd or 4th place. I jumped over to the back side (I was still heading out) and gave her a high 5. I think I surprised her. I hope it was ok. She would later lead the women's race until being overtaken in the final miles. Ultimately, she came in second. Go Annie!

I talked to lots of people. I ran too fast. I realized coming off the bridge that I was still doing miles between 7:55 and 8:05. Hmmm. This probably was a bad sign. Probably. Except that I didn't feel badly. Yet. I felt really good. I decided to see if I could hold it through M15. At that point, I'd check in with myself and see if I could stretch it to M19. The mean hills start around M19, so I had no visions of a 3:30 and even splits. However, if I could hold the pace until M15 and not slow too much, I thought 3:40 would be possible. And if I could hold it through M19, maybe 3:36-3:37. Maybe. If I didn't completely break down and walk.

My tooth was really hurting. Breathing in cold air was painful. Drinking a cup of ice cold gatorade was torture. By the 3rd aid station, I'd learned to cock my head sideways so that the gatorade would stay away from the bad side. It only kind of worked. Ouch. On the other hand, I looked kind of like a dog looks when he hears a strange noise. That cocked-head "huh?" Hee.

Spectators were hollering for me at M8. It is common for people to yell "Robert" or "J-Lo" because those names are on my shirt. But this group was yelling my last name too. Ahh! People I know in real life! WOOOOOO.

Onward. This part of the course was the Ghost course. As I hit the park loop at M11, one of the founding Maniacs, Chris, caught up with me. We talked a little and I told him that I was just trying to keep this pace through M15. I mentioned my stretch goal of M18-19.

M15 came. Still 8:0x. He asked me "what now?" "One more mile". M16, still 8:0x. It was starting to catch up to me, though. I kept the pace, but my breathing was getting a little harder and my legs felt like planks. Chris would catch up to me, say a few words, and then fall back a little. Then he'd catch me again. He really kept things loose.

M17. M18. M19. He was side by side with me now. I was wheezing. My mouth was throbbing. I remember him clearly saying "That last mile was 7:48. Why don't we keep this up until the end?"

"I can't. I gotta cut back to 9s now. But that was great. This was the most fun I've had running in a long, long time."

He smiled a little and started pulling away. I kept him in sight for another mile or so, but I did consciously slow. The key was to slow in a controlled fashion to 9:0x miles and not continue slowing and slowing. And it was hard too... the hills started at M19.

Oh, those hills. Up and down and up and up and up. There's an infamous two block hill on Galer. I ran the first half, but I had to walk the steepest block. However, Galer is a short stretch... the problem is that this hill keeps going after turning onto the next street, Madison. And this isn't the worst hill. After some nice downhill, the course heads through the Arboretum (which is much prettier in other seasons) and then up Interlaken. This is the hard hill. Up and up and up, for over a mile. Twisting around blind corners, the hill never seems to end. The 9:0x pace suffered a little through here. My mouth too. Ouch. I want my binky!

The mile marker at M24 was the location of the famous Guinness stop in 2001. I felt like I was running past phantoms... and for the first time in many attempts, I really WAS running through this section.

I passed lots of half marathon walkers. The full had started 15 minutes after the half walk, and it was obviously twice as long. These folks had been on their feet for a very long time. I was ready to be done.

Just past M25, the course turned onto the final stretch back to the finish at Seattle Center. I tried to pick it up... I like to make my last mile my fastest mile of the race. However, I had run quite a few fast miles (for me) already. And it was my 3rd in 4 days. Fast was not in the cards.

I did the best I could.

Check the picture at the top of this page; I'll wait.

Yeah. 3:36. My fastest race of the weekend was my last one. On a hard course. 49 minutes faster than last year. Almost an hour and a half faster than 2001. And officially, it was only 96 seconds slower than my PR.

WOOHOO! But it was a tad... just a tad... bittersweet. Had I been paying attention, I am quite sure that I could have found 97 seconds in there somewhere. It would have been very cool to set a PR at the end of the Almost Triple.

But still? Pretty cool. This is what I call a "negative split double"... the second day of my double was faster than my first. I never... ever... dreamed of being able to do that. And close to my marathon PR too.

The 3:37/3:36 pairing would be a double PR, except that the first day's time was wonky due to the short course. I'm not counting it as a PR. Still great fun.

I wasn't kidding when I told Chris "But that was great. This was the most fun I've had running in a long, long time." Despite my tooth. Speaking of, I got the crown reattached the following monday (Yay), and a big chunk promptly broke off two days later (Boo).

Side story: I have spent a year writing about my races, but I have very carefully and intentionally NOT written about the inspiration for the big pink schedule: the mighty J-Lo. She is a private person, and so I've chosen to respect that. But I will say this. She walked her first ever half marathon at Seattle. She trained hard for it and she did it. She was actually pretty fast, too. 9 months after chemo. How cool is that? Go J-Lo go.

Next up: It has already happened. Apologies for being a little tardy on these writeups... it is getting harder each week to come up with interesting things to say :-). Next was the Death Valley/Las Vegas double weekend. I had sworn not to run Las Vegas after last year's terribly organized race, but I was there. And I did ok. More on that soon!

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