Saturday, December 06, 2008

12/6/08 Sunmart 50 Miler

The Sunmart Texas Trail Endurance Runs are two ultras (a 50k and a 50 miler) held at Huntsville State Park in Texas. Everybody calls this set of races "Sunmart" even though Sunmart is the sponsor. I suppose that would be a little like calling the Chicago Marathon "Bank of America" or the Tacoma City Marathon "Michelob Ultra", which would be confusing for a couple reasons. Nevertheless, this is Sunmart. And in this case, it's probably not a bad thing because one of Sunmart's big claims to fame is that participants get loaded down with stuff. Here's just a sample: gym bag, technical shirt, polo shirt, running hat, notebook, poncho, disposable camera, gloves, notebook, bandana, sewing kit, and a stuffed animal. I'm sure I've forgotten a few things. AND all the clothing items as well as the notebook (!) have multiple color choices. After completing the race, participants also get a jacket.

The race fee includes a free meal the night before, free hot breakfast before the race, and hot food after the race. The race also supplies the typical fare found at ultra aid stations, but unlike most ultras, the aid stations are only 2-3 miles apart. Staffed by super friendly folks who are there rain, shine, or snow for 12 hours. Each station has multiple portapotties. The race even uses chip timing, which is kind of funny in the 50 miler. Did I finish at 9:30:02? Or 9:30:03? :-)

Anyway, as you can see, they really try to take care of runners at Sunmart. The courses themselves are quite interesting. At a high level, the two races consist of multiple roly poly loops around a small lake. The race utilizes various trails and dirt roads in the park. The trail sections aren't terribly technical, but they do have lots of roots to keep runners on their toes (or their faces). As a bonus, because Sunmart is held in December after the leaves have dropped, many of the roots are hidden. Everyone likes a surprise, right? The good news is that the trails are not rocky at all... in fact, they are quite sandy. So if a root does take a runner down, it doesn't always hurt as it might in other situations. Not always. Sometimes it does. There are no true "climbs" at Sunmart. The courses definitely have ups and downs, including one section actually called "the hill", but these are nothing like what you find at a hardcore mountain ultra.

I've mentioned "courses", plural. Many of the miles utilized by the 50k and the 50 miler are the same, but not all of them. The 50 miler is a 12.5 mile loop (sort of), repeated 4 times. Actually, there's a 1.5ish mile section OUT before the loop, then the loop itself, then the 1.5 mile section BACK to the start/loop count/finish area. In the middle of the loop, there's a 3 mile out-and-back section on a dirt road. This is "the hill". The two out-and-back sections are nice because you get to see people in both directions, and you get to interact with people in both races. Because aside from the out-and-backs and a short section of the loop, the 50k course is quite different. It starts off with a six mile jaunt on wholly different trails (in the past, this was a crowded out-and-back, but they changed it this year), followed by two 12.5 mile loops. Except, oddly, after sharing the first section of loop and "the hill" with the 50 milers, the 50k course suddenly veers off onto a different trail for about 4 miles. Got that? Yeah, it's weird. Here's a map.

All in all, Sunmart is a fast course as trail ultras go. Of course, I am a poor runner on trails, so "fast" is kind of lost on me. I ran the 50k last year and aside from the 70s-and-muggy conditions, I had a fun experience. Albeit not with a fast time. So I decided to come back and try it again.

One big problem. When I got to packet pickup, I was on the wrong list. They had me down for the 50 miler. I have not run longer than 27 miles at one time since the end of July, when I slogged through the White River 50 Miler. Oh dear. I have had a bad history with 50 mile races *and* I wasn't optimally trained for this. I knew that my weekly mileage would probably get me through in one piece. Hopefully. But I might hurt myself. And although Sunmart is a fast course, I didn't know if I'd make the 12 hour cut-off.

I could have switched over to the 50k. I should have switched over to the 50k. But coulda, shoulda, I did not. I'm not exactly sure why. It certainly wasn't a sense of pride. I have neither pride nor shame when it comes to running ultras, especially the 50 mile kind. I think my brain was morbidly curious about what kind of punishment I could withstand. So I stayed in. I did what I could to prepare at the last minute: I ate a lot.

I knew that with all of Sunmart's aid stations, I wouldn't need anything extra beyond what I had brought... with one exception. 10-12 hours is a long time. The 50 miler would be starting at 7a, and sunset would be about 5:30. It gets dark, really really dark, in the woods at night. I didn't have a flashlight. My morbidly curious brain started doing some calculations again... I had run a gruesome 12:30 at White River, but that course was orders of magnitude more difficult. On a less challenging course, surely I could beat eleven hours. And, as I watched the sun go down outside my hotel window, it did not seem to be truly dark until about 6p, the eleven hour mark. Fine. I had a race goal. I needed to beat 11:00 or get lost and eaten by alligators.

On race morning, I got to the park early enough to score great parking and to consider breakfast. Lots of people were eating. Not me. Last year it had been warm, but this year it was ice cold: 25 degrees. It was dry, which was nice, and not terribly windy. I decided to go out in shorts, several layers of shirts, and gloves. I knew that with the 12.5 mile loop, I'd be back sooner or later to ditch some clothing if it warmed up. As I was trying to figure out where to leave my drop bag, I walked through a field of leaves next to the start. Stumbling around in the dark, I managed to step on a tree branch and somehow gouge a six inch scratch (a deep one) into my other shin. Great. I hadn't started the race yet and I was already bloody. This would be a bitter, bitter omen and I didn't know it.

I watched other people stuff themselves silly with a detached fascination, hit the portapotty a couple times, and then it was time to go. At precisely 7a, about 200 of us headed down the trail.

Four loops around a lake. Eleven hours to do it.

1st Loop
Heading out to start the race, I felt ok. I was nervous, but I did everything I could to relax... and most definitely to go out SLOWLY. The sun wasn't quite up yet, but it was light enough to see fine. Everyone was very chatty, but I wasn't. This is usually how I gauge my mental state in a race. If I'm chatty, that means I'm relaxed. If I'm not chatty, I'm either sick or nervous. If I'm not chatty AND other people's chatter starts bugging me, then I'm in a bad way. Relax. Relax.

I ran.

My first stumble happened quickly. My first fall (the kersplat kind) was not long after that. Sigh. It didn't hurt. The second fall did, though. I kept going.

One nice thing about attempting the 50 miler was that I got to see the differences between the two courses. The 50 miler visited a lot more of the lake as well as the lake's spillway. All in all, it was a more varied and fun course than the 50k. Which is nice since I'd need to be on it for 19 miles beyond a 50k.

Towards the end of the loop, I started playing leapfrog with a woman wearing vibram 5-fingers; these are essentially neoprene gloves for feet. She was almost running barefoot. I found this curious, but I didn't think more about it.

Then it was back up to the start/loop count/finish area and my drop bag.

# Stumbles: numerous
# Falls: 2
Locomotion status: all running, no shuffling, no walking
Mental/emotion status: detached
Time: 2:18

2nd Loop
As I ditched a shirt and grabbed a couple things from my drop bag, I noticed that I was incredibly stiff for 12.5 miles. This reminded me of my previous week at the Seattle Marathon where I felt beaten up way too early... and ultimately had a poor second half.

Uh oh.

And I'm only a quarter of the way into this.

The bad thoughts started creeping in. Oddly, though, at the same time, I started doing some math. My first loop's 2:18 hadn't felt too fast, although I was certainly stiff. It seemed to me that I could perhaps keep all of my loops under 2:30 and therefore finish at 10 hours. That would be cool. And so it became my new goal: "run 2:30 loops, and finish around 10 hours".

Yeah. I should have factored in those bad thoughts. Or, probably, I should have worked harder to banish those thoughts. But I didn't. And I started falling. I had fallen twice during the first loop. I decided that if I slowed just a little bit, maybe I'd stumble less. And not fall. I wish. My first fall happened before I even made it to the first aid station. And every joint hurt. I stayed on the ground for a minute to regroup.

By the third fall of this loop... yes, three falls all the way down in 12.5 miles... I started becoming weirdly fascinated by other people's reactions to my falls. Some people would just ignore them and continue onward. Some people, particularly for a more acrobatic move, would audibly gasp or hoot. A couple would actually stop to ask me if I was ok. Not as many as I expected, but at the same time, more than I wanted :-). "Yes, I'm fine, please go on."

I was really grim during this loop, and it seemed to take forever. Vibram 5-fingers passed me again somewhere in here. I noticed that she was wearing a different color shirt and no longer had on the vibrams. Huh. I wonder how she had gotten behind me? No matter, she left me in the dust.

Really, really grim. Bad shoulder angel materialized and started counseling me about taking a DNF. A 25 mile training run wouldn't count as a race finish, but it would count as a nice run. Hmmm. This went on for some time. Finally, as I headed up towards the start/loop count/finish area, good shoulder angel popped out and whispered sage advice. The middle miles of almost all races seem to be like this for me, regardless of distance, and usually regardless of how I otherwise feel. Mile 2 of a 5k always hurts. Miles 18-20 of a marathon are usually the hardest mentally and emotionally. Thinking back through my previous three 50 milers, I doubted myself in the middle of all of them. Ready to stop. Give up. But I never did... and I almost always recovered. And I have always finished.

# Stumbles: some, but not as many as the first loop
# Falls: 3 (!!!) (5 total)
Locomotion status: some running, much more shuffling, some walking
Mental/emotion status: woe is me; I suck
Time 2:38 (4:57 total)

3rd Loop
I didn't even go over to my drop bag before starting this loop. I stopped at the aid station and noticed I was breathing very hard for someone who had just taken over 2 1/2 hours to go 12.5 miles. This was over my 2:30 per loop goal, but I was still under 5 hours total, so I didn't worry about it. I told myself just to try the 3rd loop. Even if I walked the whole thing... just give it a shot and worry about DNFing after that. And so out I went.

Vibram 5-fingers caught me at the second aid station. What the hell? Once again, I had not recalled passing her, yet here she was again. This time she was in shorts and a 3rd shirt selection. I spent most of this loop considering all the other runners and trying to judge who I'd be running near for the rest of the day.

During the out-and-backs, I provided encouragement to the 50k and other 50 mile runners I encountered. Being more outgoing let me know that mentally, my outlook on life in general was improving. In fact, the act of offering up a "good job" and "hello!" and getting an acknowledgement in return helped to improve my mood.

The sun was moving across the sky. Now, aside from a half a mile of exposed running by the spillway, most of the course is in deep woods. It was interesting to see how the filtered sunlight changed the viewing conditions as the sun moved and shadows adjusted. What had been hard to see earlier became easier to see. And a few things became harder to see.

Which explains, blam, my next fall. I was talking to a couple people around me about falling when it happened. Figures. It didn't hurt, and I got a great audible gasp from the crowd.

Vibram 5-fingers passed me on "the hill" again. I still had no idea how/when she was getting behind me.

Onward. The rest of the loop was uneventful, but I felt better. As I pulled into the start/loop count/finish area, Steve and Paula Boone (50-Stater kahunas) cheered for me. "Are you done???" I didn't have the energy to respond. I just shook my head and held up a finger - one more loop. "Ok, we'll stay here and cheer for you."

I didn't process this at the time, but it meant that even though they were done with the 50k, they fully intended to stay for another 3+ hours to cheer on other folks. Wow. Of course, it also meant they thought that I was faster than I really am. And indeed, by now almost all the 50k folks and 12 out of 159 50 milers had finished. I ain't that fast.

# Stumbles: a few
# Falls: 1 (6 total)
Locomotion status: some running, some shuffling, some walking
Mental/emotion status: I am zen-like blacking all this out now
Time 2:45 (7:42 total)

4th Loop
As I stood over my drop bag, I noticed that I was shaking. I wasn't cold; it was kind of like I was trying to stand still on the deck of a rocking ship. Except I wasn't. I spent a little extra time at the aid station. That last loop had been interesting. My 2:45 was obviously longer than the 2:38 of the previous loop, but it had felt so much better. And it seemed to go by faster, even though it didn't.

Did I stop and DNF after the 3rd loop? Good shoulder angel was right... I was slow and achy, especially from all those falls, but mentally I felt a whole lot better. No DNF today.

As I went out for the final loop, I actually paid a bit more attention to the details of my surroundings. The start/loop count/finish area was lined with tents for various Texas running clubs where members had stashed their stuff (me? I had a trashbag next to a curb; no tent). And inside a tent was Vibram 5-fingers! Aha! She had been stopping after each loop to rest and change clothes, and this is how I had kept getting ahead of her.

The race had started at 7a. When I left for my final lap, it was about 2:45p. I had slowed enough that I had no real hope of making my 10 hour goal. In fact, I had been trending slower each lap, and a 3 hour lap seemed highly likely. 3 hours! To go 12.5 miles! Argh.

I returned to my contemplation of the sun, and I realized that I had made a grave tactical error. Sure, it might have gotten dark a little after 6p at my hotel. But my hotel was not in the woods. It was going to be dark substantially earlier out here, probably 5 or 5:30. And a 3 hour loop would mean finishing around 5:45p.

Ruh roh.

That was incentive to try not to shuffle away at a 3 hour pace. Then again, I had no desire to fall anymore PLUS my legs didn't care at all about the clock. I went as fast as I could possibly go, and that was only slightly faster than continental drift. My brain started getting paranoid, and I gave myself a case of Marty Feldman eye: I had to keep one on the ground to avoid more sand-in-my-hair encounters, but I also kept one eye tracking the sun. And it went lower and lower and lower.

Ok, two things. First thing is that it became a whole lot like a vampire or zombie movie where everyone watches for sunset knowing that Bad Things Happen After Dusk. I was soooo nervous.

The second thing is truly strange, though. Because I know that the sun sets in the west, I started getting interested in what direction I was running at any given time. And I realized that this race went all over the compass. That's not the strange part.

Then it happened. I got a song stuck in my head. HARD. This happens sometimes, and it is almost always a song I don't normally think about. I had been thinking about directions. And so here it came...

Eastbound and down, 18 wheels a-rollin.
We're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go
And a (beat)
Short time to get there
I'm eastbound, just watch ol' Bandit run.

Yikes. But that's not all. It seems that I know all the lyrics to this song. And they came to me over and over again.

Put your foot hard on the pedal,
Son, never mind them brakes.
Let it all hang out 'cause we got a run to make.
The folks are thirsty in Atlanta
And there's beer in Texarkana
We'll bring it back no matter what it takes!

There was Vibram 5-fingers again, in her latest clothing collection. Heh. I also noticed during "the hill" out-and-back that most everyone had had the presence of mind to bring a headlamp. Whoops.

By the fourth aid station, the sun was just barely over the ridge and the trees. I knew I still had about 90 minutes to run, and I did not have 90 minutes of sun. Whatever. Go. Either the vampires or the alligators would be having me for dinner.

But a curious thing happened in here. The organizers had magically (for I never saw them do this) hung glow sticks from the trees. Not many... it wasn't like the approach lights at an airport. But at regular intervals, there was a tiny amount of light. How cool. Very helpful for marking the course - for those with flashlights. Unfortunately, it was not nearly enough to illuminate the path.

A couple of my Maniac teammates passed me in here. A few others did too. Then again, I passed a few folks as well. When I got to the final aid station, it was officially dusk. The later part of dusk at that. And I had 2.7 miles to go!

Old smokey's got them ears on
He's hot on your trail.
He ain't gonna rest til you're in jail.
So you got to dodge and you got to duck him
You gotta keep that diesel truckin
Just put that hammer down and give it hell.

I tried putting my hammer down. And with just a little over 2 miles left... 48 miles into my day.... BLAM... I fell again. For the 7th time today.


That's what I said. Really. And I said it outloud. It wasn't an exclamation, more of a statement of resignation. At least it didn't hurt. I was way past pain.

I turned onto the final 1.5 mile BACK section. I was seriously nervous about it getting any darker. My brain finally decided that even though running faster might mean a fall, *not* running faster probably guaranteed a fall once I started stumbling around in pitch black.

I put that hammer down and gave it hell.

And it seemed to have an effect on other people. I passed a couple folks who had been shuffling. "Good job, we're almost done!" But I noticed that their footsteps did not die away. I was truly running now, and running hard (ok, technically probably 10:00/mile pace, but it SEEMED hard for the conditions and my fatigue), and somebody or somebodies were right behind me.

I did not try to race them; I just wanted to be done. Had they passed me, I would have cheered. But it turns out that I was the one pulling them in. I heard some noise from the finish area. We were close.

I saw some lights through the trees. Closer.

Left turn, through the tent area and a bunch of people drinking beer. There's the finish area. And...

Robert Lopez, all the way from Seattle!

Done. Immediately another name was called out. Then another.

# Stumbles: numerous
# Falls: 1 (7 total)
Locomotion status: some running, a whole lot of shuffling, a little walking
Mental/emotion status: I'm a-scared of the dark
Time 2:48 (10:31 total)

It was dark now. My fourth loop was my slowest, but it was almost identical to my third loop. I'm pretty proud of that, and it felt nice to run the last bit. One guy finished 19 seconds behind me. A gal finished about 30 seconds later. I congratulated them both and noticed that the gal was a 50k-er! 10 1/2 hours to complete a 50k... but she was running hard at the end. I asked her what had happened - she had twisted her ankle in the middle and done a lot of walking.

And oh yes, it was very dark now.

Vibram 5-fingers finished about 20 minutes behind me.

I got my dinner (dinner!) and sat in the tent with Steve and Paula Boone. Yup, they had waited three hours. Nice folks.

Overall, I'm not terribly pleased with my 10:31. I finished 97th out of 159. Then again, I was not one of the 30ish folks on the DNF list. And aside from some bruises and scratches, I felt remarkably good.

If I want to beat 10:31, I have to train better. Meanwhile, back to those falls. I fell 7 times. In 193 marathons and ultras before this edition of Sunmart, I had fallen 8 times total. Er. Wow.

Now if I could only get that song out of my head...

Next up: The Honolulu Marathon, a race I said I'd never do again. Yet here I am. The 50 miler beat me up. Very, very up. I was able to run a bit in the week between Sunmart and Honolulu, but not that much. I have no idea how the race will go and probably won't set a firm goal until, say, M6. Subject to change at M7. Check back RealSoonNow and see what happened.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

11/30/08 Seattle Marathon

Oh, where to start, where to start? First off, the picture. That's my friend Bee, me, and another friend, Maniac Genia, just before the start of this year's Seattle Marathon. Genia is about to PR by almost 15 minutes - woohoo! More on her later!

How about a bit of history. I have run either the half or the full at Seattle every year since 2001. I never ran either race very well until last year. The course, particularly the half, is quite challenging. The weather can be rotten as well, which makes any race harder. Between my performance, the weather, and a couple other little things (post race food issues and some screwy chip timing issues), I've never really loved the Seattle Marathon. Yet I sign up each year. My opinion improved a bit in 2007 because we had good -though cold- weather and I ran fast. My 3:36 was just a couple minutes slower than my PR at the time. It also came the day after running a 3:37 at the low-key Ghost of Seattle Marathon, and three days after a yucky 3:55 at the Atlanta Marathon. Amazing how running a good race under blue skies can suddenly improve one's outlook. The post race food was still spotty and lots of people had problems with their chip times... but wahoo, what a fun day.

That brings me to this year. Once again, I ran Atlanta three days prior. This year, I ran a much better 3:41, felt great the whole day, and managed a negative split. Instead of running the Ghost marathon on Saturday, I opted for a new 5k. Alas, I messed up. Heading into race weekend, my goal for Sunday's race was supposed to be 3:30. I wanted to run the 5k at marathon pace to get my brain ready for the following day. Instead, I followed Bee for 3.1 miles, and she wanted to run faster than that. We finished somewhere around 21:30. Well, Bee did. I was a bit behind. Anyway, for a 3:30 marathon, I should have been sticking with 8:00 miles. Instead, I ran 6:55s. Ruh roh. This might come back and bite me.

I've written about the Seattle Marathon course before, but here's a brief summary. The course is a loop with an out-and-back in the middle that starts and finishes at an ancient stadium near the Space Needle. The first couple miles offer up a roly poly tour of downtown. Just after M2, the course jumps onto the (mercifully closed) express lanes of I-90. More roly polies. Through a tunnel, then at about M4.5, runners are treated with the flat out-and-back section across one of Seattle's floating bridges. Although a bad weather year can make this part miserable, it is my favorite. I love seeing the fast folks coming the other way, and I love high fiving and giving the shaka to people both faster and not as fast. It's possible that I love this section *too* much; it's easy for me to get caught up in the energy and emotion... and run way way too fast. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After turning around on Mercer Island at M6, the course shoots back across the water. A turn to the south leads runners along Lake Washington to Seward Park at M11. Once around the park and northwards back up the same road. At M17.5, the course passes under the floating bridge and continues north. Goodbye, flat section. Hello, hilly section from hell. Ok, that's a bit dramatic. I like hills a lot. And at first, these hills are not bad. Just hills. And the views keep on coming. Nice neighborhoods, trees, water. On a good day, the occasional mountain view.

M20.5 is the left turn onto Galer. This is the course's famous hill. It's only about five blocks long, but it is super duper steep. I can run it, sometimes, but I look like a duck. And at the top, the runner learns that it isn't actually the top: a left turn onto Madison and yippee, more hill. The actual top is right about M21. After a half mile of downhill to even out the legs, the course comes to the *real* asskicker of the race. Interlaken Boulevard. This is a twisty road through the Seattle Arboretum. Uphill. M21.5 to M23, relentlessly up and up. The twists in the road make for a bunch of false tops to frustrate the first-timer... especially after the similar experience at the top of Galer earlier. Even for the runner who knows what's coming, Interlaken is the total gut check section for this race. The hardest hill at the hardest point physiologically and psychologically in the course after having been beaten up by other hills since M18. Go go go.

The top of the hill is M23. Shortly after this, the course crosses I-5 for the first time and heads gently downhill to M24. For a person who has paced well, this is an excellent opportunity to fly. Me? I've never flown here. That tells you something. In a cruel twist, the course zips back under I-5 to the other side at M24. Briefly. This section treats the exhausted runner to a jaw-dropping view of downtown. And somewhat north of downtown, the space needle and the stadium. Finish line is in the stadium! Just before M25, it passes back over the freeway. Downhill. Downhill.

At M25.8, there's one final uphill. Ha. Left turn towards the stadium, through a tunnel, and then across the football field. Tons of folks are there to stare passively at you or cheer you on, depending. Sometimes if you want it, you have to work for it :-).

Huh. I promised a brief summary. I guess that wasn't. The course itself is not packed with spectators, though in a good weather year, a fair number of people turn out. And this was a good weather year. Freakish, actually. Usually, it is 30-40 degrees. "Good weather" would mean drizzle and light wind. This year, morning brought 51 degrees, no real wind, and fog. Usually, I'm bundled up in 3 shirts, pants, a raincoat, a ski cap, and gloves. This year? One shirt, those trendy sleeve things (which I'd ditch at M9), gloves (which I'd put away at M11), and shorts. Balmy! Not perfect, though. That fog really represented high humidity. I didn't get that at first; I would understand it well later on. Still though, it simply will never get better than this.

As I mentioned in my 5k summary above, my theoretical race goal was going to be 3:30. I had attempted a 3:30 a couple weeks prior in San Antonio, and if I hadn't been waylaid by stomach issues, I would have had it. Seattle is a harder course by far, but with good weather and the energy of running with friends on a course I know with my eyes closed, I figured I could do it.

I showed up somewhat early with J-Lo because she was going to walk the half marathon with a friend. After seeing them off, I had 30 minutes to get ready and chat. Lots of people I know run the Seattle Marathon. Then it was time. I lined up just to the side of the 3:30 pace group... not planning on running with them... Star Spangled Banner... and off we went.

The start of this race is crowded and stays crowded because just as the marathon crowd is stretching out, racers overtake the marathon walkers who started earlier. And then the half marathoners who also started earlier. For the most part, the half marathoners stay on the side. In fact, for a few miles on I-90, there's a concrete barrier separating that group from the full. I did everything I could not to zigzag around slower runners, but I was feeling really good. Everything felt great. I had eaten right. My stomach seemed ok. The day was pretty. I spied J-Lo and friend on the other side of the barrier at about M4. I called out her name. She called out my name. WOOHOO!

About that time, I passed Santa Claus. Yes, a guy was doing the full enchilada dressed in a Santa suit. He was also handing out candy canes. Ha. I bet he got hot!

Into the first tunnel. It was in here that I made the fateful decision: today would be Go-Fast day. My current PR is 3:28. I had originally thought about running about 3:30... nah. Let's see if I can handle a 3:25-3:27. Go fast! I started the zigzag process. Note to self: be careful, cocky runner - much energy is used whilst zigging; even more is used during the requisite zag.

The half marathon course does not head across the floating bridge. After they turned off, I didn't need to zig zag anymore. I was at the bridge, my favorite section. I pulled over to the middle so that I could see (and sometimes slap five) faster runners coming back and a few of the early starters who had made it here quickly.

It was like I shot myself out of a cannon.

The energy was incredible. The Seattle Marathon is not my favorite race, but this bridge out-and-back is almost certainly one of my top race-related experiences. There was Larry! This race was his 101st... of this year! Slap five, Larry. There were Maniacs Lauri and Q-562! Here came the guy leaders! And the first women. 1, 2, 3, maybe 4. And then, out of the fog, it was Maniac Annie. Last year, Annie managed a second place finish. She looked great this year, although she was incognito in red. Slap five, Annie. More people I knew went by. A couple people hooted for the man in pink. And I was passing all kinds of people.

Around the turnaround. Boom! And now I was facing a sea of people. I saw so many folks I know. And every time someone hooted or acknowledged a shaka, I seemed to speed up a little. It was so cool.

I came off the bridge at M8. My split for that mile? 7:15. Ruh roh. Way too fast.

J-Lo's friends were waiting to cheer me on at M9. I stopped briefly and ditched my sleeves. I used this opportunity to try to regain a bit of composure and control over my pace. I wanted something more like 7:55/mile. Ok, ok. Calm the hell down.

At M10, I saw Maniac David (a 3:15ish marathoner) standing on the side of the road. "Are you ok?" The single answer: "No." I didn't stop because he was standing with someone else who I figured was helping him, but I felt badly about not stopping. I hope David is ok.

M11 and into Seward Park. This is a beautiful park on the shore of Lake Washington. It used to be an island, but they filled in a land bridge and turned it into a little peninsula. It has the only stand of old growth forest in Seattle. With a three mile loop around the perimeter, it is wonderful for running.

I crossed the mat at the halfway point at 1:43. Perfect for a 3:25-3:27. I did the check-in with my body, like I always do. The answer was not what I wanted. I was achy, like I normally would be at M18. But this was M13.1, and I hadn't gotten to the hills yet. My stomach poked me too. It was weird. I was starting to feel crampy, but at the same time, my stomach/brain was screaming "Feed me, Seymour!"
Brain: Dude. You ran a strong marathon three days ago. You ran too fast yesterday. You ran over the bridge way, way too fast. Feel your shirt. It isn't rain that you could wring out of it. The hills are coming. And, oh yeah. Feed me, Seymour.

Crap. I ducked into the potty at M14, somewhat to do what is normally done in a potty, and somewhat just to regroup. I came back out onto the course with two goals: 1) stay strong and even, and 2) grab some extra Gu from the volunteers whenever it was offered.

I noticed that people were passing me now; it was clear I wasn't going to hold on to 7:55/mile pace. M15 was 8:20. Ugh. I needed to keep doing that for as long as possible, including through the hills. A few of these people offered up encouragement. I also officially met a couple people I "know" from various message boards. I caught up with Larry (he had been coming the other way when I saw him on the bridge) and I wished him well on #101 for the year. He was more concerned about me - that's Larry :-). What a nice guy.

Maniac Guy Yogi caught me in here. He asked if he could run with me for awhile. "Well, sure... no need to ask. But I warn you, I'm slowing down. You might not want to stick with me." We had a nice, brief conversation. And then slowly, Guy picked it up. I lost sight of him about 10 minutes later.

Just after M18, the hills started. Interestingly, despite the continued yuck signals from my brain and my legs, the hills didn't seem to add any extra pain and suffering. At first. There was a Gu station somewhere in here. Usually I pass these and go with the Hammer Gels I carry on my own. And usually, I finish with a couple spare Hammer Gels. But at this Gu station, I took two with me. And I ate all my Hammer Gel. Feed me, Seymour.

Another guy I "know" from a running message board, a fellow by the interesting name of "Luv Pre" found me in here. His PR is 3:35. "Hold what you've got, and you've got a shot at it." His response was simple, honest, and definitely apropos. "We'll see what Galer and East Madison say about that." He pulled away too.

M20 at 2:44. Just an easy 10k left. With big hills. Feed me, Seymour. I usually know that if I hit M20 around 2:45, I have a reasonable shot at a 3:35-3:40 finish. 3:35 sounded great at this point because it would be faster than my finish last year.

Left turn onto Galer. I caught Maniac Kurt. He had been running far ahead of me since about M10, but he was having calf issues now. Not good for hills. I wished him well as I duckwalked/jogged up the hill.

Left turn onto Madison. I was really struggling, and my pace was now hovering around 9:10/mile. Yikes. But I didn't feel any worse than I had back at M15. I guess my slower pace had compensated. I hit the top of the hill and enjoyed the brief downhill breather to Interlaken. The hardest part of the race.

Up. Up and up. Around the twisty turns. Up some more. I started remembering many of my previous experiences with this hill. None of them had been pretty, even during last year's 3:36. I started encountering back-of-the-pack half marathon walkers. When I had the energy to verbalize, I wished them well as I struggled by. They did the same for me. M22 was exactly 9:00. But M23 was a leisurely 9:31. Gah. Then the top. I hit the downhill. I didn't think 3:35 was in the cards any longer, but I was hopeful that the downhill would help me. Maybe a little.

As I headed towards M24 and the bridge under I-5, a couple guys passed me. One was a Maniac who I don't know. He seemed destined to lose me. The other was an intense guy in a yellow (but not Maniac) shirt. We leapfrogged. M24 was 9:17. Gravity helped a bit, apparently, but this was still ugly.

Down I-5, then back over. M25 was 8:56, and 3:30 exactly on the clock. Sigh. I would miss my 3:30 race goal, literally, by a mile. And unless I pulled out a canister of Roger Bannister, I was going to miss 3:35 as well. Feed me, Seymour.

I pulled by the Maniac who I don't know. I pulled by Yellow Shirt Guy. It felt like I was sprinting! I hit M26 and took the last turn towards the stadium. I was sure that I must have made up some time during that mile, but the 8:54 on my watch said differently. This didn't bum me out. I laughed.

Into the stadium and the thousands of semi-cheering people. About 20 yards before the finish, Yellow Shirt Guy pulled up beside me, slowly turned his head to me, and offered up the biggest grin I have ever seen at the end of a long race. EVER.

Was he grinning because he had a fun day? Was he grinning because he was going to outkick me? Who knows. What I *do* know is that it had a profoundly warm and positive effect on me. The last 5 seconds of the 2008 Seattle Marathon will always be remembered as follows: I gave the once-intense-but-now-grinning Yellow Shirt Guy a huge smile back, and then I waved him in front of me. It is possible I could have outkicked him, but I didn't want to try. That smile he gave me made my day.

I wanted to thank him, but at the finish, I spent a second talking to the guy who gave me my medal. When I turned around, Yellow Shirt Guy was gone. What a finish. Ha.

3:40. Well, I was able to hold my targeted finish time from M20 onwards. And I was faster than my Thursday race in Atlanta. Other than that, I swung for the fences and missed. No PR. No 3:30 either. And no 3:35, which would have beaten my time from last year. Nope. I was slower than last year AND I didn't run a marathon the day before like last year. Fooey.

The lesson is simple. Swinging for the fences is a fine thing, but it should be planned better. Maybe I could have done it after Atlanta. I think the 5k took just enough away from me. Plus, and this became really obvious when I changed clothes, it was incredibly humid. That never bodes well.

In the finish area, I saw Luv Pre again. 3:36 for him, if I recall correctly. Good job! In the food line, I saw Maniac Guy Yogi, who had pulled away from me so well in the teens. He had faded a bit, just like me. But he still managed a great 3:38.

And Maniac Annie? She won the race! How about that. And apparently, she completely missed the tape at the end. So she turned around and ran back through it. Go Annie!

Go everybody!

I spent the next day with a headache that I am sure is due to some combination of screwy electrolyte levels and running low on gas. Feed me, Seymour.

Remember Maniac Genia, in that picture at the top? As mentioned, she PRed. Here's another picture of me, Genia, Bee, and Maniac Amanda Cohn from the 2006 race:

As you can tell, it was a much more brutal day weather-wise. I was sporting the GI Joe look, obviously. She was sporting a baby. She ran that race very, very pregnant. I dunno what's cooler, running it pregnant or scoring the big PR. Let's go with both. Go Genia!

Next up: This weekend is the Sunmart ultra in Huntsville, Texas. I'm signed up for the 50 miler, but I'll probably drop to the 50k. I don't really enjoy 50 milers. Sunmart has a fun course and it is ridiculously well supported for an ultra. It has potties! Heck, they even utilize chip timing. But most interestingly, Sunmart offers more race premiums than anyone. Free shirts! A bag! A jacket! And that's just the beginning.

More on that next week.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Big November Race Report

November has been a very busy month, both in terms of racing and real life. So much so that you haven't seen a report from me in awhile. It didn't help matters that I developed a severe case of writer's block regarding my first race weekend - the Manchester City Marathon. And since I couldn't figure out how to write about that one, everything else backed up too.

Fear not. Real life is going ok. The races? Well, that depends on the race. In an effort to push past my imaginary block and to catch up, I'll briefly report on each race in one report. Well, 'briefly' in terms of what I write for each race. Added together, this could be long.

As noted, the month began with the Manchester City Marathon (11/2). This race represents one of three possible choices for the marathon runner who wants to pick up New Hampshire in the quest for all the states. And I needed it for state #49. Alas, it is a long day (or, in my case, night) to get to Manchester from Seattle. Blah. I was a zombie for most of my time in New Hampshire, which is probably why I've had a hard time writing about it.

Here's the main thing you should know about this race: Manchester is a hilly place. I was warned by fellow Maniacs that the course would be hilly. Indeed. It wasn't the hilliest race I've run this year by far, but it was a challenging course. Let's see... it was two different loops that gave the runner a nice tour of the city. I think. Mostly, I was disoriented. And cold! At least at first. It was 25 at the start and blowing wind. This is why I look like I'm bundled up to go skiing in the pictures; I do not like to be cold. Fortunately for everyone except me, the wind kind of died down. I wound up being too hot. Combined with my zombie-like state, I didn't have a very fun time while I was running. I set out with a "beat 3:45" goal and struggled in with a 3:48. Three minutes isn't terribly disappointing, but I never felt good the whole day. Interestingly, an 81 year old guy ran my 3:45. At 81! According to marathonguide, that's a 2:17 age graded time. Some of my more competitive friends feign embarrassment in a situation like this. I have to admit that I feel a little weird when someone hauling a stroller beats me. But an 81 year old running a 3:45? No embarrassment. I'm just bummed I didn't run closer to him or meet him. Heh.

I picked my hotel based on proximity to the race. Purely by chance, this place (the Hilton Garden Inn) was attached to the local minor league baseball stadium. My 2nd floor room offered me a perfect view from left field. In fact, I was essentially the left field fence. Wow. My own luxury box! Too bad that November isn't during baseball season. I did witness something curious, though. Thankfully, they allowed me to check in very early. When I first looked out my window, I saw a coach and a young boy practicing his hitting from a tee. I zonked out for a nap. When I awoke an hour later, I looked again. Coach and a young boy with a tee. Except the boy was now taller. I watched some football, then looked out again. The boy was taller and thicker now, and the tee had been replaced by a BP pitcher. This process continued throughout the day. My last view, just before sundown, was of a high school batter. It was like I had witnessed a boy growing up compressed into about 8 hours.

And, alas, that was much more interesting than my race :-(. The organizers did a fine job; I just wasn't that into it.

The following weekend involved no racing. I actually tapered! And that brings me to my trip to Texas for the new San Antonio Rock N Roll Marathon (11/16).

I have not had very good luck with the rnr events in the past, and I don't usually like the big races. They let in 30,000 runners for the half and full (combined start). I was quite nervous. On the other hand, I used to live in San Antonio, and I love that city very much. Racing aside, it was wonderful to go back for a visit. The weather was spectacular... blue skies and warm. Once again I wondered "why exactly do I live in Seattle?"

Well, it wasn't all warm. Race morning was ice cold. 30 degrees. And because of the crowd, J-Lo (the name on my pink shirts) and I had to be at the start very early to avoid traffic. She was going to walk the half with her sister. Me? I was going to try to run a 3:30. And since my current post-sickness PR is 3:28, I thought that maybe just maybe I could make a run at that if I noticed I was close around M20. I had tapered. I had eaten correctly. And to avoid clothing difficulties similar to New Hampshire, I had gone with several throwaway layers.

The rnr course was a very cool tour of San Antonio. Although it was factually a point-to-point, it seemed more like two loops. The first was a loop of downtown's north side (note: NOT the north side of San Antonio) including the Alamo. About M10, the half veered off towards the finish at the Alamodome, and the full took a nice tour down south by all the missions and then back towards downtown along the river. The course was mostly flat... way flatter than Manchester... with a few roly polies along the way. Including a rather unfortunate hill at M26. Boo.

I did well with the cold; in fact, it didn't stay very cold. Unfortunately for me, it was one of those days where my stomach does not like me. I have races like this more frequently than I'd like, and they do not trace back to specific food choices. youneverknow. A race with 29,999 other people is a bad race in which to have potty issues because the potties tend to be crowded. Sure enough, I lost 4 minutes (spread across 3 stops, ARGH) waiting and utilizing the facilities. Sigh. I was trying to get close to 3:30. I actually finished at 3:36. Had my stomach been happy, that would have been a 3:32. And if I had known I was on pace for a 3:32, I'm 100% certain I could have compressed that into my 3:30. So, huh. I feel good about my training and I feel fine about how I dealt with what I can control. But even so, I missed my goal. On a perfect day, on a fast course, in front of some old friends and family. I felt great afterwards, though, and the remainder of my trip was fine.

As for J-Lo and her sister, both completed their half marathon walks at about 3:23. Nice pace for walking. This was J-Lo's second half marathon ever, and she was faster this time. Woohoo.

The following weekend was Monkey weekend. Specifically, the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in Nashville (11/23). Monkey was a night-and-day different experience from San Antonio rnr. a few hundred people. In the woods. No bands. There was, however, one spectator with a stuffed monkey. And it was cold. I know, I know. I keep saying that. But trust me, Monkey was COLD. 23 at the start of this one. Luckily, there wasn't any wind, and it was sunny. Monkey was also quite hilly - not the hilliest race I've done, but definitely the hilliest race I've done this year, and quite a bit more challenging than Manchester. Two times through a loop around beautiful and peaceful Percy Warner Park. What a pretty place and a pretty day. I set out to simply beat 4:00. Along the way, I had great conversations with lots of runners and volunteers at water stops. I took it easy. I met the owner of a nearby Fleet Feet store at one of the aid stations. Because I was wearing the pink, she recognized me as "that guy who came in and bought a pink top the day before". Yup, that was me.

Some very fast folks ran Monkey, and their times show that they had the legs for all those hills. Cool. This did not describe me! However, I did make my goal by running a 3:54. More importantly, I consciously ran a negative split: 1:58/1:56, my first in a very long time. Double cool. This was definitely a quirky and altogether cool race. We got two shirts; one was personalized. Personalized bib. Stickers and a tattoo. Friendliest aid stations ever. And after the race? A spread of food that makes Thanksgiving seem tame. There was so, so much. And beer! I knew a lot of people at this race and I really wanted to stay and socialize. And drink more beer. Unfortunately, real life called me back to Seattle right after I finished. Sigh. Maybe next year.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, that was four days later. Nothing truly embodies the meaning of Thanksgiving quite like running a marathon :-). And so I found myself in Atlanta for the holiday and the Atlanta Marathon (11/27). I ran this race last year... the first of three in a four day span. I really messed up my nutrition the day before and had a zombie-like day, much like Manchester... only worse. I struggled home at 3:56 and felt terrible.

This year, I was determined not to make that mistake. I ate a ton. I got the right amount of sleep. Race morning came with beautiful weather. Warmer than the marathons in the previous weeks for sure - and way warmer than last year's Atlanta race. And dry! A perfect day. I think I know why. This year, for the first time, the race was sponsored by The Weather Channel. I think this is a strategy that more races should employ.

I woke up, and I felt great. Atlanta's course is a hilly loop with a 10 mile out-and-back in the middle. Not Monkey-level hills, but comparable to Manchester. I decided to try to run about a 3:40. Now, whether that turned into a 3:42 or a 3:38 didn't matter so much, but I did want to run a smart race. Evenly or slightly negative. And unlike last year, I wanted to finish strong.

I did.

The day went exactly like I wanted it to go. 3:41, and a wonderful 1:52/1:49 negative split. I have to admit that when I hit the halfway point at 1:52, I figured that I didn't have what I needed... but I felt better and better as the race went on. Or maybe it was the hot Weather Channel reporter at M17. Hmmm. A great day overall. And like Monkey, I had to leave right afterwards to come home. At least flying on Thanksgiving evening is not a crowded experience.

Two days after Atlanta, I ran the new doesn't-roll-off-your-tongue Seattle Marathon 5k (11/29). They held this event on the waterfront at a place called Myrtle Edwards Park. A mostly flat race, but the bike trail utilized for the course was (is) somewhat skinny. I was worried about crowding, especially since I had no real plans to run fast. I wanted to run 8:00-8:15 miles (so a 25:00ish finish) to dial in my marathon pace for the next day. Alas, when the gun went off, I became preoccupied with running with my friend Bee. And she wanted to run faster than 8:00s. More like 7:00s. Whoops. I wound up in a weird place. Not fast enough to feel like I truly raced the 5k, but way faster than my goal. A 21:33 finish. Hmmm. This was not necessarily a good thing.

The next day was the Seattle Marathon (11/30). I have completed either the half or the full event here each year since 2001. Last year, I smoked a 3:36 the day after running a 3:37 and three days after my poor 3:56 at Atlanta. I suspect that I will come back and write up a full report of this race in a few days, so I'll hold off with the details. Briefly, except for being humid, the weather was perfect. And that rarely happens at this race. My original goal was 3:35, simply because this would be better than last year's 3:36. But by M4, I felt really good. So good, in fact, that I decided on the spot: This Is It.

Go-Fast day.

It was time to PR.

My post sickness PR is currently 3:28. I decided to try for 3:25-3:27.

How did I do?

Uh. Well. Huh. Deciding on Go-Fast during a race is not the smartest way to play. Not only had I not tapered, but I had run two marathons and a 5k in the preceding seven days. Go Fast.

I think I'll save this story for next time. But I bet you can figure out the results!

Next up: Hmm. I'm registered for the Sunmart (Texas) 50 miler. I may change to the 50k, which is what I ran last year. I have very bad luck with 50 milers. Not sure yet. Check back Real Soon Now! I promise it won't be a month.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

10/26/08 Tri-Cities Marathon

October 26th was my father's 78th birthday. I had planned to go to Dallas this weekend for his birthday, and also pick up the Miracle Match Marathon in nearby Waco. Miracle Match was my 52nd marathon last year, and I had a really good time there. Unfortunately, Real Life became problematic and I couldn't travel that far.

Instead, I headed over the mountains to eastern Washington for the Tri-Cities Marathon (TCM) held in an area known as, tah-dah!, the Tri-Cities. The cities (really, big towns) are Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick. TCM is a balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back course that starts and ends at a hotel in Richland. Along the way, runners touch all three cities while passing over three different bridges zig-zagging the Columbia River. The course... really, the whole area... is pancake flat except for the bridges themselves.


However, TCM is famous for wind. 'Wind' can be a four letter word, just like 'hill'. It can slow you down. In these parts, it can pick you up and throw you. It can dry you out. And on a cold day, it can freeze you solid. The good news: the layout of the course means that worst case, the wind will only be a headwind for 13 miles. Only. Hey, this beats 2006 at Napa where the 20 mph headwind lasted 25 miles. Sometimes you have to make up your own good news :-).

Many Maniacs come to TCM each year. This year, there was a new marathon held in Umatilla, Oregon on Saturday. That's about 30 miles south of Richland. Doubles do not get logistically easier. Real Life didn't let me do both races; I was very happy to get to TCM in time. However, several of my friends did try the double. Turns out that Umatilla is a lot hillier and that course was tough. Good job to all those who managed both!

Bee and I made an uneventful road trip to the Tri-Cities on Saturday afternoon with the B-Dogs. They were great travel companions; the dogs sang pretty well, though Gracie isn't so good at high harmony. The weather had been perfect on Saturday: blue skies, not too cold, and not too windy. Race morning was also blue skies. Wahoo for that. At first, it wasn't that windy. This would change. It was fairly chilly, though. And I do not like being cold.

This was one of those mornings where I was simply thankful for being able to run, and I was very happy with the bright blue skies. I decided not to be terribly technical with a race goal. About 3:45, depending on the wind. I wanted to run as evenly as possible, but if I slowed or sped up to chat, no problem. At one minute before the scheduled race start, we were all milling and talking at the start when... GO! Eek! A minute early. Well, then. Off we went.

And off Bee went. Like a rocket. Every now and then, we will run races together. We ran Tacoma (another race known as TCM) together in 2007. We also ran the first seven miles of Bellingham together a few weeks ago. Usually, though, we just sort of run *near* each other. Sometimes, she's faster. Sometimes I'm faster. At Tri-Cities, she was the road runner. Meep meep. Not me.

The first mile of the course was on roads. At M1, we crossed the I-182 bridge. Except for a few miles, most of the rest of the course would be on wide, paved bike path until we came back across this bridge and hit M25. My body felt a bit achy, but I remembered that a few folks had run a marathon the day before. I wasn't that achy.

Flat flat flat. The Columbia River is quite pretty, and the bridges across it were fun to look at. This was good because 1) there wasn't really anything else to look at, and 2) it was so flat that we got to see those bridges several miles in advance.

At M8, the course crossed the Blue Bridge to the other side. At the top of this bridge right in the middle is a giant USA flag. For miles and miles, this flag served as a big billboard for "Here is what your wind is doing!" At M8, the flag was certainly flapping. I hadn't really felt the wind to this point, and the flag told me why. It was at my back.

Across the bridge, the course headed back towards the start for a 2.5 mile (each way) out-and-back. Now the wind was in my face. Yippee. I'd only have it for 2.5 miles before turning around, BUT... later on, the course would cross another bridge at M16 and then we'd get 10+ miles of headwind.

Just as I exited the bridge, the leaders passed me going the other way. Have a nice day! I saw lots of my faster Maniac friends, including Maniac Arthur who was on his way to a PR despite the wind. About a quarter of a mile before the turnaround, Bee passed me going the other way. So she was about a half mile in front. But she was wearing a big frown. Uh oh. I made the turnaround, and the wind was behind me. Phew.

I hit the halfway point at 1:51. A bit fast for "about 3:45", but I knew that the wind had helped speed me up... and would help slow me down going the other way. Sure enough, as I passed M14 and the Blue Bridge, the flag reminded me about the wind.

Up to the next bridge to cross the river yet again. This would be a big suspension bridge, officially called the Cable Bridge. I occupied my mind in this section by tracking Bee. I was slowly gaining on her. A woman from Canada talked to me in this section as well. She was (is) a breast cancer survivor; she noticed my pink shirt. She was also running a bit faster, and she pulled away from me as we headed up to the bridge.

TCM had offered an early start. I had been passing early starters since just after the Blue Bridge. Running over the suspension bridge, I noticed I was coming up on Maniac Mel Preedy. Now, the Cable Bridge has a narrow lane for pedestrians. On the left is the outside structure of the bridge and a cable barrier to keep people from falling off. On the right is a 2 ft high guardrail to keep cars from doing the same thing. The guardrail is attached to the road surface of the bridge by concrete and metal posts every few feet. Why am I offering up that much detail? Because the wind kept trying to drive me into the guardrail. Like a sailing ship or a plane, I had to consciously steer myself diagonally towards the outside cable barrier to stay in a straight line and away from the guardrail posts.

And there was Mel dead center in the path, probably doing the same thing.

My brain started to process how to pass Mel nicely. At the same time, my brain stopped processing how to steer properly. I was easing slowly towards the guardrail and its posts.

Ok, I'm almost to Mel. Hmmm. How shall I pass.... SPLAT!

My right foot had hooked a post, and I was down. Not gracefully either. I had ricocheted off the side of my head and then into a sitting position.

Two women who had been following me stopped to offer assistance. Sort of. The first one screamed at me, "ARE YOU OK???" She wasn't screaming because I was unconscious. Nor was it a very loud environment. No, she was screaming because she was wearing headphones. I told her I was fine. She screamed at me again, "ARE YOU OK?" I guess she didn't turn her music down. I mouthed "yes" and nodded. Off she went.

The nodding kind of hurt, though.

The second woman came up. "ARE YOU OK???" Oh hell. Same thing. Headphones. And she didn't take them off either. I...AM...FINE...JUST...STUPID. Off she went.

Because it was so cold, I had worn a ski cap to keep my ears warm. This had protected my head too. I had no visible damage and no bleeding. I had not hit my head particularly hard. Just enough to scare me, jumble my wits, and give me a slight headache. My shoulder and knee kind of hurt too. I was geographically as far as I could be from the start/finish. In the middle of a bridge, not near any aid station. There was nothing I could do but keep going. So I did.

Slowly at first, but then I got my running legs back. And I did manage to pass Mel just after the bridge! :-)

I also caught Bee soon thereafter, probably around M17. She had foot surgery a bit more than a year ago. Since then (really, before then too), her foot would sometimes hurt during long runs. Today was apparently a bad foot day. I was having a bad head day.

At M18, Maniac Van passed me. She had won the Umatilla race the day before and, once again, was passing me on day two of her double. Which, once again, was not a day two for me. Go Van. As she was going by, I mentioned that I had fallen on the bridge. "It's a road marathon... you shouldn't do that." Thanks for the tip :-).

Unfortunately for me, I was no longer really into today's race. I just wanted to be done. The wind didn't help. At M18, the course passed the Blue Bridge again. Though we did not cross it this time, I did get to ponder the flag. It was now straight out, flat as a board, facing right at me. I didn't need the flag to know that, really. The wind was sucking out my will to live. I tried to keep my pace as steady and even as I could.

Back across the I-182 bridge again, just before M25. At the top of the bridge, I noticed that Bee had stayed with me. She was just behind, running with a guy dressed in a Star Trek uniform. Heh. In fact, he had a trimmed beard and a hair style that made him look a bit like the Will Riker character. Oh, and TCM had assigned him bib #1. Yes, the guy dressed as Will Riker was Number One. Perfect!

At the M25 aid station, the volunteer was dressed as a bee. Ha. Halloween races bring out the creativity in some folks. I hoped Bee would notice the bee. She did.

For the last few miles, I had been playing leapfrog with a guy who had apparently started too fast and then pooped out. He'd try to run, but then he'd walk with that particular death march stare; it was obvious he wasn't attempting a run/walk strategy purposefully. I passed him again at M25.5.

At M26, the course made the turn onto the road into the hotel. From behind me, I heard a person in a full-on sprint. I sped up a little bit to try to make it more interesting for this person, but I had no real intention of racing. As long as that person didn't fall over, she/he would go by me. And he did. It was death march guy. He didn't want to be beaten by a man in pink.

Good one, dude.

As I finished, the official clock showed 3:43. My watch showed 3:44. I know what happened. The race really DID start one minute early, but they didn't sync the official clock that way. So everyone got a bonus minute. I actually finished at 3:44. By the time that results were posted on, this got re-adjusted properly.

Bee pulled in right behind me at 3:47. These were our exact times at Bellingham. But we were both happier people at Bellingham. Ugh.

Some days are better than others. It turned out to be a great day for Van and Arthur. Aside from falling down, it was an ok day for me. Blue skies always help.

Bee, the B-Dogs, and I came back over the mountains. I ate Mexican food. Real Life resolved itself in the best way possible the next day. Some scary cancer tests had taken place during the previous two weeks. J-Lo and I had been awaiting the results. The results were encouraging.

Interestingly, when the cancer stuff is in a scary phase, I tend to fall down a lot. My mind isn't focused enough; I trip on curbs and even simple uneven surfaces. And now, suspension bridges. I'd prefer not to do that.

Maybe I should run with a helmet. Sigh.

Next up: the following weekend, I headed back to New England to run New Hampshire's Manchester City Marathon. My 49th state. I did ok, but not great.

More on that Real Soon Now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

10/18/08 Breakers Marathon

This picture and the one later in this story were taken by cool Maniac and Costco guru Steve Supkoff. He finished this same race and had time to read the Iliad before I finished.

For a few years, Rhode Island did not offer a road marathon. Woe befell 50-staters needing Rhode Island to finish the circuit. Somewhere around 2004 (I think), the Breakers Marathon was created to fill the gap. I was supposed to run this race and check off this state back in 2006, but it is one of many races I canceled to play cancer buddy. I finally made it this year.

First things first. I knew nothing about the tiny state of Rhode Island. Now, having completed the Breakers Marathon, I still know next to nothing. But I know a little more. I know that Breakers is one of many historical mansions in the oceanside town of Newport. I also now know that Newport, Rhode Island is kind of hilly. Aside from that, I don't know much. Getting from the West Coast to the Northeast is a time-consuming challenge; I finally got into town after dark the evening before the race. And because of pending cancer-related tests, I left right after the race.

But the race itself was a wonderful tour of the area, and so I learned a bit along the way. Technically, the course is a point-to-point because the start (the wharf/downtown area of Newport) is different from the finish (a beach on an especially cool isthmus). That finish is only about a mile from the start, though. It really feels like two loops: a 13.1 mile pseudo-loop from the start through some parks skirting the shoreline and all the mansions then passing the finish area, followed by a 13.1 loop touching a bit of shoreline and a whole lot of neighborhoods on the way back to the finish. Call them "the west loop" and "the east loop". The course was quite roly poly for the first 17 miles, and then downright HILLY for the last 9. The elevation chart made it look like there would be a ton of downhill after M20. Not for me. It seemed like a looooong uphill from M17 until just a bit before the finish. My splits confirm this.

I like practically every marathon and ultra that I've participated in. Out of 188 so far, I can only think of a few that I truly despised. I've really enjoyed the vast majority, even though the perfect race is quite rare. Races, even the slightly informal-and-small kind, are complex affairs. Stuff happens. Almost all oooops'es are more than balanced out by fun things. I keep telling myself this about Breakers. I really did like the scenery, and what the organizers did right, they did VERY RIGHT. But there were also a few things that were a bit wonky. Now that a week and a half has passed, I guess Breakers falls into my "it was pretty good" category. The Northeast offers up a ton of marathon choices in October. I've enjoyed the other races more, although only Breakers offers the picturesque mansion miles in the middle. For a 50-stater, this is a fine race. If you live in the Northeast and it fits your schedule best, have at it. For travelers from afar, I'd probably suggest Steamtown or Bay State for going fast, or Maine's Mt Desert Island for a real challenge and great views.

Finding the race location was a bit more frustrating than it should have been. The instructions/directions to packet pickup at the Newport Yachting Center were clear on the website. But they weren't complete, and they didn't mention that everything was located behind some buildings. Perhaps the buildings were the yachting center? Also, the directions completely hinged on counting traffic lights ("go to the fourth light") instead of street names... and, well, they apparently count differently from me. There were Amica -the race's sponsor- banners marking the general area... but these were invisible at night. And there were no race signs visible from the street at all. Anyway, packet pickup was open until 7p the night before the race. After getting to Newport around 6:45p, parking, and then poking around and around and around, I found the location at precisely 7:02p. Too late. The guy was very friendly, but even though I *saw* the packets sitting there, I wasn't going to get mine. "Come back in the morning". Ok, no prob. If I could have gotten to Newport earlier, I would have. At least I knew where to come now :-) and it was great that they offered race day pickup.

Race morning came like race mornings almost always do: a bit before I'd like them. But there it was, and it was time to go. It was dark, cold, and windy outside, but the forecast was for sunshine. This was an oceanside race in October, so I was prepared for wind and cold. I drove back to the same place I had parked the previous night. Now I knew where I was going! Unfortunately, the race website made it sound like all parking would be 10 bucks. Had I actually tried to park next to the race location, this would have been true. But I didn't. I parked where I had parked because that's the lot I thought I was supposed to be in. Turns out, the Newport Yachting Center is wholly different from the Newport Visitors Center... although the visitors center is one of the parking locations listed on the race's website. When I left after the race, it would cost me 25 bucks. Boo. My fault, though. Sort of.

I walked down and picked up my stuff. Brrrrr. During that walk, I had noticed a van and what looked like a spray-painted "start" sign on the road. Hmmm. According to the map I had and the instructions on the website, this wasn't where the race was supposed to start. The map and website were wrong. I had plenty of time to figure this out, and discovered a secret set of portapotties with no lines in the process. This worked well for me. But it didn't work well for the race in general. Including the accompanying half, over a thousand folks were supposed to take part in the events. As I stood at the start line about 10 minutes before the scheduled start time, maybe 15 other people stood near me. Uh oh. We knew we were in the right place because the timing company had set up the chip mats here. Where was everyone? I suppose they were at the map's starting line, which perhaps was the start in prior years. About 2 minutes before the scheduled start, a wave of people wandered towards us. I guess the organizers figured out the issue and told everyone to vamoose.

And without any ado, and certainly no muss nor fuss, off we went. I was so entranced by all the folks wandering over and trying to spot people I knew that I forgot to check in with myself regarding a goal. Hmm. Well, I had managed a 3:38 a couple weeks prior. I was feeling fine, but I didn't know enough about the course aside from "hills" and "wind". Ok. Today would be a "beat 3:45" kind of day.

Now, I realize that my description so far hasn't sounded too positive. Again, the organizers were super friendly. And as we got into the race, my perceptions of things improved markedly. This was a gorgeous course. The first mile wandered through town. Then we headed through some parks and out to the water for our west loop. It was windy. I hooked up with a couple Maniacs from Seattle: Maniac Steve and founding Maniac Chris. Steve tends to be a 3:20-3:30 marathoner. Chris has gotten down to 3:05-3:15, but he seemed to be going out a little slow for that today. I appreciated the company early on, especially with all the confusion at the start... so I ran with them.

But that was too fast for my prospective 3:45. I knew this quickly enough, so I let them go near M5, before "going out a little too fast" would cause me problems later. About this time, I noticed another slight frustration with this race. The water stations were really far apart: over 3 miles. I'm used to something closer to 2. On a cold day like this one, 3 worked out ok. I didn't notice that I was getting unbearably thirsty until very late in the race. But I can say that now... at M5, I didn't know what was going to happen. In fairness to the organizers, their information was clear that the stops would be about 3 miles apart; they didn't mess anything up, really. I could have carried a bottle. But I didn't. It worked out. Still though, they need more stops. This was not an inexpensive race.

M7-9 were right next to the ocean and extra windy. This course was on roads that were open to traffic, and for some reason, we (runners) kept snaking from one side of the road to the other. Had I been driving, this would have bugged me. At one point, we were on the left side of the road. A guy and a gal, both wearing headphones, were running on the far left. I was just to the right and slightly behind the gal. And she spit a giant loogie on me. GAH. She didn't want to spit to her left because she would have hit her guy. And she didn't hear that I was there because of her headphones. Just, GAH.

Including travel costs, I spent a lot of money to come here. M9-12 of the race made it all worthwhile. Very, very worthwhile. These were the mansion miles. Not just "really big houses owned by guys in the NFL". Actual old-money mansions. With 12 chimneys. And gatehouses bigger than my house. And, oh by the way, with spectacular fall foliage. Many of these places are museums now. Breakers was in here somewhere. It was really cool.

Then I was past the mansions. Over the isthmus, and past the finish line. I hit the halfway point about 1:48. Factoring in my 5 fast miles, I was about where I thought I'd be. Assuming I could hold it together, I'd be looking at 3:35-3:40 instead of 3:45. Okey doke. Unfortunately, I didn't know the hills coming up. And they were unkind.

But before the hills hit, the east loop offered up a seaside out-and-back between M15 and M17. I saw Maniac Steve, way in front of me and looking strong. Maniac Chris had dropped back slightly and was just a bit in front of me. I also saw a lot of other people I know. "I didn't know x was here!" That darned confusing start... I missed everyone. During the out-and-back, I definitely noticed that the car traffic was getting heavier. Yuck. This would continue through the remainder of the race; it reminded me a lot of the middle miles at the Cape Cod Marathon. I'm pretty sure the cars doubled my stress level.

Then it was time for the hills. I don't care what the elevation chart says; M20-M25.5 were up and up and up. I hit M20 at 2:46. I was still on track for something between 3:35 and 3:40. Have I mentioned the hills, though? Yeah. I like hills, but I wasn't that ready for these. Onward I went. On the positive side, the wind was now more like a gentle breeze and I wasn't freezing.

About 100 yards past the M22 sign, I came upon a water station. It was marked very clearly "Welcome to Mile #23!" And many of the volunteers encouraged me for the final 3 miles. I dunno whether they set up in the wrong place or what happened here. It didn't bother me much because I knew where I was; I found it kind of funny. Not everybody did, though, based on the comments I've read on Whoops.

Somewhere around M24 was a candy stop. Yum. I didn't partake, but it was a fun idea. My watch told me that I had slowed quite a bit since M20. I felt ok, but definitely tired. Would I have felt better with more aid stations? I don't think so, but from a psychological perspective, maybe.

Just past M25.5 the relentless up became a nice downhill to the finish. ZOOM.

Back onto the isthmus, and I was done. As I was coming into the finish, someone called out my name. It was Maniac Steve, who snapped this picture and then the picture at the top of this report.

It's pretty clear that I wasn't ready to have my picture taken. HA. Cheese!

3:40. I wasn't that pleased. This was way better than my original "beat 3:45", but I thought I could get closer to 3:35. Not today.

A bottle of water and a quick chat with Steve... and then it was on the bus to get to the finisher's food and the parking. On the bus, I found out that Steve had pulled a 3:28 and Chris managed a 3:34. I should have tried to stay with Chris!

The food was back at the original packet pickup location. The spread was amazing. All kinds of hot food. Any race with pizza gets bonus points and Breakers had pizza. Fruit. Bagels. Candy. Juice. All great.

What they did right, they did VERY RIGHT.

Then I paid my 25 bucks, boo, and drove back to the airport.

Now that I know what's what, I think the logistics for this race are pretty simple. It's just kind of imposing for out-of-towners who have never been to Newport. I don't know if or when I'll come back, but I really did enjoy the mansions. And, except for the car traffic, I enjoyed the course overall.

Next up: I was supposed to travel to Texas for my Dad's 78th birthday and run something called the Miracle Match Marathon in Waco. But some scary-bad cancer tests happened during the week, and I didn't go. Instead, I ran the Tri-Cities Marathon. Not local to Seattle, but at least in the same state.

More on that Real Soon Now. There was tragedy; there was comedy. There was pizza.

But without making you wait, the scary-bad cancer tests SUCKED, but the results were reasonably good. And thank goodness for that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

10/12/08 Spokane Marathon

Originally, I was going to take this weekend off. Then, in late September, my friend Jack Swanson passed away in Spokane. I can't say that Jack was "my best friend" by any stretch, nor can I truly say that I knew him very well. But I had very good memories of running races with Jack and his wife Gunhild. Jack lost his battle with leukemia. Or maybe it was side effects of the chemo. Ugh. They held services for Jack on September 27th... and I couldn't make it.

Jack had run 200 marathons and ultras over a long running career. I was probably in 20 or so of the same races. Spokane is also the home of a 12k race known as "Bloomsday". 30,000 runners, including true elites, descend on Spokane at the beginning of May for this race every year. For various reasons, I've never run it. Jack completed Bloomsday 31 times. Out of 32 Bloomsdays. I think he missed the first one. That's some streak. Jack was pretty sick this past May, and he was escorted in a wheelchair for the event. EXCEPT. There's a very challenging hill starting just before M5 on the Bloomsday course. It is known as Doomsday. I heard that Jack got out of the chair and walked up this hill. Holy smokes.

As it turns out, the Spokane Marathon was going to be held on October 12th. I didn't have any travel money tied up in other races, and I had missed Jack's services. So at the last minute, I decided to head over the mountains to the lovely city of Spokane.

Spokane is a four hour trip from Seattle, and I got there just as the sun was going down the night before the race. I had time to register right before they closed, eat with Jerrod at Subway, and go to bed. Well, I also found time to make a special shirt to wear. Here's the back:

What I did *not* have time to do was check out the course. I really don't know much about Spokane. I had asked my friend Bee about it a couple days beforehand, but she didn't tell me much. I think she was probably holding out on me on purpose.

The course is a simple loop that starts and finishes at a park near downtown. Well, it is mostly simple. Up one side of a river on roads and bike trails, hop over a bridge at M14, and then head back on the other side of the river. At about M5, there's an extra little loopty-loop through Spokane Falls Community College too. What I did not know... but found out the fun way... is that this course is quite hilly. And at M22, runners get to tackle Doomsday.

Spokane is hot in the summer and quite cold in the winter. I think October can go either way, but on race morning, it might as well have been January. 23 degrees! Luckily, the skies were bright blue and there wasn't any wind. Although I ran the race in pants, 3 shirts (not including the Jack shirt), ski cap, and gloves with chemical hand warmers, it seemed quite pleasant. Heh.

I had absolutely no plans to run this race fast. Even before I learned about the hill situation, my goal was simply to put in the miles. Especially at 23 degrees. This was originally supposed to be a lower-mileage, no-race weekend. With my 3:38 at Portland the previous weekend, I figured a good "long slow run" pace would be about a minute per mile slower... so a target 4:04 finish. Alas, that's the wrong side of the whole goofy/fake 4:00 mark. And so my race goal became simply "beat 4". But, and this is important, I actually wanted to be near 4 hours. Not knowing the hill situation, I figured that running 9:00/mile pace evenly would do. Ha. The hills, both chugging up and screaming down, taught me differently.

I do not have lots of interesting stories to tell about my race. I hooked up early on with Maniac Ken, who is a local. The course was 99% rural and very peaceful.

Ken pointed out interesting sights for me, such as the Bowl and Pitcher in the middle of the river.

He also warned me about the gun club we'd pass near M15 (skeet shooting on Sunday mornings!) and tipped me off about Doomsday.

We talked about other local races. We talked about Jack. At about M12, I heard hooting and hollering from the other side of the river. Aid station. The aid stations at this race were plentiful, and staffed by high school students from various cross-country and track teams. Runners were supposed to vote for their favorite aid station after the race... so some of the aid station volunteers really got into it. Unfortunately, I have a terrible habit of spacing out most aid stations unless there's something terribly unique or very, very wrong (as there would be at my next race in Rhode Island. But I'll come back to that in my next report), so I was pretty worthless when it came to voting. This is why I voted for the aid station at M16/M17... because I could remember hearing them across the river.

Just after that hooting and hollering, the shotgun blasts started. Gun club across the river. I hit the halfway mark at about 1:56. Maybe a little fast, but good enough. Then Ken and I ran over the bridge to turn towards the finish... and the gun club was on our side of the river. BLAM. BLAM. BLAM. Argh. I had to get out of there, so I sped up. Bye, Ken.

There had been hills on the other side of the river, but now that the miles had added up, the hills were seeming bigger and nastier. Also, there was a bit more car traffic on this side. Not too bad, though.

Near M22, I hit Doomsday. I had forgotten that there was also a half marathon. The half's course had split off from us somewhere during the community college loopty loop... and merged back in right around Doomsday. So just as I was getting prepared to chug up, I started having to weave around walkers. Up I went. Doomsday reminded me a lot of the Hurricane Point hill at Big Sur, although not nearly as long. Like the Big Sur hill, it's definitely a challenge, but much of that is psychological - because of the geography, you can see alllll the wayyyy up the hill. Really though, it's just a hill. Up I went. I thought about Jack. My legs were mostly lead at this point in the race. Hard to imagine getting out of a wheelchair and trudging up. He did. And so I made it up the hill too. Whew.

Then the course got a bit weird. Around M24, the course dumped out onto a gravel road in a not-so-nice part of town. It seemed perfectly safe; that wasn't the issue. But it was quite different from what we had seen to that point.

Around some turns, back into the park.

At M26, someone called out my name. It was Maniac Sean, who had also cheered for me during the Portland Marathon. I learned later that Sean had PRed with a 2:42 and won the race. Go Sean! And on a hilly course, too.

I huffed and puffed my way in. 3:55. Pretty much where I wanted to be. No speed records. Not even a good day timewise compared to other recent efforts. But I nailed my goal, and that was much more important. And I was just as tired as I was after my recent 3:38 and 3:40, if not moreso.

What a pretty, pretty day in Spokane. That was for you, Jack. When I get to my #200, or perhaps #201, I'll bring out the Jack shirt again :-).

Next up: Already happened. In fact, two more races have already happened. I'm behind in writing. Anyway, next up was the Breakers Marathon in Rhode Island. State #48. How did I do? Well! Although the race was a decidedly mixed bag. More on that Real Soon Now. Hopefully, at least.

Monday, October 13, 2008

10/5/08 Portland Marathon

The Portland Marathon was my very first post-sickness marathon, back in 2001. I've come to this race five times before this year, but I've never done that well. Refer back to my 2007 race report for a detailed history. The brief summary:

  • 2001: 4:04:04. First marathon, huge positive split, big struggle.

  • 2002: 4:49. I had not trained a step for months before the race.

  • 2003: 4:30. My third fastest marathon at the time (4:04, 4:25), but still without great training.

  • 2004: 4:10. Again, my third fastest (4:03, 4:04) with improved training. Although I was two months removed from a broken leg. Eeeks.

  • 2006: skipped to be a cancer buddy.

  • 2007: 4:55. Tried to help a friend run a 4:30. Whoops.

It was time to run a strong and smart marathon at Portland. Now, I must qualify this. With only about four weeks of solid training, Portland was not going to be a goal go-fast race. But I did want it to be a good step on the way - a step that would represent a marked improvement upon my prior times, and a step that would provide solid training value. And so, without extensive consideration of course factors, race day weather, or how I was feeling at the time, I knew what my goals needed to be: 1) run evenly, and 2) "beat 3:40". 3:40 represents my current benchmark time on a flat course with good weather. I wanted to beat it. And, oh by the way, Portland ain't flat.

Portland is an interesting course. Or, maybe it isn't. What I mean is that many people love Portland, and many people most emphatically do NOT love it. Those who don't like it much generally give long sections of the course big thumbs down for boredom. I dunno. It's true that I like the race partially out of sentimentality (or is it just "sentiment"?). But I really do think that the course is interesting. To spice it up, the organizers line the course with entertainment spots. Some of the bands are better than others, but almost all of them are good. And after doing the race six times, it's interesting to see which spots are the same year in and year out... and which ones have changed over time.

Briefly, the course consists of two loops: a roly poly 10k from downtown southwards and back, and then a 20 mile loop northwards. Actually, the 20 mile loop is a bit convoluted. M6-M11 is a pancake flat out-and-back through an industrial area. This is a section that people hate; I love it because seeing all the other runners, both faster and slower, is a huge thrill. After a couple mostly downhill miles through a neighborhood, the course starts the long (and this part IS boring) flat trek from M13 to the St Johns Bridge at M17. The approach up to the bridge is a steep incline, but it isn't very long. Then over the bridge and back towards downtown on the other side of the river. The elevation chart for the race has been wrong about this section for years; the chart implies a bunch of flat and then a downhill from M21 onwards. In reality, the course rolls a lot after the bridge, and then M19-M21 is a gentle uphill. Gentle but long. The promised downhill DOES materialize at M21... gravity carries you back towards downtown and the finish. Usually the course cuts over the Steel Bridge to the downtown side at M24.5. For some reason (construction, perhaps), this year's course cut over the Broadway Bridge at M24. Two miles back... a bit more gentle uphill... a right turn by "the fat lady", a left turn, and done. Easy peasy. Except for the Matterhorn-like hill at M16.5 the course is not overly challenging.

The race has also been blessed with great weather. It has rained once on the Portland Marathon in the last twenty years. And that year, 2000, it ended quickly. Talk about good luck. I'm certain that this is one of the reasons why I enjoy this race so much. I've run in some seriously terrible conditions all over the country. Never here.

Many races are quick-turnaround trips for me, but not Portland. I usually make a big weekend out of it. And that's what I did this year. I arrived (go Amtrak!) Friday evening just in time to pick up my packet and buy a pink coat at the expo. Then, sushi... the best race weekend meal ever. Way better than Taco Bell or Subway, my usual traveling pre-race meal venues. Saturday morning, I got up and ran about seven miles along the waterfront, over and under various bridges. Knowing that the Steel Bridge wouldn't be in this year's race, I touched it for luck... I always touch it for luck... during this training run. Then more shopping at the expo.

Saturday evening, I ate Italian with a big group of people. I almost never do this. I knew more folks than I thought I would, and I met some new ones. Conversations about different races and football. People asked each other about goals for the marathon. I kind of sandbagged my answer to that. At that point, my goal was "beat 3:40", but my stomach's status on race morning has a big effect on things, so I didn't want to say it outloud and tempt fate. I think I said "faster than 4, I hope". Which was accurate, really, just not exact.

I checked the weather forecast... partly cloudy, no chance of rain, and cool... and then it was time for bed. I never sleep well the night before a race... especially a race I've been looking forward to, like Portland. But I slept like a baby. And woke up exactly on time. Perfect!

Pop tarts? Check. Potty? Check. And then check again, heh. Pink? Check. Including my extra special pink Portland Marathon hat. And out to the start.

I got there just before the area got too crowded, and found my way to the 8:30/mile pace signs. As I was standing there, my friend Anne found me. We chatted briefly as the area started packing in the runners. This year, the organizers had changed to chip-embedded paper for timing. By looking at everyone else's feet, I realized that I had attached my paper tag chip thingy upside down (or inside out). Huh. Oh well.

The pace leaders showed up. Anne's plan was to stay between the 3:40 and 3:45 groups. I don't really like running with formal pace groups, but I was feeling really good. I decided I'd try to keep the 3:35 group in sight for as long as possible. I still wanted to run evenly, though, so this implied that my "beat 3:40" goal got adjusted slightly to "about 3:35". Fine. The starting area was getting sardine can crowded. Opera version of the National Anthem. Off we went. As one big group.

The first mile was a nice, easy cruise through downtown... past my second-favorite music stop: a drum line. It was excellent. I ran with Anne for a bit, and then another friend, Chris, caught me. By intentionally NOT zig-zagging around people, I knew my first mile would be somewhere in the 9:00 range. Then I wanted to settle into the 8:10-8:20ish area... although because the first 10k had lots of little hills, I wasn't too concerned about identical splits. Even effort.

Well, except for the potty stop at M5. Sigh. I had felt fine before the race started, I really had. And I ate the "right" stuff the day before. Guess I should have stuck with Taco Bell. Anyway, I spent the first five miles talking to Chris, but I bid him adieu and jumped into the little blue box.

My favorite section of the course is the out-and-back between about M6.5 and M11. As I started into this section, I recall quite clearly thinking to myself, "gray skies, but thankfully it isn't going to rain today." I made it to almost M8 before the leaders passed me going the other way. The women's leader was a well-known trail runner from Oregon, Kami Semick. She looked like she was out for an easy jog. She would go on to win the race. I said hello to the faster Maniacs... Maniac Bob for one... as they went by. Then I hit the turnaround and now I was one of the faster people going the other way. And this made me run a little bit faster.

Careful with that ax, Eugene. Speeding up too much had the potential for grave difficulty later. So I tried to tone it down. Several people passed in the opposite direction and tried to high five the guy in pink. Sometimes I executed the slap successfully. Sometimes I didn't. Ooops.

And then at M10, the rain started. I repeat: at M10, the rain started. What the heck? It never rains here. The forecast specifically said that it would not rain. But there it was. Light at first. Then heavier. Then lighter again. But it started raining at M10 of the Portland Marathon and it did not stop raining until sometime in the evening. Over two hours of running in the rain. Yippee.

Out of the out-and-back, through the neighborhood with lots of screaming spectators, and then into the truly boring section of the course. Normally it's boring, except that for three miles, runners are treated to a view of the St Johns Bridge looming way up high. This year it was simply boring; the bridge was obscured by low clouds and yucky rain.

I hit the halfway point at 1:47... just about where I wanted to be for an "about 3:35", especially factoring in my slight turbo-speed through the out-and-back. And somewhere around M15, I caught Chris. Interestingly, the 3:35 pace group had been... and was still... ahead of me this entire time, even though I was running slightly faster than a 3:35 pace. I started to see the ghost of the bridge up in the clouds.

It was time for the hill. In five prior Portland Marathons, I've only managed to run all the way up this hill once. And that run was one of those "I could probably walk this faster" shuffles. Not this year. I charged up the hill and over the bridge. Woohoo! I was definitely slower up the hill than I had been in prior miles, but I did alright. It was still raining, but it wasn't windy and it wasn't cold. Plus, I was headed back towards the finish now. Alright!

Somewhere around M19 is the belly dancer stop. The famous belly dancers. Close your eyes and picture a belly dancer. Nice, huh? The belly dancers in the Portland Marathon are probably not exactly what you pictured. They are nice. And they can dance. Perhaps because of the rain (or maybe they were on a break), this year they weren't numerous. Anyway, let's just say that there's a reason that they are called belly dancers. Shudder.

I could tell that I had lost a little bit of my pace going up the bridge hill, and it had not come back. Sure enough, I hit M20 at 2:45. This is usually a good predictor for a 3:35-3:40 finish... to make it closer to 3:35 than 3:40, I'd really need to focus. At least there was a nice downhill coming up.

Uh oh. Another potty issue. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick....

At M20.5, a spectator called out my name from the left side of the road. In my peripheral vision, I spotted Fast Maniac Extraordinaire Sean, who would win the Spokane Marathon 7 days later. Thanks, Sean! And then right after that, a familiar voice called me from the right side of the road. It was my friend Dr. Econo. Cool. Alas, quickly moving my head from left to right made me dizzy :-). At least I didn't need to potty again.

Headed downhill, my legs felt like they'd been beaten by a hammer. I did the best I could. Maniac Van caught me at M23. I managed to stay with her until the Broadway Bridge at M24, but then she pulled away. She would finish a couple minutes ahead of me. She had also run the Leavenworth Marathon the day before, and I had not. Go, Van.

Rain, rain, rain. After the downhill and the Broadway Bridge, the course was a gentle uphill to the finish. Nevertheless, my last three miles went 8:43, 8:21, 8:16. Cool.

Past the fat lady. The fat lady is a giant poster of a cartoon opera singer lady in the whole Viking motif. She's always accompanied by an opera soundtrack. Get it? The race must be close to over because the fat lady is singing. Last year, when I was running with my friend, I had played up the fat lady as a very big deal... and then when we ran by it, the fat lady wasn't singing. This year, she was.

And then I was done. I didn't notice whether they announced me or not. It was nice to feel like I had made an honest effort and had run a (mostly) smart race. I finished at 3:38. This means that I didn't quite make "about 3:35". 3:36 and 3:37 qualify as "about 3:35". 3:38 was a teensy bit slow. I managed a 1:47/1:51 split - not quite as even as I wanted, but not that bad. Way better than some races, and considering the bridge at M17, pretty good. Besides, 3:38 is my fastest time since May. Faster than my 3:40 two weeks ago on a much easier course. Pretty cool. Also a top 13% finish.

As I was eating a popsicle at the finish, in came my friend Anne. She wanted to beat 3:45, and I think she did... I know she qualified for Boston. Woohoo Anne!

Unfortunately, once I stopped running, I got super cold. Uncontrollable shivering. So I went back to my hotel room and changed. THEN I went back out onto the course to root on runners. I saw lots of people I know. It was very nice.

I love this race... and this year, I was pleased with my effort. Pizza and beer for dinner!

Next up: originally, I was going to take the next weekend off. But one of my friends from Spokane passed away recently. Coincidentally, the next weekend would be the Spokane Marathon. So I headed to Spokane.

Incidentally, I am already registered for next year's Portland Marathon. They reserve the first 100 numbers for elite runners. My assigned number is #113... so I was the 13th person to register for a race that will host 7500+ people. Alas, it is too bad I couldn't score my Maniac number, #111.

"Is ok".