Monday, May 19, 2008

5/10/08 Tacoma City Marathon

Hey. I PRed last week. Go me. How does one follow that up? When the PR was an aberration, and the followup marathon is as hilly as Tacoma, one does not PR again.

I ran the inaugural version of Tacoma last year with one of my bestest running buddies (BRB). We had a good time yodeling through the hills in chilly weather and finished with a fine 3:53. The following week I PRed (since bettered twice), and started a long string of double marathon weekends. It was an intense spring.

A year has passed, and it was time for Tacoma again. Mother's Day Weekend... though this year the race was moved from Mother's Day Sunday to the Saturday. The race director for this race is one of the founding Maniacs, and lots of club members volunteer to work packet pickup, act as course marshalls, or lead pace groups. I worked packet pickup. Officially, I was "dude who takes money" for people registering at the last minute. And let me tell you... I heard all kinds of excuses from people who did not want to pay the last minute price. Alas, none of the excuses were terribly creative nor very witty. But I heard lots. One lady was adamant that she should pay less than others because she had spent gas money driving from Seattle. Huh.

She did not receive a discount.

I got yelled at by the timing company guy once because I sent people to his booth before talking to them and taking their money. Ok. 1) It was exactly two people who 2) I did not send, they came from somewhere else, and 3) so what? I was a volunteer and he was getting paid. Shut up, timing company guy.

Oh yeah. There was a race.

Awesome weather on race morning. Same challenging sort-of-a-loop course as last year. Hilly. Maybe not quite as hilly as Whidbey Island or San Juan Island, but hillier than some of the other local races. And aside from a few flattish miles from M6 to M9, the hills are relentless.

From the start, the course makes a spiral (dubbed "the swirlies") through the downtown area. This section is somewhat hilly. At M5, the course exits the swirlies and follows the Puget Sound up towards M10 and Pt Defiance. This section is somewhat flat, maybe kind of roly poly.

And then things get interesting. Approaching M10, there's a steep up. Then the course winds through the woods of Pt Defiance. Up and down. Up and down. More up than down, actually. Although the course exits Pt Defiance and enters neighborhoods around M15, the hills keep on coming. One is dubbed "the valley of death" because it heads down and then immediately back up. And yes, it really should be the valley of the shadow of death, but it isn't quite that ominous. Just a hill. Finally around M19, the course dumps out onto a bike path next to a freeway (highway 16) and stops gaining elevation. M19 through M24 are just "normal level" roly poly. And then, oh happy day, the last two miles are a downhill sprint to the finish back in downtown.

I really feel for the Maniac pacers who volunteer to get groups of people in at "x" time. Most people train to run marathons evenly... the same basic pace for each mile. This is a great strategy for basic courses. But not Tacoma. Those hills between M10 and M19 are tough.

And for that reason, I knew I wouldn't be running this course evenly. My goal was to run even effort splits... meaning that going up hills would be slower than coming down. Fine. I decided on a very specific goal for this week: beat 3:43:57. That is exactly 10 minutes faster than I ran this race last year. Arbitrary, but achievable. Said differently, this is essentially the same as "beat 3:45". A good goal for this course.

I also decided to try to start out a little slow for the first couple miles. So as we took off, I ran with the 3:45 pace group. Now, I don't normally run with pace groups... I don't like that many people close to me, and some people in pace groups get soooo focused and grumpy about their goals that it isn't any fun. I had a bad experience with this last year at the Air Force Marathon. I surely hoped that folks treated our pacers... our volunteer pacers... better than what I saw there.

I sped up a bit as we completed the swirlies and left the 3:45 folks behind around M4. I was feeling ok. It was obvious that this wasn't going to be a magical day like Eugene, but it was fine. I saw the 3:40 pace group ahead of me (led by 2 of the 3 Maniac founders, the 3rd being the Tacoma race director)... and decided to try to catch them on the flattish part of the course.

Bit by bit, at least. I wasn't going to sprint to catch up.

I caught them at M10, just in time for the big hills. Up we went. Past the aid station managed by The Blues Brothers. Last year, it was The Blues Brothers and women from Hooters.

Last year was better :-).

Somehow, I got in front of the 3:40 group. I'd say that it was because I was trying to impress the founders, but that just ain't so. They were pacing 3:40, but they are both capable of 3:00-3:10, so the only way I'd impress them was if I brought pie and told jokes. No pie, no jokes, and no idea why I got in front of them.

It lasted for a little while. We all hit the half at 1:48-1:49. A little fast for a 3:40 finish, but close enough for this course. Definitely fast for my 3:43 goal, though.

The group... which was dwindling... caught me in the valley (of the shadow) of death, and when I stopped for potty at M15, they lost me. This was ok. I was slowing a bit. I would have sucked as a pacer.

More hills. I hit M20 at 2:47 and M21 at 2:55. As a point of reference, in Eugene I hit M22 at 2:54... so, yes indeedy, there was no secret PR happening today! However, M21 at 2:55 was pointing towards a 3:40, especially with the downhill coming up in the last two miles. Interestingly, that 3:40 pace group was still nowhere to be found. I was feeling tired, but normal level tired, so 3:40 seemed doable.

And with the downhill? Ok, I decided to try "beat 3:40".

Now, M20-M24 was no picnic. Roly poly. But it was fine. On the longer straightaways and downhills, I started glimpsing my 3:40 group way up ahead... now just the two pacers and one woman holding on. In front of them was my friend coconutgirl.

A little closer at M22. A little closer still at M23. At M24, I thought they lost me again, but it was hard to tell because the course starting zigzagging through different streets. M24 had been 8:41. M25 was 8:18. I had hit the downhill. Look out below. As the course approached M25.5, it cut through the Tacoma campus of the University of Washington. And there they were. The 3:40 guys.

M26 was 7:54. McLovin the downhill.

Could I catch them?

Nope. But almost.

They finished about 15 seconds in front of me. I finished at 3:39:44. So we all beat 3:40.

It was a nice day. And even though I poo-poo'ed even splits and tried to run by effort, I managed a 1:49/1:50 split... one of my more even efforts of the year.

Maybe I should be a pacer.


Next up: Already happened. A crazy, crazy weekend. The Redmond Watershed Preserve 12 hour race. One of those "run as far as you can in x hours" (in this case, 12 hours) races. Never done one of those before.

Clearly, I am still alive because I am writing this. I promise you that my beagle didn't write this. How did I do? Check back RealSoonNow.

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