Thursday, September 18, 2008

9/7/08 Skagit Flats Marathon

A long time ago, before Real Life asserted itself the way that Real Life likes to do, I had considered the Skagit Flats Marathon as the right place (at the right time) to try to repeat Eugene's 3:28. Then Real Life did its thing. Actually, before that, I did a really dumb thing - I ran the White River 50 and hurt myself. This impacted my training. I can't blame Real Life for that. Era estupido.

But then, Real Life decided to add insult to injury. Or maybe it was adding injury to injury. I had a hole punched into my back for a biopsy. The biopsy came back good, although I did do the sitcom routine:
The results were negative?? Negative! Oh no.


Negative is good, right? Yes? Whew.
Heh. So the results were happy, but I had stitches holding my back together. They had held up at a half on Labor Day Monday, so I decided to head up to Skagit six days later. Even though I had been registered for the full for a long time, I told myself that I'd decide between the half and the full when I got there.

I felt pretty terrible when I pulled into the parking lot at the high school where the race starts and finishes. I decided to walk around for a bit and see if that made things better. It didn't. It also didn't really make things worse, and I was scoring lots of "poor baby" points from people for looking so pitiful. I made my decision... to delay the decision.

For many years, the Skagit Flats course was an inverted balloon on a stick (or upside down keyhole) - basically, a loop with a long out-and-back section in the middle. And "Flats" was an accurate description. The only hill on the whole course was a highway overpass in the first mile. Because of road construction, the course was changed this year. It would be completely out-and-back and completely flat. No overpass.

The half and full start at the same time, and the half's turnaround would be 6.5ish miles into the course. This meant that I could start the race, warm up, and THEN decide if I was really up for a full. If I decided to turn back at the half's turnaround, I would need to be careful at the end... nothing like "winning" the full marathon with a sub-2. However, my Best Running Buddy (BRB) was signed up for the half. If things really went wonky, I could attach myself to her with one of those kid leashes and make it back in. Actually, half turnaround aside, I realized that I could turn around just about anywhere I pleased.... provided I didn't try to officially finish in the chutes UNLESS I did the whole thing.

So I delayed my decision. BRB wasn't sure how fast she wanted to run, but I was betting she'd go out at a sub-2 half pace (so, 8:30-9:00/mile pace). I figured I'd run some miles with her. IF that's the pace we started at and IF I felt like continuing and IF I had a reasonable day, then "about 3:45" would be my goal. However, I was more interested in running an even race on this very flat course, so if we went out a little faster or a little slower, my time goal might need to be adjusted.

Incidentally, some of you have asked me how I pronounce BRB. Is it "Barbie"? Oh no. I think that if I called BRB "Barbie", she might cut me. She's good with knives. It's B-R-B. This is the same as the online acronym for "be right back", of course. So sometimes, it's just "Bee".

The weather on race morning was phenomenal. It seems like it is always a nice day at Skagit Flats... cool and blue skies. The usual weather penalty is wind. This year, there wasn't much wind. It was also a bit warmer than normal. A great day to try for my 3:28, actually. Oh well. Before the race, I had on my typical multiple layers of shirts and gloves. I was smart enough to cut that down to ONE shirt before the start, but I was dumb enough to make that one LONG SLEEVE shirt. This would get me later. I also kept the gloves, but I knew I'd just pocket them when I got tired of wearing them. Or when my hands felt boiled.

After several trips through the potty lines and a bit of gossip and observation regarding a few other Maniacs, off we went. Me, BRB, and Maniac (and transplanted Hawai'ianiac) Gary. We hit M1 at 9:33. Kind of slow, and something was wrong. I was breathing really hard... I could still hold a conversation, but it didn't feel like a 9:30 mile. We hit M2 at 7:55, and we hadn't adjusted our pace. Aha. The first mile marker had been a little off; we were indeed running faster than 9:30. Strange mile markers would be a recurring theme, unfortunately.

We came upon a woman running with four safety pins on the back of her shirt. They weren't attached to anything other than the shirt. No packets of gel, no sign, no oddly placed diaper. I asked BRB and she had no idea, so I sped up to ask the woman about this. The significance of the answer isn't nearly as important as the significance of me asking. See, in real life, I am quiet and fairly introverted. For some reason, I transform when I run. This is one of the things that I enjoy about running; I become much more sociable. The reason for the safety pins: she had a sign attached to her back at one time, but it had been removed. Okey doke.

Onward. We got to the turnaround for the half. It seemed like we had been running 8:00-8:15 miles, so I wished BRB well on speeding up and hitting 1:45. She downplayed this and off she went. I decided to continue. HOWEVER, I knew that I was running too fast. I dialed it back. Or tried. I only wanted to slow from 8:15 miles to 8:30-8:40 miles. But the mile markers were wonky, so I had to try to do this by feel. And most of my feeling was concerned with "dang, my back hurts". I tried to get into my breathing and my perceived heart rate (coupled together: perceived exertion) which would have the nice side effect of blocking the back pain.

The Skagit course is a bunch of east-west and north-south straight lines connected by 90 degree turns. A lot of them. On and on I ran. Turn and go. Turn and go. By M10, I was cooking. Off came the gloves. I considered going shirtless too but did not. I'm sure that the people near me were happy with my decision.

Aside from the true leaders, I didn't start encountering my faster friends until I was in the final section before the turnaround. Huh. The 3:30 pace group went by me heading the other way. The pace leader, Maniac Bob, commented that I was right behind them. What? No way. I shouldn't have been. And a few minutes later, I hit the turnaround and then the halfway point at 1:48. Too fast. Especially because I was now steaming in my long sleeve shirt. Apparently, I hadn't dialed it back that much. I would now.

About M18, the 3:35 pace leader passed me. This was also Maniac Bob. Different Bob. At this moment, I realized that I should have volunteered to pace a group... although I would have stuck with Maniac Robert as my name. I thought about hanging with Maniac Bob, but I really didn't think I had 3:35 in me and I didn't want to fall over dead.

I hit M20 at 2:46. I was cooked, but I was keeping an ok pace. Unless I crumbled beyond the 10:00/mile barrier, my "about 3:45" goal was going to happen. On a normal day, a 2:45 check-in at M20 means that 3:40 is the better target. Alright then. My new goal became "about 3:40". For a few minutes. It has been a long time since I've run a 3:3x. My new new goal became "beat 3:40".

About M22, I passed a few people who had been running with the 3:30 group. No, I was not speeding up. The heat was getting to everyone. I wished them well, but I was focused on my goal. I was more focused on not focusing on my back.

The course comes back into town about M24. I was still alive. M25, still alive.

And then I messed up. The big course change involved ditching the loop in favor of the out-and-back. But that wasn't the only change... and I didn't notice the other one ahead of time. In the past, the last bit of the course rounded the whole high school and onto the track. As I was trying to hold my pace, my brain factored this into the calculation. I held back. I hit M26 a bit before my brain was ready for it. I figured it was another mismarked mile. It wasn't... all of the sudden, the course turned. Instead of going around the campus, the new course cut through it. I had been holding back too long. There was the finish. And so I did.


Considering all my issues lately, I'm pretty pleased. On the other hand, the only reason I didn't hit the doubly revised "beat 3:40" goal was because I held back at the end when I didn't need to do that. 27 seconds!

And. I felt really good. I think I could have stuck it out with Maniac Bob... the second Maniac Bob... and gotten close to 3:35. I just didn't know it at the time. That's alright.

Speaking of The Bobs (that's an Office Space reference), they both hit their pacer targets. Woohoo.

I sprawled onto the football field's grass and didn't move for an hour. I could have run further or faster, but once I stopped, my body clicked off. I hung out with Maniac Dave and Maniac Q-562. We should have discussed gardening.

And BRB finished her half in 1:47. More Woohoo!

Next up: already happened. Last weekend's Maui Marathon. I got my stitches out between Skagit and Maui. Plus, the race was in Maui. It didn't matter that I didn't run lightspeed. I was in Maui. More on that Real Soon Now.

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