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".

Thursday, October 09, 2008

9/28/08 Bellingham Bay Marathon

Bellingham is a charming city located about 90 minutes north of Seattle, near the Canadian border. Home of Western Washington University (goooooo Vikings!), the city is next to Puget Sound and is surrounded on all other sides by mountains. It is a hilly place. Lots of people in Bellingham must run, because it hosts lots of races. Of the longer stuff, I've run three races here: the Birch Bay Marathon, the Chuckanut 50k, and the New Year's Eve Last Chance Marathon (which, coincidentally, was founded by my Best Running Buddy herownself). Last year, a new race was offered: the Bellingham Bay Marathon. Whereas Birch Bay is pretty far north of the city, the new race took place in town. I did not do it, which was probably best because I heard that the weather was crummy.

This year, the organizers moved the race a couple weeks earlier and changed the course a bit. Of the "lots of people" who must run in Bellingham, I know a few... including Best Running Buddy (BRB, or just Bee). She's lived here her whole life. I signed up. I figured the weather would be crummy again, but I wanted to explore the community and get in some good hill work. Besides, maybe Bee would run with me for a few miles.

The day before the race, I took my little dachshund up to Bellingham. We picked up my number and then drove the course with Bee. Oh my. Hills aplenty. And lots of turns early on. The course's start/finish was at the farmer's market area downtown. The first section consisted of a 7 mile roly poly loop through neighborhoods north of downtown. Many "go two blocks, and turn" turns. After passing the start/finish, the course headed due south. Most of this was an out-and-back, including 10 miles on the Interurban Trail. Around M21, the course took a 3 mile diversion from the out-and-back to do a loop through another neighborhood. The trail section was quite roly poly with a couple steep but short hills, but the neighborhood made the trail seem pancake flat. 3 miles of big hills, right where a runner doesn't really want that kind of challenge - between M21 and M24. After that unpleasantness, the course jumped back up onto the trail and back into downtown. With a nice uphill finish :-).

A few weeks ago, I ran a 3:40 at the Skagit Flats Marathon. It was a comfortable, conservative pace for the most part... on a very flat course, on a day with warmish weather and not much wind. From that, I decided that 3:35-3:40 was (is) probably my current benchmark time. The next few race goals would be based on that 3:40 and affected by things such as hills and weather. So, for example, the following weekend in Maui, my goal was 3:55, based on a 15-20 minute penalty for the 4 H's: Hawai'ian heat, humidity, and hills. My 3:57 was close.

My training has steadily improved since Skagit, but three weeks isn't really enough to show much in my results. So, based on that benchmark, I decided that my goal for Bellingham would be "beat 3:50", depending on the weather. A 10 minute penalty for the hills. I wanted to run something close to an even split between the two halves, but I wouldn't try for completely even miles - this would be an even-effort course.

And the weather on race morning? Perfect. A chilly, blue skies day with light winds. Essentially the same as Skagit but about 10 degrees cooler. Of course, this meant I was in two shirts, arm warmers, and gloves while most people started off in singlets and short-sleeves. But I was comfortable. Wind... actually, the lack of wind... really does affect how I feel on cool days.

I had been extremely paranoid about the parking situation, so I showed up about 90 minutes before the race. I scored great parking. Alas, Bee showed up about 20 minutes before the race and scored even better parking. Huh. It certainly helps to be a local. Anyway, 90 minutes was a long time so I hung out with another friend, Maniac Q-562. Then it was time to line up for the portapotty. And then the start.

Wearing pink for my races with BREAST CANCER SUCKS and other messages written on the shirt is an interesting experience. Sometimes, nobody talks to me. Other times, all kinds of people will ask me questions. Just before the start at Bellingham, a lady runner asked to take a picture of me. Ok, fine. So I smiled. No, no. She wanted a picture of the back of my shirt. Ooops. I turned around.

Then we started. There were only about 300 people in the full... and a whole lot more in the half. The combined start was fairly crowded, but it thinned out quickly. I was running and chatting with Bee. Around all the crazy corners. Through a park. I thought it was a nice park. Bee told me about the park's former claim to fame before the city cleaned it up. Ew.

As we neared the start/finish just past M7, I wished Bee well and made a beeline (heh) for the portapotties. Now, had I known how far away these were, I probably would have held it until the next aid station. The race org had done a spectacular job with the aid stations... plentiful, regular, lots of fluids, and 3-4 portapotties at each station. But anyway, I didn't know, and so off I went. By the time I finished my business and made it back onto the course, Bee was long gone. Based on my pace in M7, M8 (the potty mile), and M9, this was a two minute (!) detour.

Onward towards the Interurban Trail. During that two minutes, a lot of people had passed me who were actually running a slightly slower pace than me. Now I was doing the passing, so I tried very hard not to zigzag and not to run *too* fast. There had been a good sized up heading into downtown and the start/finish... leaving downtown towards the trailhead was basically flat.

The trail itself was not flat. Not even. Up and down. And up and down. Through the hip neighborhood of Fairhaven, past the start/finish for Chuckanut and Last Chance. Down a switchback and then up a "man, maybe I should walk this" hill near M11. I chose to run it.

Up and down. Up and down. The trail conditions were perfect. The turnaround was at M15, so I started seeing people headed the other way starting about M12. I hit the halfway point at 1:51... a bit fast for my "beat 3:50" goal, especially considering the hills still to come.

Just before M14, I caught Bee. She looked fresh as a daisy. All kinds of people I know were coming the other way. First Maniac Van. Then Maniac Coconutboy followed quickly by Maniac Coconutgirl. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw that we were headed for a major dip in the course.

"Hey Bee, is this THE dip?"
"Yup, this is the dip."

And so it was. That's what the locals call this feature. Down and up. Woohoo! The dip.

Around the turnaround, and back through the dip. I pulled away slightly from Bee. Just in time for another potty stop. Sigh. At least this one didn't require a two minute off-course detour.

Up and down. And up and down. But now, headed back towards town. I hit M20 at exactly 2:50. Hmmm. Assuming I could hold it together in the final hills, 3:45 was a better target than "beat 3:50". The weather was soooo wonderful, and I was feeling good. Ok. "Beat 3:45". The course exited the trail and entered the neighborhood.

There are lots of rides at Disney and Six Flags parks where you sit in a boat or train car through a series of dioramas (think Pirates of the Caribbean). Towards the end, there's almost always a scary section where the music gets foreboding and everything goes very dark.

This was totally the transition from the trail and M20 to the neighborhood and M21. The happy yo ho ho squeezebox music was replaced wholly by Dead Men Tell No Tales and electronic Wind Blows Over the River Styx sounds. The weather had not changed. Still beautiful. But the atmosphere had.

As the course approached the hill, the guy I was running behind said, "I'm 50. You are 51. I will let you be 50." And he dropped back.

The who in the what now?

I had no idea what he was talking about. It just fit into the whole creepy vibe. Then it was time for the big hills. 3 miles of serious hills. Hills that make Morrissey and Depeche Mode seem bubbly cheery. A few spectators were out, especially near the aid stations in this section. They were all very positive... "a great downhill starting at X" or "it'll be downhill after Y". Alas, they were all wrong. If the trail had been up and down and up and down, this was...

Up and down and UP and DOWN.

Caramba. "It's downhill from here!" Then the creepy section was over. Yo ho ho, a pirate's life for me! Just after M23.5, the course dumped back out onto the trail. Much less hilly in comparison. That said, no, it was not downhill from back there. Not at all.

Approaching the finish line, I heard them announce Coconutboy and Coconutgirl. One of my favorite activities is trying to guess which one of them will finish first... today they finished together. That always puts a smile on my face :-). Plus, wow, they had been a bit ahead of me on the out-and-back. I had held up nicely.

And then I was done. My updated goal had been "beat 3:45". I ran a 3:44. Woohoo! This made my split 1:51/1:53. Not exactly even, but pretty close. What a nice day.

Bee was only a couple minutes behind me... a smoking day. One year removed from foot surgery too. Woohoo Bee!

I ate pizza and hung around to talk to folks. All kinds of Maniacs had come to Bellingham. Maniac Shawna won the race; Van came in 3rd. I came in 48th overall... and, aha! Now I figured out that guy's cryptic comment about 50 and 51. He had been counting people who were ahead of him. And I did, in fact, manage to pass a couple folks towards the end. 50, 49, 48.

I waited for a bit and watched Maniac Q-562 finish. She had a funny look on her face. Turns out that at one of the aid stations, she had stopped and taken pizza from a volunteer instead of hammer gel. It hadn't been sitting well. Yikes. Reminds me of krispy kremes during the Seattle Marathon or oysters at Newport. Blech.

Speaking of Newport, Bellingham utilized the same photographers that work Newport and Yakima. This group is cool because they have on-course photos waiting for you at the finish of the race! And, compared to brightroom, they aren't over-the-top expensive. Mine stunk, but I bought it anyway. How cool to have a picture right there waiting.

A great day. Well organized, challenging course and perfect weather. I said bye to Bee, Q-562, Maniac Mary, and a cast of thousands. And it was time to head home.

Next up: A return to my first marathon - Portland. It has only rained once on the Portland Marathon in the past 20 years. What would that mean for this year's race? And how would I do? Check back RealSoonNow.