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.

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