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.

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