Saturday, December 06, 2008

12/6/08 Sunmart 50 Miler

The Sunmart Texas Trail Endurance Runs are two ultras (a 50k and a 50 miler) held at Huntsville State Park in Texas. Everybody calls this set of races "Sunmart" even though Sunmart is the sponsor. I suppose that would be a little like calling the Chicago Marathon "Bank of America" or the Tacoma City Marathon "Michelob Ultra", which would be confusing for a couple reasons. Nevertheless, this is Sunmart. And in this case, it's probably not a bad thing because one of Sunmart's big claims to fame is that participants get loaded down with stuff. Here's just a sample: gym bag, technical shirt, polo shirt, running hat, notebook, poncho, disposable camera, gloves, notebook, bandana, sewing kit, and a stuffed animal. I'm sure I've forgotten a few things. AND all the clothing items as well as the notebook (!) have multiple color choices. After completing the race, participants also get a jacket.

The race fee includes a free meal the night before, free hot breakfast before the race, and hot food after the race. The race also supplies the typical fare found at ultra aid stations, but unlike most ultras, the aid stations are only 2-3 miles apart. Staffed by super friendly folks who are there rain, shine, or snow for 12 hours. Each station has multiple portapotties. The race even uses chip timing, which is kind of funny in the 50 miler. Did I finish at 9:30:02? Or 9:30:03? :-)

Anyway, as you can see, they really try to take care of runners at Sunmart. The courses themselves are quite interesting. At a high level, the two races consist of multiple roly poly loops around a small lake. The race utilizes various trails and dirt roads in the park. The trail sections aren't terribly technical, but they do have lots of roots to keep runners on their toes (or their faces). As a bonus, because Sunmart is held in December after the leaves have dropped, many of the roots are hidden. Everyone likes a surprise, right? The good news is that the trails are not rocky at all... in fact, they are quite sandy. So if a root does take a runner down, it doesn't always hurt as it might in other situations. Not always. Sometimes it does. There are no true "climbs" at Sunmart. The courses definitely have ups and downs, including one section actually called "the hill", but these are nothing like what you find at a hardcore mountain ultra.

I've mentioned "courses", plural. Many of the miles utilized by the 50k and the 50 miler are the same, but not all of them. The 50 miler is a 12.5 mile loop (sort of), repeated 4 times. Actually, there's a 1.5ish mile section OUT before the loop, then the loop itself, then the 1.5 mile section BACK to the start/loop count/finish area. In the middle of the loop, there's a 3 mile out-and-back section on a dirt road. This is "the hill". The two out-and-back sections are nice because you get to see people in both directions, and you get to interact with people in both races. Because aside from the out-and-backs and a short section of the loop, the 50k course is quite different. It starts off with a six mile jaunt on wholly different trails (in the past, this was a crowded out-and-back, but they changed it this year), followed by two 12.5 mile loops. Except, oddly, after sharing the first section of loop and "the hill" with the 50 milers, the 50k course suddenly veers off onto a different trail for about 4 miles. Got that? Yeah, it's weird. Here's a map.

All in all, Sunmart is a fast course as trail ultras go. Of course, I am a poor runner on trails, so "fast" is kind of lost on me. I ran the 50k last year and aside from the 70s-and-muggy conditions, I had a fun experience. Albeit not with a fast time. So I decided to come back and try it again.

One big problem. When I got to packet pickup, I was on the wrong list. They had me down for the 50 miler. I have not run longer than 27 miles at one time since the end of July, when I slogged through the White River 50 Miler. Oh dear. I have had a bad history with 50 mile races *and* I wasn't optimally trained for this. I knew that my weekly mileage would probably get me through in one piece. Hopefully. But I might hurt myself. And although Sunmart is a fast course, I didn't know if I'd make the 12 hour cut-off.

I could have switched over to the 50k. I should have switched over to the 50k. But coulda, shoulda, I did not. I'm not exactly sure why. It certainly wasn't a sense of pride. I have neither pride nor shame when it comes to running ultras, especially the 50 mile kind. I think my brain was morbidly curious about what kind of punishment I could withstand. So I stayed in. I did what I could to prepare at the last minute: I ate a lot.

I knew that with all of Sunmart's aid stations, I wouldn't need anything extra beyond what I had brought... with one exception. 10-12 hours is a long time. The 50 miler would be starting at 7a, and sunset would be about 5:30. It gets dark, really really dark, in the woods at night. I didn't have a flashlight. My morbidly curious brain started doing some calculations again... I had run a gruesome 12:30 at White River, but that course was orders of magnitude more difficult. On a less challenging course, surely I could beat eleven hours. And, as I watched the sun go down outside my hotel window, it did not seem to be truly dark until about 6p, the eleven hour mark. Fine. I had a race goal. I needed to beat 11:00 or get lost and eaten by alligators.

On race morning, I got to the park early enough to score great parking and to consider breakfast. Lots of people were eating. Not me. Last year it had been warm, but this year it was ice cold: 25 degrees. It was dry, which was nice, and not terribly windy. I decided to go out in shorts, several layers of shirts, and gloves. I knew that with the 12.5 mile loop, I'd be back sooner or later to ditch some clothing if it warmed up. As I was trying to figure out where to leave my drop bag, I walked through a field of leaves next to the start. Stumbling around in the dark, I managed to step on a tree branch and somehow gouge a six inch scratch (a deep one) into my other shin. Great. I hadn't started the race yet and I was already bloody. This would be a bitter, bitter omen and I didn't know it.

I watched other people stuff themselves silly with a detached fascination, hit the portapotty a couple times, and then it was time to go. At precisely 7a, about 200 of us headed down the trail.

Four loops around a lake. Eleven hours to do it.

1st Loop
Heading out to start the race, I felt ok. I was nervous, but I did everything I could to relax... and most definitely to go out SLOWLY. The sun wasn't quite up yet, but it was light enough to see fine. Everyone was very chatty, but I wasn't. This is usually how I gauge my mental state in a race. If I'm chatty, that means I'm relaxed. If I'm not chatty, I'm either sick or nervous. If I'm not chatty AND other people's chatter starts bugging me, then I'm in a bad way. Relax. Relax.

I ran.

My first stumble happened quickly. My first fall (the kersplat kind) was not long after that. Sigh. It didn't hurt. The second fall did, though. I kept going.

One nice thing about attempting the 50 miler was that I got to see the differences between the two courses. The 50 miler visited a lot more of the lake as well as the lake's spillway. All in all, it was a more varied and fun course than the 50k. Which is nice since I'd need to be on it for 19 miles beyond a 50k.

Towards the end of the loop, I started playing leapfrog with a woman wearing vibram 5-fingers; these are essentially neoprene gloves for feet. She was almost running barefoot. I found this curious, but I didn't think more about it.

Then it was back up to the start/loop count/finish area and my drop bag.

# Stumbles: numerous
# Falls: 2
Locomotion status: all running, no shuffling, no walking
Mental/emotion status: detached
Time: 2:18

2nd Loop
As I ditched a shirt and grabbed a couple things from my drop bag, I noticed that I was incredibly stiff for 12.5 miles. This reminded me of my previous week at the Seattle Marathon where I felt beaten up way too early... and ultimately had a poor second half.

Uh oh.

And I'm only a quarter of the way into this.

The bad thoughts started creeping in. Oddly, though, at the same time, I started doing some math. My first loop's 2:18 hadn't felt too fast, although I was certainly stiff. It seemed to me that I could perhaps keep all of my loops under 2:30 and therefore finish at 10 hours. That would be cool. And so it became my new goal: "run 2:30 loops, and finish around 10 hours".

Yeah. I should have factored in those bad thoughts. Or, probably, I should have worked harder to banish those thoughts. But I didn't. And I started falling. I had fallen twice during the first loop. I decided that if I slowed just a little bit, maybe I'd stumble less. And not fall. I wish. My first fall happened before I even made it to the first aid station. And every joint hurt. I stayed on the ground for a minute to regroup.

By the third fall of this loop... yes, three falls all the way down in 12.5 miles... I started becoming weirdly fascinated by other people's reactions to my falls. Some people would just ignore them and continue onward. Some people, particularly for a more acrobatic move, would audibly gasp or hoot. A couple would actually stop to ask me if I was ok. Not as many as I expected, but at the same time, more than I wanted :-). "Yes, I'm fine, please go on."

I was really grim during this loop, and it seemed to take forever. Vibram 5-fingers passed me again somewhere in here. I noticed that she was wearing a different color shirt and no longer had on the vibrams. Huh. I wonder how she had gotten behind me? No matter, she left me in the dust.

Really, really grim. Bad shoulder angel materialized and started counseling me about taking a DNF. A 25 mile training run wouldn't count as a race finish, but it would count as a nice run. Hmmm. This went on for some time. Finally, as I headed up towards the start/loop count/finish area, good shoulder angel popped out and whispered sage advice. The middle miles of almost all races seem to be like this for me, regardless of distance, and usually regardless of how I otherwise feel. Mile 2 of a 5k always hurts. Miles 18-20 of a marathon are usually the hardest mentally and emotionally. Thinking back through my previous three 50 milers, I doubted myself in the middle of all of them. Ready to stop. Give up. But I never did... and I almost always recovered. And I have always finished.

# Stumbles: some, but not as many as the first loop
# Falls: 3 (!!!) (5 total)
Locomotion status: some running, much more shuffling, some walking
Mental/emotion status: woe is me; I suck
Time 2:38 (4:57 total)

3rd Loop
I didn't even go over to my drop bag before starting this loop. I stopped at the aid station and noticed I was breathing very hard for someone who had just taken over 2 1/2 hours to go 12.5 miles. This was over my 2:30 per loop goal, but I was still under 5 hours total, so I didn't worry about it. I told myself just to try the 3rd loop. Even if I walked the whole thing... just give it a shot and worry about DNFing after that. And so out I went.

Vibram 5-fingers caught me at the second aid station. What the hell? Once again, I had not recalled passing her, yet here she was again. This time she was in shorts and a 3rd shirt selection. I spent most of this loop considering all the other runners and trying to judge who I'd be running near for the rest of the day.

During the out-and-backs, I provided encouragement to the 50k and other 50 mile runners I encountered. Being more outgoing let me know that mentally, my outlook on life in general was improving. In fact, the act of offering up a "good job" and "hello!" and getting an acknowledgement in return helped to improve my mood.

The sun was moving across the sky. Now, aside from a half a mile of exposed running by the spillway, most of the course is in deep woods. It was interesting to see how the filtered sunlight changed the viewing conditions as the sun moved and shadows adjusted. What had been hard to see earlier became easier to see. And a few things became harder to see.

Which explains, blam, my next fall. I was talking to a couple people around me about falling when it happened. Figures. It didn't hurt, and I got a great audible gasp from the crowd.

Vibram 5-fingers passed me on "the hill" again. I still had no idea how/when she was getting behind me.

Onward. The rest of the loop was uneventful, but I felt better. As I pulled into the start/loop count/finish area, Steve and Paula Boone (50-Stater kahunas) cheered for me. "Are you done???" I didn't have the energy to respond. I just shook my head and held up a finger - one more loop. "Ok, we'll stay here and cheer for you."

I didn't process this at the time, but it meant that even though they were done with the 50k, they fully intended to stay for another 3+ hours to cheer on other folks. Wow. Of course, it also meant they thought that I was faster than I really am. And indeed, by now almost all the 50k folks and 12 out of 159 50 milers had finished. I ain't that fast.

# Stumbles: a few
# Falls: 1 (6 total)
Locomotion status: some running, some shuffling, some walking
Mental/emotion status: I am zen-like blacking all this out now
Time 2:45 (7:42 total)

4th Loop
As I stood over my drop bag, I noticed that I was shaking. I wasn't cold; it was kind of like I was trying to stand still on the deck of a rocking ship. Except I wasn't. I spent a little extra time at the aid station. That last loop had been interesting. My 2:45 was obviously longer than the 2:38 of the previous loop, but it had felt so much better. And it seemed to go by faster, even though it didn't.

Did I stop and DNF after the 3rd loop? Good shoulder angel was right... I was slow and achy, especially from all those falls, but mentally I felt a whole lot better. No DNF today.

As I went out for the final loop, I actually paid a bit more attention to the details of my surroundings. The start/loop count/finish area was lined with tents for various Texas running clubs where members had stashed their stuff (me? I had a trashbag next to a curb; no tent). And inside a tent was Vibram 5-fingers! Aha! She had been stopping after each loop to rest and change clothes, and this is how I had kept getting ahead of her.

The race had started at 7a. When I left for my final lap, it was about 2:45p. I had slowed enough that I had no real hope of making my 10 hour goal. In fact, I had been trending slower each lap, and a 3 hour lap seemed highly likely. 3 hours! To go 12.5 miles! Argh.

I returned to my contemplation of the sun, and I realized that I had made a grave tactical error. Sure, it might have gotten dark a little after 6p at my hotel. But my hotel was not in the woods. It was going to be dark substantially earlier out here, probably 5 or 5:30. And a 3 hour loop would mean finishing around 5:45p.

Ruh roh.

That was incentive to try not to shuffle away at a 3 hour pace. Then again, I had no desire to fall anymore PLUS my legs didn't care at all about the clock. I went as fast as I could possibly go, and that was only slightly faster than continental drift. My brain started getting paranoid, and I gave myself a case of Marty Feldman eye: I had to keep one on the ground to avoid more sand-in-my-hair encounters, but I also kept one eye tracking the sun. And it went lower and lower and lower.

Ok, two things. First thing is that it became a whole lot like a vampire or zombie movie where everyone watches for sunset knowing that Bad Things Happen After Dusk. I was soooo nervous.

The second thing is truly strange, though. Because I know that the sun sets in the west, I started getting interested in what direction I was running at any given time. And I realized that this race went all over the compass. That's not the strange part.

Then it happened. I got a song stuck in my head. HARD. This happens sometimes, and it is almost always a song I don't normally think about. I had been thinking about directions. And so here it came...

Eastbound and down, 18 wheels a-rollin.
We're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go
And a (beat)
Short time to get there
I'm eastbound, just watch ol' Bandit run.

Yikes. But that's not all. It seems that I know all the lyrics to this song. And they came to me over and over again.

Put your foot hard on the pedal,
Son, never mind them brakes.
Let it all hang out 'cause we got a run to make.
The folks are thirsty in Atlanta
And there's beer in Texarkana
We'll bring it back no matter what it takes!

There was Vibram 5-fingers again, in her latest clothing collection. Heh. I also noticed during "the hill" out-and-back that most everyone had had the presence of mind to bring a headlamp. Whoops.

By the fourth aid station, the sun was just barely over the ridge and the trees. I knew I still had about 90 minutes to run, and I did not have 90 minutes of sun. Whatever. Go. Either the vampires or the alligators would be having me for dinner.

But a curious thing happened in here. The organizers had magically (for I never saw them do this) hung glow sticks from the trees. Not many... it wasn't like the approach lights at an airport. But at regular intervals, there was a tiny amount of light. How cool. Very helpful for marking the course - for those with flashlights. Unfortunately, it was not nearly enough to illuminate the path.

A couple of my Maniac teammates passed me in here. A few others did too. Then again, I passed a few folks as well. When I got to the final aid station, it was officially dusk. The later part of dusk at that. And I had 2.7 miles to go!

Old smokey's got them ears on
He's hot on your trail.
He ain't gonna rest til you're in jail.
So you got to dodge and you got to duck him
You gotta keep that diesel truckin
Just put that hammer down and give it hell.

I tried putting my hammer down. And with just a little over 2 miles left... 48 miles into my day.... BLAM... I fell again. For the 7th time today.


That's what I said. Really. And I said it outloud. It wasn't an exclamation, more of a statement of resignation. At least it didn't hurt. I was way past pain.

I turned onto the final 1.5 mile BACK section. I was seriously nervous about it getting any darker. My brain finally decided that even though running faster might mean a fall, *not* running faster probably guaranteed a fall once I started stumbling around in pitch black.

I put that hammer down and gave it hell.

And it seemed to have an effect on other people. I passed a couple folks who had been shuffling. "Good job, we're almost done!" But I noticed that their footsteps did not die away. I was truly running now, and running hard (ok, technically probably 10:00/mile pace, but it SEEMED hard for the conditions and my fatigue), and somebody or somebodies were right behind me.

I did not try to race them; I just wanted to be done. Had they passed me, I would have cheered. But it turns out that I was the one pulling them in. I heard some noise from the finish area. We were close.

I saw some lights through the trees. Closer.

Left turn, through the tent area and a bunch of people drinking beer. There's the finish area. And...

Robert Lopez, all the way from Seattle!

Done. Immediately another name was called out. Then another.

# Stumbles: numerous
# Falls: 1 (7 total)
Locomotion status: some running, a whole lot of shuffling, a little walking
Mental/emotion status: I'm a-scared of the dark
Time 2:48 (10:31 total)

It was dark now. My fourth loop was my slowest, but it was almost identical to my third loop. I'm pretty proud of that, and it felt nice to run the last bit. One guy finished 19 seconds behind me. A gal finished about 30 seconds later. I congratulated them both and noticed that the gal was a 50k-er! 10 1/2 hours to complete a 50k... but she was running hard at the end. I asked her what had happened - she had twisted her ankle in the middle and done a lot of walking.

And oh yes, it was very dark now.

Vibram 5-fingers finished about 20 minutes behind me.

I got my dinner (dinner!) and sat in the tent with Steve and Paula Boone. Yup, they had waited three hours. Nice folks.

Overall, I'm not terribly pleased with my 10:31. I finished 97th out of 159. Then again, I was not one of the 30ish folks on the DNF list. And aside from some bruises and scratches, I felt remarkably good.

If I want to beat 10:31, I have to train better. Meanwhile, back to those falls. I fell 7 times. In 193 marathons and ultras before this edition of Sunmart, I had fallen 8 times total. Er. Wow.

Now if I could only get that song out of my head...

Next up: The Honolulu Marathon, a race I said I'd never do again. Yet here I am. The 50 miler beat me up. Very, very up. I was able to run a bit in the week between Sunmart and Honolulu, but not that much. I have no idea how the race will go and probably won't set a firm goal until, say, M6. Subject to change at M7. Check back RealSoonNow and see what happened.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

11/30/08 Seattle Marathon

Oh, where to start, where to start? First off, the picture. That's my friend Bee, me, and another friend, Maniac Genia, just before the start of this year's Seattle Marathon. Genia is about to PR by almost 15 minutes - woohoo! More on her later!

How about a bit of history. I have run either the half or the full at Seattle every year since 2001. I never ran either race very well until last year. The course, particularly the half, is quite challenging. The weather can be rotten as well, which makes any race harder. Between my performance, the weather, and a couple other little things (post race food issues and some screwy chip timing issues), I've never really loved the Seattle Marathon. Yet I sign up each year. My opinion improved a bit in 2007 because we had good -though cold- weather and I ran fast. My 3:36 was just a couple minutes slower than my PR at the time. It also came the day after running a 3:37 at the low-key Ghost of Seattle Marathon, and three days after a yucky 3:55 at the Atlanta Marathon. Amazing how running a good race under blue skies can suddenly improve one's outlook. The post race food was still spotty and lots of people had problems with their chip times... but wahoo, what a fun day.

That brings me to this year. Once again, I ran Atlanta three days prior. This year, I ran a much better 3:41, felt great the whole day, and managed a negative split. Instead of running the Ghost marathon on Saturday, I opted for a new 5k. Alas, I messed up. Heading into race weekend, my goal for Sunday's race was supposed to be 3:30. I wanted to run the 5k at marathon pace to get my brain ready for the following day. Instead, I followed Bee for 3.1 miles, and she wanted to run faster than that. We finished somewhere around 21:30. Well, Bee did. I was a bit behind. Anyway, for a 3:30 marathon, I should have been sticking with 8:00 miles. Instead, I ran 6:55s. Ruh roh. This might come back and bite me.

I've written about the Seattle Marathon course before, but here's a brief summary. The course is a loop with an out-and-back in the middle that starts and finishes at an ancient stadium near the Space Needle. The first couple miles offer up a roly poly tour of downtown. Just after M2, the course jumps onto the (mercifully closed) express lanes of I-90. More roly polies. Through a tunnel, then at about M4.5, runners are treated with the flat out-and-back section across one of Seattle's floating bridges. Although a bad weather year can make this part miserable, it is my favorite. I love seeing the fast folks coming the other way, and I love high fiving and giving the shaka to people both faster and not as fast. It's possible that I love this section *too* much; it's easy for me to get caught up in the energy and emotion... and run way way too fast. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After turning around on Mercer Island at M6, the course shoots back across the water. A turn to the south leads runners along Lake Washington to Seward Park at M11. Once around the park and northwards back up the same road. At M17.5, the course passes under the floating bridge and continues north. Goodbye, flat section. Hello, hilly section from hell. Ok, that's a bit dramatic. I like hills a lot. And at first, these hills are not bad. Just hills. And the views keep on coming. Nice neighborhoods, trees, water. On a good day, the occasional mountain view.

M20.5 is the left turn onto Galer. This is the course's famous hill. It's only about five blocks long, but it is super duper steep. I can run it, sometimes, but I look like a duck. And at the top, the runner learns that it isn't actually the top: a left turn onto Madison and yippee, more hill. The actual top is right about M21. After a half mile of downhill to even out the legs, the course comes to the *real* asskicker of the race. Interlaken Boulevard. This is a twisty road through the Seattle Arboretum. Uphill. M21.5 to M23, relentlessly up and up. The twists in the road make for a bunch of false tops to frustrate the first-timer... especially after the similar experience at the top of Galer earlier. Even for the runner who knows what's coming, Interlaken is the total gut check section for this race. The hardest hill at the hardest point physiologically and psychologically in the course after having been beaten up by other hills since M18. Go go go.

The top of the hill is M23. Shortly after this, the course crosses I-5 for the first time and heads gently downhill to M24. For a person who has paced well, this is an excellent opportunity to fly. Me? I've never flown here. That tells you something. In a cruel twist, the course zips back under I-5 to the other side at M24. Briefly. This section treats the exhausted runner to a jaw-dropping view of downtown. And somewhat north of downtown, the space needle and the stadium. Finish line is in the stadium! Just before M25, it passes back over the freeway. Downhill. Downhill.

At M25.8, there's one final uphill. Ha. Left turn towards the stadium, through a tunnel, and then across the football field. Tons of folks are there to stare passively at you or cheer you on, depending. Sometimes if you want it, you have to work for it :-).

Huh. I promised a brief summary. I guess that wasn't. The course itself is not packed with spectators, though in a good weather year, a fair number of people turn out. And this was a good weather year. Freakish, actually. Usually, it is 30-40 degrees. "Good weather" would mean drizzle and light wind. This year, morning brought 51 degrees, no real wind, and fog. Usually, I'm bundled up in 3 shirts, pants, a raincoat, a ski cap, and gloves. This year? One shirt, those trendy sleeve things (which I'd ditch at M9), gloves (which I'd put away at M11), and shorts. Balmy! Not perfect, though. That fog really represented high humidity. I didn't get that at first; I would understand it well later on. Still though, it simply will never get better than this.

As I mentioned in my 5k summary above, my theoretical race goal was going to be 3:30. I had attempted a 3:30 a couple weeks prior in San Antonio, and if I hadn't been waylaid by stomach issues, I would have had it. Seattle is a harder course by far, but with good weather and the energy of running with friends on a course I know with my eyes closed, I figured I could do it.

I showed up somewhat early with J-Lo because she was going to walk the half marathon with a friend. After seeing them off, I had 30 minutes to get ready and chat. Lots of people I know run the Seattle Marathon. Then it was time. I lined up just to the side of the 3:30 pace group... not planning on running with them... Star Spangled Banner... and off we went.

The start of this race is crowded and stays crowded because just as the marathon crowd is stretching out, racers overtake the marathon walkers who started earlier. And then the half marathoners who also started earlier. For the most part, the half marathoners stay on the side. In fact, for a few miles on I-90, there's a concrete barrier separating that group from the full. I did everything I could not to zigzag around slower runners, but I was feeling really good. Everything felt great. I had eaten right. My stomach seemed ok. The day was pretty. I spied J-Lo and friend on the other side of the barrier at about M4. I called out her name. She called out my name. WOOHOO!

About that time, I passed Santa Claus. Yes, a guy was doing the full enchilada dressed in a Santa suit. He was also handing out candy canes. Ha. I bet he got hot!

Into the first tunnel. It was in here that I made the fateful decision: today would be Go-Fast day. My current PR is 3:28. I had originally thought about running about 3:30... nah. Let's see if I can handle a 3:25-3:27. Go fast! I started the zigzag process. Note to self: be careful, cocky runner - much energy is used whilst zigging; even more is used during the requisite zag.

The half marathon course does not head across the floating bridge. After they turned off, I didn't need to zig zag anymore. I was at the bridge, my favorite section. I pulled over to the middle so that I could see (and sometimes slap five) faster runners coming back and a few of the early starters who had made it here quickly.

It was like I shot myself out of a cannon.

The energy was incredible. The Seattle Marathon is not my favorite race, but this bridge out-and-back is almost certainly one of my top race-related experiences. There was Larry! This race was his 101st... of this year! Slap five, Larry. There were Maniacs Lauri and Q-562! Here came the guy leaders! And the first women. 1, 2, 3, maybe 4. And then, out of the fog, it was Maniac Annie. Last year, Annie managed a second place finish. She looked great this year, although she was incognito in red. Slap five, Annie. More people I knew went by. A couple people hooted for the man in pink. And I was passing all kinds of people.

Around the turnaround. Boom! And now I was facing a sea of people. I saw so many folks I know. And every time someone hooted or acknowledged a shaka, I seemed to speed up a little. It was so cool.

I came off the bridge at M8. My split for that mile? 7:15. Ruh roh. Way too fast.

J-Lo's friends were waiting to cheer me on at M9. I stopped briefly and ditched my sleeves. I used this opportunity to try to regain a bit of composure and control over my pace. I wanted something more like 7:55/mile. Ok, ok. Calm the hell down.

At M10, I saw Maniac David (a 3:15ish marathoner) standing on the side of the road. "Are you ok?" The single answer: "No." I didn't stop because he was standing with someone else who I figured was helping him, but I felt badly about not stopping. I hope David is ok.

M11 and into Seward Park. This is a beautiful park on the shore of Lake Washington. It used to be an island, but they filled in a land bridge and turned it into a little peninsula. It has the only stand of old growth forest in Seattle. With a three mile loop around the perimeter, it is wonderful for running.

I crossed the mat at the halfway point at 1:43. Perfect for a 3:25-3:27. I did the check-in with my body, like I always do. The answer was not what I wanted. I was achy, like I normally would be at M18. But this was M13.1, and I hadn't gotten to the hills yet. My stomach poked me too. It was weird. I was starting to feel crampy, but at the same time, my stomach/brain was screaming "Feed me, Seymour!"
Brain: Dude. You ran a strong marathon three days ago. You ran too fast yesterday. You ran over the bridge way, way too fast. Feel your shirt. It isn't rain that you could wring out of it. The hills are coming. And, oh yeah. Feed me, Seymour.

Crap. I ducked into the potty at M14, somewhat to do what is normally done in a potty, and somewhat just to regroup. I came back out onto the course with two goals: 1) stay strong and even, and 2) grab some extra Gu from the volunteers whenever it was offered.

I noticed that people were passing me now; it was clear I wasn't going to hold on to 7:55/mile pace. M15 was 8:20. Ugh. I needed to keep doing that for as long as possible, including through the hills. A few of these people offered up encouragement. I also officially met a couple people I "know" from various message boards. I caught up with Larry (he had been coming the other way when I saw him on the bridge) and I wished him well on #101 for the year. He was more concerned about me - that's Larry :-). What a nice guy.

Maniac Guy Yogi caught me in here. He asked if he could run with me for awhile. "Well, sure... no need to ask. But I warn you, I'm slowing down. You might not want to stick with me." We had a nice, brief conversation. And then slowly, Guy picked it up. I lost sight of him about 10 minutes later.

Just after M18, the hills started. Interestingly, despite the continued yuck signals from my brain and my legs, the hills didn't seem to add any extra pain and suffering. At first. There was a Gu station somewhere in here. Usually I pass these and go with the Hammer Gels I carry on my own. And usually, I finish with a couple spare Hammer Gels. But at this Gu station, I took two with me. And I ate all my Hammer Gel. Feed me, Seymour.

Another guy I "know" from a running message board, a fellow by the interesting name of "Luv Pre" found me in here. His PR is 3:35. "Hold what you've got, and you've got a shot at it." His response was simple, honest, and definitely apropos. "We'll see what Galer and East Madison say about that." He pulled away too.

M20 at 2:44. Just an easy 10k left. With big hills. Feed me, Seymour. I usually know that if I hit M20 around 2:45, I have a reasonable shot at a 3:35-3:40 finish. 3:35 sounded great at this point because it would be faster than my finish last year.

Left turn onto Galer. I caught Maniac Kurt. He had been running far ahead of me since about M10, but he was having calf issues now. Not good for hills. I wished him well as I duckwalked/jogged up the hill.

Left turn onto Madison. I was really struggling, and my pace was now hovering around 9:10/mile. Yikes. But I didn't feel any worse than I had back at M15. I guess my slower pace had compensated. I hit the top of the hill and enjoyed the brief downhill breather to Interlaken. The hardest part of the race.

Up. Up and up. Around the twisty turns. Up some more. I started remembering many of my previous experiences with this hill. None of them had been pretty, even during last year's 3:36. I started encountering back-of-the-pack half marathon walkers. When I had the energy to verbalize, I wished them well as I struggled by. They did the same for me. M22 was exactly 9:00. But M23 was a leisurely 9:31. Gah. Then the top. I hit the downhill. I didn't think 3:35 was in the cards any longer, but I was hopeful that the downhill would help me. Maybe a little.

As I headed towards M24 and the bridge under I-5, a couple guys passed me. One was a Maniac who I don't know. He seemed destined to lose me. The other was an intense guy in a yellow (but not Maniac) shirt. We leapfrogged. M24 was 9:17. Gravity helped a bit, apparently, but this was still ugly.

Down I-5, then back over. M25 was 8:56, and 3:30 exactly on the clock. Sigh. I would miss my 3:30 race goal, literally, by a mile. And unless I pulled out a canister of Roger Bannister, I was going to miss 3:35 as well. Feed me, Seymour.

I pulled by the Maniac who I don't know. I pulled by Yellow Shirt Guy. It felt like I was sprinting! I hit M26 and took the last turn towards the stadium. I was sure that I must have made up some time during that mile, but the 8:54 on my watch said differently. This didn't bum me out. I laughed.

Into the stadium and the thousands of semi-cheering people. About 20 yards before the finish, Yellow Shirt Guy pulled up beside me, slowly turned his head to me, and offered up the biggest grin I have ever seen at the end of a long race. EVER.

Was he grinning because he had a fun day? Was he grinning because he was going to outkick me? Who knows. What I *do* know is that it had a profoundly warm and positive effect on me. The last 5 seconds of the 2008 Seattle Marathon will always be remembered as follows: I gave the once-intense-but-now-grinning Yellow Shirt Guy a huge smile back, and then I waved him in front of me. It is possible I could have outkicked him, but I didn't want to try. That smile he gave me made my day.

I wanted to thank him, but at the finish, I spent a second talking to the guy who gave me my medal. When I turned around, Yellow Shirt Guy was gone. What a finish. Ha.

3:40. Well, I was able to hold my targeted finish time from M20 onwards. And I was faster than my Thursday race in Atlanta. Other than that, I swung for the fences and missed. No PR. No 3:30 either. And no 3:35, which would have beaten my time from last year. Nope. I was slower than last year AND I didn't run a marathon the day before like last year. Fooey.

The lesson is simple. Swinging for the fences is a fine thing, but it should be planned better. Maybe I could have done it after Atlanta. I think the 5k took just enough away from me. Plus, and this became really obvious when I changed clothes, it was incredibly humid. That never bodes well.

In the finish area, I saw Luv Pre again. 3:36 for him, if I recall correctly. Good job! In the food line, I saw Maniac Guy Yogi, who had pulled away from me so well in the teens. He had faded a bit, just like me. But he still managed a great 3:38.

And Maniac Annie? She won the race! How about that. And apparently, she completely missed the tape at the end. So she turned around and ran back through it. Go Annie!

Go everybody!

I spent the next day with a headache that I am sure is due to some combination of screwy electrolyte levels and running low on gas. Feed me, Seymour.

Remember Maniac Genia, in that picture at the top? As mentioned, she PRed. Here's another picture of me, Genia, Bee, and Maniac Amanda Cohn from the 2006 race:

As you can tell, it was a much more brutal day weather-wise. I was sporting the GI Joe look, obviously. She was sporting a baby. She ran that race very, very pregnant. I dunno what's cooler, running it pregnant or scoring the big PR. Let's go with both. Go Genia!

Next up: This weekend is the Sunmart ultra in Huntsville, Texas. I'm signed up for the 50 miler, but I'll probably drop to the 50k. I don't really enjoy 50 milers. Sunmart has a fun course and it is ridiculously well supported for an ultra. It has potties! Heck, they even utilize chip timing. But most interestingly, Sunmart offers more race premiums than anyone. Free shirts! A bag! A jacket! And that's just the beginning.

More on that next week.