It’s hard to start writing a report about last Saturday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Seattle without sounding like I’m on the payroll of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The city is well known for it’s grey and wet Pacific Northwest weather, but this weekend Seattle was primed and ready for us runners offering gorgeous, sunny skies and tourist-crowded streets downtown humming with energy and activity. The city and us runners were ready for a great racing experience and the good people at Elite Racing delivered.
For an inaugural race I thought the Rock ‘n’ Rollers did a superb job organizing the event. From the energetic crew helping out at the expo to the transportation coordinators piling about 25,000 of us into busses everything was well managed and proceeded smoothly. Ample port-a-potties, UPS trucks to accommodate gear check, and long water stations on both sides of the course for right and left-handed runners were just some of the details the race organizers handled well.
The race turned out to be another mostly positive very long learning experience for me punctuated by a couple of “wow!” moments. Based on my predicted finish time I was placed in Corral 2, so I hit the course shortly after the gun went off to send the elite runners on their way. I situated myself with the 3:20 pace group with the intention of drifting back if their pace got to be too much for me to handle. For most of the first half of the race I stayed with the 3:20s propelled partially by the upbeat pacer’s one-man Michael Jackson tribute. Wearing a single white glove to honor the recently departed entertainer he exhorted us to sing along even if we, or more likely he, didn’t know the lyrics to the King of Pop’s songs.
Almost immediately after setting off, it became clear this race was going to have tremendous spectator support. Certainly many of the folks lining the route were friends or relatives of the runners cheering them toward the finish, but as we entered a normally quiet residential area I could tell many of the high-fiving, cowbell shaking spectators were native Seattleites offering full-throated support and encouragement for us tech shirt clad visitors.
And, as if cheering families, motivating cheer squads, and enthusiastic volunteers handing out water weren’t enough to lift my spirits, my first “wow!” moment sure was. Running through Seward Park around mile 6 the course turned to hug the shore of Lake Washington. Truly a beautiful sight with the sun-dappled water gently lapping against the shoreline. For a few moments I forgot about running and thought more about water skiing even as I saw the Lake Washington Bridge which we would cross in about three miles off in the distance.
My mind back on running I kept on to the bridge where those running the half sped off into the city, while the full marathon crowd put in a couple of out and back miles. There under a now very warming sun I saw the 3:20s drift farther out in front of me, and I made my way off the sun-baked bridge and into the cool shade of a tunnel leading downtown. One of the many bands lining the route had set up at the other end of the tunnel, and the echoes of their music boomed down the tunnel toward us runners creating a surreal, slightly disorienting atmosphere.
Moments later I came off the expressway which hugs Safeco Field, turned to head downtown, and experienced my next “wow!” moment. The next few blocks were lined with spectators cheering, clapping, and exhorting us runners on. Briefly amidst the urban scene and the noise of the crowd, even though my pace didn’t warrant it, I felt like an elite runner nearing the finish line. I carried that mental image for another minute as I turned and headed north toward Lake Union and the hillier back portion of the course.
An elite no more I gradually began to slow down as the sun, the long inclines, and the lactic acid building up in my legs began to exact their toll. I found it important during this stretch to keep hydrated and fueled while quieting the voice in my head urging me to take it easy and perhaps stop running. Not quite a wall, but I definitely was feeling a little tired. However, I pressed forward through the remaining miles and the last cruel out and back located tantalizingly close to the finish at Qwest Field. Finally, after 3:30:56 worth of effort I crossed the finish line and accepted my medal.
At the race expo the day before I listened to author/runner John Bingham relate a lesson he had learned from elite runners. “They don’t think about pace,” he said. Instead they believe effort dictates pace, not the other way around. And that maxim held true for me. I had set out to run at a pace which would lead to a 3:20 to 3:25 finish, but the warm conditions of the day dictated my slower effort, and I am very happy with my ultimate finish time and pace. After a couple of recovery days, though, I’m going to get right back on the streets and get ready for the next race and perhaps another visit to Seattle.
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