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A Little Help From My Friends: California International Marathon Race Report December 9, 2011

Posted by thepixelsuite in Fitness, marathon, Running.
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Leave some medals for the rest of us!

The California International Marathon is a traditional west coast launching pad for runners vying for a spot in the Boston Marathon. Many folks, myself included, have taken advantage of the fast, net downhill course which wends its way from Folsom to the Capitol in Sacramento to punch their Patriots Day ticket.

My last training run in the bank, I threw my kit together and headed to Sacramento. Hit the expo and later met up with dailymile friends Caleb M. and Chris S. for an early pre-race dinner at Pyramid Alehouse topped off with one of their tasty, seasonal Snow Cap Ales. Good times catching up and talking about race strategy and expectations. Using good natured one-upsmanship to motivate one another they had both trained hard in a quest to turn in a time in the low 2:30s. With the new rolling registration for Boston in mind my goal was something in the 3:19 to 3:14 range which would put me in one of the early registration pools.

Race day dawned cool and calm with no hint of the winds that had been buffeting the state all week. Perfect race day weather. After milling about in the warmth of a hotel lobby, I piled onto a bus with lots of other excited runners and had a pleasant conversation with my seatmate all the way up to the starting area in Folsom. Dawdled on the bus a bit to soak up every last bit of warmth before heading out into the familiar swirl of the potty/sweats bag truck/start line maelstrom. I love the start of a big race like this—the cheers rising up from the runners as taper-tamped, pent-up energy is released; the arcs of discarded clothing flying through the air; and the arrhythmic beat of thousands of feet slapping the asphalt. Before me 26.2 miles of car-free streets devoid of meandering pedestrians and overzealous yapping dogs. The time had come to make a substantial withdrawl from my mileage bank and run a smart race.

Now, the first rule of marathon running is you don’t talk about marathon running. The second rule is don’t go out too fast which is difficult at CIM. The course trends downhill and starts off with a long, discipline-busting downhill. Soon, however, you have a chance to reconnect with your pace plan as you encounter the first of many of the race’s rolling hills. Another one of my early pacing problems involved missing the first couple of mileage markers. Not only did I not see the signs for miles 1 and 2, but I also did not hear the familiar chimes of multiple Garmins announcing the split. I’m certain I ran my first mile faster than my first split of 21:31 would indicate.

The miles clicking by I noticed I was passing a lot of runners, and my splits (6:50, 7:04, 7:04 for Miles 4 through 6) indicated I was setting myself up for a late stage, cramp-plagued meltdown. For me being out in front of the 3:10 pace group at mile 5 is a boneheaded move. Just then I noticed two fast looking fellows (don’t judge, you’ve thought the same thing, too) who were keeping up a pace I thought I could manage. I tucked in behind them and let them pull me down the course using their tremendous pace discipline to help me maintain metronomic splits ranging between 7:00 to 7:16 from miles 7 through 21. With my wee pace group set, I focused on my nutrition plan sucking on GU Chomps, taking water at almost every aid station (twice opting for the electrolyte drink to stave off those leg cramps), and two gels in the later miles after the half marathon mark.

As the race wore on I couldn’t believe I was still keeping up with my mini pace group. Each time they surged ahead a little I easily closed the gap and stayed with them. And, as the distance remaining dropped to single digits, the 3:10 pace group still hadn’t passed by. It was beginning to believe it might be a special day. I had hoped to stay with my group through the finish so I could thank them for helping me, but at mile 20 the duo took off leaving me to bring it home on my own. I flew up the last uphill on the bridge near mile 22 and headed onto the tree-lined streets of Sacramento enjoying the energy of the surprisingly large amount of clapping, waving, boisterous spectators.

By now I was feeling a bit of discomfort in my hips and feet reflected in the slight upward trend of my splits, which while higher remained remarkably consistent—7:22, 7:20, 7:20, and 7:21 for Miles 22-25—but I sped forward picking off a few more runners as we headed to the Capitol. Rounding the final turn I kicked past one last runner and bounded across the finish line. Stopped my watch and looked down to see 3:08:10, smashing my previous PR by a full ten minutes and giving me plenty of cushion for the new Boston qualifying requirements. I was stunned; I had never before run a marathon without running multiple miles at over an 8 minute per mile pace, and now I had finished one keeping the pace under 7:21 throughout. Elated, I ran over to greet the fabulous Layla B., volunteering for medal duty. She gave me a great, ”You’re finished already?!” along with a big hug.

And with that my race day was finished, and training for my next challenge had begun.


How Far How Fast? February 12, 2011

Posted by thepixelsuite in marathon.
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There are two questions I often get when folks find out I’ve run marathons. The first is, “How far is a marathon?” And the second, “How long does it take you to run it?” While I’ll never be mistaken for an elite runner, I’ve run a race or two at a fairly good clip managing to pound out times between 3:35 and 3:18. By way of comparison the Houston Marathon Committee, which is hosting the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials, sent out an email with the following facts attached.

Houston is the first city to host both men’s and women’s races at the same Olympic Trials Marathon.
Below are the top 5 fastest men’s and women’s qualifying times as of Feb. 12, 2011:

1. 2:08:41 Ryan Hall (CA) 2010 Boston Marathon 
2. 2:09:15 Meb Keflezighi (CA) 2009 New York City Marathon 
3. 2:10:00 Dathan Ritzenhein (OR) 2009 London Marathon 
4. 2:10:36 Brett Gotcher (AZ) 2010 Houston Marathon 
5. 2:11:06 Jason Hartmann (OR) 2010 Chicago Marathon 

1. 2:26:20 Desiree Davila (MI) 2010 Chicago Marathon
2. 2:26:22 Magdalena Lewy Boulet (CA) 2010 Fortis Marathon Rotterdam
3. 2:28:40 Shalane Flanagan (OR) 2010 New York City Marathon 
4. 2:29:35 Stephanie Rothstein (AZ) 2011 Houston Marathon
5. 2:30:53 Tera Moody (CO) 2010 Chicago Marathon

Chevron Houston Marathon 2010 Race Report January 20, 2010

Posted by thepixelsuite in marathon.
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Crossing the starting line (photo by Nick de la Torre / Houston Chronicle)

I’m still not convinced everything is bigger in Texas, but the Chevron Houston Marathon with its exceptionally well-organized 5k, half marathon, and full marathon events certainly is. I won’t soon forget the thousands of helpful volunteers, the flat, looping course, and the many articles of Texas flag-themed running clothes I saw. But staying with my sister and her family had to be the highlight of the whole trip.

My sister was a fantastic host during my stay in Houston. Not only did she open up her house to me so I’d have a comfortable, familiar place to stay while visiting Houston, she also drove me all over creation. On Friday, after my last four-mile tune-up run, she took me downtown to the George R. Brown Convention Center so I could pick up my race packet. We wandered around the expo picking up cowbells (so she could cheer me on), mini Chevron cars (for the nieces), but not a signed photo of the Houston Rockets cheerleaders, which I insisted my brother-in-law would have appreciated. We also looked for a pair of shoes for her in case, you know, she might want to kick her half marathon training up a notch. My goody bag full, we headed back to her house where I spent the next day and a half watching playoff football, horsing around with my little nieces, and trying not to think too much about the upcoming race.

Getting ready to go.

When my alarm went off Sunday morning, though, I jumped out of bed and was ready. I threw on my running attire, grabbed my sweats bag, and bundled myself into my sister’s truck for the drive back into town to the convention center. By the time I got there the huge space was packed with folks stretching, dropping off their sweats bags, or attending either the Protestant or Catholic church services. Soon the time came to head back out into the pre-sunrise chill to line up in the starting corral. I always love these pre-race moments where the excited voice of the race announcer echoes off the surrounding buildings, the sun is starting to color the sky, and dozens of runners quietly run by doing their warm-ups. I found the 3:20 pace group, cheered as the wheelchair group started off, listened to a too-high rendition of our National Anthem, and waited for the boom of the cannon which sent us on our way.

I was floored by the crowd support this event generates. Immediately after crossing the starting line, folks lined the course to cheer us runners on, and the signs, music, and even belly dancing would accompany us along almost every block of the course. I don’t think I’ve heard the phrases, “Keep it up!” and “You look great!” so many times in one day. I loved the bagpipe player around mile 11 (after all among other things I am Scottish), the non-traditional blue jumpsuit-clad Elvis impersonator, and the trio of girls who got me to smile when they broke out their impromptu version of Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi. I even got sprinkled with holy water.

Last month’s race in Sacramento is notable for its rolling downhill course. This race by comparison is flat, flat, flat. We had to tough it out over a couple of highway over and underpasses, but, unless you want to work on your speed, there is no need to do any hillwork when preparing for this race.

What I should have worked on prior to this race was my counting skills as I’ll discuss shortly.

After qualifying for Boston last month, I wanted to run a qualifying time again in Houston to show myself I could repeat my performance on a course which lacked Sacramento’s downhill profile. Of course, I told myself, if the going got tough I could always slow down and relax knowing I’d already punched my ticket to Boston. So, after the initial mile with all its jostling and jockeying for space, I went out a little faster than I normally do. In running circles this is a big no-no, but I feel I’m eventually going to have to learn how to go out fast and maintain that pace. Certainly I can use my training runs to test myself, and there may be a little more treadmill work in my future to help me learn to stay at the same pace over distance. But there’s nothing like race day conditions to really work on this.

What I didn’t count on though, despite all the time, training, and planning that goes into getting ready for a race is how much little intangibles come into play. Early on, I could already tell I just didn’t have “it” and this race was going to be a little difficult to run. Even after a few miles, when I normally feel I’ve warmed up, I still felt tired and I was having trouble breathing properly. Yet I persisted with my strategy of staying slightly ahead of the 3:20 pace group which I hoped to happily tuck into and join if they eventually reeled me in. My splits for the first 11 miles were pretty good, but begin a slow, inexorable upward trend at about the halfway point.

And, as I mentioned earlier, it didn’t help I had apparently lost the ability to count.

It’s important to have a good hydration and nutrition plan to get you through a race, and through much trial and error I’ve determined I need four GUs (Lemon Lime if you’re interested) to get through 26.2 miles. At the start of the race I hit the interval timer on my stop watch, and every forty minutes thereafter I downed a pouch of GU. I got through packets one and two just fine, but missed taking number three on time. To make matters worse, when I dug through the pockets of my shorts I only came across one packet which made me wonder, “Did I already have the third GU?”

As we turned to enter Memorial Park, I was starting to slow down more, and even though I made it through the dreaded mile 20 wall, I felt my energy flagging. When the 3:20s caught me right at mile 22, I tried to match their pace for a few strides before I pulled up and started to walk for a bit. My legs had stiffened, and while it just seemed too difficult to maintain a quick pace, overall I felt pretty good physically. At that moment, however, I felt drained of energy and would have killed for an orange slice, or, say, a GU, which unbeknownst to me was nestled deep in the bottom of one of my pockets. Walking along catching my breath I told myself I already had my Boston qualifier, and I could slow down and enjoy the end of this marathon. As I walked forward, however, a lot of folks called out encouragement, and quickly I started running the last few miles to the finish.

One last little jolt of energy when I passed my sister before mile 23 and then the shock of mile 26.

Almost there.

I had crossed the start line shortly after the gun went off, and, as I passed the clock at mile 26 it read 3:19:56. It looked like I could still run a qualifying time! I don’t know where the energy came from, but I picked up my pace and lengthened my stride and made it to the finish line as fast as I could. I crossed and moments later stopped my watch and looked down: 3:21:01. My watch time was unofficial, but I had obviously either run or missed a qualifying time by mere seconds. I didn’t care though, and I was pretty giddy as I headed into the convention center to stretch, down some water and ice cream (!), and pickup my swag. When I met up with my beaming, proud sister, she had the good news. The marathon web site listed my time at 3:20:55; not a PR, but definitely a bit of an ego boost!

I might not have given all I had out there on the race course, but I think the picture below shows I gave a lot.

Believe me, it's not as bad as it looks

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Wicked Awesome December 13, 2009

Posted by thepixelsuite in marathon, Running.
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And we're off

photo by Paul Kitagaki, Jr. of the Sacramento Bee

It’s been a week now since I ran the California International Marathon in Sacramento, California, and enough time has passed for me to both recover and attempt to get my thoughts together. First off I should say this marathon was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had since I took up running. By the time I found myself in the starting area with thousands of fellow runners I had already gone through a terrific, injury-free training cycle and a relaxed taper period which allowed my body to recover before race day. The race itself was marked by fantastic organization from the warm buses which whisked us up to the start area outside of Folsom Dam to the occasionally top-hatted folks at the mile markers calling out splits. And, since the event wends its way through many neighborhoods in the Sacramento area, the crowd support and cheering, despite the low temperatures, was full-throated and enthusiastic.

I arrived in Sacramento late Saturday and spent just enough time at the expo to pick up my number, tech shirt and goody bag. I’m not of a fan of the three-part pick-up routine the CIM folks put us runners through, but I did like the peace of mind afforded by the chip-verifying procedure. At the expo I met up with Kathy, Elizabeth, Kelly, and Ben and chatted with them a bit about our dinner plans before heading back to the hotel for a short rest. Later we all drove out to the local Buca di Beppo’s where we feasted on heaping helpings of spaghetti and meatballs and lasagne washed down with a couple of glasses of a serviceable Zinfandel. Then back to the hotel to say our good-byes and good lucks and up to the room to lay out my running garb and get my sweats bag ready. Two alarms and a wakeup call set followed by a fitful night’s sleep, and suddenly my first 4 am alarm rang. I took my time getting ready and made my way down to the lobby which was filling up with other sleepy runners waiting for the buses.

Sitting in the darkened bus rumbling up the freeway toward the starting line, I had time to reflect on the task at hand. In a way I was chasing a goal I never knew I wanted to achieve–a Boston-qualifying finish. I hadn’t trained with that goal explicitly in mind, and, when asked what my goal time for this race was, I mentioned a 3:20 to 3:25 range. At the fast end I’d be Boston bound, and at the other end I’d snag a PR which I felt confident I could achieve at this race. CIM is a net downhill course which drops about 320 feet by the time runners reach the finish on the grounds of the State Capitol. But while the course may trend downhill, you still have to run the darn thing! It’s no secret, however, this is a fast race many people use to qualify for Boston, and the last few weeks of training runs led me to believe I might have just enough speed in my legs to squeak under the 3:20 threshold I’d need to qualify. However, standing and shivering in the 28 degree weather, I still didn’t want to commit to running with the 3:20 pace group, and I instead lined up near where the 3:30 group was standing. But as the mass of runners moved closer to the Start Line following the wheelchair racers start, I found myself also inching forward, and then I was off without being in the midst of any particular group.

The course starts on a nice downhill slope, and, as quickly as I could, I moved to the right to be out of the crush of racers in a zone where I could fall into a comfortable pace. Ever aware of the sensible advice to not go out too fast at the beginning of a race, I used the first two miles to literally warm up and then improbably found myself near the 3:20 pace group. As I matched their cadence I felt they weren’t pushing me outside of my comfort zone and the pace felt similar to what I could hold during my training runs. Right then I figured I’d stay with them for as long as I could, and when they began to pull ahead later on the course I’d drift back and try for my 3:25 goal.

Of course, racing is more than enduring the physical challenge of pounding out 26.2 miles, so to get through the mental portion of the race I played out two scenarios. First, I divided the race into 4 10k segments with an additional two miles tacked on. As the race went on I found breaking it down into smaller portions made things easier as I now had a set of smaller achievable goals to hit throughout the marathon. The second mental scenario I used was to visualize one of my training routes and overlay its sights onto the course at hand. I’m not familiar with the streets of Sacramento or its suburbs, but I’ve run some of my training runs so many times, I could probably do them blindfolded. So whenever my mind wandered during any one of the six mile portions of distance I’d think about where I would be on one of training runs, and I’d quickly relax knowing I could easily get to the end of any six mile split.

Around mile 10 I got a nice lift when I saw Kelly, Ben, and Elizabeth cheering us runners on, and I got another boost when I hit the halfway point at 1:39:32. I was still feeling strong and running with a lot of confidence, and if I could keep up this pace, I would qualify for Boston.

However, I would still be content if I had to drift back and try to just pick up a PR. But as the miles ticked by I suddenly found the biggest motivation to keep up the pace springing from something I had never counted on using. At some point, and I don’t know when or how it happened, I found myself ahead of the 3:20 runners. And mile after mile during the second half of the race I’d see spectators looking behind me while they cheered on the 3:20 group. I was afraid to look back to see how close or far away they were, but as I got closer and closer to the finish I was more and more determined to not let them pass me. At each water stop I could see the great volunteers scrambling as they got ready to accommodate the big group of 3:20 runners, and their wide-eyed enthusiasm spurred me to keep up the pace. Through mile 20, up and over the bridge spanning the American River, and into the neighborhoods nearing the finish I found I had a lot of race left in me.

Just before mile 26 I finally looked down at my watch. I don’t remember exactly what time it read, but I knew I had plenty of time to reach the finish line. At that point I let myself believe I was going to run a BQ time, and I got a little choked up and emotional for just a moment. Rounding the final turn with the finish line in sight I actually slowed down just a bit to let the runner in front of me have his race photo taken without me in it. Then I crossed at 3:18:10 (chip time), had a medal handed to me, and put on a smile which I think lasted for about three days.

Average pace-07:35 6 mile-45:01 13 mile-1:39:32 20 mile-02:35:15 Finish-03:18:10

2009 Nike Women’s Marathon October 19, 2009

Posted by thepixelsuite in marathon, Uncategorized.
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Big sports weekend what with the MLB playoffs heating up, lots of great college bowl games, and a full slate of NFL action. But all of that pales in comparison to the big event which took place right here in San Francisco. I’m talking about the 2009 running of the Nike Women’s Marathon. 20,000 half and full marathoners took to the streets of our fair city to tackle a course which offered breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, a loop through lovely Golden Gate Park, and an out and back along Ocean Beach. The course also featured  a fair amount of the hills San Francisco is know for.

Although there were a couple of gents sprinkled into the field here and there, I wasn’t participating in the race. Instead the honey and I along with a group of our close friends were cheering on another friend of ours participating in her first marathon. So to her and all the other folks who made the NWM such a special event, congratulations, and I hope to see you out there next year.

Runners passing through Golden Gate Park

Runners passing through Golden Gate Park

These gals are fast!

These gals are fast!

Full and half marathoners meet at an aid station in the park.

Full and half marathoners meet at an aid station in the park.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Finish line is in sight, but still can't see the firefighters.

Finish line is in sight, but still can't see the firefighters.

2009 San Francisco Marathon Race Report July 28, 2009

Posted by thepixelsuite in marathon, Running.
I'm the guy in the white hat.

I'm the guy wearing a white hat.

Photo by Brant Ward of The Chronicle

This past weekend’s San Francisco Marathon capped off my first year as a marathon runner. Starting off at last year’s SFM and continuing through Napa Valley and Seattle’s Rock ‘n’ Roll event I found myself once again standing in a starting corral early on a Sunday morning eagerly waiting to run through the streets of San Francisco.

In pre-sunrise darkness with the necklace of lights hanging from the Bay Bridge reflecting off of the waters of the bay to my right I shuffled my way to the starting line after the elites and first wave runners took to the course. Moments later I was off, sort off. Just as we runners started to jog slowly through the starting line, many of us had to stop short to funnel through some sort of advertising arch positioned in the middle of the street. I don’t know what the ad was for, but I sure hope it’s not a course feature next year. Once I was through the obstacle course though, the pace picked up, and I drifted over to the extreme right hand edge of the street (and occasionally up onto the sidewalk) where there was more room to run without having to weave through knots of runners. The first part of the course is a pancake flat shot through the tourist kitsch of Fisherman’s Wharf whose visual pollution is balanced by the soul-satisfying aroma of freshly baked sourdough bread wafting from the Boudin Sourdough Bakery. Passing the Mile 1 marker I glanced at my watch to check my pace and was happy I was only a few seconds over my goal.

Here I’d like to take a moment to talk about setting a marathon goal pace. In a previous post I wrote about what I took away listening to John Bingham talking about how race day conditions affect the pace you set for yourself. With his words about effort dictating pace not the other way around in mind, I had chosen to run at a pace I’d been able to maintain on some of my previous long runs. A pace which would yield a satisfying PR. And the race day conditions were cooperating as well: cool temps with overcast skies and a light breeze. Mentally and physically I felt good, and when I checked my watch and saw my first split, I sped up just a tick keeping in mind the pacing discipline to not go out too fast. My plan, however, had what would soon become an obvious flaw.

I was trying to maintain a 7:47 minute per mile pace which would yield a finish time of 3 hours and 24 minutes. An odd finish time to be sure, but dictated as I said before by a pace I’ve maintained on longer training runs. The problem is, there’s no 3:24 pace group, and no one was handing out bracelets with 7:47 splits at the expo either. So, I had decided to keep track of my pace as if I were scoring a round of golf. When I hit the split marker on my watch I noted the time and either added or subtracted the seconds I was above or below my pace time. For example, after Mile 1 I was plus 4, and after Mile 2 I was minus 9 which put me 5 seconds under my goal pace. As I cruised along Crissy Field with the fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge in the distance my plan was on track. On the bridge however, with drivers honking encouragement and a fog horn booming away at my feet, I noticed a distinct lack of mile markers. If I was going to continue to use my golf scoring method of keeping track of my pace, I was going to have to quickly add up some pretty weird numbers in my head. Under the best conditions, I’m a bit math challenged, and now, trying to ingest GUs at the right time, while hydrating properly, keeping proper running form, all while enjoying the view and having a good time turned out to be more than the abacus in my head could handle. I kept dutifully recording splits, but I had no way of knowing if I was on my goal pace or not.

With math no longer a concern I was free to focus on enjoying the race, which is easy to do in a place like San Francisco. As if running on the deck of the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t enough of a treat, Mile 10’s long downhill hugs the edge of a cliff overlooking some of the city’s finest beaches and the mighty Pacific Ocean. At about mile 12.5 our half marathon friends bid us adieu and we full marathoners began a six mile loop through Golden Gate Park. I am fortunate to run this part of the course almost every week as I train, so I felt very comfortable on my tour past the Bison Paddock, the grey fog misting through the cypress trees, and the old folks getting their early morning groove on to pulsing techno. And thank goodness for the local Hash House Harriers balancing out all that Cytomax and water with the doses of cleansing ale they had on offer. I didn’t partake myself, but just seeing them there on the course made me chuckle as I passed.

Out of the park and a straight shot down Upper and Lower Haight where I high-fived Kelly, one of the co-founders of the dailymile website, who was cheering on runners. I was still feeling good at Mile 21 which barely brushes through San Francisco’s vibrant Mission District. Hopefully the race organizers can be convinced to change the marathon route slightly so next year we runners can experience more of this historic San Francisco neighborhood and less of the industrial blight which greets us around Miles 23 through 25. By the time I reached Dogpatch and the eastern edge of the course, I had definitely slowed down, and my mind was telling me to wrap it up and start walking. My body took a quick inventory, however, and over-ruled my mind. There was no obvious stiffness or cramping going on in my legs, my tummy felt fine, breathing was alright, I was still running upright, and I could see the Bay Bridge which marks Mile 26 in the near distance. In a few minutes I knew I’d be in the chute cruising the final point 2. I rounded AT & T Park and headed up the Embarcaderro clocking a respectable 8:08 for the last full mile. Not enough to make up for straying from my goal time for so many miles, but enough to get me across the finish line in 3:30:24–my second fastest marathon finish and a full five minutes faster than last year’s San Francisco Marathon.

I collected my finishers medal, which is designed to double as a coaster (brilliant I think), accepted heart-felt congratulations and a banana from my family, and headed home to clean up and enjoy the Pancakes of Honor I had earned. Next up is Houston in January, but I’ll be back to run San Francisco again.

Click here for more photos from the hometown fishwrap.

Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Race Report June 29, 2009

Posted by thepixelsuite in marathon.
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Thankfully this wasn't the bathroom line.

Thankfully this wasn't the bathroom line.

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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Rocking, Rolling, and Running June 22, 2009

Posted by thepixelsuite in marathon, Running.
Tags: , ,

26.2 miles of fun. No really.
When Thursday dawns, I’m heading north to Seattle.

After months of training runs, multiple pairs of running shoes, and lots of GU, I’m ready to take to the streets of Seattle for its inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. Twenty-six miles starting in Tukwila before heading toward downtown , north to Lake Union and then back south to Qwest Field. Passing near the finish line twice (at about miles 13 and 24) before crossing it will be tough. But I know the energy of all the other runners, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and spectators, and, of course, the pulsing music of bands stationed along the route-a Rock ‘n’ Roll trademark-will help me across the finish line.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a great training period which I started shortly after finishing the Napa Valley Marathon in March. As race day approaches I’ve felt stronger and more confident as I run. I believe I’ve even gotten over my sun/heat aversion and have proven to myself I can run well in those conditions. And, perhaps most important, this has been the first time I’ve trained to run a marathon without sustaining any sidelining injury. No IT Band problems, hip issues, or foot ailments. Just weeks of relatively pain-free running, and now I’m ready to experience the all the rolling hills and lovely scenery Seattle has to offer.

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