A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 21th Edition
489.9 miles raced in 2008
Race: Seattle Marathon
Place: Seattle, WA
Miles from home: 845 miles
Weather: 50s; fog
It has only been three weeks since I both ran a marathon and wrote a recap but it felt as if it had been ages. I had been in California for the marathon, went back to SLC, traveled to California again, stopped briefly in SLC again before skirting over to Ohio; drove to Pennsylvania for a week, drove back to Ohio and then finally flew to Seattle. Remembering I was not in my own bed was not the problem, trying to figure out what time zone I was in is what gave me pause.
I have been eagerly anticipating the entire Seattle Marathon weekend for months upon months. When I began my new career as a full-time speaker, the Seattle Marathon people were some of the first to welcome me with open arms. A full slate of events were planned for the weekend, including a book-signing, a 5k run, a full-day at the expo, my speech at the pasta dinner and then a little 26.2 miler to wrap it all up.
Well, my new book, See Dane Run finished printing too late to promptly get its wet ink in book form to Seattle for signing so my enthusiastic friends/family/fans had to settle for me signing posters at the expo and books promised to be signed later. I got to meet many people with whom I had been speaking for quite some time now, including Bradley, who has lost over 60 lbs in his transformation from chunky man to 3:30 marathon finisher!
I was curious how I would handle the Seattle Marathon. I had been planning to set a new personal best at the Tucson Marathon the week after Seattle for some weeks, so I obviously did not want to wear myself at Seattle. Then after spending a week running in 20 degree temperatures and inches upon inches of snow while visiting my parents for Thanksgiving, I saw the forecast for the Seattle Marathon looked perfect: highs in the 50s, partly cloudy, ho humidity. Should I instead try and run a personal best here even though I had just put in 70 miles in the previous 7 days? Or should I stick to the original plan, run a relaxed sub-3:10, and see if the downhill course of Tucson would finally give me that elusive sub 2:50? I knew it would be a race morning decision or rather one I would make after the first 10k of the race, which is how long it usually takes me to know how I feel in a marathon.
Prior to the race, I had been asked to participate in the Kids Marathon. An endeavor that the Seattle Marathon created to foster both physical fitness and general well-being, children had to either complete 25 miles of exercise in the year leading up to the marathon or in the alternative, read 13 books and do 13 “good deeds”. When they got to the day of the Kids Marathon they were to run the last 1.2 miles of their race and finish on the same football field that all racers would trod the next day. Personally I started with the very first kids and would continually run back and forth amongst not only the children but their parents offering words of encouragement and praise. Two great stories came out of this day.
First, as I ventured towards the back of the pack to bring the last few runners in, I saw one child, perhaps 5 years old, wearing one shoe and one sandal. I inquired to his mother if he had lost a shoe to which she said: “Actually, he broke his toe yesterday but was not going to miss his chance to finish what he started.” A broken toe?! I know plenty of people who that would out on the couch for weeks but here was little Nate, soldiering on, and nary a grimace or wince on his face.
After leaving Nate and his mother I saw one little girl bringing up the absolute rear. In rain boots and a slicker, little Lana had apparently just signed up minutes before the race after convincing her mom and grandmother to let her run. Trudging along, with one hand holding what looked like a granola bar of some sort, Lana immediately became one of my favorite things ever. As we neared the finish line, Lana’s mother called her grandmother who was running next to Lana on the cell phone. Lana’s grandmother asked if I wanted to hold Lana’s hand to the finish line. Tell her I would be honored, I offered a pinkie for Lana to grasp onto which she did with a viselike grip.
Hitting the final 50 yards to massive amounts of cheers, Lana undoubtedly captured lots of hearts as we crossed the finish line. Seeing her mother waiting for her, a smile broke across her face and she began to sprint towards her, pulling me in tow as she refused to let go of my finger! My goofy smile must have been unsurpassed by few others' that morning. Lana’s mother had her pose with me for a picture and I can only hope that it finds its way to my email inbox.
After that excitement, I was unsure what I could do for an encore. However, an afternoon of sitting in the expo and greeting people awaited me and there are few things I like more than interacting with runners. I received both countless, and semi-embarrassing, expressions of how so many were inspired by my 52 Marathon spree in 2006. To hear you have any such positive effect on people is something which is hard to duplicate in ordinary life. Forget the health benefits. Forget the euphoria of finishing in a good time. Forget all of that. From now on, when people ask me in particular why I run, this is answer I will give them. If they cannot understand that, then I guess we will have to talk about politics or the environment as I don’t think I have a firm enough grasp of the English language to impart upon them my feelings.
As I left the expo to prepare for my pasta dinner speech, I was already having a wonderful weekend. There are some races that flat-out have a good vibe about them. To me, this race one of them and the running had not even begun. As it turns out, the speech I gave the night before the marathon was one of my bests, or at least it felt like it to me. Just days removed from the Thanksgiving holiday, I was struck with a great sense of life coming full circle. Thanksgiving had always been the closest of holidays for my family. With the passing of my grandparents who were the architects of this holiday, a small family that now spans the vast majority of this continent finds it harder to get together than once before. So while my speech varies every time I give it, this was one time I did more than just mention why my marathoning life has been so tied to my family; especially those who only watch from above now. It was a poignant and meaningful night for me.
A running friend had run Seattle the previous year and set a new personal best, just breaking 3 hours. He told me that the course does not look like it would be a great course to run fast, especially with some challenging hills in the final 5 miles but it gives much more than expected. Luckily for me, I was asked to pace the 3:10 group prior to the race and therefore any internal dilemma to try and set a personal best was alleviated.
I was introduced to the crowd prior to the race and immediately had a group of 1 or so guys who told me they were so glad that a 3:10 pacer had appeared. As always, I told them that if they stuck with me I would promise to get them to the Promised Land.
It would be hard to ask for better running weather. With a temperature in the low 50s, and a sun completely obscured by thick, almost mystical, fog I told those running with me we were in for a good day. When the guy fired and we set off, I had good feelings about the day.
The first few miles of the race were pretty typical of any race that begins in a large city with skyscrapers whose tops were lost in the mist and that eerie feeling of running through busy streets and through red lights with no negative repercussions. As we contended with a few hills and shook out the early race jitters, our pace was not too shabby: 6:58, 7:08, 7:24, 7:13, and 6:53.
Miles 5-7: 7:12, 7:07, 7:24
After a few miles in the city, we went through a very long tunnel. One of favorite fellow pacees was a young guy named Barret (in the grey below). Only 19 years old he had already run four marathons and had just missed qualifying for Boston by a minute. I told him prior to the race that I qualified for Boston in my fifth and he would as well.
But in this tunnel he said to me: “It looks like 28 Days Later”. In case you have not seen the semi-post-apocalyptic movie about super-fast zombies overtaking England, there is a scene where they are chasing down our heroes in a tunnel. And damn it, Barret was 100% right. It did look like that tunnel. I laughed out loud and subconsciously picked up the pace to avoid our brain-eating pursuers.
Bursting out of the tunnel we immediately experienced the coolness of the outside world after the stuffy dryness of the tunnel. However, fog covered everything. There were more than few oohs and ahhs amongst the runners as the sun was just a little yellow plate in the sky, no match for the denseness of the water vapor in the air.
Completely happy that the fog was concealing not only the long bridge in front of us, but also the incline we faced before we turned around to run back over, my group picked up a few more runners.
Turning around at the 10k mark we were perfectly on pace to head back over the bridge. On the other side, we began a quick decent and were spit out onto a two-lane road adjacent to Lake Washington for what would be our home for many miles.
Miles 8-13.1: 7:01, 7:05, 7:32, 7:16, 7:17, 7:14
With the bridge we had just crossed off to the right, shrouded in fog, Lake Washington cool and still, trees lining the road overhead and cool temperatures prevailing, I told the runners to really take this in. Never too much of a poet or a tree-hugger, I nonetheless tried to impart upon them how lucky we all were. It was a glorious day for running and we were really lucky to have such a nice course.
Our feet soon led us to the Seward Park, which was where a thin road, no traffic and tall mossy trees made the race feel like a catered long run. And when I say catered, I am giving a total thumbs-up to the Seattle Marathon for how watered the course was. There was never a want for an aid station as it felt we had that at our disposal every single mile and sometimes more often. Even in the cool temps and sunless sky, the water hit the spot every time we poured it down our throats.
By now, a few different runners would take turns joining me at the front of our running phalanx and I would get to know a little about each of them. The run felt great, there was no labored breath amongst my paces and I envisioned a mass convoy crowding the finish line. I was aware we had a ways to go but I had faith.
We went through the halfway point about a minute faster than perfect pacing but I was not worried. I knew the latter hills could erase 60 seconds in no time at all so my goal was just to keep my hoard even-keeled from here on out.
Miles 14-19: 7:23, 7:28, 7:04, 7:14, 7:15, 7:14
As we exited Seward Park we began to see the mass amount of runners behind us and cheered them on as much as we could without wasting our own energy stores. We began to hit some of our most consistent splits here and everyone seemed to be in sync. I would turn around and run backwards every once in a while to yell encouragement and give little tidbits where I could. I knew we were close to the toughest challenge of the day.
Miles 20-23: 7:43, 7:15, 7:38,
With the biggest hills of the course by far looming ahead, I could feel my pack start to thin. I began to continue to yell out advice but now it was mostly directed towards Barret. We wisely took one of the steepest hills in a controlled manner, using a little of the seconds we had gained in previous faster miles. A twisty-turny section through a very wooded became a little tricky as we began to encounter more walkers and half-marathon runners who impeded our paths.
I would cry out “Boston Qualifier on your Left!” in as jovial a voice as I could, in order to lighten the mood.
Miles 24-Finish: 7:23, 7:18, 7:14, 1:30
It was now down to me and Barret, I was doing everything I could verbally to pull him along. His breathing was more labored now but his eyes were focused. We went up one last long steep hill and upon cresting it could see the Space Needle, and finish line in the distance.
Half-cajoling, half-begging I asked Barret to give me a long hard run down the hill to mile 25 in the distance. I knew it was going to be a close finish. I could tell a sub 3:10 was probably not going to happen but we had those precious 59 seconds in our pockets.
Down a quick steep hill and then back up again, Barret dropped about 10 yards behind me. I knew we were close and I also knew my duty was to break 3:11 no matter what. I was not 100% sure where we were on the course but knew we near the finish. I began to run what was required of me and had to leave Barret to his own designs.
I cruised up the last steep hill and yelled one last time for him to crush it out. One final turn put us into the stadium and 100 yards from the finish line. Crowds cheered as a stream of runners caught up to me and passed me in the final feet. Boston qualifiers abound had made the final push. I crossed the line myself in 3:10:30 and immediately turned around. Just a few yards behind me, hard-charging, was Barret! A few seconds later, he collapsed into a sweaty man hug with me and I yelled “You are going to Boston!!”
This was far and away one of my most exciting pacing duties yet. Barret had been just an awesome runner the entire race and I could not have been more proud of him. He has already emailed me to tell me he has signed up for Boston and hopes to see me there.
He just might. But first I have to go to Tucson and get that new personal best!