Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 16th Edition 

1 mile skied, 1250 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 244.5 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon
Place: Hyak, WA
Miles from home: 210 miles
Weather: 60-70s; Sunny

I had heard good things about this race prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest.  I had originally thought about running its twin sister race (less aid stations potentially cooler weather) in September but it interfered with my 150 mile Dane to Davenport run.  So when registration opened for the July event, I figured I would give it a go.

My concerns for the race revolved around the potential for a very warm day and the relatively few aid stations if such a warm day occurred. Nowhere in my planning was I worried about a massive staph infection in my foot in April that would change my plans for this race. Originally I thought I would use this race, with a long sloping downhill which played to my strengths, to attempt a new PR in the marathon.  Instead, happy to simply be running, I hoped I could knock a sub-3 hour time. If things went right, perhaps I could nail a 2:57. Why that time? Well, I have run a marathon with a time from 2:55 to 3:31 (every minute) except 2:57. So if I am going for a sub-3, might as well try and get that out of the way as well. But that 2:57 would just be gravy and I wasn’t going to try too hard for it.

I had run two marathons in the previous two weeks, both in warm temperatures. While this would be the coolest of the three, it would be nothing close to ideal for me.  The course only had 9 aid stations which gave me serious thought about carrying a handheld water bottle. I am not saying this was too few aid stations, I am saying it was
1. too few
2. for me
3. on a hot day
4. to try and run fast.

However, given I was concerned about losing any seconds on the run at all, I knew stopping to fill a handheld would decimate any time buffer I built in.  So I decided to eschew the bottle and simply hydrate well at each aid station.

Race Day:

The morning broke, unfortunately, clear as could be.  Nary a wisp of clouds broke the sky. I had ventured up to the area about a month prior with my friend Shannon to not only see how the course was laid out, but also see how the weather would be hitting us as we ran.  The course definitely provides some benefit by continually dropping for all but three miles. However, it is an open course (re: other runners, cyclists and potentially horse riders), it is a trail (albeit very forgiving in some sections) and it is, for about half of the race, rather exposed to the elements. I am very happy I came up to run the race and it is one of the few that I knew in advance I was up for taking on the challenge.
Kept looking for Vin Diesel.

First 6 Miles:7:04, 6:44, 6:50, 6:58, 6:41, 6:54

The race is aptly named as about a half of a mile into the race runners are plunged into pitch black darkness as they enter a cool, damp and glorious tunnel. For a little over two miles you can see a pinprick of light up ahead that you simply can’t believe is that far away. I am very happy I ran this alone previously as one could not fully appreciate it with all the head bobbing of headlamps from other runners. I had told Shannon it would be a very nice touch if the organizers put mile markers in the tunnel with flares or lanterns or something like that.  Lo and behold, at miles 1 and 2 there were glow sticks and a little line of fluorescent paint. I was pretty blown away as I was mostly thinking what I thought would be great was a pie in the sky thought.

Exiting the tunnel was the first aid station at roughly mile three where you also handed off your headlamp to volunteers who would take it down to the finish. I had no problem with the first aid station being at mile 2.6 or the second being at mile 5.3. To be honest, if you are that thirsty that short of a time into a race, it might be a bad day for you. Nevertheless, I lustily drank at the aid station knowing that the blissful coolness of the tunnel was now behind me. I knew for the next few miles there would be a dappling of bright sunshine and I just wanted to keep the core temperature low.
Sweating on a cool day a month prior to the race checking out the course.

I knew I was somewhere roughly in the top ten of runners but did not care one bit who I passed or who passed me.  The trails was hewn directly out of the side of the mountain and the dropoff to our right was both spectacular and a little bit unnerving.  I was again happy I had the chance to run this on a non-race day as I definitely was not experiencing the visages around me. That’s pretty typical for me in a race of any effort- the ground six feet in front of me is where my concentration is focused.  

Onto the Half: 6:53, 6:37, 6:50, 6:47, 6:58, 6:39, 6:44

The mile markers were a little off here and there, but one could almost guarantee that if you ran about 10 seconds fast on one mile, it would be ten seconds slow on the next. Pretty standard fare really.  As long as the end result was a 6:52 mile or less on average I was just fine. Around the 6th mile I began running with a pair of guys who would be with or near me for the remainder of the race: Dan and Graham. While Graham was running his first marathon and Dan had a few more marathons under his belt, both were accomplished athletes and we shared stories and kept each other company. As I am wont to do, my energy ebbed and flowed and I went with it. Sometimes I was leading our trio, and other times I fell to the side. At one point around the 11th mile I felt a slight waning in my energy, felt I was under my desired paced and backed off a bit.  Within half a mile I was back feeling great and joined the fellas again.
Might have run faster if I did not scale a hill to take this. Kidding.

By now we had caught and passed many of the early starters of the race and some others who were just out hiking or walking. To this day, I will never understand the lack of situational awareness of many people.  I don’t classify it as rudeness but rather just a seeming lack of realization that the entire universe, except for one infinitesimally small accident, is comprised of everything BUT you. On numerous occasions we had to juke and jive around people walking abreast or on the wrong side of the trail.  Minor bothers obviously but still ones that make me wonder.  I know on the odd occasion when my mind wanders and I inconvenience others around me I become so heightened in my surroundings that it will be quite some time before that happens again. Random aside here but hey, I had time to think as I ran down the hill. I also had time to occasionally look at the awesome bridge trestles we crossed and marvel at how fantastic some of the feats of engineering that humans create really are.

I hit the half way point at 1:29:30 which meant that I had 30 seconds to play with for the second half. I felt strong and nothing was hurting.  Perhaps I would get that sub-3.

To Mile 20: 7:00, 7:08, 6:59, 6:51, 7:20, 7:02, 6:38

Shortly after the halfway point, having passed Dan and Graham and spearheading our charge, I told I told them to drink heartily at the aid station ahead. We would not get another for 3 miles and we definitely were beginning to feel a warm sun licking on our backs. (Temperature when I finished would already be a 71 degrees.)

For a few miles I had felt the need to use the bathroom.  This was not surprising given the night before I had visited the toilet nearly every hour. What was surprising was that the liquid hadn’t been knocking at my bladder more often and louder. Finally, during the 15th mile I had to stop and relieve myself. Dan and Graham would pass me here and put quite some distance between us.  However, feeling much better I made up some ground over the next few miles. That said, by mile 17, the bathroom break had killed the cushion I built.  Then something odd happened.

For the next 3 miles, from 17-19, my pace slowed exponentially. I began doing the math of what I thought I was now going to run. A sub-3 seemed completely out of the question. Was I going to run a 3:03?  Could I hold on and get a BQ minus five? I had no idea what was going to happen.  Then, just as suddenly as the waning hit me, it disappeared. I felt instantly better and my paced dropped. Looking back I think it had to do with the lack of fluid availability for 3 miles but I do not think that was the only culprit. Regardless, I knew the remaining six miles, with a mostly shaded trail and a gentle downhill would allow me to make up some time.
Turn right after the sign or you will have a bad time. L&F.

A nice long straight stretch allowed me to see Dan and Graham and a few other runners as well.  While obviously the entire race had a downward slope, this section felt a little more downhill than others and I leaned into it. My pace quickened, I shortened my stride and relaxed my arms. Soon, I had Dan next to me and was ready to push forward. Earlier, I told Dan I ran the way my energy went and that like life, a marathon is all about surviving the ebbs and crushing it on the flows. Here as I passed him, Dan said: "I am ebbing."

Heading to the Finish: 6:57, 7:13, 7:02, 7:05, 7:07, 7:10, 1:28

I started crunching numbers after two feel good miles. It looked like I was running right around a pace that would put me in at thirty seconds over three hours. Ugh. In order to break 3:00 I would have to pick up the pace roughly 6 seconds per mile. While I was feeling good again, knew I had a shaded final few miles and had dug deeper in the past, I wasn’t sure I had it in me today. Six seconds doesn't really seem like a great deal but sometimes, one second seems like a herculean effort. I decided if my next mile was under 6:52, I would say the heck with it all and make it hurt a whole bunch for the final four miles. When I saw 7:13, I knew going sub-3 wasn’t in the cards.  I was aware I wasn’t slowing down in comparison to the runners around me as I was leaving Dan behind me and catching up to those in front of me. Every small twist in the run would have me popping out that much closer to the runners in my sight.  But I simply wasn’t going to get a sub-3.
Baking at Pacific Crest

Well, I could possibly get a sub-3.  But it required more energy than I felt like expending. So, basically, I got lazy.  Two weeks ago I hadn’t run a marathon since November.  Since then I had done a hot marathon at Pacific Crest in Sunriver, OR in a 3:20.  Five days later, the equally hot Foot Traffic Marathon in Portland had me hitting a 3:11.  I was pretty sure what I would be able to run simply by maintaining pace and it would be something I could live with.

The only question remained was whether I would catch the one runner in front of me who looked catchable.  As the marathon flattened out completely (note: the race averaged only about 80 feet per mile of downhill. This is definitely something which is helpful for those who have trained but not exactly falling off a cliff) I closed the gap a little more.  Yet, I had run out of real estate.

I passed under the wonderful arch flying Old Glory while Tony Phillippi of the Marathon Maniacs called out my name on the loud speaker (as he did with every runner) in a time of 3:01:52.  This was the fastest marathon I had run in over two and a half years. It was the fourth time I had run a marathon with a 3:01 in it.  It was only my 21st fastest marathon ever.  But it felt very good.
Nice Bling!

Placed around my neck was one of the nicest medals I have seen in quite some time. Past that was an absolute glorious spread of liquids and eats for the runners. The car lot for parking to catch the shuttles to the start of the race was just .2 of a mile away. Virtually everything about the race was topnotch.

My new buddies Dan and Graham both ran stellar times with Graham garnering a 2:58 and Dan a 3:03.  One poor soul who passed me earlier in the race and whom I had been reeling in had the insufferable agony of just missing a sub 3 by running a 3:00:13. Heck of a run, Tyler.

There were also tons of people who set massive PRs at this race.  One in particular, Steve Walters, known as the Marathon Freak, dropped roughly 5 minutes from his previous PR best.  Steve is know in the Pacific Northwest for this prolific race directing as well as race running.  I was pleasantly surprised to see him finish so close to me. Also, belying age, the first female runner Wanda Gau, broke the proverbial tape in 3:04 at the age of 51. A gentleman I saw talking to her before the race (and as they both hail from Minnesota may very well know each other) ran a 3:03 - at age 62! Wow all around.

In addition, my great friend Shannon ran her fourth marathon in two weeks (and her fastest of the four) as she trains for her first 100 miler.  A plethora of people had personal bests and Boston Qualifiers. I think this speaks not just to the course, which can be run fast if trained for properly, but also the level of competition. Finishing 12th overall in this group of people is something I am quite pleased with. 

I hope to continue on this trajectory and perhaps, if the foot continues to heal, maybe take another shot at some PRs as the year goes on.


Dan Froelich said...

Great writeup! I was glad to have you as a guide, especially with the aid spacing and the HUGE hill at mile 8.
Nice run!

Graham VanderSchelden said...

It was a gorgeous run! It was great having you two experienced guys to help me pace and keep me from doing anything stupid in the first 3/4 of the race :)

S said...

Thanks for sharing your race story Dane! What was the high temp on race day? I'm considering running this one.