Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Windermere Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 9th Edition 
98.4 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Windermere Marathon
Place: Spokane, WA
Miles from home: 360
Weather: 70s; bright sun

No one goes into a race hoping that when they come to the end of it that they have to put a positive spin on What they accomplished. Moral victories suck for the most part. But after a rather disastrous race at the Windermere Marathon, spinning is what the order of the day. However, to shake up my normal format for writing race recaps, I am going to tackle this weekend from some different angles. I know many read my recaps looking for insight into a race, so I will try to provide that here. First off, I will start with the cons of the Windermere Marathon, which I can really only think of two.

(EDIT:  Use "DANE" to save $5 off your registration for 2016!)

1. I hate the name. Windermere is a real estate company and I am sure they are a fine company indeed. However, a race that is nothing but a sponsor’s name leaves the race with no real identity. Even the ‘in-bed-with-USATF-until-2040 Nike’ has the sense to call their race in San Francisco the Nike Women’s Marathon. Again, no insult meant to Windermere but at least throw a Spokane in there somewhere. It's a great town and should be represented. (Which I know it is with the much smaller Spokane Marathon in the fall, but still.)

2. The race is not nearly as downhill or flat as one can be led to believed. There are a great deal of small rises in this race and a variety of medium rises as well.  Plus, and I have said this about many races (including my personal best race) I do not like running on a bike path. Constant twisting and turning and undulations even in the matter of mere feet make for a tough go for some.  And by "some" I mean at least "me" and this is my recap so that is the con you are left with.

Two other complaints I have are more exact day specific but I would like to get them out of the way as well.  Coming into the race the temperatures were known to be much higher than desired for many runners and also higher than normal. While the race did an excellent job of having a plethora of aid stations on the course (one virtually every other mile) they did not keep them adequately stocked with cold drinks.  The only thing worse than not having any liquid is reaching an oasis and being handed a lukewarm drink. This can be remedied in a number of ways. First, instructing volunteers that there is no need to have a hundred cups already filled with liquid and sitting in the sun (especially for a race with ~400 marathoners) will keep the liquids be as cold as possible as long as possible.  There would never be a time when a rush of that many cups would be needed.

Second, ice. LOTS of ice.  Then bring more ice.

My other complaint I will save for a minute as I want to get to the pros of this race, which there are many.
First, the volunteers were plenty and extremely nice as well as encouraging. While there were stretches of long loneliness on the course, where there were spectators they were loud and boisterous in their support.
The vast majority of the race was marked with these little yellow arrows that were rather ubiquitous. It would be very hard to get lost on this course, even if the volunteers were not exceptionally good at keeping one running in the right direction.

The course itself, even with the above bike trail I do not like, spent many a mile wandering next to the Spokane River.  Under a canopy of trees in many places, this trail really was something special to behold.  Well over half of the race is on this trail and I can see the allure. It is quite beautiful.

While I said I did not like the name of the race "Windermere" at least sounds a little regal.  At least it was not the Marathon or something like that. In addition, the mile markers looked like House for sale signs which I thought was a nice touch.

The race started in the town of Liberty Lake and many of the locals of this small community outside of Spokane came out to cheer us on, including the Mayor himself. (On a sidenote, my favorite fact of the day is that Liberty Lake was named after an Etienne Edward Laliberte (a French Canadian-1871), who later changed his name to Steve Liberty. I can’t think of a more made up sounding name than “Steve Liberty” and will be using it in stories henceforth.) This leads to the beginning and essentially the end of my race, all in one.

Being a point to point race (which all runners understand but in reality is a misnomer; all races go from one point to another) this meant runners had to find their way to the start somehow. The race was gracious enough to provide transportation for runners from either the finish or one of a variety of sponsoring hotels. However, while the intention was well-meaning the execution left a little to be desired.

As I sat, a few miles away, with my best friend Shannon and a handful of other runners at one of these hotels 15 minutes before the start, we were all but assured our shuttle was not coming to pick us up. One of the runners rousted her sister from her slumber and with about 14 traffic laws being broken crammed seven of us into an SUV and headed toward the start.  Kinda.

One of the passengers was well-meaning in that they thought they knew where the race started.  While I did know where it started, I assumed the direction they were taking us was one that was maybe not the way one would go by foot (I had originally “worst case scenario” the situation earlier and found out how to hoof it from the hotel) but the way a car would go. I soon realized they were mistaken about the starting location. I took over and began directing.

As we approached the starting locale we could see that no runners were on the course yet even though it was 5 minutes past the 7 a.m. start time.  This was, as first, a welcoming thought. Even though the race was chip timed, none of us wanted to be chasing down groups of people.  As we drew even closer we could see a traffic blockade and a large slew of runners ahead. We piled out of the car as one volunteer said “No problem! They haven’t started yet.” Our driver then took the car away as we raced the few blocks to the start.  That was entirely unnecessary. You see, the race was waiting for the last few shuttles to arrive.  While I never found out if the one which was late arriving to my hotel was one of those shuttles, let’s just say I was both relieved and a little peeved at the same time.

The forecast called for a very warm day. I do not like warm days for races. EVER. My number one recommendation for this race would be to start it no later than 6 a.m. There might be days when it is a little colder but the trade off on days like this is incalculable. When we finally did begin the race, it was 30 minutes past the start time and already in the 60s with not a cloud in the sky. Oh well.

This late start, warm weather, and my general lack of being in shape lately made the first few miles of the race rather perplexing for me.  My hopes were to stick to a nice 7:15 pace for a 3:10 for the day. After four miles, including me purposefully pulling back on the throttle and encountering the biggest hill on the race by far, I was still under three hour pace (or a 6:52 mile.)

Normally, when I hear people who haven’t run more than a few marathons say they were “on pace” for a finish time at 4 miles in, I roll my eyes. It matters little what pace you were on barely 16% into a race. However, I have a little more experience in this genre and when I tell you I felt controlled, I did.  And it felt good. It felt easy. It felt like I was going to slow. Too bad that wouldn’t last.

After a jaunt through Liberty Lake and a little hop onto a city street for a mile we finally headed toward the bike trail. Not before we ran through a little section of cottages that were as cute as a button. One runner remarked that they looked like something directly out of the 60s and Levittown-esque.  (OK, the history nerd writing this added "Levittown-esque" but you get the point.) Before getting to the bike trail, we also ran right past the hotel I had nervously been shuttle watching at about an hour earlier. This gave me a chuckle.

A quick bathroom break had allowed me to check on my hydration levels and I felt good.  It would be, unfortunately, the last time that would happen for many hours.  Even after realizing a sub-3 wasn’t going to happen today and backing off substantially, a 3:05 seemed to be easily in my wheelhouse. More than a few runners who had shot out of the gate like a rocket were coming back into my sights. I figured I would easily get a top 10 finish and a solid backbone for the remainder of the year’s training. Even when I had one runner pass me at mile 10 and his comment of “Only 16 more miles” really got to me, I assumed I would be OK.

Unfortunately, within another mile or two I began to feel some wear and tear.  I backed off the throttle some more knowing all I wanted was something, anything, under 3:10. I didn’t care how far under exactly. In fact, after reaching the halfway point and feeling that I was chafing in an untoward way I spent more than a few seconds at the first aid station reapplying lubricant. I am sure it “helped” but not the way I would want.
The rest of the race can be broken down into two parts

1. The part where I continued to run fairly well, even slowing a bit more as the heat crept up, accepting that I might actually run a 3:10-3:13
2. The part where my body shut down completely and I wondered if this would be the first marathon I did not finish.

While I champion the fact that a DNF sometimes means Do Nothing Foolish, one thing I really don’t ever want to do is DNF a marathon.  However, as I sat on a park bench, at approximately 23.5, I thought this might be my first.  But then I realized there was no one who was going to come get me on this park bench, I was exposed to the sun and the only place there was going to be shade, liquids and hopefully some medical attention was at the end.

So I pulled myself together the best I could and began a shuffle.  I could run for about 100 yards before reduced to either walking or standing.  A few dry heaves and full on vomits followed and even my resolve which I thought was iron in the last few miles was having havoc wreaked upon it. Shuffling like a zombie I could only focus on that tree. Then that bump in the trail. Then that building up there. Seven minute miles became 12 minute miles. But I was moving forward. (The wavy line is not my salute to Guglielmo Marconi but rather my walk, jog, stop pattern of the last few miles.)

Finally, with about ¾ off a mile to go I found a pace I could get strolling at again.  I even briefly ran some low 7 minute miles again. I was finally in that horse smelling the barn zone that I can usually place myself in no matter how tired or sore I am.  It took much longer this time.

As I pushed across the final bridge, I was repugnantly aware of how many beautiful sights I had missed because I was focusing only on survival. I crossed over the finish in 3:30:56, good enough for 35th place overall. No less than 20 people had passed me in the last two miles. I took a few steps, had my medal placed around my neck by a Marine and then collapsed in the shade under a refreshment table. One runner who knew who I was (but unfortunately I do not know him) gave me an ice cold water. That revived me enough to be able to speak to the medical team which came over to help me a few minutes later. I am not going to go into a blow-by-blow of my foray into the medical tent and sundry other places but suffice it to say I was wrecked for nearly 90 minutes.  Only when, serendipitously, Lisa the girl whose car got us to the starting line in the first place, handed me some chicken broth, could I stop the downward spiral caused by dehydration, salt loss, etc.

Once again human, I was able to make it to the finish to cheer on all the other runners and wait for Shannon. She too was rocked hard by the heat and coming to many of the same realizations I had come to, decided to eschew the DNF in favor of walking to the finish.  Unfortunately for her, she walking was most of the last 10k or more.

All told there is potential here for a splendid race. Even through the disappointment, chafing (I honestly wish I could show you pictures to fully illustrate what pain I am in now) and heat exhaustion I can tell there is a great deal here that runners would like to be a part of.  I greatly appreciate that the race had me in as a guest and do hope that all those involved realize they have the makings of something special here.

It is just too bad we can’t control the weather.


Unknown said...

Nice Recap. I second the motion to only serve COLD drinks during a race.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed reading this! While I am sorry you had a rough go, it's also somewhat encouraging for us beginner/slower runners to hear that the more seasoned runners share some of our same experiences. I'm with you on the warm vs. cold drinks! As one of the slower participants in any event, I was absolutely delighted beyond measure when I received an ice water (which was actually half ice) somewhere around mile 23 of the San Diego Rock-N-Roll Marathon a couple years ago. It was THE most amazing ice water. Ever.

Anonymous said...

Great recap. This race sounds amazing and terrifying at the same time. Sorry you had such a difficult time.

I hate DNF. I cross that finish line even if I have to crawl.