Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Foot Traffic Flat Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 15th Edition 
1 mile skied, 1250 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 218.3 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Foot Traffic Flat Marathon
Place: Portland, OR
Miles from home: 17 miles
Weather: 60-70s; mostly sunny

I always have reservations about races that have a shuttle to their start.  It is not that I don't trust people (OK, I don't trust people) it is that I trust myself a little bit more (OK, an infinite amount more.)

So, even though I had paid the ticket to ride the shuttle to the start of the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon, the night prior to the race I made the executive decision to drive to the start. Bestie Shannon was also doing the marathon (marking the 2nd marathon in 5 days with another 24 hours later - ridiculous) and she trusted me to get us both there on time. Well, let’s say I cut it close. Let’s also say that I made the right decision with regard to the shuttle, too.

As we parked our car and raced across a field to the start, we had about 90 seconds before the race began. As we streamed down the road, a hundred or so cars and three shuttles, inched along in the opposite direction.Undoubtedly, we would have been on one of those shuttles. And we would have been pissed. But we listened to the nagging feeling in our guts and instead were beyond relived to not be like the fuming line of runners wishing they were not still stuck in traffic.

First 6 miles: 7:06, 6:37, 7:15, 7:34, 7:05, 7:17

This race has gotten immensely popular in Portland the last few years for a variety of reasons. It bills itself as “flat” (it is in the name) but I guess that is all relative. Other than the rolling hills in the course here and there what most concerned me were the aid stations – or lack thereof.  While the 90-degree plus temperatures of a few days prior had abated, there was still a call for some warm temperatures for the day.  Given the nature of the course, with little shade and open spaces, this could be quite a problem. I thought perhaps the race might add an aid station or two, or even move them to locations which mesh better (having one aid station from mile 21.9 to 25.5 doesn’t seem to make much sense even on a cool day) but alas nothing was changed. As such, my pre-race plan of a mid-range 3:05 was scraped and I decided to see if I could squirm in under 3:10.

For the first three miles or so I was on pace.  I heard the mile markers were guidelines only and decided to go by my gut. (Mile markers, I have always said, do not have to be certified and are there only as a bonus.) I trust it more than I do mile markers anyway. So do others evidently as a chap I began running with, Michael-John, repeatedly asked me for splits.  I told him that Timex was having an awesome sale on their Run Trainer 2.0 and perhaps he might want to invest in one.(Seriously, this watch is awesome.) Instead, we were in lockstep and cruised out along the one road on the western shore of Sauvie Island where this race took place.  Over the small inlet of water and onto the mainland to our left, boathouses and condos were crammed together on top of each other taking advantage of what I can only guess is valuable real estate. I always have wondered if a race passed in front of my home if I would go out and cheer those running.  In the few cases where anything like that has happened, I have done so.  But not a peep from anyone as the only sound we heard was our feet and the hysterically comical bleating of a large herd of sheep.

A small respite from the already high in the sky sun came surprisingly from a half-mile stretch of trees that I was very happy we would be returning to in a few miles. Right on pace and maybe even a smidgen under at the 10k mark, we soldiered on. I was drenched in sweat and my running partner had one bead on his back. I know it is healthy to sweat and efficient but it never feels good on the chafing. I can only thank Body Glide for being my savior on these ultra-sweaty days.

To the Half: 6:47, 7:20, 7:21, 7:55, 13:46, 7:14

I had to keep nudging Michael-John to the middle of the road to take advantage of cutting the tangents.  If I recall what he said, this was only his third marathon. If that was the case, he was running quite well. As we chatted, I found out he had been in a Christian rock band in a previous life and resisted to impress him with my knowledge on the matter. (Add this to the list of “Why do you know that?” stuff that I do, in fact, know.)

The course continued along this road getting closer to the point where we would make a u-turn and head back.  The lead runner came scorching back past us and I could only wish to have that kind of speed. Then I realized later, looking at the finish times (2:44 winning time), I sorta did have that kind of speed. I just needed to find it again.

Charlie and Christine the next day in another marathon.
Nevertheless, I began counting runners in an attempt to find out where I was in the race. Placement meant little to me but I was indeed curious. In the interim I saw my buddy Charlie Johnston who was attempting to run 4 marathons in 4 days each under 3 hours. Charlie is one of the good guys in running without a doubt and I am happy to report that he did indeed get all four in under 3 hours. (The next day when I was pacing Shannon here and there at her second marathon in two days, I enjoyed watching Charlie take a well-deserved victory and skirt under the 3 hour barrier. He said he just made it with about 40 seconds to spare.  I told him I had a 2:59:58 to my credit and that is just making it!) Also attempting four in four was friend Christine Rockey, originally from Portland but now hailing from South Carolina. She nailed all four with a couple of wins to boot!

All told, by the time we finally got to mile 10 and turned our backs to a very bright sun, I was solidly in 50th place. That is a lot of runners in front of me in a race with only 439 finishers. I am not used to being in that position in a race with such few runners.  That says a great deal about where I am physically right now, the caliber of runners in this race and, wait for it (foreshadowing) how many went out way too damn fast.

As we began our run back, I saw my friend Dean Schuster known for some awesome running feats and for an incredible blog he updates every Super Moon. Dean was going for his first Boston Qualifying time in a while and surprised me with how close he was behind me. I had a feeling he was in for a spectacular day.
Running along, I kept feeding Michael-John splits and kept seeing runners who I knew or who knew me.  After one particular stretch of road where I said hello to numerous people or waved to my name being called, Michael-John said something to the effect of “who are you?” I laughed and said I like to network. I then high-fived Shannon, who was looking super-strong and settled in. I was ready for some shade.

Onto mile 20: 7:11, 7:30, 7:13, 7:13, 7:22, 7:16, 7:23

On the way out on this stretch Michael-John made note of how there was definitely more downhill then he expected and we would feel it coming home. Here is where that definitely started to happen. While I had spent most of the first 15 miles or so providing some company and chatter to my partner, here I needed to focus in on myself in these latter miles. I could feel the sun baking me and wanted to hold onto this 3:10 pace as long as possible.

I began to pass a runner here and there and once gone I would focus on the next ahead. Before long, the slight undulation of hills gave way to the shady section I had been aching for. I had now passed about ten of the people formerly in front of me and was hopefully zeroing in on more. What was nice was not that I was speeding up to do so (which could haunt me with so many more miles to go) but mainly keeping pace. I was hoping that the aid stations would suddenly become more prevalent and the water would have some ice in it but no luck. In addition, whatever the electrolyte drink provided was, I definitely realized one cup of it was more than enough.(Again, I understand the economics of electrolyte provision having seen every side of running but scrimping on this very important detail is just a major faux pus.)

Leaving the shade and hitting the open road again, I assumed we would get a solid 9 miles of direct sunlight. However, a few clouds here and there provided surprisingly adequate shade as did a tree or two. A small half-mile out and back up a curving hill seemed as if it could have easily been avoided by just tacking that mileage onto the initial out and back at the beginning. I was told that the road went from paved to gravel but I am guessing that I would have preferred it to this section. That said, it was nice to see some of the runners in front of and behind me again as we began the last third of the race. Dean was getting too damn close. I couldn't let him catch me. Would never hear the end of that. He might actually blog. (Seriously, Dean, write more.)

I expected the small hills to take something out of me as I approached the 20th mile but two on-pace miles had me hoping for an excellent finish.

Heading home: 7:35, 7:26, 7:50, 7:21, 8:13, 7:18, 1:34

I heard a pair of rapidly approaching footsteps and was very curious who could possibly be catching me. Sure enough, a runner I had passed at mile 15 was zooming by me like he was late for dinner. Try as I might from then until the finish, I could barely keep him sight.  One heck of a finishing kick he had. In addition, in spite of the cloud cover and feeling fairly good, my miles began to slip. I also began to walk through the aid stations knowing that they were not every mile and would come at inopportune times. With about 4 miles left I could see that getting a sub-3:10 was going to take an effort that I was neither able nor willing to give. Killing myself to get my 70th slowest marathon was not in the cards today. I have bigger fish to fry and the time I was headed for would make for a solid second marathon in 5 days. Pick your battles, friends.

Instead, I just concentrated on enjoying the day and trying to encourage those around me. This is a little difficult when you have a bit of a stick in your butt about half-marathoners who occupy an entire road but I did my best nonetheless. One last marathoner I passed was trying to alleviate the need to run around the halfers by running in the other lane completely. Problem with this is that that lane of traffic wasn’t closed. At one point a cautiously and slowly approaching vehicle could be seen to not really know what to do as the guy threw his hands in the air in exasperation. As I passed him I said “Not sure why you are angry – you are running in the wrong lane.” I don’t think that went over too well. Good thing I have never cared too much about how what I say goes over.

Across a field in the distance I could see a big tent set up. I was thinking that might be the finish line until I realized it was the final aid station. While I was pleased there was one, manned by the Red Lizard Running Club, I would have preferred it not be at mile 25.75. I honestly have zero idea why the aid stations were placed where they were. I realize the planning that goes into races and the whos and whys but this one escaped me.

Finally seeing the finish line ahead I had to dodge either two half marathoners who just decided to stop around the bend of the final turn or two pedestrians doing the same thing before I could finally bring it all home. In my 144th marathon of all time I ran my 72nd fastest time –right in the middle.  3:11:58 was good enough for 36th place overall.

Even cooler, I saw Dean finish less than one minute behind me, getting not only his BQ but his fastest marathon ever. He told me that if the race had been 27 miles he would have had me. “Yeah, but it isn’t.  You need to plan better.” Let the good-natured ribbing begin.
Shannon the next day in another marathon. SMH

Shannon ran a great second marathon in 5 days, especially knowing she had to do this all over again in about 19 hours. The post-race festivities were very nice as each runner was given one strawberry shortcake and one free hotdog. I would have enjoyed a free Mountain Dew as well but that would be nitpicking.  I did hear some vegetarians complaining about the lack of veggie hotdogs, but oh well.

All in all, I think the race benefits more from good word of mouth then actually being that great of a race. I am not saying it is bad but it is not one I would make an effort to run again anytime soon. With the heat wave that had hit Portland in the few days prior there was ample time to provide a few more aid stations and a few more cooler liquids. When a race is run by a running store, one has a higher expectation of certain things to be met.

The effort from this race and the Pacific Crest Marathon put me in a good position to fare well this weekend at the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. Originally intending to be a PR attempt that, and everything else was changed with the MRSA infection in my foot in April. Instead, I intended to run as evenly paced as possible and get a nice sub-3. I missed a sub-3 last year for the first time since 2005 and that gnaws at me a bit, regardless of knowing exactly why it happened.

So I will hope for slightly cooler temperatures than forecasted, run to the best of my ability and assess the results either way when I cross the finish line.  Just like ever race ever.

1 comment:

Tom said...

You are certainly right about the aid stations near the end; it's always that way. They did once add the extra 1/2 mile bit to the end of the out-and-back; not only is it gravel, but there is a short, very steep hill. I suppose at is why they changed it. When I first ran this race, it was a double loop of the half marathon course, not as scenic.