Monday, December 30, 2013

Seattle Locks Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 29th Edition 
1 mile skied, 2750 meters swam, 48 miles biked and 444.55 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Seattle Locks Marathon
Place: Seattle, WA
Miles from home: 180
Weather: 40-50s; Cloudy; Slightly humid

The full name of this race is the Seattle Locks Fat Ass Marathon. The “Fat Ass” portion of the name denotes, amongst runners, a very low-key affair, usually.   Recently, I was speaking to someone who was new to running.  They mentioned most of the marathons they had completed in were smaller events.  “You know, like 2000 marathoners or so.”  I laughed because even in my relatively short time of running marathons, the marathoning world has changed drastically.

When I ran 52 Marathons on consecutive weeks in 2006, there were ~300 marathons in the United States. A good 50 or so of those took place over two weekends in October. Finding a marathon to run every week was half of the challenge of doing what I did.  When my hand was forced to create my own marathon in the penultimate weekend of the year I went out of my way to make it as “real” a marathon as possible. Chip timing, course certification and the works, even though it was 105.5 laps around a high school track in my hometown. We had a 6-hour time limit.  Originally the plan was for five hours but a friend who is an amputee had thought about competing and I wanted to make sure they had enough time.

But today, there are probably twice the number of marathons out there, at least. The number of runners doing all kinds of events continues to grow and grow. The stigma attached to not even thinking about running a marathon unless it takes you less than four hours is gone. The definition of “running” a marathon has changed. Oodles of races are popping up that cater to those who like to complete 26.2 miles as often as possible, many times with as little training as possible. I say this not to denigrate anyone. I say this to say that the term “Fat-Ass” almost has to be thrown away. So many marathons fall into this running for fun only category that is it losing its meaning a bit.

This particular race was put on by Steve Walters, a Portland Oregon runner who probably directs no less than about 10 of these types of races a year. Often the races have better aid station variety than many marathons out there with thousands of dollars of a budget. Steve puts together good events, knows he has an audience of repeat offenders to fill out his ranks and often has waiting lists to get into his races.   His finishers’ medals are low-tech but neat. The awards are a bit sparse but that is fine. One’s body still gets the benefit of the run even if they don’t get a shiny bauble to display on the shelf. However, this race really fell into that category of low-key.  In fact, it was one of the more challenging races I have done for that specific fact.

Runners knew well in advance there would be potentially no aid stations on this course. Yep, none.  Maybe there would be one station at the halfway point because runners would come back there to finish, but don’t count on it.  Runners knew they should carry their own liquid with them as they weren’t getting any on the course. It was truly a do-it-yourself-er.

In addition, the course was not closed. Other pedestrians would be out “getting in the way” of us runners as we tried to have ourselves a merry ole time. Moreover, with a twice out-and-back course, part of each loop was through the middle of Seattle, with no stoppages for traffic lights or anything of that variety. If you hit a red light, well, you had to wait.  It would be, essentially, a long-run with a time at the end.

Personally, I wanted to just cap off what would be a 74-mile week and close out my 2013 with another marathon.  My 147th lifetime marathon, but only my 9th in the past two years.  So much of that sentence would make 25 year old Dane laugh and laugh. I had no idea whom the competition was, really what the course was like or anything else.  I knew it would be fairly decent weather (if even a touch warm) and a chance to check out a part of a town I had never seen.  That was good enough for me.  So I threw best bud Shannon in the car and we went up to Seattle to run a marathon.

Race Morning:

We were told in the days leading up to the race that there were some slight changes in our favor.  There would be an aid station at the start and half way point as well as one at the turn-around of the this 6.55 mile out and back course. As such, the fact I forgot to bring a water bottle was not a concern. Well, the fact that I forgot one is a concern because I have only been doing this sort of thing for a decade now and am wondering if I am getting dumber.  But the end result was that I needn’t be concerned.

The weather was cool (but not cold) and therefore I decided to eschew carrying any bottle with me at all. I hoped I wouldn’t pay for this too badly. I was dressed like it was a fall day; half the others were dressed like it was the Snowpocalypse. Glad to see my growing up in NW PA hasn’t been beaten out of me by the two warmest winters I have ever spent in my entire life here in Portland.

Which goes back to my laughter at 2,000 people being a small race.  More than half the marathons I have
Photo Credits: Ross Comer
run have had fewer than 500 finishers. But things are changing.  There were over 150 people signed up for this low-key, no-frills, carry-your-own-damn-aid race. Shannon pointed out that the registration fee ($0) definitely helped swell those numbers.  Nevertheless, oodles of people, in all different shapes and sizes and colors of clothing were here ready to compete. My all-black attire had me looking like the bad guy in an old western but it’s slimming and I am still carrying some of my baby weight.

The clock was counted down by Steve and away we went.

Loop 1: Out 47:18 

With a killer drop to start the race I realized that each loop would have to go up this monster of a hill and would make no one happy at the end. I began running behind one runner who looked like he knew where he was going.  I knew the course went through this park and across several streets before heading down to the locks which this race is named after.  I just wanted to make sure I did not get lost. My perfunctory look at the course allowed me to know more or less where we were going but I wanted to make sure. Less than a quarter of a mile in I heard the pittter patter of little feet and an Asian girl passed me. I knew she was running the half from her bib number and was happy to let her pass. My tired legs were not going to keep that pace for a marathon. Almost immediately another chap passed me and he didn’t try to be subtle in figuring out which race I was running.  “You running the half?” he asked. I replied in the negative and off he sped toward the Asian girl.

As we came to a big intersection (which would later cause consternation for many but for now was car-free) the duo in front of me almost made a wrong turn. Steve marked the course very well with flour but they missed it. I shouted for them to go the right way and soon we started down a long hill. Like the initial one at the beginning, I knew this was going to stink later on.

Down the hill we went and I lost count of the intersections and lights we passed. All of these were going to be problems as the day grew busier. I am not complaining;we had been warned. I just knew they would present a potential conundrum. I made a mental note of the ones which might be the most crowded and followed the halfers in front of me.
Photo Credits: Ross Comer

Right around the 2-mile mark, we turned off of the streets and onto the Burke-Gilman Trail which would comprise most of the rest of our “out” for the course.  I could tell the runner I passed very early on was a solid runner (his name was Nick) and he would keep me honest. I was trying to keep the two runners in sight to help pace me but realized with other people on the path this was going to be tough. So I just settled into my own rhythm.

After a mile or so I heard feet approaching and thought perhaps Nick was making a run at me.  I picked the pace up a touch to make him work. However, a half of a mile or so later as the runner passed I realized it was another half marathoner. I let him go. Not of my concern.

We ran through a rather industrial section of the course before hopping up onto a street which would later be filled with pedestrians doing whatever normal people do at 9 a.m. on a Saturday when they are not running. To be honest, I have no idea what that is nor do I want to know. That time of the morning is for running or sleeping, in my book.

As we made our way to the turnaround and passed the Salmon Bay and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (aka The Ballard Locks) I saw an impromptu aid station set up by the friends and family of one of the runners. It is stuff like that which makes runners and their families so awesome.  I didn’t need a drink here (I had already gone to the bathroom like a quarter of a mile back) but knew I would like some later.

One final straightaway on the trail showed me the three runners in front of me were heading back my way. This felt longer than 6.55 miles but I attributed that to not knowing the course at all which always makes a run seem longer. I hit the turning point and headed back home.

Back 48:26 

When I started heading back I was hoping to have a bigger lead on Nick then I did.  I was probably no more than a minute ahead of him at this juncture. Not far behind him was the lead female. This might be interesting.

Photo Credits: Christy Hammond
Heading back through town, past the industrial section and toward the trail was nice as I got to see every runner who was behind me and cheer them on. I grabbed a small cup of water from the aid station and thanked the kids for being out there. Almost immediately I had to go to the bathroom again. Ten miles in and I had one small sip of water and two pee breaks.  Interesting. I tried to open up some distance by slowly picking up the pace hoping it would be imperceptible enough to not be noticed by those behind me. This is a racing tactic I have read about and used on occasion and the affect is to move further and further out of sight so your trailers lose “touch” with you. Mostly I was just trying to not think of the long steady uphill from 11-12 miles.

This hill was not fun. I knew it was going to be less fun 13 miles later as well.  Fortunately, while my concept of “obeying pedestrian laws” was lax at best, I only inconvenienced one or two cars with mad dashes. In fact, I was trying to use the lights to my advantagd, planning out when the “Don’t Walk” signs would stop flashing and spurt to make it across before they changed, potentially leaving trailers stuck.  This was less a
race and more an urban survival challenge.

Finally cresting the hill, I sprinted across the 5-way Nightmare Intersection which so many runners would get caught at just in front of the way-too-antsy to gun it cars. Then the final hill up to the halfway point which was so cruel it was almost funny (almost) was what was left.  I had to take a small break to open a package of cups, turn on the water bucket and fill my cup before leaving again. I hit the halfway point right around 1:35 and realized it would be tough to break 3:10 today. But I was leading.

Loop 2: Out 47:59 

As I headed back down the hill I saw Nick had been replaced by a half-marathoner finishing up right behind me.  Nick was further back and I now had a 2-3 minute lead. Now was the time to push the envelope.

Trying to put as much distance as I could I was beginning to be confounded by the traffic lights. I did not stop at many of them per se but the unknown would play trick with my mind. When would they change and for how long would each stop be was causing a bit of a headache when it came to simply running.  But I knew everyone else would potentially be dealing with the same problems so I just kept running.

I saw Shannon and she was rocking her race. She almost didn’t run at all as flu had laid her low most of the past week.  I told her to just give the half a try and if she could go on, she should.  Crossing the half in just a hair over 2 hours was a splendid showing for her or anyone on this course.

Photo Credits: Ross Comer
Now that I knew the course, it didn’t seem nearly as long. Also, strangely, the lack of mile markers made it go by a touch faster.  I had my Timex Run Trainer 2.0 GPS watch telling me how far I had run as well as the pace but I wasn’t looking.  Now all I wanted to do was take home a nice win. Would it be fast? Nope. Would it still count? Yep.

I grabbed a drink for the Best Lil Aid Station in Seattle and pushed toward the turn around. I was beyond surprised to see the difference in time between my running it the first time and this time was barely thirty seconds.  My pacing was excellent. I wasn’t feeling that usual mile 20 tiredness either.

 Back 49:31

With no one to push me, no one to chase and barely anything to gauge my time on, I was running nearly exact splits. I gave Nick a high-five as we passed each other and realized I had about a mile lead with 6 miles to go. The race was mine to lose. I had no intention of doing so.

Thanking the aid station for its help I grabbed one big swig off of a bottle they had and realized I was going to run this marathon on probably less than 16 ounces of water total. Almost every great race I have had has come at the expense of very little in my tank.  My first ever sub-3 hour marathon (#42 of the aforementioned 52) was with a bite of a bagel and some OJ.  My 10th place at the National Championship 50k in 2009 came on nothing but water and one PowerBar gel.  This really goes to a larger story of how running has become a bit too much of a moving smorgasbord of food and fun. There is nothing wrong with more people enjoying the run. But without a doubt, when it comes to racing, sometimes less is more.

The runners to congratulate were getting fewer but just as enthusiastic.  One of my favorite running shots might just be the one taken of me with about two miles left.  Reaching out to high-five another runner, I think this picture shows the true sportsmanship of this sport. Later, after the race, I received a nice compliment
Photo Credits: Ross Comer
from another runner who said she had never had a lead runner take the time to say good job to so many others.

One dastardly long hill left and way too many stops or near-stops lay in front of me. Well, then there was that other dastardly hill at the very end. I cruised up that hill and broke the metaphoric tape of my 4th marathon win ever.  I say metaphoric as in the marathons I have won, the only one which had any actually tape of any kind was the Drake Well Marathon I put on myself in 2006.  If you want something done right…

What was interesting to me, being a stats guy is how my three previous wins had gotten faster (3:07, 3:05, and 3:01)  This one did not (3:13:13) but I did break the course record.  Wasn't even aware what it was until they told me I had. Nice icing on the cake. The other interesting thing is that none of my wins are in my top 20 fastest run marathons. It really goes to show that simply being somewhere is 99% of the battle.

Shannon did have a tougher second half (actually a tougher last six miles) as the flu finally caught up to her.  But I think this bodes very well for her 2014 running season. Nick would succumb to the lead female and end up taking third overall. All told, every course record was broken on this rather perfect racing day. I still was able to ring out my wicking Craft shirt like I had been in a pool but hey, that’s just how I sweat.

Photo Credits: Ross Comer
One never really knows what is going to happen when they toe the line of a marathon. You have plans and inklings and if you are really prepared you might have a moderately good idea of what may happen but much is left to chance. Pretty good metaphor for life, huh?

I like my odds when I show up. More people need to do just that.


Mathl3t3 said...

Great recap! It was fun chasing you for 26 miles!

Unknown said...

Congratulations! I really enjoyed reading this! And I was actually looking into running this one myself! Now I know what to expect!