Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whidbey Island Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 7th Edition 
59.1 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Whidbey Island Marathon
Place: Oak Harbor, WA
Miles from home: 265
Weather: 50s; bright sun

The past few months have been tough for me running wise. My mileage has been down significantly given a herniated disk. When I cannot run I am not nearly as happy as when I can.  However, the past two weeks have seen a great deal of improvement in not only my back but also where the pain manifests itself, in my left leg.

When I was asked to be the featured speaker for the Whidbey Island Marathon I agreed knowing at the time I might not be able to run it at all.  Then my situation improved and I thought perhaps I would do the 13.1 race.  Then it improved more and I realized I would get a chance to run the marathon, albeit far slower than I would like.  But that meant I would get to run over the Deception Pass Bridge.  If you have read my second book, you know I absolutely adore running over bridges. This beautiful vista would be no different.

After premiering my new movie about my solo 202 mile running of the American Odyssey Relay at the race expo, I got to meet a ton of people, as per usual.  The race has nearly doubled in size from last year and people were coming from all over the country.  I got to meet a veritable plethora of runners including island local and 13 year old phenom, Ryan Vasileff.  With a 1:32 half marathon PR to his credit, we will definitely want to keep an eye out for him!

My goal for the event was to simply run as pain-free as I could for as long as I could.  My longest run in the past 3 months was on a 16-miler at the Dizzy Daze race a few weeks ago.  Other than that I was about as ill-trained as one could be and still call themselves a runner. The added difficulty to everything would be that the already challenging Whidbey Island Marathon course was made its most difficult ever this year with some changes to the route. This was going to be one hilly marathon.

Race Morning:

The morning broke absolutely gorgeously. If I was doing anything else besides running a marathon, I would have been in heaven.  However, bright sunshine, regardless of the temperature, is not my ideal race condition. Fortunately, as I would learn through the course, there was a a great deal of shade provided by trees, hills and houses along the way.  As such, only a few sections were exposed totally to the elements. Given that not one single cloud darted across the sky on this day, that was a good thing.

My best friend Shannon and I caught one of the shuttles out to the start form our hotel.  A nice amenity provided by the race were shuttles from the hotels to the race start and from the end of the race to the hotels. Very little planning needed.  Shannon was nervous given she was still physically aching from actually being assaulted by another runner at the Gorges Waterfalls race (which never was followed up by the Race Director; very disappointing) and I was curious if one run over 13 miles in 3 months was enough to get me through this bad boy.

First 10k:

As the race started, we went down the slightest of hills before beginning the first of many rises, this one leading to Deception Pass Bridge.  It is difficult to describe how beautiful this morning, this pass and the runners enjoying it in unison as their footfalls were the only sound around. My head was on a swivel as I looked at both sides of the bridge, the water below, the eddying tides, the rocks which were hewn out by the passage of time and everything else I could take in.  The bridge was far too short.
At this juncture I was about in 15th place and felt like I wasn’t pressing. The leg felt marvelous and I thought a time around 3:15 would be very doable. Given I could barely run 3 miles at that pace a week or so ago I was very pleased.  

I had this very odd section around miles 3-4 where I felt like I was in some Nyquil-induced fog.  It is difficult to explain how exactly it happened or what it felt like in my head but a strange fuzziness took over.  As I usually run in a fog in the early stages of a marathon, this didn’t bother me too much. But the reasoning behind it, given I had never really felt anything of the sort before, was intriguing.  Eventually it subsided but was perplexing nonetheless.

A few runners passed me near the 10k portion and I passed a few who had been in front of me. One of the female leaders had already stopped to tie her shoe once and stretch out a calf muscle or something.  I felt bad for her so early in the race and hoped it would go away. But as soon as I felt bad for her, she spring up and disappeared into the distance.  So much for sympathy for the speedy!

To The Half:
Having barely run anything over 13 miles in the past few months I was happy with how I was feeling in this opening portion but cautiously aware that this might get ugly. While we had already dealt with a litany of hills and I knew there were many more to come.  I wasn't aware of how many and how often though!

As we went down this long wonderful downhill, skirting a slew of waterfront houses for sale on Skagit Bay for really nice prices, the first sign of my leg giving me some trouble showed up. (As a sidebar “Skagit” has to be one of the most awful names for anything ever. Later when I saw there was a Skagit Public Utility District called the Skagit PUD I realized I think I found the worst name of a place to ever work in history. Even when I learned that "Skagit" is pronounced with a soft "g" it only made it minorly less offensive to the ear. But I digress.) As we screamed down this hill, the views were breathtaking. The mountains of what I am guessing are both Olympic National Park and Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest were off in the distance on two different sides. On this crystal clear day one could see for hundreds of miles from this vantage point.  It really was astounding. My running, on the other hand was not.

As the course flattened, I found this was the only time I could actually speed up at all.  Normally I can cruise the downhill portion laying waste to anyone who was able to pass me on the up.  Here, however, a pain began to grow in my groin and quad I realized that extending or accelerating on hills was not going to happen. Given the amount of hills on this course it was going to be a problem.

The flat before the monster hill at mile 9-10 only made the climb that much more difficult.  But as many runners were reduced to a walk, I at least was able to solider on. What I thought would be a problem today, a lack of energy in later miles, really wasn’t much of a problem at all. Perhaps it was the forced slower pace but throughout the day having energy to push hard was always there. The climb right at mile 10 got so ridiculously steep I heard someone drop, under their breath, a “mother farmer”. I actually laughed out loud as I thought the same thing when I saw it. (It went up ~95 feet in a tenth of a mile. I thought they were going to give us Sherpas and a rope guide to help get us up and over.)
A little kick for me personally was when Ryan, who I mentioned above, left me a sign to inspire me as a surprise. The hill was still just as tough but at least I smiled a little inside.
But once over the hill, I finally felt good again.  There was a much more reasonable downhill portion which allowed me to pick my stride up a bit. I would be remiss if I did not mention that I had already taken three bathroom breaks in the first 10k. I was happy that I hadn’t needed to take another until mile 12 but they were getting a little ridiculous. During the Q&A after my movie I was asked if I had ever been nauseated or had to use the bathroom during a race and if so why I thought that was.  I mentioned I had gone through every thing one could possibly imagine.  Trying to figure out the cause of most of those things would drive one crazy, though.  for the most part, wondering why something is happening is futile. Just deal with it when it happens and try to learn from it.  So, in other words, if you have to pee ever 15 minutes for the first hour of a race, then go and pee.

When I came out of the porta-potty I had one runner pass me and for some reason it irked me. I decided to lay down the hammer and in spite of the uphill that lead to the halfway point, really turned it on.  I went through the half on a 3:19 or so pace and felt very happy. I never saw that runner again. To be honest, I was surprised.

To Mile 20:

I knew the next seven miles would challenge me. At mile 12 we saw the mile 20 marker on the other side of the road so we knew we would be coming back down this way.  But as good as I had felt at mile 13 and 14, miles 15 and 16 almost did me in. A very long downhill which I would normally use to reel in anyone who was in front of me only served as a reminder that my leg was not working properly. In fact, at the 16 mile marker I had to simply stop, walk on a downhill portion (much to my chagrin) and contemplate my first ever marathon DNF. I can say if there had been a car there to take me home I would have accepted it. But there was not so I pushed on. Slow at first, still dealing with the downhill and then a little faster as the downhill evened. I knew we had one last ridiculous hill to climb leading to mile 18.  If the leg truly was not workable I would get to the top and call it a day.  But I had to get to the top first.

Yet, like before, in spite of the pain in my groin, I had no problem climbing the hills.  Many who would go on to beat me soundly had to simply walk up these hills.  And just like before, once at the top and running down the other side, I had nothing in my leg that would allow me to accelerate. Now I just wanted to quit out of frustration. The pain from mile 16 had done away but the "Not wanting to be out here anymores" was kicking in.  As a few more runners passed me, runners I know should not have been doing so, I just had to suck it in, enjoy the beautiful day and used my extra energy to cheer on all the other runners on the other side of the road about to take on the massive hills in front of them.

To The Finish:

The next mile or so was one that was open to the sun and my SKINS compression clothing, which had been so helpful in holding my leg together, was covered in the salt from my sweat.  I remember looking at my watch at mile 21 and seeing that it was only 12 seconds faster than my overall time for my marathon PR. Knowing I still had 5 miles left when I normally would be done was a bit of a kick. Looming ahead of us was a monster of a hill which I did not recall being on the course map.  Fortunately, we turned right before it and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I knew there was one more big hill at mile 24 and that was all I could handle.
A moment to mention the volunteers and staff involved with this race: top-notch is all I can say.  I laugh thinking back to mile 21, an oasis of an aid station where everyone was so eager to tell you what they had that it came out as “Icegatorbanawatergu right here!”  One at I time, I begged them, smiling, before I grabbed a delicious orange energy drink.

A slight jaunt through what I am guessing was military housing had more than a few people out cheering us on.  There was also at least one unplanned aid station from a little brother and sister team who were handing out full bottles of water.  This was just awesome.

A flat section on a very wide running/bicycle path that ran flush with the bay was absolutely beautiful.  Too bad I was now in such pain in my groin I couldn’t fully enjoy it. I wondered if I had done permanent damage.  After talking about how to not ‘Do Nothing Foolish’ to so many people, I wondered if I had. Then the final cruel hill popped up in front of me.  Again, many were completely slowed to a crawl. Suddenly, my groin felt better I took the hill with gusto and began passing people who had passed me.  Before I knew it I was up and over and heading to the last mile.

If I have one complaint about the race it is the twisty-turny nature of this last mile. When you are in the last portion of a marathon you want to not have to rely on your proprioception and balance in order to finish what has been a hard day.  And unfortunately, that is what happens in a portion with lots of turns.  Throw in slow moving runners (in this case half marathoners, some wearing headphones with the volume ridiculously loud and one time, I swear to all that is holy, walking six abreast on a narrow sidewalk. Arrgh!)

As I traversed this last mile, I could hear the footsteps of another runner behind me. They were letting me cut a swatch through the runners, completely with “On your left!”s and over-exaggerated jumps and surprised yells to make me feel like the bad guy. I was tempted to let them pas me as I knew I wasn’t really in the best shape for a sprint to the finish and chances are they had started way behind me anyway and their chip time would be faster.  But the way they just hung on my shoulder angered me a bit. (I am not saying this is wrong; it is racing.)

So for the entire last mile, whenever I could hear or feel them surge, I would do the same. Only in the finish chute when the half marathoners blatantly did not follow the “marathoners to the right; halfs to the left” signs and I had to stutter step to get around a large group, did I finally succumb.  The runner passed me and took me by about one second at the finishline. (As I figured, they actually “beat” me by around 45 seconds.)

I finished 42nd overall in a time of 3:34:19 which was my 137th slowest of 148 lifetime marathons.  If one can be satisfied with a result and disappointed at the same time, it was that. I was extremely pleased to be part of the largest race Whidbey Island has put on. Even more so, to See Shannon also conquer a tough race after her recent setbacks on what is one of the toughest road courses I have ever run was great as well. 

Kudos again to the organizers of the race and the people of Oak Harbor and Whidbey Island.  This truly is a wonderful place for a race and a lovely time spent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reading this, I could feel your pain. I know what it's like to have your body go against what you want to achieve. Proud of you for not giving up.