yakima river canyon marathon race report – about that last 10k …


Yesterday I ran my first 26.2 mile event since the bike accident, the Yakima River Canyon Marathon from Ellensburg to Selah Washington.  It was a beautiful day all around.  Despite a 26 degree start, things heated up nicely along the course.  We had sunshine the whole way.

I’d done this event three years ago, and really enjoyed it despite having a so-so running day.  The event is small, well-organized, and the atmosphere is great.  Organized by local running legends Lenore and Bob Dolphin, it’s also a big Marathon Maniacs event.  This latter point added some attraction for me, as I qualified as a bronze-level Maniac, at the Green River Marathon last year, the last 26.2 event I’d done prior to the accident.  Getting a chance to run like a maniac seemed fitting for me, as I’d effectively ramped from not running to marathon in just over three months. 

Three months is fast.  When I’d sat down to figure out some running goals at the end of December, I’d actually planned for a June race.  But Yakima popped up as a nice possibility too.  I figured I might try it, only if my training went perfectly.

I’d ramped up with several other Eastside Runner folks who were targeting spring races, including Boston.  My training runs had included some adventure – including running through several inches of snow and single-digit temperatures.  Then I got lost while on a couple of twenty-plus mile runs.  One occasion had three of us climbing a steep, rocky hill to exit a golf course.  Another found me meandering for some extra miles through water, and over logs in the woods.

These adventures illustrate why I love running.  It isn’t really about racing for me.  It’s about the adventures along the way.  And these past few months definitely included some adventures.  Overall things went well, and I found myself ready to give the marathon distance a try again.

In the week prior to the race, I felt pretty nervous.  I had something to prove to myself this time around.  And although I felt confident in my training and preparation, there’s always some uncertainty to running this distance.  Pensively I set out for Ellensburg early Friday, to allow lots of time to traverse the late-season snow on Snoqualmie Pass.

I arrived early enough to relax a while in my hotel room before making the 30 mile drive down to Selah for the expo, pasta feed, and the Marathon Maniac reunion.  I drove along the race course, taking in the great beauty of the canyon, and noting that there were indeed many more downhills than uphills.  I arrived at the Civic Center just as the doors opened, and had my race packet in plenty of time to visit with some of the other Maniacs.


The reunion event was a good bit of fun.  This being my first one, and my first race running as a Maniac, I didn’t know very many people.  But they’re a friendly bunch, so this wasn’t a problem at all.  I ran into Insane Jane, who I’d actually met while doing the Free State Trail Marathon in Lawrence Kansas last April.  She introduced me to her husband McGyver, who ran over 50 marathons and ultras last year.  My ESR cohort Little Leslie was there too.  After running (I think) 54 marathons last year, she’s been taking it easier in 2009 – with this one being her second or third.  I found myself sitting with the three "senior" Maniacs at dinner : Prez, Hollywood, and tp.  These guys were great company – full of positive energy, and humor.  The vibe in this crowd was great, and the positivity was contagious – just what I needed before heading back to Ellensburg to catch some sleep.


Race morning was bright, sunny, and COLD.  I’d planned to go in short sleeves. but when I saw that it was about 26 degrees, I opted for my long-sleeved ESR shirt under my Marathon Maniacs singlet.  After a small breakfast, I checked out of my room, and headed down to the starting line.

In the lobby, I ran into another ESR friend, John Swenson and his family.  Seeing them come out to cheer John on was great!

We lined up, and were sent off with a truck horn at 8 am.  The first several miles wind around a loop before we head up into the canyon.  My plan had been to diligently walk 30 seconds per mile to make sure I had something left in my tank in the late miles.  Unfortunately I missed the first mile marker, but my splits for the first two miles were a respectable 8:50.  It occurred to me that I probably wanted to slow down a bit at this point, but for some reason, my legs didn’t listen.


picture courtesy of steven yee

See- the smart thing to do in a marathon is to go out a bit slow, and then to speed up over the miles.  It’s called negative splitting, and it reflects a thoughtful and intelligent approach.  On this day however, I tried an alternate approach, which was to run faster than I should have for the first twenty miles, and then to ‘bonk’ definitively during the last 10k.  Bonking is an art form really, and I did a nice job of it.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a great time!  Even though my legs felt the fatigue early on, I thoroughly enjoyed running in the sunshine along the Yakima River.  My mile splits were fairly consistent over the first twelve miles, ranging between about 8:50 and 9:15.  I realized that doing sub-four might be within reach, provided I’d not already overdone it.  As I climbed the second and third hills on the course, up to about mile 16, I felt pretty optimistic about my chances.

Time-wise things went well until just after the twenty mile mark.  In reality though, I felt the four hour thing slipping away back around mile seventeen.  By then, my legs were quite fatigued.  This was the disadvantage of having such a quick ramp.  While I’d done adequate long run distance, I’d not developed a sense of my late-mile reserves.  So, I geared back a bit. 

My splits were still better than a sub-four finish would require.  Of course that just makes it a bit tougher.  You can’t take yourself out of contention while it’s still within reach.  So against my better judgment, I continued to hammer out the miles, going a bit faster than prudent.

Things changed when I hit the final hill heading into mile 21.  My legs were pretty fried, and I’d started to feel a bit lightheaded.  Since I didn’t want to be carried off the course, especially so far into the race, I walked up the entire 1.5 mile ascent.  It really isn’t very steep, totaling about 250 feet over that distance.  By this time, I was pretty well cooked though.  My splits from mile 21 through 26 averaged about 11:23, about two and a half minutes slower than the first 20 miles.  By the time I hit the 26 mile mark, I was able to muster a slow trot into the finish.  It wasn’t very pretty.  On the other hand, if I’d run smarter for the first 20, things might have been different.

2009-yrcm-finish0 2009-yrcm-finish2

I crossed the finish in 4:09:48, an average pace of about 9:31.  Not one of my fastest, but I’ve also done some slower ones.  This actually exceeded my original expectations of 4:15-4:30 too.  And given where I started out, I’m definitely proud of my effort.

2009-yrcm-1 2009-yrcm-2 2009-yrcm-3

pictures courtesy of hal david

My parents met me at the finish, having braved the weather and traffic going over the pass to take in my fifteen seconds of glory in crossing the finish.  I felt a bit emotional at having completed the race, after having placed such an important personal stake in doing it.  Most importantly though, I’m ready to do more.

It’s great to be back in the pack.

Chart and Graphs for Running Geeks

The chart tells the story.  I clearly started out faster than I should have, as the slope of the cumulative average pace is supposed to decrease over time :).  Part of me recognizes that what I did during Yakima was to go out and give it what I had though, which is nothing to be ashamed of.



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