In Tacoma this morning, I ran my fastest marathon since September of 2006. I’m tired, sore, and very happy.
wearing a smile while making the final turn
After running Yakima last month, I thought a lot about that race. I’d gone out too fast, and lacked late-mile strength. Since the ramp had been pretty quick, I was willing to bet that much of this could be addressed with some quality speed and hill work. But it also seemed I’d benefit by just running longer. This left me thinking about either Eugene or Tacoma. Eugene is flat, fast, and a place I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Tacoma is an hour away, so causes minimal disruption at home. It’s also a Marathon Maniac event, and has some great reviews on marathonguide.com. So – it turned out to be an easy choice to head down to Tacoma.
I arrived the afternoon before, checked into a hotel near the finish line, and headed over to the expo. I got to visit with local running legends Lenore and Bob Dolphin (organizers of the wonderful Yakima River Canyon Marathon), as well as chat with Steve "Prez" Yee at the Maniacs booth. Then I wandered out to see a bit of the town.
It was very cool that I happened to pass by the Tacoma Art Museum while walking around. This was a great chance to see the David Macauley exhibit there. The author of very cool books like The (New) Way Things Work and The Way We Work, there’s much to be learned about how he presents information and how he researches his material. There were also lots of sketches from his books about Mosques and Cathedrals too. I was really taken in by his work – very worthwhile!
After sleeping fitfully, I woke up and I ate a bagel slathered in almond butter, gathered my stuff and headed out. When I got to the start, I saw several ESR friends right away – Paul Hansen, Mighty May Cheng, and Janet Howe, fresh from a great run in the Boston Marathon just a couple of weeks ago. My friend Steve Supkoff was pacing the 3:45 group, so I made sure to ask him to hold the time sign up really high.
race director tp with the marathon maniac pacers. I ran most of the way with kurt (holding the 3:50 sign in the back row, to the left). my good friend steve is holding the 3:45 sign in the front right.
Then we were off. The race begins with a small circle through the southeast side of the city, and I fell in with the 3:50 pace group. This felt like it would be ambitious for me, but I wanted to have good company along the way. The split times were quite good, which made me wonder whether I’d fall on my face later. Kurt, our pacer explained that we were putting a little time into the bank, because of the hills later in the course. Hm – maybe I’d have to fall back soon to protect myself from an epic bonk.
During miles 5 and 6, we were joined by Robert Lopez of the Maniacs. His mission for the day was to try to run with all of the pace groups, going from slowest (4:15) to fastest (3:10). I admire his ambition, but definitely would have done this the easy way myself (going fastest to slowest). While he ran with us, he shared some stories about his battles with Leukemia (specifically A.L.L.), and someone remarked about how many of us have interesting medical challenges that prove to be big motivators. Hard for me to argue with that.
heading up along the waterfront, around mile 7.
We made our way through the Ruston Tunnel, and then went up the first of several climbs. This was a very nice stretch of the course, along the water as we made our way towards Point Defiance. As we reached the famed Zoo, we began running along five-mile road, a woodsy stint with rolling hills. We reached the one of the climbs Kurt had warned up about, and I began to slow down a bit. I was getting genuinely concerned about how fast my splits were, and what that would mean later. Still – it seemed that every time I tried to slow down, I’d click off another brisk mile split. Part of this was due to the nice downhill stretches, but some of it was just a natural pace for me. I’d slow to a brisk walk for some of the steeper uphill stretches.
As we crested the high point of the course around mile 15, I enjoyed the nice vista of the Narrows. By now, I knew that as long as I didn’t slow too much, I’d be able to break the four hour mark. I faded a bit relative to the pace group as we passed the 18 and 19 mile marks, enjoying the sun. Shortly after, we began running along highway 16, as we cut east across the city. This part wasn’t so much fun. Running along a busy freeway never really is. By now, I’d gone out a bit ahead of the pace group. I was very tired, but felt better about my chances for hunkering down for the final 10k or so. Over the course of the next four miles, I managed to alternate slow miles and faster ones, passing some folks along the way. Definitely on my mind was leaving something in my tank to speed up during the final two (downhill) miles. Even at my slowest, I kept at a nine minute mile pace, bringing my sights to the 3:50 time goal.
I make a point of mostly not looking at my overall time, just the splits. This keeps me focused on mile to mile progress, without getting me hung up on specific time goals. On the other hand, I can have no idea of how I’m really doing overall. This was the case as I began the final downhill stretch. I thought that it was quite possible to hit the 3:50 mark, as long as I kept my pace up. I was under the required average pace from mile 23 on. I was amazed when I did mile 26 at a 7:33 pace. For the final 0.2 miles, I wore a big grin, feeling like I’d shown myself something good. I was floored when I approached the chute and saw that I was under 3:48. I crossed the finish in 3:47:43, the fastest marathon I’d run since PR’ing in Logan Utah about 2 1/2 years back. Wow.
the look on my face notwithstanding, i felt great crossing the finish.
My father made the trip down to see me finish – which definitely made me feel good. He and I stuck around visiting with friends and watching the awards ceremony (several folks I know earned age group awards – which was lots of fun). Some of us reflected on how lucky I’ve been to have recovered so well since my bike accident. We shared some stories about when some of them were watching after me in the hospital. May told me that she got so concerned that I repeatedly tried to climb out of bed, that she had to ring for help from the nurse. Now the story is very funny. I remember the degree of frustration at being held back from doing even rudimentary things for myself. It felt good to reflect today, especially after running so well.
I can’t expect to click off races like this all the time, but definitely appreciate this one. It’s another way to put the difficulties behind me, and appreciate what’s ahead.
Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks
My splits didn’t vary as much as last time. There’s an upwards trend through mile 19 or 20. My last couple of splits took the average back down. Technically speaking, I negative split. But that’s based largely on the last couple of miles. More accurately I was fairly consistent, with a mostly slowing trend until the end. More miles and quality training should make this a more sustainable pace. We’ll see!