the light at the end of no tunnel marathon

I completed the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon, my fifth in just ten weeks.  My stated goal was to do six in six months, so this puts me most of the way there.  It’s been lots of fun so far.

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I ran the Green River Marathon the previous weekend, and I wasn’t sure about doing another quite this soon.  I felt pretty good after Green River though, and am unsure when I’ll be able to do another, so I thought "Light" was a good opportunity to run one.

In previous years, Light at the End of the Tunnel has started up near the Snoqualmie Pass summit.  We run down a railroad grade, with two miles heading through an old tunnel.  It’s pretty strange to go through a dark tunnel with a hundred others.  I speak from experience, having biked through it while doing the Mountains to Sound Relay several years ago.  Riding through by the light of a bunch of headlamps was ‘exciting’ to say the least.  While safer, running through leaves you vulnerable to someone stomping on your limbs, tripping, or something else.  But it’s actually lots of fun.  I’d registered for this run last year, but the bike accident interfered.  Naturally, I wanted to make up for lost time this year.

Small problem though – several months back, there was a partial collapse of the tunnel.  When the tunnel closed, race director Brian Pendleton had to decide whether to change the course, or cancel the race.  Fortunately, he took the first option, using part of the original (and certified) course to form an out and back course from Iron Horse State Park, near Rattlesnake Lake.  While the formerly all downhill course has acquired 13.1 miles of steady uphill, it’s a beautiful place to run.

So we found ourselves lined up at 7:30 in the morning, looking forward to a run in the Cascades.

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The first stretch was a bit steep, but the slope settled down pretty quickly once we entered the railroad grade.  These usually don’t get to be more than 2%, so it felt pretty mild.  Surprisingly, my heart rate stayed between 145-153 while I was clicking off 9:15 miles heading uphill.  I figured I’d be able to maintain 8:30-8:45 on the way down, so the uphill pace led me to believe I’d be able to sneak in under four hours for the race.

After going out towards the front, a bunch of folks passed me in the first couple of miles, and then I settled into a solo run.  My mile pace was very consistent, as was my heart rate.  All I’d need to do was to stay smart and take it easy, so I had some steam left to speed up on the way down.  The morning was a bit chilly and cloudy, a change from the previous days of 75 and sunny.  Really it was a perfect running morning.

I tried to drink my Cytomax regularly, and ate a couple of Endurolyte capsules each hour, along with a gel pack.  And I enjoyed running over the high trestle bridges, although I made a point of not looking down (we were a couple of hundred feet over trees and creeks).  Very pretty.

Around mile 11 or so, a runner came up from behind and began chatting.  His name was Matt, and he was very pleasant, and quite clearly a faster runner than I.  We traded some running stories and talked about how to balance two competing endurance training schedules in one household (his wife is also a marathoner, apparently going for more Maniac stars).  Just before the turnaround, he sped up a bit and I was solo again.

By now people were passing us coming back downhill.  They looked pretty happy.

I reached the turnaround and grabbed some gatorade.  My watch told me that I needed to make up about two minutes in time in order to finish under four hours.  I figured that was accomplishable, provided I didn’t try to do it too quickly.  So I tried to pick up the pace, but not overdo it.  My miles splits were regularly down around 8:30 now, which put me in good shape.  By the time I got down to mile 17 and 18, I’d made up most of the deficit, and was now aiming for 3:55.

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My father surprised me by appearing at the aid station at mile 18 to snap some pictures.  I was hell-bent on making time by now, so didn’t linger to talk.  I felt like I was on a roll now, with my mile splits mostly around 8:30 (plus or minus 15 seconds).  A couple of miles were longer (over nine minutes), and I’m not quite sure why.  By mile 23 though I was feeling some fatigue and getting concerned about maintaining a good pace.  By now, I was pretty sure I’d be under four hours unless I collapsed, but wanted to try to see how strongly I could finish.  After a slow mile 24, I tried to pick things up a bit.  Clicking off an 8:22, I decided to see how fast I could do the last 1.2 miles.

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I leaned a bit forward and tried to increase my cadence and extend my stride a bit.  It was not as hard as I’d thought, meaning I’d run a fairly smart race so far.  I hit mile 26 after just 7:22 and pressed for the finish.  Zig-zagging around the final stretch was fun.  It was a bit steeper than the railroad grade, so I found myself careening a bit.  I pushed hard for the finish and hit it right around 3:51:48.

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Very surprising to have negative split that much (to the tune of about nine or ten minutes less for the second half).  I’d expected to be much closer to four hours.  I’ll definitely take it.  The support and atmosphere around this race was great – even considering that a number of the aid stations were self-service.  And Race Director Brian Pendleton is a really nice guy too – he allowed me to register at the last minute – even crediting me for last year’s registration.  He didn’t have to do that, and I’m very appreciative.  Lastly – the post-race eats were great too, especially the vegetarian chili that Brian found the recipe for!

It was definitely a good morning for a run in the mountains.

pictures included courtesy of hal david

Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks

The difference in between uphill and downhill is clear.  I recovered about twenty seconds of average split after running the 13.1 uphill.  That’s good.  Also, my uphill splits were pretty consistent (though they did trend upwards).  Downhill was a bit more varied, but I feel very good about my strong kick at the end.

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