2009 seattle marathon report

On November 29th, I completed the Seattle Marathon.  Despite not running according to plan, it was a very good day.  It was great to be out seeing the city.  And it was great to see many friends along the way, both running and volunteering.

Last year at this time, I was recovering from a bicycle accident.  I wasn’t allowed to run yet, but had been determined to participate as I could, by walking the Seattle Half Marathon.  This was my first distance event in recovery, and the experience was phenomenal.

This year I’ve been running marathons with a vengeance, primarily to establish that I was back from my injuries.  Having completing nine of them so far, completing number ten felt important.  And completing it where I’d walked the half last year felt like a another milestone too.

The night before, I laid out my stuff for the race.  As has become my routine, I wore my Eastside Runners shirt, demonstrating my allegiance to the team of people who helped me out so much during recovery.  And I wore my Marathon Maniacs hat for two reasons.  The Maniacs are a nice bunch of folks, and running ten marathons within a calendar year should allow others to question my sanity too.

Heading over to Seattle the morning of the race, I felt more nervous than I’d felt about a race in months.  I wasn’t sure how well prepared I was, and I wasn’t feeling my best overall.  I wasn’t sure how I’d run.  I didn’t really even have tight race plan, other than trying to get in under four hours. 

Kris and I left early, allowing for the lengthy backup heading to the start.  Kris and her friend Shaula were going to watch me go by during the first mile, and then take a good walk before catching the finish.  I got settled in at the start, with enough time to find my happy place, and relax a bit.

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The last few minutes before we started seemed to go on a long time.  I tried to stay loose and reminded myself not to think ahead to to the finish. 

Then we were off.  Running that first stretch along 5th, I tried to settle into a nice steady pace.  I inventoried my various aches and pains, and worked to calm myself.  I told myself I was going to be out there for a while, no matter how fast I ran.  Kris and Shaula were positioned just outside of Top Pot Doughnuts, about a half mile into the race, cheering the runners on.

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As we ran, I thought about various memories along the route : meeting a friend I’d not seen in nearly thirty years a few weeks ago, going past one of our favorite noodle places in the International District.  As we ran up the ramp to interstate 90, I thought about when Kris and I ran the half back in 2002, and we ran into the snarl of runners as the ramp narrowed.

Running across the city on the freeway is not as satisfying as running through neighborhoods and having people cheer you on.  We stay on the interstate for perhaps five miles, heading through the Mount Baker tunnel, then out and back on the bridge to Mercer Island.  As we got closer to the turnaround, I began to see friends coming back the other way – Richard, May, and Hazel among them, all looking strong.

My splits were a good bit faster than planned.  By now, I was clicking them off at around an 8:10-8:20 pace, and feeling good.  The problem was that I knew that I’d feel it later, and kept telling myself to slow down a bit.  There are some good hills in the late miles, and it definitely pays to leave some reserve in your tank for then.  My usual gauge for how smartly I ran is whether or not I negative split.  My goal is usually to be able to finish faster than I start.  My concern was that I had not set a sustainable pace.

Despite these concerns, I continued to do the brisk miles.  In fact, for the first 19 miles, I ran slightly slower than 8:30 just three times.  The thing is, I’d done very little speed work, very little tempo work, and no mile repeats in the month before this race.  You can’t make up for shortcomings in training on race day.

In any case, I was feeling pretty good heading down Lake Washington Blvd, and around Seward Park as I made it past the halfway point.  The miles felt like they were breezing past.

Things changed a bit as I headed north past interstate 90, and up through Leschi.  The pack had slowed down a bit by then, and we began a slight uphill climb.  This is a nice stretch of the course, past nice shops and houses, but definitely more challenging than before.  As I headed up past miles 15, 16, and 17, I began to slow down a bit. 

By then, I wasn’t feeling as good as I was running.  I had to work harder to be patient, and focus on the moment, rather than thinking too far ahead.  I saw my friends May, Joelle, and Laura on the course, which provided a nice boost (familiar, friendly faces do that), but the inevitable slog had begun.

I allowed myself to walk up the big hill on Galer, and then took it pretty slowly up Madison too.  Mile 21 was my slowest by far, more than a minute off my final average pace.  I went into the Arboretum, and then began the climb up Interlaken, over Capital Hill.

Most of the way up this hill, I came to mile marker 22, where my Eastside Runner friends were attending to an intersection.  I’d volunteered here several years back, and marveled at the elaborate gate system in place to allow buses to continue running, while the runners could also proceed without interruption.  It’s impressive.  And it was really wonderful to see so many friends, many of whom I’d seen last July in the hospital, and then again last November when I walked the half.  I exchanged some high fives, absorbed some great positive energy, and pressed on.

The run through Interlaken Park is my favorite part of the course.  No cars, just trees.  It’s got some slight uphill, but such a lovely stretch that you don’t really mind it.  By the time we made it back to the open roads, I’d reached the point where I was counting the miles, ready to finish. 

Heading down along Boylston and Eastlake, I was fighting the beginnings of a cramp in my left hamstring.  I’d been lucky enough not to have had much of an issue with this before, but began to wonder whether I’d made another mistake by relying only on the Gatorade on the course, rather than consuming the Perpetuem drink I’d brought.  I’d also failed to keep to a regular consumption rate for the carbBoom gels I’d brought.  In addition to running faster than planned, these are more silly mistakes one often pays for in the late miles.  I was using the 3:45 pacer as a motivator now too.  I wanted to finish ahead of her.  She’d clearly run more deliberately than I had, as she seemed to feel well enough to pick things up a bit.

The final mile wasn’t very pretty.  I took a couple of short walk breaks, and had just started to run again as I headed up Mercer near the Memorial Stadium finish.  As I passed the corner of Fifth and Mercer, I heard Kris call out to me and saw her wave as I passed.  Just the final bit of energy I needed!

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I was able to pick up the pace a bit heading into the stadium, and finished at a reasonable clip.  The final 1.2 miles was my second slowest split pace of the race, but I’d made it.  My time was 3:44:41, my third fastest marathon finish ever.

I took some time at the finish to appreciate what I’d done.  Ten marathons and ultras in the space of eight months.  That had followed just a three month ramp-up from not running for nearly six months, following the bicycle accident.  Much to be thankful for.  Good fortune, and a great deal of love and support.

I may do another two marathon in the next several months to round things out to an even dozen.  For now though, I’m content to enjoy what this journey has meant to me.

charts and graphs for running geeks

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The split chart tells the story.  The trend line is supposed to go the other way, faster as I go farther.  It didn’t work that way, and I really can’t blame the hills late in the course for that.  I didn’t stick to my usual plan (start slow), and paid for it later.  Still very pleased with the overall results.  Now if I developed some focus and discipline, just imagine what that might do.

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