On July 25th, I joined a band of friends and like-minded maniacs to run the 2010 edition of the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. This is a small race, with a total of about 100 participants, doing the full and half marathon distances. For the past two years, it’s been an out-and-back affair from Iron Horse State Park, near Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend. Thirteen point one miles uphill, followed by thirteen point one miles of downhill. It’s a railroad grade, so the hill is gentle. The challenge is to go out easily enough so that you don’t bonk too badly when trying to tear downhill during the second half.
Several years back, race director Brian Pendleton was looking for a certified course affording a good chance of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The original course started at Snoqualmie Pass, going downhill on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, to North Bend. The event’s name comes from a railroad tunnel you get to run through for 2 1.2 miles. I rode this tunnel several years back on a mountain bike while doing the Mountains to Sound Relay. The feeling you get riding fast through the dark, with a bunch of other bikes you can’t see, was interesting. While slower, running this route sounded interesting to me. I registered for the 2008 race. Owing to unforeseen circumstances, I couldn’t do the race that year, so I missed the race director’s victorious BQ run.
The following winter, the tunnel was found to have some structural issues, forcing Brian to come up with the alternate out/back, uphill/downhill course. While not as fast a course, it’s definitely scenic. And if you run here in the northwest, you can’t be afraid of a hill or two.
I ran this race last year, and had a good day. While I felt I wasn’t in the same race condition I was last year, I went out again, looking forward to the nice course, and great vibe. The trick was that my father and I had tickets to see the Seattle Mariners take on the Boston Red Sox that afternoon. This meant I’d need to run fast enough to catch the 1:09 bus from I-90 into Seattle, in order to get there by the third inning.
So when we lined up to start that morning, I had to remind myself to take things easy going out. Easier said than done. Brian counted us down, and we were off. Last year, I’d done most of the uphill miles a tad over a 9 minute pace. This time around, I was unwittingly more ambitious. I felt okay for the first three miles, but my stomach started to bother me a bit. Just after mile 5, I took my first ever marathon potty break. It cost me timewise, but was better than the alternative. I exited the ;office’just over two minutes in debt relative to my rough four hour goal. I figured I’d be able to make this up on the downhill, so wasn’t too worried.
I continued up the hill, mostly enjoying myself. The deay was warm, heading into the sevenries by midmorning. Another reason to take things a bit slow. As I climbed, I enjoyed the trestle bridges we got to cross, and the great views of the creeks far below. By the time I hit the turnaround, I was juuust about on a hour hour pace. By this time I was also feeling the effects of running 13.1 uphill. I hoped it was just as simple as closing my eyes and rolling down along the trail. Not quite, but I was just about able to fool myself into believing it.
The second half of this event was interesting. In the abstract, you’d think once you’d run the uphill part, all you really have to do is cruise. In reality, your body didn’t forget about what you’d just done, and is telling you it might could use a bit of rest. But when you’re on pace to meet a time goal, you can’t really let up. So I pressed on. And by mile eighteen I was really feeling it. By then it was really about keeping my head in the race, and telling myself I could do this. So many times like this, all we really have is our own self telling us whether we can do it or not. Physical training is a mechanical process. Mental/emotional training is far more interesting than that.
So when I tried to coax a bit more speed for miles 25 and 26, I had to believe I could do this. What’s funny is that by then I wasn’t thinking about a four hour goal anymore – I’d rolled back to 3:55. Amazing what we can do if we keep our heads and hearts in the race, isn’t it? I crossed the finish in 3:54:31. This is about three minute slower than last year, but I’ll take it.
The immediate aftermath was not fun. I was so wrecked I needed to sit for a few minutes and drink a bunch of juice and sport drink. Kris had done the half as part of a longer training run, and encouraged me to take advantage of nearby Rattlesnake Lake to cool down a bit. I was uncertain I’d be able to walk the quarter mile or so to do this, and (rather pathetically) asked her to drive down and meet me as close to the shore as possible.
Once I’d cooled down a bit and got into the car, I started feeling better. I caught the bus, picked up a nice bowl of noodles, and enjoyed an afternoon of baseball with my dad. When I think about this race, I reflect on how much I was able to draw from myself by simply believing I could keep turning my legs over during those hard miles. No speed records, but some great lessons learned, and a nice day overall.
8/3/2010 : updated to include pictures taken by race director Brian Pendleton – thank you Brian!
Graphs for Running Geeks
Looking at the splits tells the story. A bit too fast in the early miles, a costly stop, but a good overall trend later. Overall a negative split. I wonder whether I might have finished faster by taking it a little easier in the beginning.