I got to watch the sun rise on New Year’s Eve morning, into a clear sky over the Skagit Valley. During the northwest winter, that means it’s bound to be cold. And so it was – a chilly 23 degrees F.
I was heading north to the Last Chance Marathon in Bellingham Washington – the northernmost city in the lower 48. I’d wanted to do this event last year, but had waited a bit too long to commit, and it filled up.
It was looking to be a beautiful day. Cold too. For the first time, I would wear long tights during a race. I’d prided myself on running in short sleeves and shorts, even in temperatures as cold as about 28, but the prospect of being out there for about four hours made me think twice.
I rolled into the parking lot at Fairhaven Park, about 30 minutes prior to the start. After checking in, and getting my stuff ready, I lined up to begin my fifth marathon of 2010. The race would be a two-time out and back, with a small extension on the out portion. I’d expected the course to be pretty flat, having read it would mostly be on a gravel path. This misconception was corrected pretty quickly.
We ran uphill out of the park, and wound around a section of single track, with some nice uphill sections along the way. I felt my pace might be a bit too ambitious, so ratcheted it down a bit after two miles and change.
pictures courtesy of terry sentinella
The single track ended a short time later, and we headed up a slight incline along a railroad grade. After we’d been going for a while I noticed a beautiful panoramic view of Bellingham Bay, off to the west. Further study told me that I was running along a several hundred foot dropoff down to the road below too – one wrong step would be very painful. So I made sure I was running along the middle of the trail, rather than sticking to the edge.
I’d seen several Marathon Maniac friends out there too. This is not surprising, given the fact the the race was low-cost, mostly self-supported, but promised the chance to do Just.One.More.Marathon in 2010.
I hit the first turnaround at an hour even. At this pace, I’d be very close to the four hour mark – which was really my only race goal. On the way back in, I tried to pick up the pace modestly, without getting too tired. By the time I hit the halfway point, I was on pace for a 4:02.
And that’s not good. If the four hour mark were way out of reach, that’d be one thing. At this pace though I’d really want to pick up the two or three minutes, otherwise I’d feel like I’d not tried hard enough. And so I did.
The second time out, I consciously picked it up a bit. I took the single track a bit harder, and pushed as we headed up the railroad grade. By the time I hit the final turnaround, I was just a tad over the three hour mark, having made up most of the time I’d need.
And as I set out for the final stretch, I knew I’d want to pick up another minute or two over the previous pace. Fortunately, the majority of the railroad grade appeared to be a slight descent (hadn’t noticed this before). So I tried to take things just a little faster. Actually I tried to take them a lot faster, but enough fatigue had set in, meaning I was only gaining about twenty seconds per mile now. But every little bit helps – and I felt pretty good as I headed into the single track again, with about three miles to go.
I think I like the two-time-out-and-back approach. This means you’re running four 10K stretches, which effectively divvies things up into bite-sized pieces. The emotional effect of running 10Ks is pretty nice – there’s really no time to become mired in the middle miles, as happens sometimes. And so I found myself running the final couple of miles at a good clip, but knowing I didn’t have a bunch of time to lose if I’d wanted to sneak in under the four hour mark.
I made the final turn heading into the park with a couple of minutes to go, crossing the finish just under 3:59. Nice race.
After catching my breath, I felt pretty good about my effort. Although not close to a PR pace, it was a negative split, reflecting that I’d run a smarter race than other recent efforts. And I’d put a nice cap on 2010 in the process.
Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks
The four splits below reflect a fairly steady pace overall, with a nice acceleration towards the end. I’ll take it!
pictures added 1/4/2011