Why do we go the distance? Is it a cult? An addiction? Some kind of penance? Do we have something to prove? The answers to these questions are nearly as individual as the runners themselves.
Marshall Ulrich, from his book Running on Empty
Spring had become a very busy time. At work, we’re trying to wrap up work on a new product release. At home, the kids were involved with school, and activities. And Kris was ramping her bike training, in preparation for some summer events. I’d wanted to find a nice local marathon around the beginning of May. It would be my last for a while. On the fourth of May, I’d go in for surgery on my jaw – which would put a halt to running marathons for a while.
As luck would have it, Eric Bone had another of his Northwest Trail Runs slated for the last day of April. We’d run in Soaring Eagle Park, in Sammamish – just about 25 minutes from home. I’d run a couple of shorter events there before, up to ten miles. The park was nice, the trails somewhat technical and labyrinthine. And word had it that the trails were pretty muddy too, owing to our wet northwestern spring.
I joined a small crowd of people out to run the marathon, and 50k on the morning of the event. The runners included several friends from the Eastside Runners – Ather and Theresa were running the 50k (Theresa’s first!). Greg planned to pace them for 15-20 miles. It was a beautiful morning, blue sky and sun – atypical for us this spring.
After a quick primer on how to follow the route markings (important, given the twisty trails), we were off.
We started with a 1.2 mile loop, a short turn around one corner of the park. Judging by the mud, it would be a challenging day – to stay standing up, let alone running 42-50k. I ran with my friends for that first loop and a little beyond, when it became clear that their pace was a bit too brisk for me, so I dropped back.
After that first 1.2 mile loop, the remainder of the course was two 10 mile loops, followed by a 5.1 miler. For those of you keeping track, that’s a 26.3 mile marathon – more miles for your money. The 10 mile loop had an aid station about 4.1 miles in. And the 5.9 miles that followed felt longer than 5.9 miles usually did. That final 5.1 mile loop was a trip back out to the aid station, followed by a stretch along a muddy road back to the start.
I felt I’d kept a reasonably good pace for the first 11.2, but the remaining loop and a half took care of that feeling. I started feeling fatigue earlier than expected, and more or less resigned myself to one of those “run just to finish days”.
The second loop around felt long, and when I came in to fill my bottle at the 21.2 mile mark, I was pretty wasted. The final loop was slow. More and more, I’d settle into a walk while I drank or ate a gel. That last trip to the aid station took longer than the others. Ambling through the woods alone was quiet, and nice. I ‘d spent most of the race lost in my thoughts. I paid little attention to what my watch said, breaking out of my trance only when it was time to eat or drink something.
That final mile was tough. It was along a wide muddy road, and possibly half of it was uphill. I didn’t have much kick left, but suddenly felt concerned that I’d get passed. Odd thought given that just a mile or so earlier, I’d spent several minutes sitting on a log, attempting to get all of the rock out of shoes completely saturated with mud. I’d spent the better part of five hours running alone through the woods, rarely glimpsing another human being. I’d seen lots of birds, and enjoyed watching deer lope along the trail ahead of me. What was suddenly different? I guess my brain had decided to reenter civilization, with all of its baggage.
A couple of hundred meters from the finish I ran past my friends Larissa and Don, out to cheer Theresa in. They’d spent the morning running around Lake Sammamish – a nice 22 miler – and brought great smiles and great energy along.
I crossed the finish in just over 5:08 – my second-slowest marathon time ever. And surprisingly, I was the first marathoner in. But runs like this one are not about what the clock says. Rather – they’re about what our souls tell us after something like this. And mine gave thanks for being able to enjoy the mud and the miles this beautiful morning.
pictures taken by Larissa and Don Uchiyama, and the NW Trail Series folks
Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks
The data shows that this event wasn’t really about the time for me. Had it been, I’d have wanted either the cumulative average pace to trend down, or (at the very least) the early splits to be fast enough to explain the steep positive splits. But – it was a beautiful morning.