Monthly Archives: July 2011

running to the light

This past Sunday, we completed the 2011 Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon.  The event is put on by my friend Brian Pendleton and his family, and a host of great volunteers.  The race starts in Hyak, just east of Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades, and ends in the town of North Bend.  The course is mostly downhill – with a total descent of about 2000 feet.  It’s a steady railroad grade, so the descent is a gentle one.  And the course is certified, so runners can qualify for the Boston Marathon.


My training for the event was marginal.  I’d taken a couple of weeks off to have jaw surgery in May, and had been dealing with some fatigue issues since.  No speedwork (other than a single track workout).  My race goal was to simply run it as fast as I could – given that a Boston Qualifying Time (BQ) was not likely.

Kris had a very ambitious training ramp.  She’d ramped from a seven or eight mile base to marathon in less than three months, including her three week taper.  Her motivation was definitely a BQ – with the qualifying times getting tighter next year, she would need to run about six minutes faster (dropping from 4:00:59 to 3:55:00). 

This is what brought us to climb onto a yellow school bus with other runners on the morning on July 25.  It was already sunny and warmer than it had been – with the temperature at the finish projected to be about 75.  We both felt a bit nervous – knowing that the heat would make things more challenging.

At eight o’clock, Brian counted down and sent us off.  We warmed up for the first three quarters of a mile on a slight downhill grade.  And then we entered the namesake tunnel.  The Hyak Tunnel is about 2.25 miles of straight, dark, dampness.  It felt like 50 degrees, around 10-12 degrees cooler than outside.  You can see the light at the end the whole way, which should give you a sense of hope.

Here’s the thing though.  Running in the darkness with 300 friends takes a leap of faith.  Your eyes take a while to adjust, and you’re conscious of not wanting to run into others.  I wore a headlamp, but it didn’t help much.  We tended to run in groups, sharing whatever available light there was.  Great metaphor there – sometimes you have to take that leap of faith, and trust yourself to do what you know you can do.  Focus ahead, and keep moving.  Remembering this would have helped me later in the race.


I came out of the tunnel into the first aid station, and crossed the 3 mile mark, at about an 8:20 pace – which was pretty good.  Shortly after I exited the tunnel, my friend Tony passed me.  And not by a little – he was flying!  If he kept that up, it was going to be a really great day for him.

I felt pretty good, better than I had on some recent training runs.  I kept a brisk pace, going just under eight minutes for mile 6, and felt pretty good doing it.  I paid attention to my cadence and form, focusing on keeping to 82-85 strides per minute, with a forward lean and engaged core (Chi Running basics).  I tried to remember to relax my legs, to simply let them fall, rather than push too hard.  And it worked.  I was averaging 8:15 miles for the first ten miles.

When you run faster than planned, it’s important to pay attention to how you feel.  Listen to your body and all that.  Shortly before the midpoint of the race, I began feeling fatigue in my quads.  It had warmed up a bit too.  Still, my splits looked good.

Around mile 15, my pace slowed about 14 seconds per mile.  And then crept up towards 8:45.  I alternated between taking it easy, and pushing myself to keep to a sub 8:30, because that made a PR possible.  The BQ was out of reach, but the prospect of doing a new personal record was not.  If I was able to keep under 8:20, it could be done.  So miles 20 and 21 were good ones, timewise.  By then I was really hurting though. 

At mile 22 we passed the old finish line, and the grade decreased, so that the course felt mostly level.  Problem was I really needed that downhill by then.  Miles 22-24 were tough ones.  And then at mile 25 my wheels fell off.  A sub 3:40 time was probably beyond reach, and so I gave into the fatigue.  And that bothers me.  I ended up walking most of mile 25-26, too tired or mentally beat to dig deeper.  And that bothers me.

I did mile 26 at a 13:07 clip.  Realistically, that’s probably just 3 -4minutes slower than I would have mustered by running.  But I felt like I gave up just 1.2 miles short of the finish.  Bummer. 


In the final analysis the time isn’t the important gauge of an event.  By the clock, this was my third fastest of 32 marathons.  Not bad.  But I didn’t feel good about the effort.  It felt like I let the thing beat me – just when it was time to take some deep breaths, slow down a bit, and trust myself to do what I’d trained for.  Not the race, but for what life gives you sometimes.

Next time, I’ll hopefully be able to do more quality training – long peak runs, and some speedwork.  Some good lessons learned.

Tony had indeed done well.  It was a new PR for him, by about 15 minutes!  I saw Kris come in, just missing her BQ by about two minutes.  A new PR by about five minutes, but still disappointing to miss her goal by so little.  Other ESR friends came in too – Leslie got a PR, as did Mark.  May was interviewed by a journalist from Taiwan, who remembered her being one of the top finishers in a race there last year.  Bill finished at the faster end of his expectation, and Janet looked strong when coming in second in her age group.   Apparently some bear sightings occurred too.  All in all a good day for the ESR crew.

chart and graphs for running geeks

The chart tells the story nicely.  Upward trend in the second half of the race, with the wheels coming off for that final mile.


pictures taken by Matt Hagen, added 30 July


hug your cyclists

A busy weekend. 

Kris completed the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic.  This is a 200 mile ride (not a race, not timed) that’s happened for over thirty years (other than in 1980 when it was cancelled due to the ash from Mount St. Helens).

Kris did about 140 miles the first day, leaving just 60 for the second day.  I’d tried to goad her into doing it all in a single day, but she pointed out that we’re both registered to run a marathon in a couple of weeks, so technically she’s in her taper for that.

Kayla was down at a theater camp in Portland this past week, so with Kris riding I needed to get down there on Saturday morning to catch her show and pick her up.  Side note – great camp – the Columbia River Gorge School of Theater does a great job at keeping things fun, safe, and challenging the kids to improve there performance skills.  Definitely recommended for interested kids!

Logistically, this posed a bi of a challenge.  The younger child would spend Friday evening and Saturday with my parents while Kris was riding, and I was between here and Portland.  I got a chance to visit with some family in Portland on Friday evening.  Saturday, it’d be showtime and then back up to Seattle.

Aside from a hellish ride south on Friday, things went well.  Great visit, and the performance was great.  Kayla had a great time at the camp – and was already lobbying for more time there.

We hit the road shortly before noon.  I figured we’d stop[ to get something to eat early afternoon, hopefully getting home around 4 or so.  As luck would have it, we ended up stopping for lunch in Castle Rock, which is where Kris would stop for the night.  She’d texted me about her progress, and I figured we were about 60-90 minutes ahead of her.  It seemed silly not to try to say hello.

So Kayla and I finished lunch and headed over to the high school where Kris would arrive.  When we got there, I looked around for a place to leave her a message if we didn’t catch her.  Kayla hung out outside, waiting for Kris to roll in.  Suddenly, I heard a horrible crashing sound, and then some people saying “cyclist down – call an ambulance!”.

I turned and looked – there was a small crowd of people gathered over by the entrance to the parking lot.  Incoming cyclists need to make a left turn across traffic here.  We’re still not sure what happened, but the driver of a Honda Civic had run into a cyclist on his way into the lot.  The rider had been been knocked about 12 feet or so, but appeared to be conscious.

I checked on Kayla.  She’d apparently seen the accident – not well enough to see precisely who was where, and when.  I asked her if she was okay – and then we walked over.  The cyclist was indeed awake and moving around.  He was banged up, and definitely shaken up – but was responsive to questions like “what year is it”, “what’s your name”, etc.

I’ve tried to find out how the cyclist is doing – but have not yet heard.  I can only hope he’s okay.  I honestly didn’t know whether it would have been better for us to move away from the scene, because of the feelings a cyclist getting hit stirs in both of us. Both Kayla and I are definitely still processing what happened to us.

Today I heard that another friend riding with his son, had a very close call. Around mile 167 or so, he was hit by a pink tricycle that had been unsecured in the back of a pickup truck coming the other way. It hit Greg’s tire, wiping out his front fork, and causing him to fly over his handlebars. Very fortunately, he’s just bruised and scraped. Wow.

Well – after that, there was really no question that we’d stay and see Kris ride in.  And she did, still smiling after riding farther than she had in a single day.  She had a decent ride the next day, and was in Portland in time to catch the first bus back up to Seattle.  We’re very proud of her, and are really happy that she had a safe ride.

If you’ve got a cyclist friend or family – give ‘em a hug.


greeting Kris in Castle Rock after she’d completed her first day’s ride for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic.

three years and thankful

I nearly lost my life three years ago today.  You can read about that adventure here if you’d like.  Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded about what happened.  Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to be alive, and active.

For the past two July the firsts, I’ve visited the fire station that answered the call for my accident – Station #12 in Redmond.  Getting to thank people for saving your life is quite amazing. 

The first responders have a code they try to adhere to – called 7-7-7.  That means no longer than seven minutes to get to the scene, seven minutes readying a patient for transport, and then seven minutes to the hospital.  For Traumatic Brain Injury patients like me, time is of the essence.  Taking longer can jeopardize the patient’s life, or leave them vulnerable to sustaining brain damage.

Perhaps from their standpoint, the cyclist hit on Old Redmond Road near Grasslawn Park at 8:30 that morning posed no special challenge to them. Perhaps they simply did their job, making sure I was stabilized, and made it safely to the trauma center at Harborview Hospital in Seattle.

But it’s clear that what first responders like those that helped me, are true heroes.  What they do really matters – as it did to my family and I that morning three years ago.

They invited me back into the firehouse, and we talked for a while.  They asked how I felt, whether I remembered anything about the accident, and whether I’d spoken to the driver at all (I haven’t).

We talked about efforts to create stricter negligent driving laws, and I told them about some of the people who shared their stories in Olympia in support of the Vulnerable User Bill (signed into law by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire this past May 16).

And then we were interrupted by a call they needed to answer.  I stood by my bicycle and waved as they left, thinking about how they’d done this for me not too long ago.

In many ways, I’m happy to leave these memories behind me, and simply move on.  But remembering this anniversary by saying “thank you” is a reminder of just how blessed I am.