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

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