Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Arrogant Bastard: the Seattle Marathon Report

My training buddy John is a wise runner. For the 2 days we lightly toured Seattle and attended the Seattle Marathon Expo, John proposed that we treat the Seattle Marathon as a training run. We had signed up for the event months ago as a way to keep our feet to the training fire for our long term goal of the Arizona Ironman in November. John was coming off his calf injury and was being somewhat cautious about re-injuring a muscle that the doctors had told him would doubtfully be marathon ready by late June. Yet, here we were in Seattle ready to run the inaugural Rock & Roll Seattle Marathon.

Our training leading up to Seattle was not ideal. It had rained a lot and we had record breaking heat in June. My first 20 miler had been a treadmill run in AC due to rain. My second 20 and John's only 20 miler was 2 weeks before marathon day. The heat just about killed me late in that training run. As John kept repeating all weekend: "Running slower in heat during training doesn't help make you faster in cooler weather." You trained slower; you simply end up running slower.

I am a stupid runner. If the weather on race day is cool and I feel light and fast, I'm going for glory. My theory is that if you start off slow, you will finish slow. I have never negative split a run in my life and don't think I'm genetically engineered to do so. My self imposed nickname is "Rabbito Andropov." I go out fast and drop off that pace. The question is weather the course finishes before I do. Some days my abilities are longer than the course. Other times, I run out of effort before the course ends.

We arrived in Seattle on Thursday afternoon on separate flights. Our first surprise is the cost of parking at the race host hotel, the Weston. $36 a day to park a car we don't intend to use until Saturday evening. We find out from the desk clerk that we can park at a secondary parking lot for $18 a day. After trying to drive across downtown Seattle in rush hour traffic, the desk clerk's statement that "You really don't need a car in Seattle" rings true. We find out it will cost us $39 to park near the expo and decide to drive back across town, park the car and go to the expo Thursday morning by public transportation. By the time we get the car back across town and parked for the next three days, there is just enough time for a pasta dinner and a stroll through a bookstore before turning in for the night.

Friday morning, we hit the expo. Nice official gear, but a little pricey for a recession. Not only are the prices not discounted, they are pushing the limits of consideration. After dropping about $200 each on shirts, jackets, caps, and souvenir mugs, we stroll the open vendors and sit in for bits of lectures. A doctor tells the crowd of a new study that says if you drink more than 200 milligrams of caffeine pre-race, it reduces the blood flow to the heart by 70%!!! Uh oh, I have been drinking a double shot espresso as a pre-race ritual for the last year or so. How much caffeine is in that? The doctor says you are safe with up to 2 cups of coffee.

After the expo, we go to Pikes Market and watch the fish tossing and pick up some fresh fruit. We eat a late lunch/early dinner at a hole in the wall pizza joint at the market. Two days of pasta. We should be good to go. As we do our pre-race gear set up and race number set up, John advocates running with the 4 hour pace group. I tell him I'm sticking with my higher placed corral number and will not go with a pacer. John responds that I'm going to jackrabbit out of the start and blow up like a pinata. Overnight, I decide that perhaps my wise friend is correct. Our training has not been ideal. I announce in the morning that I'll start with him in the pace group and go out at a 4 hour pace.

As we head by bus over to the race start in Takwila, a suburb south of Seattle, the atmosphere is light and fun. We line up in Corral 11 and meet our pacer, a women who is pacing for the first time. She will hand us off to a second runner at around the half way mark. The gun goes off and in about 15 minutes our group crosses the start line. One of the reasons I'm not a fan of pace groups is there is a clumpage factor. Everyone who want to or thinks he or she can run a 4 hour marathon sticks as close to the pace leader's flag as they can comfortably get. The net result: clumpage. Too many runners, too close together, darn near tripping over each other's shoes. I deal with this by running slightly off the front of the group. John, being what I call "highly social" stays a little further back closer to the pacer. He mixes it up more with the other runners. While I enjoy chatting up other runners before and after a race, I'm more of a solo, don't talk to me during a race, runner. I'll give you a dissertation on the state of the world during a training run; but during a race, I'm more in my own head than into social networking.

I stay within the group through the 6 mile mark, but I've been noting that we are behind a 9 minute per mile pace. Not having run at a 4 hour pace before, I mistakenly believe that we need to make 9 minute per mile pace. I've been checking my watch and see that we've been behind this pace since the start. This is starting to bother me. I start to get a little ahead of the group and John starts to call out for me to slow it down. He tells me to run an even effort and ignore the slope. We had studied the elevation chart prior to the race and I am keenly aware that the first half of the course is fairly flat. The miles from 13 to 20 have some real hills and elevation changes. I figure that its those second half mile that will slow us down. In effect, I lose confidence in the pacer. I feel she is putting us behind the eight ball and we are blowing our pace. I decide to go ahead based on John's statement of "even effort."

I am soon off the front and away from the group. I am aware that John will think I've broken a pact with him, but I don't trust this pacer. I go off at my own pace. I keep the mantra "even effort" in my mind and feel great. In fact I am in the zone. I've got that feeling you get when its all going right. It feels good to be alive and running. A very primordial feeling. I could be caveman running down a mastodon or an American Indian chasing a herd of buffalo for a kill. It is for moments like this that I run. As a species, we are meant to do this. We are evolutionarily designed for running; when you hit just the right stride, this is how you feel. You feel connected to the natural world.

The course has a number of out and back sections. As I cross the bridge over Lake Washington around mile 10, I realize I will soon be doubling back and will come across the 4 hour pace group and John. Over the last 4 miles, I pulled ahead about a 1/2 mile. I've not move up to another pace group, so I know I haven't over done it. But to see the look of disgust on John's face as we pass, you would have thought I had committed a high crime. I figure I'll ask for his forgiveness later. I never said that I would stay with the 4 hour pace group; I said I would start with it. I'm sure he would accuse me of being overly lawyerly, but it's not like I'm saying that it depends on your definition of what the word "is" means. And yes, after giving John this explanation post race, he threw every nasty lawyer joke at me that he could recall. And, yes, I'm an attorney.

As I come up to the 13 mile mark, I note that my watch is a 1:59. Ha, I know we were off pace. I think about the pace group and how the new leader will now start pushing the group to a faster pace for the more challenging section of the course. This section consists of a series of long uphill and downhill slopes in tunnels and on bridges just north of downtown Seattle. The course is along the double-decker State Road 99 that is just west of the downtown area. The outward bound section is on the lower deck. Here, I tuck into the shadows to keep the weather as cool as possible. Miles 18 through 21 are over a long sun exposed bridge. While I feel like I'm taking in enough fluids, I think it is during this section that I am getting behind the hydration curve. But I still feel great and I'm loving the course. On the return section of this out and back on a bridge over Lake Union, I again see John. He has fallen behind 4 hour pace group and looks like he is having a hard time of it. "Hang in there," I shout as we pass. It does not seem to cheer him up.

From mile 22 on in, the course is on the upper deck of State Road 99. Open, hot black top with no hope for shade in slight. At mile 23, I start to wilt fast in the heat, which seems to be rising quickly. Perhaps its my Northern European genetics, but I do not do well running in hot conditions. Perhaps no one does, but I seem to do worse than the average runner. I sweat pretty good in the heat. In this situation, I think the dryer air has caused me to not notice the fact that I've been slipping into dehydration. By mile 24, I've got classic signs of dehydration: my back aches, my leg muscles are starting to twitch, and my body just want to stop running. I go from having the time of my life to hoping I can finish this event. I go from an ever slowing jog to a walk and jog combination. My race is over, but I've go 2 miles left.

Its amazing how you can go from Heaven to Hell in a short time. "Why do I do this to myself," I think. More importantly: who am I kidding that I can even attempt a full ironman event? "Only myself," I respond in my head. I start watching for the 4 hours pace group leader coming up behind me. Sure enough, I see the new pace leader pushing the group at what appears to be a pretty brisk pace. There are only 3 or 4 people keeping with her. "At least I had that figured out" I think. There had been probably 40 people pacing at the beginning. I believe a pacer signed up to run the entire course would have run a more even pace.

Me, I'm starting to have muscle cramps. I'm past mile 25, and occasionally look back to see where John is on the course. With less than a half mile to go, he runs by me walking it in. "Come on Humpty," John says. While I'd love to pace in with him, my legs will not respond. "You go ahead," I say. Off he goes, probably with a nice grin on his face. I am paying dearly for my sin of hubris. No, I am not better than the running gods and I am paying a dear price for having overly enjoyed my earlier miles. With about 100 yards to go, my left calf muscle freezes up and I'm forced to stop and message the cramp out. I hobble over the finish line. I look towards the medical tent just ahead of me and for the first time ever contemplate going in for an IV hookup. "Walk it off," John says to me like a disgusted drill sargent to his new recruits after a long march. I try to keep walking, but I seriously want to lay down.

We go to the free beer section of the finish area and sit on the steps of Qwest Football Stadium. John climbs the flight of steps up the stadium to get us a couple of hot dogs. There was no way in Hell that I was going to climb those steps. John came back with the hot dogs which tasted like the best meat I've ever had in my life. Its amazing how good food tastes when your body needs the protein. I am of course humiliated with my last miles, but John is kind enough not to rib me about it. Yet. Over the course of the next few days, he lets me know how he really feels. Oh well, the guy knows my history. He really should not be surprised.

For the books, John ran a 4:08; me, a 4:11. Not a great result for either of us. We both are regular sub 4 hour marathon runners. But as John said, we ran as well as our training allowed. Its been hot and we were under trained for a good marathon result. As a waitress told us at a restaurant, "It's over, you finished, move on." Well said.

That night we drove out to a park in Redmond and saw Keb Mo, a great blues/soul singer. It was a free concert for everyone who ran the marathon. Your race number bib was your ticket in. Keb plays a great blues guitar. He was accompanied by a great keyboard player. If you get a chance to see Keb Mo, just go.

We finished our visit to the Northeast with a day trip to the San Juan Islands. We rode scooters around San Juan Island and went on an evening whale watching boat trip. Some Killer Whales from the L pod that feed in the area came very close to our boat. Captain Pete and his biology student assistant were both entertaining and informative. We spent Monday doing classic tourist stuff around the Space Needle: an IMAX movie on the Lewis & Clark Expedition; watching the kids play in the music fountain; going through the Music Experience Museum; and going up to the observation deck of the Space Needle, which is 605 feet tall. I know, it only looks to be about 300 feet; but really, its twice that high.

We finished our night at a brew pub/restaurant called "Roasters." I was going to order a locally brewed beer, but when I saw a California beer, I knew I had to order it. When the waitress returned with our drink order, she asked, "Who's the Arrogant Bastard?" I raised my hand and shrugged, "That would be me." I got no objection from my wiser running buddy John.

So, let the errata begin! I'm sure John will want to correct various misrepresentations of fact. But the fact remains that I got infinite joy out of the first 23 miles of the Seattle Marathon. Unfortunately, the race was 3 miles too long for me. I would run it the same way if I had it to do over. I may never find out. It too hot down here to train for summer marathons. The summer is for triathlons. I can't wait to get on the bike and hop in the pool and start serious bike and swim training.

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