Posted by: pointlenana | June 16, 2012

North Olympic Discovery Marathon

I’m riding Terrible Two tomorrow, in Sebastopol CA, so I’m on the verge of being one event behind.

A couple weekends ago Janet and I completed that 3rd marathon we insanely signed up for, I think after Boston and before Big Sur.  The idea at the time was that Boston was really slow, I knew I wouldn’t run especially fast at Big Sur, and I thought I had had a good training cycle and wanted to see if I could make something of it.  Surprisingly Janet said “if you do that, I’ll go with you and do it too”.  Big Sur turned out to be slow also and near the end of that, Janet declared that her marathon career was over and she’d be doing the half-marathon at Port Angeles instead.  Fortunately that view softened after a few days, and she decided to run the marathon with no time goal and just the goal of feeling good.

Neither of us really knew how to train after 2 slow marathons, with 5 weeks to the next one.  I had a long bike ride in there, and at some point during a run a calf tightened, so I basically just tried to maintain fitness without getting injured.   Janet started looking at my Run Less Run Faster book, and trained using the last few weeks of that even though she wasn’t really ready for the fast runs.

The weather here (well, actually, in Seattle) has been really gloomy all spring.  Saturday June 2 rolled around and surprise, it was a gloomy wet day.  Fortunately the weather for Sunday was supposed to be dry, cloudy, cool, and pretty calm.  Perfect conditions after 3 tries.  We took a ferry over to the Kitsap peninsula and took a look at the parts of the course that we could get to.  It starts in Sequim, does a big circle in what can only be described as a neighborhood, goes through downtown Sequim (which is not a big place), and then gets on a trail that I think is mostly an old railroad grade.  That map showed a couple steep dips and climbs – those turned out to be places where the course dips deep down into a creek and then climbs out.  Short and really steep, climbing up maybe 75 feet out of the creeks.  If I remember right, Heartbreak Hill rises a 100 feet in half a mile.  This was more like 75 feet in a 10th of a mile.  Anyway, we looked a parts of the trail but parts were pretty inaccessible.

We rolled into Port Angeles and were pleased to see that the finish line is located about 17 feet away from the back door into the lobby of our hotel (the Red Lion).  The hotel told us we could check out at 2, giving us maybe an hour after finishing to shower.  We went to the expo, got our bibs, checked out the ~8 booths at the expo including the US Forest Service, and then set out for our pasta dinner.

When I registered us, we had the option of buying tickets to the pasta dinner hosted by the Sons of Italy.  I’ve had some great food at marathon pasta dinners, and after Janet’s stomach issues in Boston and Big Sur we wanted to keep it simple.  So we bought the tickets.  There was a map showing how to get there at the expo, and I thought walking would be a good idea.  We walked a block, then climbed up this really steep staircase to the next street.  Port Angeles is right on the water – basically there was the Red Lion, the finish line on a trail that runs along the water, and then the Straits of Juan de Fuca which run between the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.  So we climbed up away from the water and set off for dinner.  After walking uphill for about 3/4 of a mile we finally got close.  I knew it was in a church – I’ve had post bike ride meals in churches.  We find the church, walk past some pretty old people going in one door, realize they are going in for Saturday night mass, and walk over to the other door where the dinner is.  A very nice couple greets us, checks our names on the list, and says “have fun!”  We walk through the door, into a cinder block auditorium with basketball hoops at each end.  Folding tables are set up throughout the space.  At the front of a room a guy is singing songs karaoke-style, covering all the latest hits from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.  I look around the room and think “where are the runners?”  The average age is approximately 75, although that’s skewed a little low because there a few sons and daughters eating with their parents, grandkids in tow.  We get in line, skip a sketchy-looking salad – could cause stomach issues which we don’t want – get big plates of spaghetti and red sauce, and pour on some grated parmesan out of a plastic bottle.  We sit down with the one table of runner-looking people, and find out that they are walking the half-marathon.  Boy Scouts in full uniform, including one impressive-looking merit badge sash, serve spumoni ice cream out of cardboard buckets at one end of the hall.  We eat quickly for some reason, skip the dessert, wish the walkers luck, and head out thinking that the situation could have been explained a little more clearly on the marathon website.  We do give the Sons of Italy a ton of credit though – simple food that served us very well the next day.

Marathon Sunday dawned… gloomy.  But dry.  Cool but not cold.  We make the long trek – one block – over to the buses and get on.  We happened to ride on a bus with the pace team.  For a small marathon they had a full complement of pacers, from 3:25 up to about 5 hours.  We arrive at the start, get out, and go into a building where runners can wait until the start.  This is a small marathon – 400 marathon participants, plus maybe 1000 half-marathon participants who start somewhere halfway.  In small marathons you get to wait in a warm building at the start, you get to use the indoor facilities (or an outdoor one without having to wait in a line) and you can head to the start about 5 minutes before the run starts.  We actually went out early, jogged a bit and stretched.  But I think I lined up about 3 minutes before the start.

While we were waiting, we checked out the other runners.  There were a lot of Marathon Maniacs there, and someone who was wearing Leadville 100 shorts.  I almost asked if he could touch his shorts.  The Maniacs were pretty intimidating – just out for another 26.2 mile run, maybe the 10th of the year or the 3rd in 3 days or something like that.  But I think the Maniacs are pretty nice, at least based on our experience talking with one at Big Sur.  It’s less about running fast than it is about doing the events, hanging with other Maniacs, seeing different places, etc..

According to an 8K we ran recently, I’m theoretically capable of running a 3:23 marathon.  I’ve been theoretically capable of running that forever, and have never done better than 3:28+.  After 2 marathons, a long bike ride, and weird training, I didn’t know what was going to happen.  Also the course, while relatively flat, appeared to have some challenging parts.  I decided to aim for a 3:25 and see what happens.  If I remember right, 3:25 is a 7:49/mile pace.  I ran the first 3 miles somewhere around 7:35 and felt great, and as usual probably blew my chance to have a good marathon.  I actually felt great for the first half although around mile 10 I started to notice that I wasn’t as fresh as I should be – I think the other events were making their presence known.  Janet was somewhere behind me, just trying to finish without having a bad day.

At mile 16 or so, I hit the nasty surprise.  I made it down and up the first creek bed fine, but the next 4 miles in the woods – that we hadn’t been able to preview – were this series of little steep twisty rollers.  Not really steep and not long, but not a straight flat trail where you can just run.  Over and over I thought “I hope that’s it” and again and again I was wrong.  The 4 miles ended in the second, really really steep creekbed.  I think I was slower going down than going up, which is saying a lot since I was barely running going up (I suspect most people walked).  Somewhere in that section I went off my 3:25 possibility and started thinking maybe I could PR (3:28+).  After the last creek, it goes downhill and along the water for about 4 miles.  I tried to accelerate but it took a huge amount of concentration.  Gradually I slowed again and the goal changed to breaking 3:30 (my BQ -although I already qualified for Boston 2013 last December).  About a mile from the finish the trail turns inland briefly – I hit that section and again it went uphill.  Somewhere in there I did some math – badly I guess – and realized I probably wasn’t breaking 3:30.  At that point I totally gave up and my goal became “who cares”.  We turned back out to the water, and right then the 3:30 pacer passed me.  saw who it was, realized my math might be wrong, and managed to keep pace.  I ran with the pacer all the way to the finish, and finished in … 3:30:12.  I don’t know much about pacing, I think it’s pretty hard, and that’s a hard course to pace on (I heard them talking afterwards).  All that said, pacers are supposed to finish a few seconds early not late, in case someone really cares (e.g. a BQ).  So in a sense he failed me.  But he did make me finish faster than I would have and thankfully I have a BQ already so it didn’t matter.  So all things considered he did me a big favor.

I wandered around for a little bit and then wandered back over to the finish line to look for Janet.  I was hoping maybe something incredible would happen and she’d break 4 hours again so I got there at the 3:50 mark.  3:55 came and went without any sign of her, but my Seattle barber showed up, waiting for his wife to finish.  At about 3:57 a woman wearing a white hat appeared in the distance.  As she got closer, I was very excited to see it was Janet – she finished in 3:58:45, 10 seconds slower than her old PR (and her only other good marathon).  She told me later that the 4 hour pacer also caught up to her, and encouraged her to hang on – that pacer got it right.

We showered and then looked at the results.  320 finishers total.  I finished 35th overall (it was kind of fun to run near the front for a change) and 5th in my age group.  I read down the list – 30-34 female, 20-24 female, etc., and when I got to Janet’s name I realized she had finished first in her age group.  Cool!  She’s quick to point out that there were only 13 women in her age group.  I’m equally quick to point out that she ran faster than the other 12, she finished 5 minutes ahead of number two and 20 minutes ahead of number three, and I probably will never get a first place plaque like she did.  So overall, small marathons are fun and it was a really good day.

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