Posted by: pointlenana | September 29, 2012

Tunnel Lite Marathon

Ok, I found THE place to run a fast marathon.  A couple weekends ago I ran the Tunnel Lite marathon, starting up in Snoqualmie Pass an hour outside of Seattle.  Tunnel Lite is a “ghost” version of a July marathon called Light At The End Of The Tunnel – same course but even smaller field of runners and less support.  Less support means, in essence, that you pour your own water/gatorade at the aid stations.  According to the results page, 81 of us finished.  I finished in the top 15 and apparently first in my age group – if you ignore the fact that a woman who is about my age finished ahead of me.  2nd is ok with me too.

There are two big features of this course, which goes from Snoqualmie Pass to North Bend on an old railroad grade.

First, after a half-mile warmup, you enter into an unlit tunnel.  For the first 50-100 yards of the tunnel you can’t see the end – it just gets dark and then darker.  Then you round a small bend and way off in the distance – more than 2 miles in the distance – you see the Light At The End.  When you first see it, it’s just this little dot of white light in the blackness.  Then, after you run for about 10 minutes, it’s still a little dot of light in the distance.  Another 5 minutes, when you know it should be getting bigger, it’s the same little dot.  Finally, after running close to 20 minutes it starts to get bigger, although for a while I didn’t trust that it was actually getting bigger.  I couldn’t really tell what was outside – the sky, a concrete wall, something else? – and when we finally exited it turned out to be the side of the mountain across the valley.

Running the tunnel turned out to be ok.  They warned us to bring flashlights (which we could leave in drop bags upon exiting the tunnel).  I thought I was being well-prepared with my headlamp but it turns out a flashlight would have been better.  It was cold and damp in the tunnel and every time I exhaled my vision was obscured by a cloud of fog that formed in front of my headlamp.  The other thing that took time getting used to – you do manage to get used to these things when you have 20 minutes to adapt – was trusting that the surface was level without potholes.  Very smooth surface and the next time I do this run I will throw caution to the pitch blackness and just run.

After exiting the tunnel feature, you get feature 2 of the course – 23 miles with a 2% downhill grade, dropping 2000 feet over those 23 miles.  You can run very fast on a 2% downhill – enough of a drop to be fast, not so steep that you have to fight it.  I’ve read different things on how much downhills help (and uphills hurt) but I think I gained 5-10 seconds in every mile relative to the same effort on flatlands.  It might be like Boston if you aren’t ready for the downhills – run fast for a while and then regret it later – but I guess my quads have adapted.  Or maybe it’s gradual enough that it doesn’t hurt like Boston does.  In any case, very fast.  I ran about 90 seconds slower than my personal best, even though I hadn’t tapered and was just running to have fun.  I already had a BQ for 2013, but this ended up being another one by a few seconds.  Any marathon that ends with a BQ is a good one.

Until now, CIM (California International Marathon) has been the course I’ve thought of when I want to run fast but I definitely am going to put this on the calendar in the future and train/taper for it.  Maybe I’ll finally break out of this plateau I’m in where I’ve run 5 or 6 marathons in the past 4 years all within about a minute of 3:29.

I ran a bunch of this race with a guy named Mitch who was running his first marathon.  Super-friendly guy, ran in high school or college but not much since, was training for Portland in October but found out about this one a few days beforehand and signed up.  Same “no taper” approach, and when he ran this he had exactly one 18 mile run under his belt, one week before Tunnel Lite.  He ended up finishing second, somewhere around 3:21.  Great job Mitch!  It was fun running with you until you dropped me.

I think this race was at least 50% Marathon Maniacs.  It was my 3rd marathon in 4 weekends, and I had seen several of the people at one or both of the other events I had done.  I’m guessing they were probably out running a marathon that weekend I rested.  I like reading their race histories – times are typically all over the place (3:45 to 5:45) and clearly they are out there to have fun and hang with their buddies.

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