Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon - June 27, 2009

The inaugural event was announced summer of 2008 - I believe I was #508 to sign up. The marathon bug had bothered me for several years and I had bailed on several races for a variety of reasons which is really the subject of a separate post. Suffice to say I was going to commit to this one.

As noted previously I did not put in a lot of base running miles in over the winter. I made a classic mistake I'm sure - try to squeeze in as many miles as possible and build the long miles. I had previously followed the FIRST running plan for a successful half marathon so did the same for the marathon. I did my first 20 mile run Memorial Day weekend and in the next week or so realized I had developed an IT Band overuse injury. I took it easy for the next four weeks and skipped my 2nd 20+ miler. I had no idea how I'd feel on marathon day given the lack of miles in the previous weeks. My plan - if I had much of one - was to run 10 minute miles and slog out a 4:20 finish.

I have run several races with several thousand people but nothing like this. The dropoff location was accessible by one entry by car and thus a huge traffic jam ensued. Given my race day jitters we were on the road plenty early (dropped off by USO) but this was still a tad frustrating. Bathroom lines were understandably long but moved fast enough. I was in the 4th starting group due to my ambitious time prediction (3:45). The start was well-managed and broken out into appropriately-sized groups. And with a bit of fanfare ... we were off!

The first part of the course was reasonably flat and I knew the hills we'd hit around mile 5 thanks to some old training routes. I had a nice pace, felt good, and was trying to take it easy through this first part and hit the 5k split at 27:37. I was a bit worried about this as it was about a minute faster than I wanted so I tried to back off a bit. The next 5k hit some good hills (tough on a bike) but I still felt pretty good - I hit 10k at 55:34 so I'd only taken about 7 seconds off my pace. By this point we were in the most scenic part of the course (along Lake Washington Drive near Seward Park) and not unexpectedly the most crowd support. As a result my pace didn't slow.

At the I-90 bridge the half marathoners take a left but the full marathoners take a right and head to Mercer Island on the floating bridge. I will admit this was the part of the race I was most looking forward to. And it was fun. I hit 9 miles at 1:20:46 and after some quick calculations in my head I realized I had not slowed down (this was probably at mile 10). At this point I probably made a significant mistake - I decided I was going to push to crack 2:00 for the half (which would give me my 2nd fastest time in the event). As such, I focused too hard on hitting the half mark and almost certainly was in "race mode" to make sure I hit my mark. The good news is I did - 1:59:26.

In looking back over my splits I dropped about 30 seconds a mile from 9 to 13.1 and so I think I really did fight to get under 2:00. I know as I ran off the express lanes and through downtown I started to feel slightly irritated which usually means "need fuel" for me. I was also looking for my friend Sean at the water stations at this point and could not find him which added to the exacerbation. Once I did I embarrassingly yelled at him a little loudly (and later apologized) but said "hi" took my water and headed off. I also thought at this point I'd make contact with USO but could not find her which added to the frustration.

In miles 14-15 the marathoners broke off and ran north on the Alaska Way Viaduct by way of the Columbia Street entrance exit ramp - we ironically headed north in the southbound lanes and south in the northbound lanes. As you're on the viaduct you're also on the portion of the course with the least crowd support. Between lack of contact with USO and no cheering section it was a pretty desolate couple of miles. There was also an unexpected hill before hitting the Battery Street tunnel. Looking back this was the most emotionally challenging part of the course.

Coming out of Battery Street tunnel you are confronted with a long climb up Aurora Ave over the east side of Queen Anne hill. And this is where crisis ensued. I have no idea - and will never know - if my quick, early pace or my bid for a sub 2:00 half contributed to my IT Band seizing but that's precisely what happened on mile 17. Specifically my right IT Band "gunged up" (as Scotty would say) and so while running up the hill I decided to walk for a minute and see if I could stretch it out. I distinctly remember thinking "I'll make it to the top of the hill and get back to it." Downhill, unfortunately, was actually worse. 30k time - 3:03:43.

The next 7 miles were brutal. I never walked for more than half a mile; I never jogged for more than half a mile. I was mad, upset, and embarrassed to walk but I didn't have it in me to do run for a sustained time. As expected there was a lot of bargaining - "make it up this rise and walk for a few hundred feet." I resolved that at mile 25 I would run the rest of the way in. And that I did if you can liberally interpret what I did as running. I hit mile 24 at 4:22:05 and finished in 4:51:10.

I did not feel horrible crossing the finish line but it took all I had to get through the last few hundred yards. I hit the ice station first thing, then got my post-race treats - most importantly a little espresso at sbux.

I felt good the rest of the day once I rested and refueled. I was sore the next day but active and got a run in Tuesday morning. The day after I started thinking about what marathons I would run next. So, it must not have been nearly as traumatic as it sounds.

I heard later that several people did not start the marathon until after the half marathon winner crossed the finish line. I did not hear these comments as criticisms - the rolling start was very well managed. The course was well managed and with the bands it's a very festive event. For a very large race it did not feel that large.

Writing this nearly nine months later I can reflect back on this day and know three things.

First, I made several errors on race day I will know not to repeat. Stick to the pace plan. Don't change the pace plan. Deal with unexpected situations v. stress over them. The goal is the marathon itself - not the individual splits along the route.

Second, train and train well. It's trite to say but you cannot make up miles in training anymore than you can make up sleep. I have much more respect for my training schedule now.

Third, I loved the experience, I plan on running several marathons, and despite the hardship I have finished a marathon.

But I have unfinished business. I'm coming for you in 2010 Seattle Rock N Roll. And my mark is 3:40.


Jenn said...

Thanks for posting this. As my first is approacing I'm finding myself loving reading everyone's stories of their first marathons.

Jeff in West Seattle said...

Jenn - I'm glad you liked it. I was thinking of sending it to you but didn't know if it would help or freak you out :-). You are going to do great - just hang in there and listen to what your hammie is telling you. Excited for your first marathon.