Monday, November 30, 2009

Race Report: Seattle Marathon

My second attempt at the Seattle Marathon was both much, much better than the first and much, much worse. My initial Twitter and Facebook post after the race said that I finished and that I didn't want to talk about it. It's true: I did finish. But I guess I'll tell you about it after all.

I know both of my readers have been waiting for the blow-by-blow of my latest 26.2 mile adventure, so here it is. I should note that whatever is depleted from my brain while running a marathon has yet to be fully restored, so the words that follow might become incomprehensible at some point.

Leading up to the race I felt pretty damn good. I had four good long runs under my belt, two of them at 20 miles. I wasn't injured. The weather forecast was good. I had a good race plan. I was even pretty damn close to my desired race weight for the first time.

All of that didn't stop me from the usual pre-race insomnia, however. As is always the case, I went to bed early and pretty much just lay there listening to The Colleague sleep. That girl can sleep. Who knows how much sleep I actually got. The alarm rang at 4:30 and I had a solid breakfast, tested before my last long run (toast, banana and black coffee...not my usual go-to meal).

The Colleague delivered me to Seattle Center one-hour before the start, which gave me plenty of time to make it over to the double-secret indoor, heated bathrooms at Memorial Stadium. While thousands of half marathoners queued for the port-o-johns, I had a leisurely time of it with a few people who must have also been given the secret map to the hidden bathroom deep beneath the aging stadium. By the way, the news this week that the city and the Seattle School District plan to tear down Memorial Stadium will present an interesting task for the marathon organizers...can a Quest Field start and a new course be that far off? Why not start as in the parking lot at Quest and save the leg down 5th Avenue for the finish? (I know the reason: traffic control...but I'm just putting it out there.)

I looked for the usual suspects around the starting area: RPD was somewhere in the masses of half-marathoners, Owen was milling about waiting for the marathon start...but I didn't see either of them.

The Start
The starting area - while too damn small for the 10,000 half-marathoners, is just about right for the number of people running the full 26.2. No need to fight to the front and no worries about herding like cattle through the starting chutes.

I have to say that the start of the Seattle Marathon is pretty lame. The announcer has a shrill, annoying voice, and there is no music or anything going on. They bring in some afternoon DJ from a local pop station who says something stupid and trite, and then they start the race. Every race director should have to go visit the Vancouver Marathon or the Sun Run 10k to see how it should be done.

Soon enough it was 8:15 a.m. and we were off.

The City
Miles one and two head straight through downtown on 5th Avenue. After the uphill start there is a long flat section before climbing as we cross Pike and Pine Streets. Then a long downhill toward Chinatown and King Street Station. Once the race passes the Westin, though, the city is a ghost town. A few rats and some seagulls cheered us on as we approached mile two. Hi guys.

My plan was to go out around 8:00/mile or and see how things felt. At mile two I was averaging 7:45/mile and felt good. I jogged through the water station, had both Gatorade and water, and sucked it up for the climb up onto I-90.

The Bridge
Every god damn year this is a problem. Where the course hits the on-ramp to I-90 near the stadiums, the marathon runners catch up with the half-marathon walkers and some of the slowest marathon walkers. I have NO issues with people walking the course. I think it's great to see everyone out there. But when there is only one traffic lane available to runners and the walkers have been directed to stay on the other side of the barrier, why do large groups of walkers insist on clogging up up the course? One very large group, bedazzled with bells and doodads, was taking up most of the running lane. I guy in front of me yelled at them, I almost collided with one of them when they turned to take a picture of the runners coming up behind them. What the hell?

Still, I reached the top of the ramp holding a nice 7:45 pace. My heart rate was low (160 bpm) and things were feeling good all around. No hernia repair twinges, no sore feet, so muscle pain. Here we go! I shed my 99 cent cotton gloves before the Mount Baker Tunnel (which I still think is the worst part of the's hot, it's loud, and it's chaotic) turned on the iPod, and cruised through to the bridge. This is one of my favorite parts of the course, and I ran these miles fast, knocking my average pace down to 7:30 by the time the out and back was done.

Lake Washington Boulevard, Southbound
With the flashing lights on the police escort for the lead runners barely visible down in Seward Park, I started the southbound slog along the lake. A little headwind kept things cool, and I just cruised along here listening to some choice tunes from Elbow and Marc Cohn. My I stopped checking my watch in here because the tunnel had thrown off my GPS track and it was .25 miles off from the mile markers. Instead I relied on the time keepers at each mile and my feeble brain to calculate my pace. I'm so dense mathematically that it takes a whole mile to figure out my pace, and then I have to do it again! That kept my brain occupied, anyway. 7:30 per mile. Hmmm.

Seward Park
Seward Park is pretty and everything, but having the 13.1 mile split out there on the peninsula is kind of a drag. It's so lonely! I also didn't hear the little machine go "beep" when I crossed the mat, so I knew I wasn't going to get my split in my official results and started worrying that my chip wasn't working.

With a split of 1:39:50, though, I knew I was on a strong pace. I wasn't tired, and I felt a ton better than I had at this point the previous year. 14 miles was where Owen dropped me last time as I fell back into the 8:00s and he cruised to a 3:20:00 finish. This year I came out of Seward Park on pace and feeling great. Heart rate check? 162 bpm. Still not pushing. Good news.

Lake Washington Boulevard Northbound
A little wind on my back, no crowds, good tunes and visions of a strong finish made miles 14-18 great. I knew all I needed to do was get up and over the Madison Street climb and I was home free. At mile 18 I walked a few steps to get a good drink of water and some Gatorade (and to eat Gu pack #4).

When I picked my stride back up after the water station, my right hip, which had been a little sore following my previous two long runs, shot a jolt of pain through my side that made me gnash my teeth and take a little stutter step. Ouch.

We're talking real pain here. Worse than the torn muscle in Portland a few years ago. I couldn't believe it.

At mile 18 or 19 you are getting into survival territory anyway, and the emotions are running pretty high. I tried a few more strides and the pain was just as bad. I walked a few steps and it still hurt - though less so - every time my right foot hit the pavement. No no no no no!

Damn it!

I pulled to the side and tried stretching it out, twisting my leg around, rubbing my hip bone...and tried to keep going. Ouch ouch ouch ouch.

I still have no idea what the problem is, and a day after the race it still hurts pretty bad, though it is getting better slowly. I'm resisting self-diagnosis and will see Dr. Hilarious this week for the inevitable lecture on how running is stupid (see previous post and the transcript of any number of conversations between me and The Colleague). No doubt this will end in some referrals to physical therapists and podiatrists. Update to come.

So I'm at mile 18.5. I can't run. But I can't quit either. My idiot logic tells me at this point to run a mile with the pain to see if it gets worse. So I grit my teeth and run at about an 11:00 pace through the next mile.

Galer Street and The Arboretum
Watch these splits and try to pinpoint where the wheels come off completely:

Mile 16: 7:42
Mile 17: 8:15
Mile 18: 8:14
Mile 19: 9:10
Mile 20: 8:39
Mile 21: 11:39
Mile 22: 12:42

If you picked mile 21, congratulations! That's where I just couldn't bite my lip hard enough to work through the pain and keep a decent pace.

I just couldn't do it any more. The pain was unbearable. As I limped up Galer Street and over Madison, I started to lose it. I wanted to quit but I couldn't! The Colleague and the offspring were at the finish line, watching the clock approach my goal time (3:30:00). I knew that once the clock hit 3:31:00 The Colleague would be disappointed for me. And I knew that when it hit 3:45:00 she would start to worry. If it hit 4:00:00 she'd know something was really wrong.

I could stop at the medical tent and have them call her and tell her I was done. Yep. That's what I'll do. Problem: In my runner's stupor, with my body going into survival mode, I could not, no matter how hard I tried, come up with her phone number. I think I got all of the numbers right, but not in the right order. Damn.

For some reason I "ran" by the medical tent on Madison street and made my way to the Arboretum. I love this part of the course, but I have yet to get to it with any hope of actually running it. Somewhere in here is where I managed to calculate what it would take to finish under 4 hours. If I couldn't do that, I wasn't going to finish. A 13 minute pace would do it. 13 minutes per mile for 4 miles, much of it downhill. Ok. Let's go.

You can't call what I did for the last 4 miles actual running. I don't think my right foot ever left the pavement. It was more of a slide-step. But I held 13:00/mile. I stopped at the water stations and drank my fill. I joined the other dead runners as we zombied our way toward Memorial Stadium. 4 miles of pure agony, but I figured it was better to go as fast as possible and get it over with than to walk it and keep The Colleague worrying about me.

The Finish
With about 4 minutes to spare under the 4 hour mark, I came into the stadium, trying not to cry when I saw The Colleague and the offspring. For no calculated reason I ran right over to them, grabbed the kids, lifted them over the fence and ran to the finish holding their hands.

That little moment made the run worth it. I hope there is a picture of the finish out there somewhere...

I've written here before about the emotions of marathon running and the impossibility of expressing them to others. I went through about every feeling I can imagine during this race, and I can honestly say that I would have quit at mile 20 if The Colleague hadn't been at the finish. Thanks, as always, for being out there babe.

The Aftermath
It's the day after as I write this and aside from being tired and hungry, most of my body has recovered nicely (no doubt the self-administered internal alcohol therapy last night is a recovery beverage, right?). My hip hurts like hell and I am walking like some sort of B-movie monster. Running is stupid and marathon running is ridiculous.

Still, let's get this injury figured out, correct whatever caused it, and start training for LA in March. I'm in.

I'm going to get that PR sooner or later, and a trip to Boston is still the goal.

I'm convincing myself to wear my Finisher shirt with a little pride. I didn't quit. 3:57:40. Worst. Time. Ever.

I did get beat by Elvis, though...

Thanks for coming. Don't forget to tip your waitress.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What Running Is

As I sit writing this, I am woozy and sore from a 20 mile training run.

For those of you out there who are thinking about running, who used to run, or who have delusions of running as a "fun" recreational activity, let me step in and offer some thoughts:
  1. Running is stupid.
  2. Running is hard.
  3. Running isn't cool.
  4. Running leads to more running.
  5. See #1.
Running is, indeed, stupid. It destroys your ankles, does harm to your joints, and might actually damage your heart. Yep. All that crap you read in running magazines about running being good for you is bunk. Ask any doctor. CAN running be good for you? Yep. A little bit of light running, once in a while, on soft surfaces, as part of a larger workout scheme is a great idea. 50 miles a week on pavement in $150 shoes preparing for a 26.2 mile "race" that you can't win (and that you will probably run in unsupportive "race" shoes that weigh 6 ounces)? Stupid. Plus, running 40-50 miles a week in training for a marathon means you have sliced at least 6 hours, and likely much more, out of your productive life and devoted it to running around town with no destination, and with no one chasing you. Let's not forget that the human foot was never meant to interact with surfaces like pavement. We shouldn't have to wear running shoes at all, except that most of our running haunts are paved. Poorly, I might add.

Some people call running "challenging," but let's be real for a minute. It's hard damn work. Short runs are hard because you never get the chance to warm up. Medium length runs are hard because you feel like you should really push and challenge yourself because, after all, it isn't a long run. And long runs are just plain torture. Depending on which "expert" you believe (side note: more running experts are just runners who can write decently) your body stops burning carbohydrate fuel and starts trying to burn fat and muscle for fuel after 2 hours of continuous exertion. For a nine-minute miler that's a half marathon. This is like a college party with a nice campfire. After a couple of hours, the actual firewood you have carefully brought along in anticipation of a fun night at the campground with your friends runs out, and since you've had 12 Keystone Lights and smoked something that dude over there handed to you, it seems perfectly reasonable to set the picnic table ablaze. Then the floor mats of your roommate's car. Then, what the hell, let's see if that thing over there burns!* Once that happens, every step is a deliberative action in which your brain has to wage war against your body in order to keep it moving forward. Forgetting for a minute that your muscles have decided they are done, your joints suddenly hurt again, your shoes are running you in the wrong places, and those mother----ing earbuds for your iPod keep slipping around and are driving you bat sh&% crazy, even your brain starts to rebel. And you're doing this why? Oh that's right, so it will be easier to do even more of it next week.

Go down to the local running trail in your street clothes and watch the runners go by. What assholes! Now look around at the other people who came down to watch the runners. Oh, there aren't any? That's right. Because running isn't cool. Potential running spectators only come out to races because they know something runners don't: running is stupid (see above). They aren't out there to cheer you on. They're out there to watch a few thousand uncool stupid people punish themselves for 4 hours. And they get special joy in the fact that we paid for the privilege of suffering not only for those 4 hours (3:30 if you're lucky) but for the days following when we will limp around the office wearing our "Marathon Finisher" shirts (which we paid $95 for). Nope. Running isn't cool. Bering Sea crab fishing is cool. Really good sushi chefs are cool. Runners are dorks. No way around it. Even my friend Owen, the most tattooed dude at any local race (and an accomplished ULTRA marathoner) is a geek. Running isn't cool.

But the big problem with running is that like any stupid addiction, it only leads to more running. You run a half-marathon and BAM! you're in line to register for the next one. Or worse, you decide you need to graduate to the full 26.2 miles. So then you go out and load up on expensive shoes, technical fabric shorts and shirts, special running underwear that is supposed to be odor resistant (doesn't work), and a few handfuls of GU packets. You subscribe to an online training plan. You start cooking recipes you find in Runners World.

Next thing you know, you are writing a lame-ass blog about your own running exploits, thinking stupidly that someone out there cares.

Yep. Running is stupid.

Next up, the Seattle Marathon. I'm stupid.

*Any similarity to a fraternity weekend yours truly spent at Ocean Shores is completely coincidental. And also it really happened.