Issy Alps 50k

(June 27, 2018)

 

Mailbox Shot of Rainier
The view of Mt. Rainier from Mailbox

 

There are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of legitimate, challenging races in the Pacific Northwest to choose from. And yet, some need more. A local ultrarunner, George Orozco, used the fact that the Issaquah/North Bend region had multiple mountain climbs to design a series of races that linked these climbs in brutally difficult efforts. Runners could choose from 50k (4 summits), 100k (6 summits) or 100 miles (10 summits). It has become a bit of a “rites of passage” for locals to tackle one or more of these challenges. Attempts and results are logged on a Facebook page. Maps are stored on a WordPress site, but exact details of the trails are not explained. Runners are encouraged to tackle the course in a solo, unsupported fashion which means carrying all the required food, clothing and accessories in a pack. In addition, as there are no formal aid stations as in a race, water must be captured as you go using the streams from the mountain tops. It certainly creates pause for those who want the glory of crowds and all the support that formal races offer. But once conquered, it prepares you for another level of racing.

I had watched the Facebook page for over a year, marveling at the uniqueness and accomplishments. As I made progress in my climbing efforts I decided to make a go at the 50k distance and began scouting the trails. The climbs themselves were pretty standard – Mailbox (up and down old trail), Teneriffe (up Kamikaze, down longer way, Mt. Si, and Little Si. The mystery was in the connectors. I used my Wednesday runs to explore these, carrying the CalTopo maps with me. It took 3 different scouting missions but I figured out how the course was laid out. Knowing that I would need as much light as possible, I selected late June as the target date. Given the race starts at Mailbox and ends at the trailhead for Little Si, I asked Lynne to meet me at the “finish line” and drive me back to the start where I would park my car.

Race Day

I woke about 3:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep so took my time preparing all my gear and headed off to Mailbox as the sun was rising. It was about a 45 minute drive and I arrived at the trailhead around 5:40. There were a couple of women heading out with their dogs. The good part about a solo run is you can start whenever you want 🙂 so at 5:48am I began the trek up Mailbox.

Issy Alps Start

The first half mile is reasonable and I was able to jog most of it before the climbing began in earnest. Mailbox is notorious for its steepness and after 20 minutes or so, I was already beginning to sweat. It was cool out – I had selected an ideal day for the run with temps in the 50s and 60s. Plodding along, I made it to the join with the newer, gentler trail right at 2.7 miles as advertised. Soon I was bounding up a field of boulders and then one last section of vertical before reaching the iconic mailbox itself. This is a popular destination for hikers in the Seattle area, but I was all by myself early on this Wednesday and enjoyed the stunning view of Mt. Rainier in the distance (see the top of this post).

 

Issy Alps Mailbox

I carefully made my way down – it’s real easy to miss a step here and turn an ankle or even worse, faceplant. I jumped across the boulders running into the women and their dogs, who also had taken the old trail up. I veered off to return down on the old trail – something I had not done before as it is much harder and not as fun as flying down the new trail. It was punishing and slow going as I had expected but because it’s much shorter I was able to make it down to the start in 2:45,  well ahead of the time I had allotted for this section. It was a good start to the day.

The next section started a 1/4 mile away at the Granite Creek Trail. It meandered along mostly uphill for 2-3 miles. The first section had been cut back on both sides but after a mile or so, the sides were growing into each other and you could not see the trail. With some decent training (Mountain Conditioning class, lots of trail time) I was able to run this whole section to the connection out to Granite Lakes – where I would not be going. Instead I veered downhill for a mile, encountering a dozen or so people along the way. I hit the trail head parking lot and continued onto the road, taking the right over to the bridge and the “secret” Sitka Spruce trail hidden just below the far side of the bridge on the other side. There was a fisherman coming back up to the car, asking where the mystery trail headed. I explained the best I could, educated him on salmon berries and then headed off. I quickly came to a running stream and pulled out my BeFree filter and refilled my large water bottle. Sitka Spruce is pretty isolated and I had an encounter with a raccoon during my scouting run so I erupted into making noise to make sure I didn’t surprise any wild beasts. This, of course, meant singing songs (loudly and poorly) from “West Side Story” which the birds seemed to love. There is some elevation gain here but it’s only a mile and a half and then you are released to a long stretch of fire roads, which are my favorite, as they imply width and normally not too much vertical one way or the other. Sure enough this was a 4 mile stretch where I could actually run, uninterrupted, while also enjoying the scenery around. There were a few huge puddles to avoid and one truck somehow made his way onto the road but soon I hit the gate and went down a bit further along the residential road to the base of Teneriffe, where I checked in just under 5 hours, nearly one hour ahead of my schedule.

I kept plowing up Teneriffe, as I knew the first mile or so was very runnable. Eventually, I reached the rock section and slowed to a walk, almost the entire way out to the falls which are about 2 miles in. I was getting a bit woozy so decided to stop and eat a bit. I had consumed 2 gels but was now nearly 6 hours in and needed some solid food. I munched on a chocolate bar and watched as others hung out down by the falls. I decided it was a bit too sketchy and time consuming to go down and get water, plus I had a good supply for the hike up. I pounced up to the Kamikaze trail and began the hard climb up to the summit. There are a few rock scrambles which have you on all fours trying to get up a section. As the name implies. there are very few places where you are not going straight up. I had done this climb twice before but not with 15+ miles running already on my legs. It was slow going and I began losing my breath at times, requiring a 30 second rest. About halfway up I encountered a young women who was also taking a rest. After a brief chat, I moved ahead quite slowly. Eventually, I saw the clearing and made it to the summit where a couple of guys were just leaving. I sat alone on a rock and had the best PBJ lunch known to man. The 360 degree view lets you see miles in any direction and I was pointing out to Rattlesnake Lake and the 100k section of the course. Another day. I had made it up to the top in about 7:20 and left around 7:35 into the run, still fine on time. The hard part was behind me – or so I thought.

Issy Alps Teneriffe

I decided to hook up my Zune and try some tunes for this next section. The first section down is still in the forest, level and up over to the other side of the mountain as you begin a series of switchbacks which eventually take you to a wide, open trail. Just as I reached the trail, I found a stream and grabbed some more water which turned out to be all I would need for the day. I also elected to switch Garmins at this point as my first was right at 8 hours and likely about to lose charge. The run down the normal trail is nice in sections but also strewn with rocks in other parts. It’s about 4 miles total and I hit the Talus connector to Si right at 8:45. That’s about 15 min/mile going downhill which likely can be improved upon if I ever have a desire to run faster across the rocks.

As I hit the intersection just after the Talus (3 miles to the Mt. Si summit), my right quad seized up and then my left! Withholding screams, my normal reaction, I stretched them out and with a slow walk they seemed to both recover. I ventured into the connector up to Si, a section I had never run before. I wasn’t sure whether it was reasonably level over to the Si climb, or whether we would start climbing right away. It turned out to be the latter and despite the PBJ, I was still a bit low on energy so walked my way over. It’s reasonably steep so not sure I would have gone much faster with a trot. It’s only a mile or so to the main Si trail which was populated with day hikers. I looked a mess but worked my way up. Si is a reasonably hard climb even without the steep grades of the other summits. There are relatively few places to catch your breath, lots of switchbacks and some more rock climbing. I made it to the top around 10:10 into my day and plopped down on a rock cache at the Snoqualmie View Lookout. I called Lynne to give her my ETA for finishing and checked some World Cup scores. These 5-10 minute breaks sure did help regain control. I left with sore legs but ready for what was next.

Issy Alps Si

I had found the Old Little Si trail a few weeks before and was quickly working my way down. Lots of ultra runners bask in this type of contour – straight down on pine needle. For me, it was too steep and way too many rocks. The trail nearly spills into the main Si trail and fortunately there were some hikers coming up which forced me to veer right and stay on the less travelled path. It kept going down and down. I eventually found the loop which goes both ways and headed over towards Little Si, immediately encountering a woman and her dog. I asked her how far Little Si was, as I had never done this stretch. She said about 20 minutes, steep down. Joy. I figured with some running it would be more like 10 and I was right as I suddenly escaped the wilderness and joined the throng of folks heading up Little Si on a cloudy Wednesday afternoon. It was about 11:25 into my run and I knew I wasn’t going to break 12 hours at this point with 1.5 miles or so up the more gentle Little Si trail.

The first half mile or so was mostly runnable but after crossing over a clearing I was forced to walk more as the rocks became an impediment. Over to the side you could hear the serious rock climbers working their way up the side of a major edifice. The moss on the rocks was picturesque. I was back to breathing heavily – I’m sure people were questioning my athletic prowess, 1 mile into the hike and this guy is bending over? It turns into more rock climbing and switch backs for the last half mile but I hit the summit and texted Lynne my anticipated return time, slightly off the estimates I had given her before.

Issy Alps Little Si

I was in the last stretch down and was counting off the tenths of a mile. With a half mile to go I climbed up to where the loop intersection meets Little Si – where I had come from – and winked as I headed the other way to the trail head. It’s a nice way to end the long struggle of the day. I clocked in at 12:53 which was within the range I had set for my day. I can’t imagine every beating 12 hours – many do it in 10 or 11. The climbs are tough but you get a huge reward with the views, a hiker’s delight. The runs downhill are too steep for my liking and at my advanced age dodging rocks is not a favorite activity. So, this looks to be a once a year thing at most. I would pack a bit differently and as always need to take in more calories during the day. I lucked out with an overcast but reasonably warm, but in no ways hot, day. It was easily the hardest 50k I will likely every do but no doubt prepared me well for the BigFoot 100k later in the summer where I will have more boulder jumping and long stretches of self-managed periods to challenge me.

 

 

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Wy’East Wonder: Too Much of a Good Thing?

(June 16, 2018)

I have come to identify certain race attributes based upon the organization which is running the race: Rainshadow likes harder courses with lots of technical trails and a fun party at the end; Northwest Trail Runs is about extending the running experience to people of all abilities. GoBeyond Racing, which mostly hosts races in the Mt. Hood (Oregon) area, likes scenic areas with some challenges. It was to the east side of Mt. Hood that I escaped to this past weekend, staying in Hood River and getting up bright and early to run the inaugural 50 mile Wy’East Wonder – Wy’East being the Native American name for Mt. Hood.

Due to a bus breakdown in the morning we did not leave the finish area to shuttle down to the start on time and we gathered in somewhat chilly weather waiting until about 6:20 for the Race Directors to give us instructions and send us off. Having seen the forecast for 80 degree weather in Hood River I mistakingly had just a short sleeve top and no windbreaker in my pack. Lesson learned that mountain conditions <> city weather.

The first few miles I purposely held back as we went out a somewhat rocky, fire road which eventually started an incline. We reached a water only aid station and began climbing even more as the trail switched over to single track. People were still chatting with friends and a few were passing by as they got into the groove of the day. I was using a 1 min jog + 1 min walk effort on the uphills and taking it easy on flats and downhills. This got me to the 10 mile aid station just before the 2 hour mark, where we started some switchbacks going continually down.

This is where I noticed that the surroundings were not changing much. The first two legs sent us out to the southern and western edges with some decent views of a cloudy Mt. Hood, but now we were buried into the forest with lots of lush green scenery and pine needle, almost sawdust paths. It reminded me of the Mt. Hood 50k and Mountain Lakes courses and then it occurred to me that they were GoBeyond Races as well. Sure enough, nearly the entire day was spent with this postcard in front of us. We would occasionally find a rock talus to amble across but mostly we were in canopied wider trails which would either extend a few hundred yards or more often than not head up, down, left or right. I set my expectations that this was unlikely to change – and it didn’t until the very end.

We reached the largest and funnest aid station at mile 20 (almost exactly) and about 3:55 on my watch. I had been fueling ok with gels but grabbed fruits and chips – the normal selections. I had been running with a woman from Tacoma who helped me with some runs I was designing in my head for the future. The stretch out of the Aqueduct station was a bit maddening as it was bows after bows, getting close to the forest and then meandering back to the road, back to the forest, back to the road. Eventually we plunged in and after a few more miles were at a hub station where we would start a 6.4 mile loop and return. It took turns going up and then down. This was new territory for all of us and there was not much information in the race profile about what to expect. We would hear the creek of trees bowing in the wind but otherwise there were not many distractions. I made it back to the station to begin a long 9 mile trek back to Aqueduct which I anticipated would be the hardest of the day, in part because it was unknown as my body began feeling the effects of the 31 miles.

Sure enough, this arc kept us in the forest with an occasional flirt with a meadow on the outer edge. There were scatterings of wildflowers about. I was seeing many of the same faces and every now and then would get passed by someone. Walking more on the uphills I was still motivated and enjoying the run, but getting a bit weary of the same scenery. The final mile to Aqueduct had another series of bows which took us close to the road which we knew would lead us back and then shoot us to the side into the woods. Arghh! I kept my humor and greeted the dozens of people hanging out at Aqueduct, cheering us on and feeding us. I had been drinking lots of water and felt reasonably hydrated. I got some extra ice in my bottle and began the last two legs and 10 miles.

It was about 8:30 into race, and I was going a bit slower than I had hoped. I changed my Garmin here as I had discovered a web site that lets you merge two .fit files together into one result for Garmin/Strava to report on (it worked!). The web site implied that the last 10 miles would be mostly downhill with a tremendous drop around mile 47. Sure enough the first 2 miles were easy to traverse and bounced around, again in the canopy and on similar trails that we had spent all day on. Then I could feel the energy seeping out of me as the trail started to climb up more and more. To make things even more uncomfortable, it began to rain – first showers and then some harder drops. The temps dropped 5-10 degrees in no time and my fingers began to shake. This was not the ending I wanted.

My walking was sluggish. I really didn’t want to swallow another gel and then remembered a Honey Stinger that I had in my belt. That did the trick although it took 15-30 minutes and a rest at the last aid station for it to kick in. There was a gnarly climb up, probably the steepest of the day and then right around mile 46 it started to head down and with 2.5 miles left we took a turn and began hitting switchbacks going downwards for at least 20 minutes. The rain had quieted some and being more exposed actually warmed us up as the trail finally opened up to the side of the hill with a view of Parkdale where we had parked earlier that day. We dropped about 2,000 feet the last 3 miles and I finally stumbled in and across the line just over 11 hours (11:04) happy with my finish and ready to get warm.

Sun Mountain 50k

(May 19, 2018)

This race had been in my sights for the past few years but like many put on by Rainshadow Running, it was hard to get into. Finally, I got the good news late last year that I had been selected in the lottery. I quickly grabbed a room at the Sun Mountain Lodge and the weekend was set. We headed out Friday morning for the drive over. The Washington Department of Transportation had just opened the North Cascades Highway, closed all winter, earlier in the week. It was an easy and pretty trip over with some snow along the side but as we drove into the Methow Valley and Winthrop the grounds were clear.

The race began and ended at Patterson Lake, a short 2.5 mile down the road from the Lodge. Lynne dropped me off at 7am and I quickly checked in. As I waited in line at the porta-potty we noticed a visitor had decided to check out the nearby dumpsters.

Sunflower Bear

That was a first! It brought a little buzz to the crowd. There were a few friends here (Ross, Ram, Rich) and some running royalty (Gary Robbins from Vancouver). We gathered for the pre-race briefing and then headed off promptly at 8:00. Within a mile the course begins to make a longish 2-3 mile climb up Patterson Mountain and with the single track this meant a long line began forming. I tried to be patient and stick with the slowing pace but about halfway up darted past a few folks to get out of the slower cluster I was in. Within no time runners started dashing down at us! I don’t understand the logic of doing an out and back on a *single track* trail, especially early in the race where people are all bunched together. Still, I made it up to the top in short order and became one of the many propelling my body downwards with gravity as my friend. At the bottom we veered off and began a short trek over and upwards to the Lodge.

There was a father-son duo with us here. The son was only 10 years old and was running quite fast. Good for them, a fantastic bonding experience. There were some pretty steep areas here and we mostly walked up these although I was trying hard to stick to my 1 minute jog, 1 minute walk routine. At one point there was a ladder to climb over a barbed wire fence and then a few gates along the way between pastures. This was trail running at its best! We eventually tumbled into the ravine below the lodge and ambled up to the parking lot and the first aid station, which happened to be situated about 50 yards from our room. Unfortunately, I was about 7 minutes in front of the 9:30-9:45 window I had given Lynne as an estimate of when I would arrive. So my crew was not there and after grabbing some oranges and chips I headed off.

The next 6 miles to the Criss Cross Aid station were gently rolling with no major climbs. We were working our way south. I was happy with my pace and after some tightness in breathing early in the morning was starting to settle into a groove. The miles were clicking off pretty quickly. My Zune was acting up as I had not placed it into a plastic see through bag. Once the screen gets wet you cannot adjust any of the selections. So much for music. Not a big deal on this day, however. I made it into Criss Cross and grabbed more oranges, bananas, and watermelon – easy to discard the remnants. I began chatting with a few runners nearby – one from Vancouver and one from Victoria. Lots of Canadians had some down for the race. From the course map it was supposed to be taking us slowly upwards, but instead we galloped through meadow after meadow drowning in sunflowers and other assorted wildflowers.

Sunflower

It was breathtaking at times. The trail alternated between being wide fire road type sections and tight connectors with the grass and clippings at the side of your feet. Amazingly the course continued on this way for over 5 miles! We actually began going downhill gently for quite some time through some wooded areas which were equally as stunning as the trees were far enough apart to let light shine through. We made our way up a road to the Thompson Pass aid station with smiles on our faces. They filled my water bottles (thanks to all aid station workers!!) and I was off on the last leg.

There is another mile or so of climb after the aid station before the trail begins taking you back down. To my chagrin it began with a tough section which was narrow, rock strewn and had mountain bike ramps in the middle. This was tricky going and I was trying hard not to get blisters or turn an ankle. Eventually, after about 1 – 1.5 miles it relaxed and then we started a longish gradual climb back up a wide grassy section. I wanted to push harder here but was tiring and didn’t have the energy so decided to walk it and look about. There was a small group behind me but for the most part I was on the section by myself. Finally, about mile 26 it eased and we began the final easy dirt trail slight downhill back to the lake and the finish line.

Almost immediately I saw Rich Bennett on a switchback below me. We had run the Mt. Si Relay together almost 10 years ago and then reconnected on Chirico a few weeks ago. He had a slight muscle pull on his inner quad and was going slowly. I told him I’d run with him and we started chatting it up. He coaches the Inglemoor XC team so had some good stories. It made the next few miles go by quickly. People were gunning by us as it’s an easy section to make up time on, but I wasn’t fretting. With a long race next weekend, I knew better that to wax myself. We got to the lake and it’s such a pretty way to end a race with the last 2 miles or so adjoining the water. There are a few short uphills which we briskly walked up but eventually wound our way to the loud, happy gathering which is part of the Rainshadow brand. We came it at 6:07 which was an admirable time and one which I hopefully will be able to target in years to come, if I can get past the lottery and get another invite to this stunningly beautiful course.

 

Winthrop’s ArrowLeaf Bistro

Arrowleaf

After a pleasant, long run on the Sun Mountain trails we headed over to Winthrop for an early dinner and some sight seeing. It’s an old fashioned western look with saloons and lots of wooden stores. The restaurants looked to be crowded with weekend visitors and had mostly standard fare. We got a recommendation to try a bistro across the bridge on the way back to our lodge. After seeing via their web site reservation system that they were full for the night we took the chance and drove over with hopes to grab a bar seat.

Which worked. The ArrowLeaf has a slightly different look to their menu with some eclectic choices clearly thought out to intrigue. I really wanted to give the chicken friend rabbit a try but just wasn’t that hungry for a full on meal, so opted for the burger with a tomato chutney and garlic aioli. It was quite tasty. The thin well cooked (non greasy) fries had some cheese flakes on them adding some zest. Lynne chose well, getting the beet soup with a rich look.

Definitely worth planning ahead to get a real table.

 

Landscape Marathons: Whidbey and SLO

(April, 2018)

I have come to identify a certain type of marathon which is becoming more predominate. I call it the landscape marathon and it has certain special qualities which appeal to veterans and perhaps should scare away newcomers to the sport. First and foremost, the course needs to be picturesque and often hilly. This in turn leads to a slower, more appreciative pace vs. the manic efforts and watch-gazing pacing which accompany many races. Because the race is exploring countryside and natural views, these tend to be isolated efforts where you need to be content in running by yourself as opposed to city races with throngs of runners and spectators. The greatest examples in this class of race that I know of are the Big Sur in California and the Yakima River Canyon, here in central Washington. I was fortunate to line up two of these types of races after my harrowing adventure at Boston.

Whidbey Island

The first was the Sunday after Boston (6 days) on Whidbey Island, where I had agreed to pace. There are numerous races on Whidbey and the formal Island marathon has undergone numerous directorship and course changes over the past 3-4 years. I knew it would be a reasonable challenge so given the choice opted to pace the 4:20 group. It’s an early start to the day – driving up from Freeland, taking the shuttle (new location to park and board this year – surprise!), and then waiting around for the race to start. I was given the intrepid Bib #1 and lined up as needed. It was a reasonably nice morning, not too cold, windy or sunny. We were off and I found myself, pole in hand, trying to slow to a 10:00 pace. That didn’t work too well for the first mile (8:45!) so I told the 3-4 folks that had gathered around me to keep going and I stopped to adjust my right sock which was bunched in the front of my shoe. That’s one good way to get back on pace.

The early part of the course starts with the famed Deception Pass crossing which is indeed majestic but over and done with quickly. Then it’s a series of 200-300 yard climbs and descents while making left or right turns at intersections. There were lots of volunteers out and not many cars. I gathered a group of 5-6 people and we got through the first part of the course with little problem. Aid stations always seem to break up the group and I probably need to suck it up and just stop with folks for 15-20 seconds. Still, I had a sizeable group as we began to tackle the long climb at mile 9. It has a false top which I warned folks about. I was happy to have 2-3 people stick with me through the 1/2 mile effort.

The course moves back into the fields and does a long loop which goes up and down. I was mostly staying 1-2 minutes ahead of pace here. At one point, while running by myself I got a little more than 2 minutes ahead, so stopped at a port-a-potty for a quick break. It was a great day to run – slight breeze and mostly overcast. We had views of horses, cattle and also spotted a pair of eagles guiding us. I was feeling fine – no side effects from my Badger blisters. I would pick up someone for a bit but then they would drop off. There was an Asian man which I helped get through mile 17-19. Like many of the people I spoke with, this was his first marathon! It was an amazingly hard course (over 2,000 feet of climb) to start with and I was worried that many would give up (in fact many names I looked for after the race did not finish). This actually gave me pause as a pacer as I didn’t want to discourage the runners on how difficult this course was going to be, but I also had a responsibility to prepare them for what was ahead.

After a strong push, I got to the top of a climb at mile 21 where it flattened and had a slight descent for 3 miles. I picked up a new guy (his first marathon in over a decade) and chatted quite a bit. We stayed together until the hill began to get hard at 24. It goes straight up for 1/4 mile and then turns left for another 1/4 mile. I pushed through it fine and then began the downhill home. He passed me around 25 1/2 and as I had mentioned to him the signage is wrong on the last mile or so. I hit the mile 26 marker around 4:15 so had to slow dramatically the last 1/4 mile in – other pacers had same issue. Still, a nice comfortable run with some pretty landscape views along the way while meeting some new runners – all in all a good day and pace time mostly accomplished. (4:18)

San Luis Obispo

The following week we planned a spring visit with our daughter Meryl who is attending Cal Poly down in San Luis Obispo, California. It happened to be the weekend of the SLO Marathon and Half, so I signed up to check out more of the area. It was a first cousin race to Whidbey with similar contours, but different types of amazing views.

The race began at 7am as well and they start the half marathon at the same time which creates a real jam the first few miles. I was trying to find the 4:00 pacer and then decided to get ahead of them after a mile or so as we traversed through the city. Looking up I saw the 3:45 pacer and stuck with his group for a good mile before forging ahead. The course stays in the city for 3-4 miles winding around with some small lollypops and then shoots down southeast into the outskirts. It was still reasonably crowded and hard to tell who was running which race – they also had a marathon relay going on simultaneously so people with fresh legs would speed on by after an exchange.

It was a sunny, reasonably cool morning. There were occasional wind gusts but they were nothing like what I had experienced at Boston, in intensity or temperature. These breezes actually felt nice. Around mile 6-7 we saw some runners coming back at us and it looked to be the half marathoners heading back to the city to finish. The marathon was just beginning.

Unlike the Pacific Northwest, these California hills were barren of trees which allowed you great views of the rolling green mountains on the side. It also gave you full access on the road ahead which let us see some of the climbs and descents. I used to dislike this and it would get to me mentally, but I’m now to the point where I like seeing the road ahead and it lets me calibrate accordingly. I was still ahead of the 3:45 pacer and was regularly churning out some 8:15 miles. About a mile after we passed the half marathon turnaround we began a “rectangle” sketch which was about a 2.5 x 4 mile box. The first few miles were flat and fast – not much traffic or activity out in this area; very few stores and the houses were off the road by a few hundred yards. There was some race traffic and lots of volunteers out to help keep us going the right way. The aid stations were well staffed and I was downing lots of fluids in anticipation of a temperature rise as the sun climbed.

I reached the halfway mark in 1:48. My legs were pretty fresh which was a bit surprising as I had been training hard this week with a 15 mile, 6,600 foot climb (Chirico) and some bike work. Resting Friday and Saturday was a smart move. We did some more climbing and veered through some canyon-like areas as we made our way to the opposite corner of the rectangle and started heading back. I was worried that the wind would smack us in the face, but it was barely noticeable. The crowd had mostly disappeared – there were very few runners out here now. I was passing a few people here and there and bumped into the occasional walker who would be having leg cramps – a normal site at mile 17-20 of a race. My “Sub4” playlist was working its magic as I hit the mile 20 mark right at 2:47 and began looking for the rollercoaster ups and downs to calm as we found the perimeter of San Luis Obispo.

About a mile or two into the city blocks the course sends you over to an asphalt trail which is used by hikers and bikers. We stayed here for a good mile or two and then took a switchback ramp up over the train tracks and then down to the street. Not many people out on the course as it is south of the downtown blocks. We worked our way over to the Madonna Inn where the race started and ended and I checked in with a nice kick at 3:43, an admirable effort on a reasonably difficult course (1250 ft climb), good for a 3rd place finish in 55-59M group.

 

My Blustery Boston Marathon

(April 16, 2018)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Yeah, very overused but highly appropriate here. I had waited 10-15 years to qualify for Boston and finally was accepted last fall at age 56. I trained well over the winter and had mostly recovered from the Badger Mountain 100 miler two weeks earlier. The blisters on the back heels were still questionable. Lynne flew with me to Boston for support, which it turns out, I would desperately need.

Pre-Race (Friday through Sunday)

We were staying across the Seaport bridge about 1.5 miles away from Boston Commons. I did a very short, very slow 2-3 mile run eventually crossing the bridge and going up towards Faneuil Hall. My heel felt OK after a few minutes but I wasn’t going very fast. Lots of wind.

We made it over to the Expo which as expected was a zoo of people. I got my bib and shirt and then we worked our way around the booths. Mostly shirts/socks and some nutritional supplement type products. I grabbed a hat but that was it. Lynne and I agreed that the jackets ($110!) were likely designed by women for women. Not my colors :-).

 

Boston Expo
Expo Pose

 

Saturday morning I explored a little further and faster, making it over to Bunker Hill, crossing two bridges. It was a very pretty morning and lots of people out getting in their last warm up run. We went to Legal Seafood for some chowder and sushi.

Sunday was mostly clear skies but the temperatures had plummeted to the low 30s. We went to the ball game at Fenway and shivered under a blanket for a few hours. Between the wind and cold it was going to be tough. As long as it didn’t ….

Rain. It was in the forecast so we knew it was coming. Of course I run in the rain all the time in Seattle, but the wind was the additional factor here. I had a simple long sleeved race shirt. I planned on wearing a (too thick) jacket to keep me warm on the bus for the bus trip out but then discarding the jacket at some time. I had hand warmers as well.

Race Day

I woke about 6:00am, a bit earlier than the alarm but with a decent night’s sleep. As normal, I had my stuff all laid out and organized so it took only 15 mins or so to get everything ready. Lynne and I walked over to track down the Marathon Maniacs charter bus that I had signed up for. It was a block or two away from the main shuttles. The rain was already coming down and also coming across sideways. It alternated between being tolerable and being quite cold. We found the bus without too much difficulty and fortunately they were letting runners on at around 7:15 when I showed up, so I said my goodbyes and hopped aboard. The bus filled up in no time and we left promptly at 7:45. There were a few runners from Tacoma nearby and I chatted some with them but mostly just looked out at the downpour along the highway as we made our way to Hopkinton. The nice part about the charter bus was that we got to stay aboard until we needed to head to the start AND there was a bathroom onboard. This turned out to be a wise decision and definitely kept me warm and dry for the hour up to my departure. There really was no obvious time to leave or announcements. I was in Wave 2 which officially would leave the start line at 10:25 (strange start time). I left the bus before 10am for the mile long walk which was mostly wall to wall people – welcome to the Boston Marathon! – 30,000 strong and while it’s well organized it’s still very much a circus. Lots of puddles and mud to avoid. They actually launched my wave before I got to the start line and I ended up in the last corral which was fine with me. So, roughly at 10:30 I got my music playing, turned my Garmin on and began the race.

The 26.2 Part

It was wall to wall people for quite some time. I’ve run in many city marathons and based upon street width these large races can be crowded for quite awhile and I didn’t know what to expect here. I knew enough not to burn energy trying to bounce around people so tried to relax and just go with the reasonable flow. I noticed the rains had picked up once the race officially started – kind of like a volley saying “Get Ready For a Long Day”. I hit the first mile marker about 8:40 which seemed right; my Garmin was off a bit which was not alarming. I looked around to take things in. Everyone seemed focused, a few clusters of friends here and there. My heel felt fine and surprisingly running with my thick jacket on was not proving cumbersome. I plodded on.

The first 3 miles are almost all noticeably downhill and so the next two splits were fast – around 7:40. I suspected that would be short lived and just enjoyed the sites as we left Hopkinton and made our way over towards Framingham. The old, smallish towns along the path are part of the charm of the Boston course. Although the rain was steady and the wind bracing, there were people lined along the fences in all of the towns. And they weren’t just observing, they were participating – shouting vigorously to will people on. It seemed that they realized that on this day where runners would be battling not only the normal race demons but the elements as well that they would be playing an important role. While there was still a thickness of runners along the road it was getting easier to move about without worry of elbowing or tripping others. I was settling in and knocking off mostly 8:10 miles as we left Framingham.

There were people passing me by. I was starting to see some of the same folks although I wasn’t really running the same pace. A quick stop at the porta potty set me back a bit so I got to pass a few people again. Occasionally we would encounter one of the wheelchair participants. The rain continued to pound on us – I would have to take my gloves off and wring them out every 30 minutes or so. The hand warmers were now wet chunks in my hands so I discarded them at one of the many aid stations along the way. Each of these stations had 30-50 people helping out and they were situated every 2 miles or so on the course. I was liberally alternating between water and Gatorade and was getting my gels down. At the halfway mark I hit the mats at 1:48, a bit faster than I would have guessed. So far, so good but I knew the conditions were going to eventually take their toll.

My playlist had switched over to one of those loud, thumping U2 songs and I was just started getting in the groove when I heard a louder, stronger thump coming from about 400 yards…200 yards and suddenly I was in what is called the Wellesley Tunnel which is a few hundred Wellesley College students shouting at the top of their lungs. I believe it is an all-girls school. There were lots of “Kiss Me” signs but I elected to smile and watch from a distance. We then went through downtown Wellesley, another relatively small town with brick buildings along each side of the road. We were gearing up for the Newton hills. I was not getting my mile splits from my Garmin for some reason and didn’t want to dwell on my time too much. My hamstrings were beginning to get a bit tight which was not good. I kept drinking water where possible. 

The first hill was a bit longish but not terribly steep and I was able to easily motor through it. Miles 17 and 18 came and went and the road was both curving around and also going up and down some. The crowds continued to yell feverishly at us – people of all ages and walks of life. I got to mile 20 slightly past 2:50 which was my pace. If only I could …. my hamstrings were still tightening and I was getting an energy low – my body alternated between getting too warm and two minutes later being very cold. I had contemplated taking the jacket off the whole race and still was trying to decide whether to ditch it. I saw a few runners go by with either tank tops or short sleeve shirts. I elected to keep the jacket on as we powered up Heartbreak Hill, which was remarkably shorter than I had anticipated. In no time I was at the top and was hoping to find another gear to go down the next few miles, but couldn’t really muster anything for some reason. In retrospect, I would have had some energy bars or a banana in the morning. The 10:30am start meant it was now close to 1:30 and I had only a few gels of calories – not nearly enough. I was doing 10 min miles which was not the plan. 

At some point around mile 23 the novelty of the day was wearing off and the continued pounding of the cold rain and wind began taking their toll. Having read other race reports this was around when others either dropped or slowed. I switched to survival mode and tried to gather energy from the crowds. I was given an orange ice freeze by one spectator which tasted fabulous. I walked briefly after an aid station taking my time to drink Gatorade, returning to my trot. People in better conditions were passing me by but it wasn’t really bothering me any – I could sense I was just in a lull and would make it the last 2-3 miles. Which I did. I tried hard to take in the last mile – lots of encouragement and throngs of people. I knew the drill having watched multiple videos over the years. A left turn under the overpass, right turn onto Hereford for a few blocks, left turn onto Boylston. My right hamstring began acting up whenever I tried to accelerate so I took it slow and easy, crossing the finish line shortly after 3:53, an OK time given the conditions. There were loads of volunteers checking my condition. I tried to smile and make eye contact as I was handed my medal, bag of eats, and much needed warm blanket. People around me were visibly shivering. (Over 1,000 runners needed medical attention of some sort). I kept walking slowly towards the family meet area all the way to the end where the As were. Out of nowhere Lynne came to greet me – a much welcomed site after the hours of torment. Luckily, we quickly found a driver who whisked us back to the hotel in his warm, dry cab. I had finished my first Boston Marathon – one for the storybooks.

 

Eureka! A New Find in SLO

Eureka Sign

We’ll be visiting our daughter Meryl in San Luis Obispo for hopefully the next 3+ years – a visually stunning place to be with a seemingly warm community very supportive of their college neighbors. Of course one of the vital responsibilities of parents is to discover new eateries for Meryl to eat right. So, naturally this trip we let her choose a place for an early dinner – and she chose quite well.

Meryl and I had actually eaten at Eureka! in our first SLO visit last April when she was confirming the choice. I watched the NCAA Championship game which likely distracted me from the amazing menu. At first glance it seems like a typical burger-beer-sports bar but with a little scratch of the surface you uncover some delectable eats.

We started with the baked glazed Brussel sprouts which was lathered in an Asian chili sauce. Absolutely scrumptious. Then I ordered the short rib burger with kimchi – sounded wonderful and tasted even better. Perhaps the best burger I have ever had. The kimchi somehow did not fall all over the place, and the short ribs had a Korean teriyaki like sauce, just thick enough. Straddled on the plate as well were some top notch sweet potato fries, with honey dressing. I didn’t even think of asking for ketchup it was so good.

Lynne had the protein salad which was a magnificent concoction of leaves and vegetables mowed into texture. Feta cheese, beets. Big enough for two sittings.

Notice to other appealing restaurants in San Luis Obispo: we will get to you but it might take longer than I thought.

Eureka Salad
Protein Salad
Eureka Burger
Kimchi Birger

Badger Mountain Challenge

(March 30, 2018)

Badger is a race out in the Tri-Cities area of Central Washington. It’s different from the normal routine here in Puget Sound in that the course has very little if any trees on it. The loop is a 50 mile distance starting with a climb of Badger Mountain and then Candy Mountain, each about 1000 feet. You then traverse along the side of a road and loop back around into some grape orchards for a few miles of reasonably flat, packed gravel running. Then the fun begins as you screech down down and back up up a dirt trail a few hundred steep feet and spend 3-4 miles on dusty, sand undulating terrain. Think ATV trails. The views of the valley are nice but there is no way to get any speed with the rocks and powdered dust at your feet. Eventually it dumps you down into a main road along Highway 182 and you sneak back to a place called McAbee where an immense climb of 1,500 feet in about a mile awaits you. It takes you up to a ridgeline where a rock-infested ankle-breaking road leads out 4 miles to a cell tower area called Chandler Butte, where you turn around. It has climbs and descents along the way but also offers incredibly views of Richland, one of the Tri-Cities. That is roughly the halfway point. On the return, instead of going down McAbee (which would certainly be terror on your shins) you veer off to a more gradual downhill on a very tight single track meadow path for a few extra miles back to the base of McAbee. Then you return to the dusty jeep trails, orchards, and two mountain climbs (the reverse way). That is the 50 miles. The Badger Mountain Challenge covers 100 mile, 50 mile, 50k and 15k options. This was the 8th year of putting on the race and despite some course changes they have their act together on the organization side. I had run the 50 mile before and was ready to tackle the 100. Or so I thought. Badger is notorious for having inclement weather and very high DNF rates. It would be a supreme challenge after months of fast, flat marathons.

I carefully figured out what I would need for my McAbee drop bag which I would visit (hopefully) 4 times. The other drop bag would stay at the start/finish for the halfway  point rest. I drove out early Thursday and made it in time for the pre-race briefing and pizza/salad dinner, seeing a few friends. After a decent night’s sleep I woke about 4:30am and was at the start, ready to go. It was quite windy but not terribly cold. I looked around at everyone with jackets while I just donned a short-sleeve shirt and some gloves. It was forecast to get into the 60s but would take a few hours to warm up. I stuck with my plan and trusted my body would heat up fast. The 50 and 100 milers started at the same time and this year there was close to 200 runners ready to go up Badger. It was time to race.

I purposefully started slow up Badger about 3/4 of the way back in the group as we worked single-file up about 2 miles. It occasionally flattened out allowing you to stretch out some but it was an easy 30 min start to the day. Going down Badger is also filled with switchbacks which save your legs. I was picking up the pace some as we made it to the first aid station (4.5 miles) and starting working my way up Candy. I had thought it was a straight up technical rocky climb but instead it was also a crushed gravel switchback climb (on this side). This allowed me to alternate between slow jog and fast hike. It was only a mile or so until we hit the cell towers and the downhill, which was indeed our first rocky section and almost all vertical down. It was slow going. We hit the bottom and then found our way to a culvert – a tunnel build under Highway 182 – dark and musty. We joked about rats and rattlesnakes but there wasn’t much action in this 200 yard spelunk. I spent the next few miles going slow along the road chatting with a Seattle runner doing the 50. We made it to the Jacobs Road aid station at mile 10 in 1:51.

The orchards are nice in that they are runnable sections, but not much interesting to look at. Lots of empty vines. It was about 3 miles until that changed. The first siting of the Valley of Death is terrifying to most, ridiculous to all. As much as going up the climb is difficult, I find going down more nerve-wracking. It’s important just to stay focused and take one step at a time, as trite as that might be. After summiting to the top, we took a left turn and plunged into the “moonscape dust” that would be my nemesis for the coming hours. I remembered some ups and downs here – certainly some pretty running but also lots of rocks in the middle of the trails and a few more less intense valleys to negotiate. They added a new aid station called Orchard which had decent food. I was still just taking in my normal fruits and some chips to go with a gel every 90 minutes. We eventually escaped the jeep trails and made our way over to McAbee base, where I arrived at 3:32, a full half hour before my target time. I was able to run a good portion of the uphill to get to the station, so knew I was doing well. I grabbed my poles, applied some more Vaseline, and started the climb up.

 

I had built a playlist for my Zune with some favorite tunes and it was mostly working well to keep me going. I did not have a chance to shuffle the list so it was going alphabetically. I think I was in the Cs here with Counting Crows, The Carpenters, or perhaps The Clash. I reached the top in 1/2 hour. They let us drop our poles off and away I motored. While the temps had indeed climbed a bit, the wind on top of McAbee was noticeable. It was overcast but dry, a good sign. I took my time along the section, examining the trail for the best path – there wasn’t one, sometimes left side was good, sometimes right, sometimes jumping off the road and running on grass was best. There were a few 100-200 foot climbs along the way out which allowed us to slow some. I was seeing some familiar faces coming back as both the early starters and some faster runners were returning from Chandler. I arrived in decent time and asked for a grilled cheese which took a couple of minutes to prepare, no problem and worth the wait. All the aid stations were exceptionally well staffed with knowledgeable, helpful people.

On the return back, I abruptly face planted on the rocks. Ouch. Damn that hurt. Ouch! A few people rushed over to help me up. I could tell I was OK but still a bit shaken. The “road rash” from hitting rocks caused burning on both hands and my right elbow. It took a few minutes to get back to running at full strength. Blood was shed. I eventually worked my way over past the top of the ledge to the meadow section and had some fun flying down on a windy day, pretty much all to myself. There are some wild views of the mounds beneath. I plunged into McAbee aid at 6:20ish, feeling very good about my progress but not looking forward to the dusty section ahead.

It mostly passed without incident. There are more climbs in the first section taking you to the next aid station and then it gradually works down some until a big spike taking you to the Valley of Death. I noticed the orchard section was more downhill going back and took note for the 2nd loop. I made good time to the culvert and decided to walk through there and then began tackling the climb up Candy – which is hard and longer than it looks with a few false summits. And then atop Candy, I started getting a low energy surge which surprised me since it was still < 60 degrees outside. I took my time going down Candy and hobbled into the aid station at the base where the Lead reminded me to take some salt tablets. I had only done one, had downed lots of water and some Tailwinds but obviously needed more. I tried to sit for awhile but was cramping. Not good. I walked out hoping I could recover quickly.

Which I mostly did. I was able to make it over to Badger and ran some of the easier sections going up. It’s never really obvious which way the path is headed. I knew once we crested there was still a few miles into camp. Working my way around and down without too much difficulty, I bounced down the steps to the base where the 50 milers were able to finish and I was now halfway through my quest, 11:20 hours into my day

Like most runners, I had a list of things to take care of and was hoping to get in and out quickly. First I changed shirts and put on some reflective material for night running. Next I made sure to grab my headlamp. I replenished my supply of gels and filled my bottle with Powerade. I was hoping to change socks here and as I was looking for a bench to tackle this some WSU Nurse School students said they could wash my feet and help. Sure! I sat down and they poured water over my feet, wiping them clean of the grit and sand. I had a small blister forming on my left foot big toe which had never happened before so they put some moleskin on it. With some new socks, my feet felt much better and I checked out about 11:40 on the clock – a bit longer in the station than planned but hopefully time well spent.

I took off for the next loop, walking a fair amount the first mile while I played with my Zune and headlamp. Eventually I got back to some slow jogs out and started running into some friends making their way in. It turned out that a fair number of folks signed up for the 100 called it quits after one loop (only 58 would finish out of the 90 or so that started). Karl from BC was having problems with his knee so stopped me to wish me luck. He has a decade on me in age and a veteran of numerous long races. I started making my way down Badger, stopping at the restroom – a good sign that I was drinking enough liquids. The sun was slowly coming down. It was still probably 60 degrees outside, so a very pleasant evening. The wind was noticeable but not a problem. The weather gods were in a good mood.

I made it up and down Candy without incident, although going down in the dark was quite slow. I found my way to Jacobs Road and had a nice 2-3 mile jog. I was running by myself now as I made my way over to the Orchards, which went on and on and … surely someone was playing with the flags. I was 45 mins in and no sign of the Valley. Even though I had seen one or two headlamps coming back at me (people nearing their finish!), it had been 10-20 mins since the last runner. Finally I turned around and started walking back even though there were course flags around. After just a minute or so, I saw a headlamp and verified we were heading in the right direction, so switched back and followed that person to the Valley of Death which was a slow treacherous climb down and back up.

The dirt trails were painful at night. I would bang into rocks and then my foot would sink into the soft sand where no ground was around, nearly sending me over. On one valley my feet slipped out from under me and went up in the air as I landed on my butt, the sound of my back crunching giving me cause to worry. Another few minutes recovering from that. I was fighting the course but losing badly as I finally made my way over to McAbee for my 2nd super climb to the ridge. I put on a U2 album and wondered how many songs would play until I reached the top (Answer: 6). The ridge line was dangerous but at the same time, with a full moon and (amazingly) no wind, quite pretty. I decided to walk and enjoy the evening, even turning off my headlamp at times, because it was easier to see. I was slowing considerably but still in good spirits as I finally made it to Chandler Butte where two people greeted me. I had some soup and another grilled cheese sandwich while one of the workers changed the batteries of my headlamp. It was after 3:00am (20 hours into race) when I said goodbye and began my trek back. With 73 miles done, I only had a marathon or so to go but my race suddenly went off the tracks.

 

Badger Chandler
Photo Credit: Matt Hagen

 

I was slowly making my way back along the ridge. There was no running here and the small climbs were taking longer as I tried to find safe ground for my sore feet. I eventually made it back to the top of McAbee and now had a 3-4 mile trek mostly downhill along the tight but softer trail. It took awhile to find it – they had a red blinking sign to mark where the trail started. I had my poles and slowly started shuffling down. That worked for 15-20 mins but then my sore feet were hurting even more. The poles were jamming up against the elevated sides of the trail. Another runner passed me and I looked up to the ridge from down below where you could see a few headlamps off in the distance. Pretty neat. I alternated between a brisk walk and slow jog until I finally made it back to McAbee. I wasn’t really hungry, just knew that I needed to get in and out quickly. It was getting close to 6:00am and the sun would be rising soon. I started down the hill only to realize after 200 yards that I had forgotten my poles on the ground so returned to grab them. I saw Hideki Opperman, an amazing 100 miler, taking off as well. She has incredible stamina and was still moving strong. We went down the road, over to the base of the jeep trails and began our section back.

My feet were getting worse. Each step hurt – both left and right. I appeared to have blisters on both feet but I couldn’t tell where exactly – definitely the left leg big toe again but also some problems along the outer side of my right foot (hotspot). I discovered that going uphill was a little easier than the painful push against my toenails going down. This just meant that everything went slower. It took 3 full hours to get to Jacobs Road (8 miles) from here. I stopped once to take a rock out of my shoe only to discover it was another blister at the back of my foot, not a rock. Runners were passing me by frequently here as the 50k had started earlier in the morning. They were all encouraging which felt great, but I was too busy grimacing to translate that into increased energy. A few 100 milers motored by. I made the quick turn at Jacobs back onto the road and tried a slow shuffle for 20 mins or so, moving to an alternate run-walk. It was heating up and my head was throbbing. I was a bit worried about overheating again so slowed down as I made it to the culvert and slid over to the long climb at Candy. I made my way up gradually – again going uphill seemed easier on my feet – and welcomed the soft gravel at the top, even though I slowed as we began the descent.

The last few miles were just slow and almost exclusively walking. It was now 11:00 am and then 12:00. The race cutoff was at 3:00pm which would not be a problem unless I stopped. I was fine mentally and tried to make conversations with others that passed by. Up Badger and eventually circumnavigating the side of it and around and down to the stairs. They have mile markers to both count up and down the hill which helped some. I could hear the crowd below as I approached the steps – ACK! steps. I took them very slowly – there must have been 15-20 of them. After getting halfway through, a few of the WSU student nurses came up to greet me as I am sure I looked pretty sad from below. They were worried that I would fall and tumble down which would have been a nice video but no doubt spoil their finish line festivities. I made it to the bottom and crossed the finish line at 1:43pm (30:43 into race), being greeted by the Race Director, Jason Reatherford. I told him I would stick to the 50 mile in the future. He smiled and understood. He then handed me my buckle.

Badger Buckle

I was happy to finish and the nursing crew immediately got me into a chair, giving me water, a honey stinger (gel), and began working on my poor, sad feet. I had chosen the wrong (thin) socks which now were literally embedded onto my body – you could read the brand insignia inversion printed onto my feet. I joked with them about their great toe “flossing” abilities which they liked. I ended up with 2-3 blisters and hotspots on both feet which apparently was common for the crowd this year. I must not have the skills to run in pain that others do. Not sure I want to tackle that anytime soon.

It’s always good to have a few races each year that really push you hard and teach you about yourself. This certainly makes the list. I believe I am fine with both the distance and the time allotment for 100 milers but it’s important that the course remain runnable and Badger just wasn’t that way for me at night. The dust of the trail did not mix well with my sock-shoe selection. This likely will cause me to rethink some of my future goals and will certainly require some more advanced planning for the Bigfoot 100K in August.

 

Badger Feet
Sandra from WSU Tri Cities Nursing School attending to my sad sore feet

 

 

 

 

Dizzy Daze

(March 24, 2018)

Needing a long run in before my Badger Mountain 100 race in late March, I elected to return to Green Lake and the 12 hour run known as Dizzy Daze. Organized by super Race Directors Matt Hagen and Betsy Rogers, this low-key non-intense day of fun takes place on the outer loop of Green Lake. It allowed me to easily tailor my mileage without a lot of risk. I needed a 40-50 mile effort but also didn’t want to overdo it considering Badger was 6 days later. My plan going in was to focus more on the 12 hour mandate to stay engaged mentally and adjust mileage as needed.

Given my fiasco in Georgia the prior week I had some chafing issues to take care of and if it was going to be a rainy day, there was a decent chance my plans would have to be changed. As I drove in for the 7:00am start, there was a slight misting. It could go either way. There were about 50 people at the start – a decent crowd. I actually wore a protective garbage bag “coat” to keep the wetness off of my shorts. I’ve done this once or twice and it works ok. We took off promptly at the top of the hour. The outer loop is 3.2 miles. I’ve always wanted to try and see if I could do 19-20 loops or roughly 100k in the 12 hours. Today would not be that day. I made sure to start slower than my marathon speed and sure enough locked into some 9-9:30 miles, coming in the first loop in 30 mins almost exactly and I believe 3-4 people were ahead of me. The rain had stopped about halfway through the loop and so I discarded it into my drop bag – loop course are nice in that it lets you revisit the same drop bag repeatedly during a race.

I began turning out 30-32 minute loops with low effort, taking in the sites – nice houses along the lake, Dukes, Mio Sushi, burger joints. It was still early but the sidewalks would get crowded later in the day. With the early hour came the shouts from the crew teams out on the lake working on their cadence, a staple of the Seattle scene. I hit the 8 loop mark at about 4:20, slightly faster than I wanted but still feeling rested. No rain, no chafing, Vaseline applied every other loop. There wasn’t anyone close to my pace so I flipped around my Zune until it got into a shuffle mode and would grab music from my entire library. It was doing a great job and it was fun to hear the wide variety of songs.

At 10 loops (32 miles), I sat down and ate about half of my PBJ, talking to a few folks. I headed back out with Jules Mann and we ran a bit together. At around loop 12, I started doing calculations. There was a 5 hour “Sleep In” version starting at 2:00pm so I needed to try and avoid that start if possible. The first section of the course is run alongside Aurora Ave and despite a narrow trail ridden with puddles, they really did not want people out on the Highway so getting a few minutes ahead of the next wave of starters would be paramount. It worked out well and surprisingly I didn’t get passed by too many folks, even though I had slowed to a 10-11 min pace by then.

I checked the leaderboard at some point and saw that 3-4 people were ahead of me on lap counts, but they were way ahead. Funny as I don’t remember seeing many people pass me multiple times. The music must have distracted me. I had a few 3-4 min breaks but mostly stayed on track until 4:45pm (almost 10 hours) when I finished up my 16th loop. I told Matt I would switch to walking and was hoping to do 2 very casual loops that way. The first one took 1:15 so I added a few jogs into the last loop to close it out by 6:45pm with 18 loops (57.6 miles), a 4th place finish in terms of distance. The woman who won sprinted by me with ease on the last lap and clocked in with 21 loops. She also found time to nurse her newborn between loops. I am pedestrian.

Working on My Just-In-Time Training at the Georgia Marathon

(March 18, 2018)

With 200+ races under my belt it was only a matter of time – literally. I travelled to Georgia to be with family and timed it with the Georgia Marathon which is run in Atlanta and some surrounding communities. It’s somewhat of a “bumpy” course but I like that it traverses three college campuses (Agnes Scott, Emory, my alma mater Georgia Tech), not that you spend much time there. Still, some nice visuals and in early spring a good chance at reasonably weather. I got everything set up the night before per my normal routine. I was shy some Vaseline so needed to stop for that. I set my alarm and ….

Woke myself up at 5:57 am. For a 7:00 race. About 25 miles away. SHRIEEKK! Did I sleep through the alarm? Did it not go off? Did I still have time? I threw my shorts, shirts, and socks on and raced out the door, grabbing my runners band which holds my gels and music player + keys. Amazingly I made it down to Atlanta by about 6:30am as there was no traffic. Now where to park? If I got close to the race the roads would be closed, lines of cars, etc. I took the safer route and drove into Georgia Tech which was about 1/2 mile from the start of the race. I quickly made it over to where the large crowds had already formed and started tracking down the check-in table. I still had to get my bib! I found it down by the Aquarium and put it on at 6:58 or so and made my way to the corrals. Fortunately, I had a few extra minutes as I was in the 3rd wave (“C”) so it was about 5-10 minutes to find my way into the middle/front of that wave. I had calmed down some and began reminding myself of race plan – low 8 mins, look for 3:45 pacer, etc. I had forgotten to grab my ear buds so was going to have to do this race without tunes.

Georgia starts the marathon and half marathon groups at the same time which makes for a very congested first few miles; lots of people walking in the middle or just going much slower than the corral time would indicate. I constantly promise myself not to be “that” guy at races. I meandered through trying not to overdo it. The first mile clicked off right at 8:00 which was about right. We worked our way through the southern part of downtown and eventually over the Ebeneezer Baptist Church where MLK preached. The sun was slowly rising in front of us as we headed east. I wasn’t paying too much attention to my Garmin as it was bouncing between 4:00 min and 11:00 min pace, both which were way off. This was my 2nd year running this course so I was getting used to the curves and rises/drops. Many people lament the “hilly” nature of the course but it actually didn’t seem to bad the 2nd time – no major climbs. I made it out to Decatur where they use small signs embedded into the ground to keep your spirits up. I hit the halfway mark at around 1:52 which was a nice pace. The crowd had thinned out once we split away from the half marathoners. I tried to chat with a few runners here and there but no one was hitting the same pace.

There were policeman and volunteers everywhere – great to have the assistance but the race cannot be doing all that well financially with this many people. Still, I thanked them every chance I could because it let us concentrate on the road ahead of us. We hit the empty Emory campus around mile 15 and serpentine through it in short order. Next was the somewhat dull residential section. Surprisingly, lots of families were out and handing out water and other goodies. The aid stations sprung up every 2 miles or so and I constantly grabbed water as I knew the temps would rise above 60 degrees soon. I was slowing a bit but still motoring through all of the climbs without too much extra effort. We then had a nice straight downhill stretch into Piedmont Park, my stomping grounds in the early 1980s. It was a short out and back stretch and then we were headed down 17th and over towards Spring and down to Georgia Tech.

Tech was also pretty empty but a loud aid station kept us motivated as we did one last out and back and then headed over to Centennial Park and the finish line. The last 1-2 miles is somewhat like the Seattle Marathon – city blocks with warehouses and a few beaten down buildings but definitely a go between area where not much good happens. We climbed up one last quarter mile and then made the turn into the park area, where I finished in 3:51, a strong time (18 mins faster than last year and 7th in Age Group). Not a bad ending to an abrupt start of the day.