Saturday, May 15, 2010

Marathon Mania, Done

The second phase of my Marathon Mania quest was to run a second marathon within 2 weeks of the first. I finished it today.

My whole schedule was based on marathon availability, but this was a great choice for #2. The race organization runs 4 races simultaneously: 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon. Plus there were some walkers. We shared the first half of our course with the half marathon runners. I gotta tell ya, it was hard to keep on going when they peeled off to finish.

I was a bit concerned about the temperature because it was projected to be as warm as 80° today. That's pretty hot for a Washington west-sider what with our recent highs in the 60s. I just planned to hydrate well during the run.

My motel was about a 12 minute walk from the race finish line. The start line was 13 miles away in the hills to the east of Boise. Since we were bussed to the start from the finish area I picked a motel that would allow me to walk to the start and walk back at the end. And it was a great choice! Nice room, small kitchen, walking distance to food.

I woke up at about 4:45 and it was pitch black outside. Funny how your placement in a time zone affects daylight. Boise is on Mountain time, but must be WAY west in the time zone. By 5:15 it was starting to get light out and by the time I headed over to my bus it was full daylight. Yesterday I picked up my race packet at the finish line area so I knew the route and the time it would take.

The toilets at the finish had no line so I took advantage of that. You just never know how long you're going to have to wait at the start area.

On the bus ride out I had a great conversation with a young man, 'PJ', who was running the half marathon, his second in less than 2 months and his second ever. He's hooked on endorphins!

Driving in to the start area it was clear that we were going to have a chilly start. All the trees were shaking in the wind. The bus dropped us off right at the base of a big earthen dam on the Boise River. Quite a start location. And it was COLD as we stepped off the bus. I felt sorry for PJ as he was wearing only his race togs. I was wearing a lot more clothing to keep my old bones warm. People were huddled in groups in the lee of any shelter: vehicles, buildings, trees. I got right in with them.

Far too soon I had to leave my shelter to go stand in the wind in the toilet line. Thinking I'd be clever I picked a line most downwind hoping to have wind shelter from the other bodies. Fat chance. The wind just whipped through. And my line hardly moved. Somebody must have been hiding out in the can or something. I finally got my chance and was back out into the wind far too soon.

Back to my original shelter and it had cleared out some. At first I was standing with the crowd outside this shed but when I returned room had opened up inside. In I went. The wind died away and it was warm and toasty inside. We even got to sing 'Happy Birthday' to Laurie who was celebrating her birthday by running the half marathon.

I kept checking my watch, not wanting to go out into the wind too soon. But the time drew near. So I stripped out of my warmups, packed everything up, handed my stuff over to the transport crew, and got into the runners pack. Folks were still picking up their race packets so we ended up starting off about 7 minutes late.

The first mile or so was on a road then we were on to a bike/running path that followed the river. Most of our run was on path from this point. There was a section of 1 or 2 miles in the first half where we were on streets and about a 1/2 mile at our turnaround. Otherwise it was all path.

At the 1/2 marathon end point most of the runners peeled off to the finish and I was left in the lonely crowd heading out on the marathon. Our route was spectacular as we wound along the river and past some pretty snazzy houses.

The miles started to drag as the pain in my legs started to build up and the soreness in my hip increased. Funny how one does mental math: figure out the miles left to the turnaround, can I bear twice as much soreness? At the turnaround we popped off the trail and made a little loop through a residential area. By this time I was taking a gel every couple of aid stations trying to stave off exhaustion.

At about mile 20 I had a fun duel with some young buck. As I gradually came up on him he picked up his pace slightly as I moved out to pass. Of course I took the challenge and picked it up just a little more. Within 2 minutes he was back, sliding past me. "Well," I thought to myself, "two can play at this game." So with 5 miles to go I took it up another notch and just held it. I could hear his footsteps behind me, slowly fading out of earshot. Then we came to a bridge with a slight rise to the crossing. I kept up the same pace and he was toast: no more footsteps.

Then I began to notice the mile markers on the path. Every tenth of a mile there was a marker counting down and the countdown was pretty close to the mileage to finish. Oh, cruel world! Every tenth of a mile. Interspersed with chalked mile markers for our race.

With 3 miles to go I was feeling strong but very sore. Mile 26 was just before we turned off the path into Anne Morrison Park to the finish. There was a very large crowd to welcome us home. I really warmed up to the cheering and encouragement and finished strong.

The heat had really sneaked up on me at the end. I sat down in the shade and it was very clear that I'd been working very hard as my body cooled down. Then on to potatoes (after all, this is the Great Potato Marathon!). I limped over to check the marathon results and the posted results weren't up to my finish time yet. So, back to the shade with a chocolate milk to sip, occasionally glancing over at the board to see if another page of results was up.

When I saw the big crowd gathered I figured they were up so off I went, hobbling over. I scanned down the list for my time and there I was: age group first! Oh man, what a finish to a great journey. Two marathons, two weeks, two wins. Both on gorgeous courses.

Marathon maniacs, I hope you will take me.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cross in the Spring

The sun was out and it felt like short pants day for bike riding. So instead of riding around the south end of Lake Washington I decided to ride my cross bike on the Seattle City Light Powerline right of way. I hadn't been here since last fall when I tried out my 1-speed, home made cross bike.

It was every bit as hard as I remembered.

There's a couple miles of streets to Cheasty Blvd where you can ride a gravelled path all the way up the hill instead of riding the street. It's in great shape with only a couple of street crossings and a handful of weeps so the trail isn't very wet.

Once you get to the top of Beacon Hill there's a 4 or 5 block ride to get on the grass and away you go. There's always a break by using the Chief Sealth Trail. You can see from some of the pictures that it's a continuous set of swales following the power line. So I could pick a line and make it as hard or easy as I wanted.

And the surface was SOOOO hard to ride on. It's this incredibly lumpy grass, like an old pasture, covered with grass. In many places it was mowed to about 4-5 inches in height. Where it wasn't mowed the grass was about 2 feet tall; I avoided those sections.

There were boggy places and hidden holes and ditches at the base of the swales.

I bounced and pedaled and tried to keep my front wheel down on the really steep hills and tried to avoid the boggiest places. My tongue was hanging out and I was working very hard. From time to time there was a street crossing just for interest.

And it was fun! And it was a workout.

Combined with my first lake swim of the season this morning it was a glorious NW spring day.

Brrrr - Early May Lake Swim

It was great to get into Lake Washington early this year. The last couple of years it's been almost June by the time I hit the open water.

My pool was closed today due to Seattle Parks employee furlow, the sun was out, the wind was light - what more could I ask for the first day to dip?

This morning I dug into the closet and pulled out my long sleeve wetsuit, grubbed through a drawer of gloves, hats, etc. to find my neoprene swim cap and I was good to go.

I chose to go to Andrews Bay because it's frequently a teensy bit warmer this time of year and it tends to be sheltered from the prevailing southwesterly winds. Today the wind was coming from the north so there was a slight chop. Not enough to be bothersome, but not smooth water either.

The parking lot was filled with cars when I got there. The loop around the park is a popular walk so I figured these were walkers. In the lee side of the bath house the sun was shining down and warming everything. My bare feet felt warmed by the asphalt of the parking lot. The struggle to stretch the rubber over my body was like an old friend.

Double check to make sure I had my extra car key around my neck before slamming the trunk door shut.

Then off to the water, pulling on my two caps: neoprene first with a brightly covered latex cap over the top. Stepping out from behind the bath house it was clear that the wind blowing up the chop wasn't a balmy summer breeze, but had a late spring bite.

That first step into the water was a BIG one. The last step off the stairway is into water about knee deep. My feet instantly felt the cold. It brought back all those memories of early season swims. But numbness did not immediately set in and the discomfort did not quickly move toward pain.

I waded out and leaned forward into the water to get horizontal. My hands were chilled immediately but I wasn't left gasping when my face went into the water. With that, I settled into an easy free style across the bay to a prominent point. My hands and feet quickly adjusted to the temperature and the only problem I had was leaky goggles.

At the point I turned around and headed back, feeling a bit dizzy from the cold water. This got me to wondering what the water temperature was. The best approximation I could get was from the King County Lake Buoy. Their measurements indicate that the water is probably in the low 50's F (10-11°C).

It's done. Now I can truly feel like another tri-training season is underway and I get to escape the chlorinated monotony of the pool for the pleasure of open water.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Sunflower Relay

I did it! None of my trepidations came to pass and I completed The Sunflower Relay (iron division) today. This was a new version of the course, extending it to a marathon distance.

My previous 2 runnings of the race gave me some inklings about the course, but I had no idea how the added distance would work out.

This race is run as a relay with teams and iron persons. Most of the racers seem to be iron runners. According to the race website about 170 people signed up to run solo and there were about 75 teams. The race founder's vision was to have a low key race in a beautiful setting and they're continuing to pull it off. The historical teams are the most interesting as the team is required to have a young runner (14 or younger), an older runner (40 or older), and at least 1 female member.

Driving into the valley yesterday I immediately noticed the stiff, cold wind, especially when I got outside my car. At our race briefing this morning, the race director told us that it had rained (and snowed) earlier in the week. However, today started out with blue skies and puffy white clouds.

By the time we got out of the buses at the race start (this is a point-to-point race) the wind had picked up and was blowing something like yesterday. That was to be the theme for the day. There was even a very light sprinkling of rain just before the start. We could look back up the valley toward Washington Pass and see some kind of precipitation coming down.

At the race start I got to see and talk to friends and acquaintances. Earl was here and we rode up to the start on the bus together. After we got out there was Andy and Andrew and Nick and a bunch of Andrew and Nick's friends, all young. There was the usual stripping and hanging out for a few minutes in the raw air before the start and then we were off with a very casual countdown.

The first mile or so was on the paved road then we ducked onto the ski/bike trails. On this leg we got to cross a suspension bridge over the Methow River and boy was that weird! All the heavy footfalls caused waves on the bridge deck that were very weird to run with. The bridge swayed from side-to-side and the waves ran the length of it. More than once I stepped onto the top of a bridge deck wave. Kinda like running on an uneven surface and striking a rock.

This section took us to the 5 mile point and the old starting point and now the first relay exchange point. Then a couple miles on dirt road followed by a lot of twisty-turny stuff on single track and poor quality dirt road. The woods were very open and it was most pleasant to get off the main road as cars were driving along it and kicking up dust.

After aid station #2 we settled in for a long, gradual downhill on good quality dirt road to the river. Then great single and double track through the woods and cattle gates to Wolf Creek Road. This was paved and we ran a couple miles on it to aid station #3 where we left the road again to get back on the trail system.

This took us to the edge of the valley and the half way point - a sign stuck into the ground reading "13.1 miles get ready for up up up". And up it is - just over a mile of steady to steep uphill on a gravel/dirt road eventually leveling out and crossing the highway by Patterson Lake and just downhill from Sun Mountain Lodge.

A couple switchbacks brought us up to the trail along Patterson Lake. This is probably my favorite section of the run. We started out in forest with the lake to our left with the trail undulating and traversing the side of the hill. After a time the forest opens up to give even greater vistas and flowers. Just past the end of the lake is aid station #4.

This next section is nicer than the last time I was here when there had been logging activity. Now the logging scars have kind of healed over and we ran through very open, high altitude pine forest on nice single track. There was a short section on the road then back into the woods for a long downhill finish to aid station #5.

It was in this section that we passed the 17-mile mark and I was amazed at how good my legs felt. At that point I knew that I was going to finish well.

Right out of this aid station we went up a steepish hill maybe a 1/2 mile long - very challenging. After topping this hill we were treated to grand vistas of rolling grassland. Our route followed a descending, rocky road eventually coming out on a better quality dirt road and a high traverse above a lake. This was a long, long downhill and just past the end of the lake was aid station #6.

I had my second GU and refilled my water bottle for the last time. More up, down, up, down to pass the last little lake on the run. The dreaded final downhill was getting closer and closer as the miles ticked by. We crossed a pasture then switch-backed up this old, old 2-lane track to the last aid station, near the top of the run. At this aid station I ate a final GU and downed an electrolyte cap with a couple cups of water.

A bit more descent through a Ponderosa Pine grove and the final drop was visible. I had forgotten how we traversed way around the top of the valley. Today this traverse was into a blustery headwind. Somewhere in this section we had to go through a barbed wire fence. The race folks were kind enough to tie it up for us so I only had to bend over and slip under. Finally there was the technical downhill to the valley where we had a half mile or so of gently descending rocky road in a picturesque little valley.

This opened up to great, open grassy areas with horse tracks where I was really able to pick up my speed. I'd been hoping for a 4:15 finish but at mile 25 I was at 4:08 so it just wasn't gonna be.

The finally 200 meters or so were very welcome. This was a change from previous years as we left the road and ran across a pasture. I was very nervous about the footing as it was pretty uneven. That finish line was very welcome.

My legs held up well and don't feel too dead right now. A bit of ice, on to the awards/swag ceremony then some sleep.

Bring on Boise. I feel like it should be manageable.