I usually plan my races months in advance but this one, I planned in early 2011. From periodically hanging out here , I’ve learned alot of the details of not just running marathons but about running multiple marathons. For one thing, which NW races to run. For me, the ‘must do’ race is now “The Light at the end of the Tunnel Marathon.”
The race has so many qualities I consider positive:
1. small – registration capped at 400
2. Only a Marathon. No half or other distances
3. Short driving distance – just 70 miles from house
4. No concrete, asphalt running surface -ALL DIRT PATH
5. gradual downhill
6. Route felt like a hike in the woods, few houses and fewer roads.
Through the RW forum, I discovered this race and signed up in March 2011 but due to minor injury, I never ran it. But, I did email the race director, a month before the race, and he refunded my full registration fee!! How many marathons do that?
This year, I signed up again, just days after they opened the registration. And lucky I did since it sold out in few a few weeks. (The popularity of races is insane). Since this is a point to point route, drove to the designation parking lot, near the finish (North Bend, WA) and walked on school bus shuttle to the start. The ‘start’ is the Hyak trail-head for the John Wayne Pioneer trail just east of Snoqualmie Pass. (the link has a video of the trail but he rides uphill whereas I ran downhill).
The Gods smiled on us this day because the weather was nearly perfect. Bit cool, low 50s to start and a light rain fell for most of the first 20 miles. Then as the temps rose into the upper 60s, the sky opened up and the last 6 miles, steady rain fell. But, for me, this cool shower was perfect. Kept me from over-heating. The rain became my enemy only after I crossed the finish line, being soaked through I started to FREEZE.
My goal was 3:30 but I always struggle to understand my current fitness level. Since I ran a 3:53 relatively easy, I figured a 3:40 was likely and as a stretch goal, a 3:30 might be doable. I needed to hold an 8:00 minute pace. The race started and the two mile long tunnel appeared less than one mile into the course. Tiny, just about 12 feet by 15 feet, with several hundred other runners, it did feel claustrophobic. Most ran with a headlamp but next year I’ll carry a hand held flashlight to point at your feet. When we emerged back into the light, focusing on that 8 minute pace.
Through about 15 miles, the pace was fine but quickly started to feel like I had to push my body harder to hold the pace. So, I started to repeat the mantra, “just hold on until 20, just hold on until 20.” Once I reached mile 20 without any serious symptoms of “the WALL”, I knew I had a chance to reach my stretch goal. The 20 mile mark is a key milestone because these last 6 miles is not about how fast you run but how little you slow down. I think this time my will-power made all the difference. I simply refused to let my body slow down. In the late stages of the marathon, often, your body stops listening to your brain because you are running out of fuel. But this day, I drank enough and GU’d enough to keep the engine running to finish with a 3:30:57. Yes, I was thrilled.
I will run this one again next summer and fully expect to lower my PR down to 3:25 and achieve my Boston Qualifying time.