I am doing three marathons this weekend. OK, two of them are driving marathons to get out to Richland WA. After watching and cheering for the Ghostmuster races (Billy 5k PR and I am officially afraid to race him in a short distance and Jody sixth race in 6 weeks setting a 10K PR and Tammy hoping to do the 10K in under 50 minutes and crossing the line just as the clock changed to 50:00) I hit the road for the four hour drive to eastern WA. I wonder if I can beat four hours. I start my clock and don't stop it until getting to the hotel in 3 hours 49 minutes. That would be one minute slower than my PR. Other than the drive, this is a very easy race logistically. 8AM start right here at the Shilo inn. Finish is here too and all runners get late check out so I can shower and relax a little before heading home. When I leave my room in the morning I am surprised to see them setting up the finish line about 50 yards from my room and maybe 25 yards from my parked car. That is my blue civic in the photo I took after the race.
Start - It is cold but the sun is rising and looking bright. I have gloves and a long sleeve shirt over my maniac singlet. There is a small rustle of wind, but not much. The course is mostly very flat and from what I have read the real wild card is the wind. It can be nasty, but does not look bad for today. After a very nice National Anthem we all walk over to the start area and I find a place in the middle. At 7:58 I am just having a little conversation with some Maniacs and without any warning everyone starts running. Abrupt and unexpected, but we came here to run so off we go.
Mile 1 - Yes it is going to be a very flat course but I have wondered a bit about how to get up to the freeway for the river crossings. Now we are climbing a hill that would be very steep except we get three switchbacks to do it in. It is a sight to see all the runners zigging and zagging up the hill. When I reach the top I look down and really do not see many others. I feel like I am way back. But I am on pace (actually a little fast) and I need to stick to my plan. There are about 200 marathoners and 50 relay teams, so I expect to do some running alone and get passed by fresh legs every so often.
Mile 1.5 - Over the Columbia River on the I182 bridge. Beautiful sunny morning.
Mile 3- Residential road. I ditch my gloves on an empty boat trailer, hoping to remember to pick them up on the way back.
Mile 4 - Off the road and onto a nice paved trail. We will race mostly on these park trails right along the river. I am giving this course an A+ and I have hardly seen it yet. It is broken up into long straight sections that I prefer. Later there will be an out and back part where I should get to see many familiar faces. My last couple of marathons have been with good friends. Today I am alone and in control of my own race.
Mile 6 - Either I am getting older or these race volunteers are getting younger. This aid station is staffed by a three year old. She is not even holding the cups but has about 6 of them at her feet. I want to take one and thank her but I am afraid to bend over that low and fast so instead I accept a cup of gatorade from a 7 year old. There are two bright suns in our eyes, the real sun and the reflection of the sun off the water. I am thankful for my sunglasses.
Mile 6.5 - I have been following a young guy in a green shirt. I don't feel particularly chatty but I decide to move up and just run next to him. It is easy to run two or even three abreast as long as no one is coming toward us. We do not say a word for about a mile. Finally I break the silence and say "having fun yet?". He starts talking and is a nice diversion. First marathon for him though he did an ultra a few months ago. I do not tell him but my new goal is to beat him. Hopefully I am running smarter than a first timer.
Mile 8 - Up a smaller hill and onto the Blue Bridge. Green shirt guy starts sprinting and is soon far ahead of me.
Mile 8.5 - High above the Columbia River. I sort of need to spit so I do my best and arc it over the fence and it is a clean shot to the water. I am so pleased that I do it again.
Mile 9 - Off the bridge and a right turn into Columbia Park. Uh oh here is the wind. Fairly strong and in my face.
Mile 10 - I tell the aid station child that I am "feeling winded". My pace remains steady but I know it is taking a toll. One prolific marathoner has coined the term "wind penalty" or "heat penalty" or "hill penalty". I like that idea as a way to factor in weather or course variations that could slow down an otherwise good time. I will determine the wind factor for this race as best I can after it is done.
Mile 11 - Seeing some familiar faces coming towards me.
Mile 12 - Now I am heading back and see more runners. I still feel like I am pretty far back in this race. But my pace is fine for me and now I have the wind at my back
Mile 14 - Catch and pass green shirt guy. I am running with a local. I ask the question that I already know the answer to. "When we cross back and have that long 7 mile section on the other side, is the wind going to be in our faces again?" "Yes it is" he says. "So even though I am running well right now I should just give up any hope of a PR then?" "Absolutely" he says.
Mile 15.5 - Up and onto the Cable Bridge. Third time over the river and third different bridge. Green shirt guy comes zooming past and gains a big lead again. Later I learn that his "strategy" was to run the bridge hills aggressively. Hmmm.
Mile 16.5 - On the other side now and turn into the wind. We will go straight now for about 7 miles. I had a crummy week last week. I should clarify that I am terrifically blessed with health, family, friends and career and my crummy week was probably about the same as many peoples good weeks. I did have some stress and sadness from a variety of sources and at times this week I was thinking about how this would be the tough part of the course. Sometimes in the late stages of a marathon I get a little emotional. This week I pictured myself using the physical suffering of this section to pound out the bad feelings. I'll leave any lingering bad feelings on the road right here. I'll be running by myself any way at this point. Just me and the pavement.
Mile 16.51 - "Hey are you the guy from the Elma race" I hear. It takes me just a second or two to recognize soon to be maniac Lee. Two weeks ago I went to Jody's triathlon in Elma just to be a spectator. There was a marathon that had started 3 hours earlier from when we got there. I was due for an easy run, not a race, and I wanted to see some of the runners. So while Jody and her friend were getting ready I headed down the road. First I found "evil triplet" Ron who had started early and I jogged with him back to the finish. Then I ran out a mile or so and saw the overall winner coming towards me. I encouraged him and ran with him. He had never won a marathon before and even though there was no one in sight he kept looking back. I got him close to the finish and made sure that some triathletes cheered for him because there were zero spectators at this little race. Then I jogged back a mile and saw the lead woman. Now here was someone struggling like I do at the end of the race. I tried to encourage her and I ran with her but I felt like maybe I was being a bother instead of a help. She thanked me though afterwords. Now here she is again. Lee thanks me again for Elma and we have a nice conversation as we plow along at a good pace.
Mile 18 - Just running along at a steady pace with Lee. It has been nice, but she has to duck into the bathroom, so I will run alone. I pass green shirt guy for good. Here is Maniac Ken. He is running watchless, which is something I would like to try. We run together for two miles. My pace is slowing but it has been a nice stretch and the wind is not that bad. I was expecting this segment to be a "trail of tears" in stead it was "happy trails". Tumbleweed sighting.
Mile 21 - Slowing a bit more. Running now with blue shirt guy who I have been back and forth with for the whole race. We make a right turn into a strong wind and I am just behind him. I draft him for a minute, then I see that we are a little ways from another turn. I decide to be generous and kind and so I pass him quickly and get right in front of him, so he can draft me. I think he appreciated it. A little while later he has to make a rest stop.
Mile 23 - Up a little hill, hand slap Maniac Jill, and back onto the residential street. Oh there are my gloves. I do not feel like picking them up. I hope whoever finds them will use them.
Mile 23.5 - Old geezer at his mailbox. As I approach he asks "How long is this race?" "26.2 miles" I reply. "Some of you are not going to make it." Wow, way to be encouraging old man. I am past him before I can think of a good comeback.
Mile 24 - Up the switchback to the final bridge. I take the shortest ever walk break, and then keep moving. I look down and see soon to be maniac Lee right on my heels and looking pretty good. I hope she catches me.
Mile 25 - Good run over the last crossing. I think I can make this without any meltdown walk breaks. Lee has caught up and we are running together. Last water stop.
Mile 25.25 - Lee lets out a quiet four letter word and grinds to a walk. I know she will be running again shortly.
Mile 25.5 - For a good three miles I have been ever so slowly catching up to a runner with bright red arm warmers. That can only be Maniac Ben who I talked with before the start. He is one of 14 maniacs who are running the second half of a double (2 marathons in two days) today. He is usually much faster than me and I was curious to see how he would do. Perhaps next year I will run both of these Columbia River races. Now I see that Ben is walking. I wonder if I can catch him. He is about 50 yards ahead of me and starts running again. I yell to him and he stops and looks back. I wave him on with a laugh. Bad idea for the predator to yell to the prey. He is too far ahead and the end is near.
Mile 26.2 - Cross the line in good shape but get somewhat nauseated for a few minutes afterword. Happy to have gotten under four hours and to have not degenerated into walking (third marathon in a row with no walking meltdowns). I estimate a 3-5 minute wind penalty. It could have been worse. Pace chart from the watch shows some erratic running toward the end but looks steady compared to many races. The spikes every two miles are when I slowed at each water station. Hit the shower, rest a little bit, then hop in the car for a long ride home.