Point Defiance Park at the northern tip of Tacoma is a gem of a park. Miles of waterfront, and many acres of forest, with some trees that are hundreds of years old. There is a one way paved road that loops around the park. This "Five Mile Drive" is also most of the Sound to Narrows 12K course and part of the Tacoma Marathon. In addition there are miles of trails that criss cross the whole park and I have not run on them much. Today I will.
The course for this inaugural race is three loops of about 10.37 miles. Starting at Owens Beach, at sea level, we will run 3/4 of a mile on flat crushed gravel or pavement along the water on what I call the "promenade". Then we will climb a trail with wooden steps, more of a staircase than trail, up steeply to near the Five Mile Drive. More trail climbing, then lots of single track and some double track trail all around the park. There will be pink ribbons to mark the way as well as chalk arrows on the ground. So many turns and intersections, I hope it will be well marked. At mile 4 we will run along the edge of the cliff with water views. Mile 5 takes us past the replica of Fort Nisqually. Aid station here, then lots more trail of all kinds. Through the "Ewok" forest, a number of small log jumps, and up a steeper hill. Finally some nice smooth flat and gentle downhill for a long way. Then onto the paved road for a quarter mile or so and then a sharp turn and a scramble down the cliff side to the beach. This last bit of trail is so steep that they have placed a rope to hold on to as you negotiate the trail. Back to the promenade for a short sprint to the finish...or lap two......or lap three. Elevation gain and loss of about 1,300 feet per loop.
For our troubles we get a nice running vest and a big finishers mug. Its cold out and the sun is just rising, so I have my jacket, hat and gloves on. Parking is right at the finish area, so I can grab or drop stuff as needed after each loop. There is also a 15K and 30K and many participants. The shorter race runners should be able to run more quickly so I line up way in the back with M761.
Start - Off we go on the wide promenade. Nice and easy. First bottleneck is on the stairs. Have to walk up. Those doing the 50K wonder how tough these stairs will be on the third lap. Now it really skinnys down to a trail and we are often stuck behind slow runners. Already I have a pebble working its way down my heel and into my shoe and I have to pull over to deal with it. Somehow it slips in under my foot. It feels OK there so I just leave it, hoping that I will not have to take my shoes off later. Tempting to try to pass people and find some room to run, but I need to be patient and use their pace to keep me from going out too fast. When the trail widens, there is
a sorting of position and we can get past the really slow ones. Beautiful day for a trail run, dry, little mud. But this is more like a stampede, just too crowded. I don't let it bother me though, there will be plenty of alone time after the shorter races are done and runners get real spread out.
Mile 4 - On the edge of a steep drop off. At least ten people directly in front of me. I hear one person shout, and another really yell. I think some one must have fallen, but we soon realize that we are in a swarm of bees.
Mile 5-10 - I barely slow down at the aid station. The rest of lap one is uneventful. Still lots of runners. The roped trail down the cliff is an adventure. Grab a couple of pretzels at the start/finish area and make a quick bathroom break. I think that M761 has gone ahead of me, so I run faster to catch up, but she was actually behind me and she catches me. We continue on together, with much more room to run.
Loop 2- The uphills are getting harder. I'm OK till about mile 16. Then it really hits me. I have some stomach cramping, not too bad, but enough to slow me down. The steep uphill in the Ewok forest finishes me off. M 761 continues on ahead. I need to walk any uphills and I start taking walk breaks on some flat trail too. This is about where I hit the wall in my last marathon and it is disappointing. I knew that I would tire at some point today and I told myself that I would continue to work hard at that point for 30 minutes or so, then just relax and enjoy the day. So I keep pushing but it is tough! I am getting passed by runners, my legs are tired on any hills and I am barely half way done. Lots of walk breaks and I am finally at the cliff near the end of the loop. Help a runner who has taken a wrong turn, then I lead him a few steps down the wrong way before we realize the mistake. Back track and get on course. Then down the rope and to the finish area. I see Ron Frederick who had finished the 30K race. I sort of shake my head at him and say something about this third lap is going to be really bad.
Loop 3 - Flat section is fine, then up those awful steps. I almost have to take a rest break. It is tough going. I meet Maniac Thomas Tan. We have been leapfrogging some and will continue to do so for the whole rest of the race. The uphill trail is real tough. At about mile 23 I turn my ankle and almost fall, but recover OK and there is no pain. Finally on more level trail and something amazing happens. I find this low gear of running. Its not a shuffle, I am moving along, just slowly. Well much faster than walking, a nice steady slow pace that feels really good. I note that I have been racing for 3 hours and 53 minutes. I tell myself that if I can continue with this pace until I hit 4:00 hours, then I will be happy and I'll reward myself with a walk break. The next time I look at my watch it is at 4:07 and I still do not need to slow down. For the rest of loop three I am able to run with a renewed level of energy. Sure I walk up the steep bits and when I am running it is not fast,but I feel good and now I am passing people. Thomas is able to run faster than me, but he keeps taking walk breaks so it all evens out. I am really surprised at how good I feel. I do not know if I have ever gotten into a groove like this after being so exhausted earlier on. I have two ideas on what is happening, the reader can pick which they like or suggest something else. One thought is that although my stores of carbohydrate energy are low/gone, I am now effectively tapping my fat reserves. I have been training my body to do this for some time and it is great to see it paying off. The other idea is something about moonbeams infusing the forest floor with energy that can be transferred to fungi and to those on the trails who can access the hidden power. It sure seems that the longer I run and especially now that I am mostly alone, the stronger I feel. All I need to do is be careful to not fall or take a wrong turn and this will end up being a pretty good race. Ginger Gruber passes me at the aid station. She has been holding back and will run another marathon tomorrow.
Mile 29 to 31 - Sharp turn and I see a little uphill. I have been running with no breaks for so long, this would be a good place to walk a bit and gather some energy. I also know now that I will have no trouble beating my hoped for time of 6 hours. But I do not slow. I don't feel like it. I love to run and I would just rather be running than walking right now. I think that I have hit a point of transcendence. It is somewhat emotional, after so many tough races lately. This is pure pleasure and I feel like I could just keep on going forever. Soon enough I get to the road and I fly down to the turn, knowing that I will have to go slow to pick my way down the cliff. Thomas is behind me and I offer him to pass just before the rope as I have no intention of going fast and falling here and I don't want to slow him down. I know that I could run fast at the bottom and maybe sprint past him at the finish. He will not take the lead however, also wanting to go carefully at this point. So down the rope I go and onto the wide trail to the finish. Very happy and strong, with no aches or pains. M761 is there, she beat me by 20 minutes, and we both feel like we could go and do another loop. After that rough patch in the middle for me, I am so pleased with how this turned out. My finish time is not near a PR, but this was the toughest trail course I have done and my finish place suggests that I did run well today. Quick dip of the legs in the cold waters of Puget sound and I think that I shall recover well from the race.
5:43:5133rd place of 97
race # 212, marathon or ultra #54, 50K #5