Monday, May 03, 2010

Tacoma City Marathon 2010

Yesterday I completed the Tacoma City Marathon, my 13th marathon. This brings my combined marathon and ultra total to 22. Considering that this was a hilly course with a nasty headwind in spots, and my weekly mileage has averaged only 26 miles this year, I'm very happy with my time of 4:34:28. Of the major road marathons I've run (Portland, NYC, North Olympic Discovery Marathon & Rock 'n Roll AZ) this was definitely the toughest. I ran the first half in 2:13:27 and the second in 2:21:02. Most of the hills and climbing were in the second half, so I'll consider that an even split!

We drove up to Tacoma on Saturday to pick up our numbers and attend the Marathon Maniacs reunion meeting. We had a little time to kill before the meeting so ate lunch at the art museum cafe and walked around a bit. We stumbled upon the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, which was really spectacular. We've driven past Tacoma numerous times on trips north, but never really stopped. I was pleasantly surprised that the downtown was so nice.

After the maniac meeting we drove back 30 minutes south to Olympia, where we were spending the night with Sharon and her husband. They had offered to let the little guy hang with them so that Marc and I could both run the marathon. We visited and went out for a pizza dinner and then made it an early night.

The race didn't start until 7:30 am so we didn't have to get up too early. We were on the road by 6 am and by 6:30 am had found a great parking spot by the finish and near the host hotel. We were only about 5 blocks from the start so we spent most of the time in the hotel lobby. What a luxury to spend time in the warmth and use a real, line-free restroom. At about 7:15 am we walked to the start.

It was chilly and a little windy at the start. I wore shorts, a short sleeve top, arm sleeves and (potentially) throw-away cotton gloves. I really didn't want to wear a ball cap, but since there was a slight chance of rain I decided to wear one. We also had on garbage bags which helped keep us warm at the start. For hydration, I decided to carry a handheld bottle and bring along some nuun tablets. I haven't been drinking sports drink since I started training again. So far I've had zero stomach issues on my long runs, so I'm a convert. I probably would have been fine with just drinking water at the aid stations. But I think my recovery is better with the nuun too. I wore my race ready shorts, which I've had for many years but never really worn. I carried a gel and some gel blasts and planned to use some gels that were offered three times on the course. All my equipment, clothing and fueling decisions worked well. I dumped the garbage bag at mile 2, but kept the gloves the whole race, taking them off only briefly during the middle miles.

Marc likes to start fast, so he lined up with the front runners. I hung behind the 4:30 pace group. I didn't have a strong time goal for this race, but knew that I would be disappointed with anything slower than 5 hours. I felt that I could probably hold an 11 minute pace, so that was my plan. I contemplated doing a timed run/walk for this race, but I didn't think that would work so well with the hills. I decided to walk through all the aid stations, which were about 2 miles apart. The 4:30 group was fast and I stayed behind them, but had them in my sight through mile 6. I was holding a sub 10 minute pace to this point, despite a few hills, but felt comfortable. At mile 6 I stopped for a bottle fill and to use the porta-potty, and lost about 2 minutes. But the course started heading steadily downhill for a few miles after this and I quickly gained back the time and started to reel in the 4:30's. Just before the halfway mark, when we were in Pt. Defiance Park, I passed them easily. This is where the serious climbing started and I was able to run most of the hills. I felt strong during this point and really enjoyed running among the big trees. There's a trail 50k here later in the year and I'm seriously considering it.

Around mile 15 I hit a real low point. We had emerged from the park and the course wound through suburban neighborhoods. There was still a lot of climbing ahead and I was getting tired. I started to wonder if I had gone out too fast. But I don't think I could have comfortably run any slower. And I was still running a lot of the hills. Mile 16 to 17 was one long hill and I suddenly felt pain along my right inner knee. I've been having problems with my right outer knee, which was holding up pretty well. So it was surprising to feel pain in this new spot. But I kept plugging along and eventually, after a few miles the pain started to lessen considerably. My absolute lowest point was at mile 17 when the 4:30 group flew right by me as if I were standing still. And this was on a downhill. I actually had a doubtful moment and asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" But the negative thoughts didn't last long. Fortunately, when we got to mile 18 we were done with the seriously long climbs and it was mainly rolling and downhill from here to the end.

Around mile 22 or so, I caught up to Michelle and her friends who had taken the early start. It was a real boost to see them. Although I had run here and there with a few other maniacs I know, I pretty much ran by myself the whole way. So it was great to see a friendly face and exchange a few words. This section was on a bike path that parallelled the freeway. So it was the least scenic part of the course, but at this point I was just concentrating on getting it done. One thing I really loved about this section was that the path crossed a few major thoroughfares where traffic was being directed by the police. A couple of times I was the first person after a gap in runners, so the nice policemen (and policewomen), stopped 6 lanes of traffic just for me (it seemed). I felt like a princess for a day!

After they blew by me at mile 17, I never saw the 4:30 group again. But as the miles ticked by I could see that I would probably beat 4:45 and likely even 4:40. Realizing that my pace hadn't totally dropped off gave me another boost. I didn't keep a tally of my specific pace for each mile, but I likely had slowed to 12 minute miles during the middle miles and then picked it back up in the last 6 miles. There was a long steep downhill at mile 24 that was too steep to really enjoy. But the last 1-1/2 miles were a pleasant downhill that I could appreciate without feeling like I was blowing out my knees. I was confident I'd break 4:35. Every marathon should have a downhill finish like that. What a fun way to finish strong!

I quickly found Marc and discovered that he had finished in 4:23:58. He had ran straight without walking through mile 13 and then switched to a 30sec/30sec run/walk. I think he'd like to break 4 hours in the marathon and I'm sure he's fully capable of that. But he has sweared off road marathons (again, he swore off them after Portland too.) I think he did really well considering he smashed a stick into his foot 2 weeks ago during our long trail run and hadn't run since and still has a sore foot. Next up for him is the Rainier to Ruston 50 miler in June. More pavement running but I think he'll do fine.

I'm really pleased with my performance. Technically, Pac Rim was my first race back from my long layoff. But I wasn't trying to run my best at that race, whereas I gave it my all at Tacoma. I have a long way to go physically to get where I want, but I proved to myself at this race that I still have what it takes mentally.

My only real disappointment is my knee, which is still sore today. I felt okay at the finish, but it stiffen up on the drive back to Portland. I'm going to take a few extra rest days this week. Otherwise, my muscles aren't particularly sore and I'd be ready to run again tomorrow. I've never had knee problems and I've been focusing a lot on strength training and addressing muscle imbalances, so this development is a little disheartening. It hurts most when I go up stairs and not at all when I go down stairs. So I hope its just some residual payback for the climbing and pounding on pavement. Nevertheless I need to refine the strength training I'm doing. And I plan to slowly increase my mileage base -- 26 miles a week, is not nearly enough for marathons, let along ultras.

Despite the knee pain, I'm in a great mood today and hope to keep riding this endorphin high and challenging myself in the months and years ahead.


Backofpack said...

Great report Sarah! And an awesome time. It's always a tough course with the hills, but the wind made it even more so. Isn't Pt. Defiance awesome? We run there every few weeks. The hill training is great and it's so gorgeous. The back part of the park is close to traffic until 1:00 pm on Sat and Sun, which makes it very peaceful. I'll see you again at R2R!

Joe said...

So cool, Sarah, to see you doing marathons again. Nice report and I (along with my stomach) appreciate your observations on keeping your stomach in line.

Give the knee a couple of's just talkin' to ya :-)


Addy said...

Congrats! I'm so happy for you to hear about you completing such big races again. I hope that the knee feels back to normal soon.

Can't wait to hear about the next adventure :D

olga said...

Welcome back, really back, Sarah! Bummer on the knee, do take care of it.

Darrell said...

How very cool that you are back running marathons again. I remember those "dark" days when you weren't really sure what the future held. Awesome job and a testament to your recovery efforts.

Bret said...

Yea, yea, yea! So very awesome! Bet you thought you would never be back to this point? But you are here and you have done two of them this year! Plus you know you are really back when your mile 17 doubts set in. "Why am I here?"
Good job! Is FP 50k next? I will probably do it.