Yakima River Valley Marathon

It has been a few days since the race and I decided that it’s probably a good time to write down a few reflections of the marathon last weekend before the details are out of my head.

Thursday morning I gave a presentation at school and after lunch got on a plane down to Abbotsford BC where my brother Silas picked me up from the airport. I stayed with him and his three roommates in a rather full two bedroom townhouse that they are squishing into in favour of cheap rent and the ability to buy ski tickets. The next morning we made the 4.5 hour drive south from Abbotsford to Seattle and then 100 miles east to Ellensburg Washington via the I-90. The snow up top was still DEEP but as we descended we entered the desert and the temperatures crept up. We would sleep the night in Ellensburg and the next morning I’d run down 42 kilometers through the Yakima River Canyon towards Selah Washington. After checking into the hotel I found online that upon first appearance gave thoughts of funky smells and creeky beds, but turned out to be excellent annoyance free and cheap accommodation, we drove the course. The route is winding and generally downhill and for miles 3-26 passes through a canyon that’s just barely wider than the road, a river famed for its catch and release fly fishing, and a train track. We guesstimated the mile markers as we drove and I picked out a few mental notes along the way, there’s a pacman painted on a cliff at the half marathon point and made a mental note that the downhill after the first hill is steep and the second hill has a false summit. All things I mostly knew and there were to be mile markers along the way anyways, so I wasn’t obsessive about it and we enjoyed the views. Four and a half hours of driving adds up to a pretty good amount of time to sit in a car, especially when I’m focused on super hydrating my body, enough said.

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We arrived and looked for the Selah Civic center along the west side of main street for the pasta dinner and decided to park the car, get out and look for it a bit better as the google maps pointer suggested we were pretty close. Once standing on the curb it was abundantly obvious where it was, across the street that we’d driven past twice already. Google is good but it’s not perfect!

As we chowed down on spaghetti and looked through the race package documents Silas and I came to the realization that there were more than a few crazy marathoners present at this particular race. Perhaps it had the highest concentration of what might be considered crazies at any race in the USA this year. The Marathon Maniac club was having its annual reunion race at this marathon. A club composed of people who run marathons like they’re going out of style. Some travel to run every weekend, some race on back to back days. Some are finishing up an all 50 states marathon challenge and some have already completed it. One was to run his 100th marathon tomorrow and another was on 428 or something like that. A bit of an intimidating crew! Silas groaned every time a new stat was mentioned, and then they made the marathon first timers stand up, there were 7 of us… Out of 441 people.

Following dinner we headed back to the hotel, unpacked all of my junk and set things ready for the next morning then hit the sack. Up an hour and a half before the race start I chowed down on bread, jam and bananas for breakfast and some Gatorade. Silas warned me not to keep drinking or I’d spend the whole run stopping in the ditch, I assured him that wasn’t an issue as I put away a bit of milk and more Gatorade. Off to the race start we went decked out in Triathlon Club colours. It would be warm enough to start out in a wind breaker and T-Shirt and so the hoodie was stripped off even before I began. Walking 500 yards to the start was enough warm-up for me and one last watering of the bushes, a star spangled banner and we were off.

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The first mile was slow, I was happy to take it easy off the start and ran it about 1 minute slower than my planned pace. The group was starting to thin out as we wove around through some farmland before making it to the canyon. Mile two was a fast one, taking the first mile easy meant people running my pace were already a bit further up the road. It would prove to be my fastest of the day and I soon settled down and nailed the third mile in exactly 7:37. It felt good, this was the planned pace for the race and I had no qualms about running that pace. I’d been tapering my volume way down and hadn’t done much of anything significant all week long, two steady runs, two hard hours on the bike and an easy half hour in the pool. What had been a pace that felt fast during my biggest volume weeks earlier in the buildup felt completely manageable. That’s a good sign I thought to myself.

I was now tucked in with people running approximately my pace and was no longer moving my way through the field. I had to keep an eye on the clock as well as focus on my position relative to multiple runners because I wasn’t about to gauge my pace off of just one person. These are people all planning to run faster than 3:30 and I was almost guaranteed that a few of them had done that more than ten times, maybe fifty. I was in the mix with quite a few of the marathon maniacs. Up one quick rise and suddenly we came around the corner and we in the canyon. I needed to start eating already and I felt as though I had just started but the numbers don’t lie, I’d gone 5 miles and that meant I had to put down 100 calories, that’s the game plan and I’ve got to stick to it.

Things cruised along nicely as we faced no more grades through the next 8 miles. The sun started to warm things up and I wanted to lose my gloves and toque. They couldn’t be abandoned just anywhere, I needed to wait for an aid station with a garbage can. I’ll just keep wearing them I thought to myself, but it was starting to heat up and with a solid 5 kms of waiting for the next aid station I started to get warm. Looking down my windbreaker’s arms were soaked with sweat. I took the gloves off and decided to carry them as starting to drip sweat was in no gameplan of mine. Finally an opportunity came, I lost the gloves and toque and kept on cruising feeling quite nice in the sunshine. Ten miles down, nearly halfway there, I started to chat with another runner, he was wearing an IMAZ visor so we discussed the heat and wind in Tempe, he’d raced in 2005. Faris Al-Sultan had won in hot and windy conditions before going on to slaughter the competition at Kona that fall. Suddenly we could see a clock on the road up ahead. 13.1 miles down in 1:39:40. That’s a half marathon PR and I hadn’t really worked yet, that’s good though I thought. Keep it steady for another ten kms to the hill and then I can get going if I still feel good.

Another mile done and my fellow triathlete went missing, who knows where to, forwards or backwards I don’t know. Around the corner we come, aid station and a big hill. This was the short one, about 4 minutes of effort and we were up top, a few guys had a sound board out with huge speakers echoing some rock and roll off the canyon walls as we climbed towards them. Over the crest and down, down, down, this descent was steep and I tried to keep it even and smooth, light on my feet I thought to myself. The canyon widened out a bit for a stretch and I ran alongside a marathon maniac for a while. I was keeping the steady pace from before and glanced at my heart rate, 174, I’m at the top end of acceptable. I cannot let this rise anymore or I’ll be in trouble, the plan is to keep it between 162 and 172. I don’t need to slow it down yet but I have to be careful not to speed it up. Should I keep running beside this maniac or not? It’s not a good idea if it will push me, it is a good idea if my mind starts to wander a bit, it’s easier to keep it steady beside someone else. I decide to stay with her and we get to some shade. My heartrate drops back to the middle of the range and I feel alright about that. We’re back in the sun soon enough and I take off the windbreaker. It gets stuffed down the back pocket of my jersey. 20 miles down, I thought the hill was supposed to start here. It’s probably just around the corner. Nope, maybe the next corner. I start to wonder what’s going on when it’s not around the that one… it’s getting close to the 21 mile marker when it finally comes into view. I slow to a walk through the aid station as I have done once already and take a powerade and water, mix the two and chug them down, then another two cups. I’ve been drinking two cups every 3 miles but my mouth is dry and don’t want to wind up crashing into dehydration in the last 5 miles. The hill is a gentle grade but it certainly takes a long time to climb and it’s starting to feel hot. It’s getting up to 20 degrees and I’ve still got tights on. One little patch of shade three quarters of the way up and I walk for 20 steps. Out of the shade, I might as well run. One last patch of shade as I crest the hill, I resort to another 20 steps of walking.

I’m at the top of the hill now, keep everything under control until you’re at the top of the hill I had been telling myself as I felt like I could have picked up the pace for much of the morning. Once again the heartrate is 175, slightly high but I’m getting close now as I’ve eclipsed the three hour mark. It’s now time to pick up the pace but now I can’t. The slight cambers in the road as we’ve run have been mostly long sweeping right turns and sharp left turns, my left leg had been slightly higher than my right for the majority of the time and I can feel it in the sides of my thighs. I’ve been able to feel it since km 25 but now it hurts. It’s surface pain, not deep, so I’m not really worried about it, it just hurts. It’s a gentle downhill but I can’t take advantage of it, the fronts of my quads don’t want to run down a hill. I haven’t been running down hills all winter, it’s icy in Edmonton and running downhill is a sure bet to wipe out. The pain slowly notches up and up until I decide I’ve got to take another quick walk break, it’s more than 20 steps this time but soon enough I’m back at it. I’ve got to count when I start walking I tell myself, that way I’ll never walk for too long. I run until it’s too painful and take another walk break. One more time, running is just TFH (hard) I can’t run even though my head says this is not the fastest plan and then I’m back walking for a stretch. I near the 25 mile aid station and take one last look at my watch. 3:20 is gone but 3:30 is all but guaranteed if I can at least run most of the way. I stop and walk through and pound back 3 cups. Don’t pull a Paula and loose the nutrition plan on the home stretch I remind myself. It’s a good thing someone famous once made this mistake because I’ll never forget myself. Back running. It’s downhill again but I’m close now so I’m not stopping to walk, with about a half mile to go it flattens out and I’m feeling better about the situation, the pain in my quads is stable, not getting worse as I run. One old guy comes past me and consciously make the decision not to think about racing him. I’m on the border of holding it together so I’ll just hold it together.

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I see Silas in his red jacket, give him a thumbs up and come off the side of the road into the finish area. My name is announced, and I don’t really know where the line is but I have to stop or I’ll run someone over so I stop. Someone comes from behind me to pull the tab off my race bib, obviously I ran a bit too far. The race director spots the little shiny foot on my race number and give me a hug, I’m a newbie. I’m offered an aluminum blanket and a bottle of water. I chug the bottle and grab another bottle of juice. I finish it also on the spot. Another bottle and I make the slow walk to find a chair. I bend my knees to sit down and pause. All the people around me laugh, “you’re not getting back up once you get down” they tell me. I sit down and am feeling pretty chilly so I tuck the edges of the blanket in around me. Another one is blowing around on the ground and I wrap it around my legs. I down a few bananas. Another bottle of juice, a can of antioxidant baloney that someone is sponsoring the run with. It tastes awful but it’s liquid, cookies, yoghurt, some gummi bears. We chat a bit and Silas tells me that I’m number 46. That’s weird I thought, there were a lot of people ahead of me at the end, but it meant that I was actually at the front end of when things started to get busy. Look here for an illustration of that.

Getting out of the chair was a lousy process as was the walk down the road to the car. Race organizers had showers available with towels, soap and shampoo in the local Jr. High school and once I had given the quads a bit of a massage under the hot water they felt a lot better. We sought out an unsecured wireless network in the community to send a few emails and then ate lunch, I was already ready for it. 4:00 arrived quickly and we ate dinner for the awards ceremony but hopped in the car to begin the drive home before anything happened. Sleep? No way, we stayed up late drinking cheap American beer at a campfire on the banks of the Fraser river in Abbotsford once we were home.

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