Getting out of bed on a Monday morning is never one of my favourite things in the world but today the legs were rather more unresponsive than normal and with good reason. Yesterday I finished my 4th full marathon and my 1st (and last) one in 2007 due to an injury that took me out earlier in the year. So you all know what that means - another legendary ZMan race report. Will there be stories of farting runners and peeing ladies and what's that about peanut butter? Well lets start at the very beginning....
Seattle marathon is a late starter - whilst Vegas was off and running at 6am Seattle doesn't start until 8:15 so I was able to sleep in till 6am. Parking can be a bear in Seattle on marathon day and the half marathon starts at 7:30 so you have to get down there early. I ate my traditional marathon breakfast of a bacon sandwich - though I did go with the leaner (and horribly expensive) British Bacon from the pantry. If you are going to belch your breakfast at mile 2 there is nothing better than bacon second time around.
There's about double the number of half marathon runners than full marathon runners - its a hilly course and all the hills are at the end. In addition there are marathon and half marathon walkers. The start line and the porta potties are crazy but thankfully we have an hour to stand wait and so there is no rush. Sadly we can't find our team's half marathon runners to cheer them off so we yell good luck to the crowd in general as they set off on 13.1 miles. We have to listen to someone butcher the national anthem 4 times - yes they do it once for each race start!! Its still in the 30s so I am still wearing an extra layer - ready to drop it at the last minute and around 8:00 it gets even colder and we can see the fog moving in - this is a little worrying as last years marathon had rain and snow and I REALLY want to run in my shorts. But then its 8:15 so I throw my coat and pants to J but leave my gloves on for good measure and we are off.
The first 2 miles are right through downtown Seattle and its pretty crowded - that's good as we all know I lose all sense of pace in a race. I have no real big goals for this race - its my first marathon in almost 12 months, I have a much bigger race coming up in January and Seattle is notorious for the final 6 miles of hilly terrain. My current PR of 4:14:39 (9:41 per mile) was in Vegas on almost flat terrain so its not in much danger. I totally miss the first mile marker and mile 2 was a lady with a megaphone as far as I can see. It turns out the mile markers are on the side of porta potties which once you realise makes it pretty easy to spot them. First 2 miles 17:46 - dammit sub 9:00! I'm supposed to run the first couple of miles SLOWER than my final pace - I'm having flashbacks to Leavenworth. But I realise that I am running very comfortably so I take a water break and head up onto the closed HOV lanes. (If you know the area and want to follow along here's the course map). Somewhere around here I hear my first "GO ANDY" and look to see who I know. This is when I remember I am wearing my new shirt that has my name plastered across the front - and this is the first of many, many cheers from strangers.
Mile 3 has a slight up hill for a more respectable 9:15 though I did have time to unzip my vest to show the photographers my number and mile 4 has a water stop making it easy to clock a 9:25 - though that does include my first mint chocolate GU and throwing my gloves in the trash so I know I am going too fast still. Inside the tunnel it is very warm and lots of cars sounding their horns in support. Popping out the other end and the cold hits pretty hard and we are heading out across the I-90 bridge. This is a very cool part of the course - the fog has backed off, the sun is coming out and the view is excellent. Half way across and the lead runners are already on their way back - I'm at mile 5 and they are at 7.25. My time? Dammit 8:28 - well there was a nice downhill. For the next mile I start doing the math in my head and realise that I am under 9:00 pace which is more like my half marathon time. I've seen the 4:00 pace bunny at the start so I know 9:09 is a 4:00 marathon and I know he must be right in front of me somewhere (I started near the back so he is probably 30s ahead of me even though I'm running a faster pace). Right now though I am still comfortable at this pace so I keep going and add a 9:07 and 8:49 for miles 6 and 7 passing one of my team mates on his way out with a big high 5. Finally a 9:19 back up the hill for mile 8 and the out and back on the bridge is done.
Down to the lake now and a 9 mile out and back down to Seward park - I start to feel a little less comfortable in my legs and since I apparently can't change my pace I take some decent breaks at the water stops enjoy my gu's and the view. 9, 10 and 11 give me 9:20, 8:57 and 9:11 for a total of 1:39:41 and I'm still under 4:00 pace. The support from the crowds reading my name on my shirt is simply stunning - at one junction the entire crowd cheers my name and the runners near me are very impressed until they see my shirt and realise what is going on. I'm still very sure that 4:00 is out of the question due to the hilly end and because I know I'm running too fast so I decide I'm just going to keep going and see how long I can keep up this pace. Right after mile 11 J is waiting with the cowbells and to take my vest. She is quite shocked as I am close to 10 minutes ahead of my estimate here. I loop around the park for mile 12 (9:23) and as I see mile 13 I glance at my watch and realise I can break 2 hours for the half marathon. Coach N - you probably won't think this is a good idea but I pick it up for .2 miles and clock 8:56 for mile 13 and 7:50 pace for the .1 miles to take me up to the half marathon at 1:58:49 - my second fastest half marathon ever. I've known for most of the last 13 miles that I was running too fast so I figure at least I have something good to brag about when I crash and burn later on. After all ITS A HILLY COURSE - beating my Vegas time was a pipe dream at best. Out of the park to mile 14 and 9:11 and round the corner to J again. Take a quick walk break and eat my first snickers bar with her and contemplate why I am running 4:00 pace. She tells me the 4:00 bunny is right ahead of me and I tell her that I think its very optimistic given the hills ahead.
Miles 15-17 have a couple short hills that I take very gingerly - my calf injury is particularly sensitive to certain grades and for the first time my legs start to feel tired on the hills. As some of you know I like to get my hill inspiration from the nice ladies who wear lycra and run in front of me but today was not going to be one of those days. As I slow down a couple of young ladies pass me and one of them has what I am going to name 'muffin butt'. I'm sure Urban Dictionary has a more official name but imagine a muffin top but across the butt cheeks and you get the idea. So as an aside here is ZMans first rule of lycra....
#1 Underwear: There are 3 kinds of underwear allowed under lycra shorts - granny/big pants, thong/g-string, nothing! If you must wear regular underwear that cuts your buttocks in half remember that whilst its tough to see the problem in jeans or a skirt the lycra shorts will accentuate your now very visible 4 butt cheeks and anonymous marathon runners will mock you.
But back to the race.... I greet all my 'friends' who are out supporting and note that teenage girls, parents with kids and the course marshals are the most likely to greet me by name. My walk break with J cost me my first sub 10 pace with 10:01 for mile 15 and the first hill gives me 9:46 for mile 16 but mile 17 I am back to 9:16 and by mile 18 I start to feel officially tired. This is where the marathon gets tough for most people anyway and doing some quick math in my head I realise that I have dropped enough time that I am now over 4:00 pace and its only getting harder from here. Its nice to know that I can average this pace for 18 miles though!
Somewhere around here there is a nice lady handing out mini lemonheads which I gratefully chew on for a while. I'm taking at least 30s walks at each water stop now and chomping down my gu's ready for the hills ahead. 9:57 for mile 19 and the 2 short but calf grating hills for mile 20 which with my water stop pushes me to an 11:00 mile.... the slow slide toward not making my PR has begun. But its 3:07 into the race and there is only a 10k left - surely I can run a 10k in under an hour and 7 minutes..... oh wait I've not done the BIG hills yet. After mile 20 I turn onto Galer - this side street is notoriously steep for 2-3 blocks and is followed by a half mile less steep climb up Madison. I walk Galer without any guilt - its calf ripping territory for me and the only place I had decided to walk long before the race even started. Madison is tough and my small leg saving steps mean people are passing me - boooooo. Mile 21 is reached in 11:35 - my slowest mile of the whole race. Then its a nice downhill for a mile until we hit the next hills.
The Team In Training people are handing out snacks and I stick my hand in a box and come out with a sandwich full of peanut butter. Now I was raised in the UK where peanut butter never got the following that it did stateside. I don't mind the taste but its not my first choice and I was about to throw it to the side when I thought - heck I need the fuel how bad can it be? Let me tell you that at mile 21 after a rough up hill it was heaven - I will probably never enjoy peanut butter as much as that ever again ;-) By now the sun is warming things up so its drink one, tip one over my head - yes folks Seattle in November and I am over heating! 10:45 for the downhill mile to 22 - hmmmm that was a little disappointing. But I am feeling a bit of a second wind and I manage to pass a few people up the next hill and wind though the park to mile 23 and it seems like a long time but I manage a 10:38 - ok that's better. I look at my watch... just over 5k to go and I am at 3:40. So all I need to do to PR is run 35:00 for 3.2 miles... At this point in the race I fully expected to be so far off the pace that it didn't matter but I know that 3.2 miles in 35 minutes is just shy of 11:00 pace it should be totally doable - I know there is only one significant hill and several downhills so I eat my second snickers bar, grit my teeth and start picking people off. Just to cheer me up as I resolve to go for it is a guy with chopped up Crispy Cremes - man I LOVE YOU!!!
Its hard... damn hard - in fact I rate this as he hardest finish I have had to do since I started running. There's a few folk passing me and I feel like I am barely moving but I clock a 10:52 for mile 24 and 9:59 for 25 as I go up one side of a hill and down the other. Mile 25 has a nice downhill and you can see the stadium where the finish is and I know my running mates are going to be there with the cowbells. I know I am totally on pace for the PR but I skip the final water stop just to make sure because I know there is one last evil in the Seattle Marathon. At mile 25.9 you dip down an underpass under Highway 99 and you know what that means...... yes you have to run 100 yards back up the other side. Its horrible... there's no blood left in my brain to do the math but I know I've run 2 of the last 3 miles under 11:00 pace but walking the last hill could well take enough off the pace to miss the PR. So I grit my teeth drop my head and power up the hill. My legs feel like crap at the top but I can see the 26 mile marker and as I pass it with a 10:27 I know its in the bag and there's just .2 miles left... there are people everywhere and I find the last bit of energy to pick it up into the stadium. All marathons should end this way - you go into a tunnel and come out with 100m to go to the finish line. All your friends are nearby and I have enough time to run down and high 5 the whole lot of them and scream across the finish line for 4:13:04 knocking 1:35 off my PR. Sure its only around 2 seconds per mile faster but I reckon Seattle's hills are worth at least 5 minutes so I'm taking this as a great PR. My last .2 miles was run at 8:15 pace..... and nobody farted on me all race!
I get my medal and space blanket and head into the food hall where I discover that the best they have to offer is chicken broth and chocolate milk. What is it with these people - we pay $95 for the race and they can't rustle up a few bagels. Eventually I find a volunteer who has the last box of bananas and is handing them out and I realise why. The room is full of people without numbers and medals helping themselves to the food and drink with bags stuffed to the gills. Hey Seattle soccer mums - this wasn't supposed to be for you to get your kids packed lunches for the next week. I'm not a fast funner but I am nowhere near the back and there was nothing left for me. Rest assured a special ZMan email has been sent to the Seattle marathon organizers.
Post race I stiffen up very quickly and have to do a lot of stretching. I have to have help on with my long pants but after about 20 minutes I am up and about and waiting for my friend to come into the finish when the shirt with the name works its power one last time. Bear in mind that most of the shirt is covered up at this point and I am slowly staggering across the field when a group of young ladies cheer "YAY its ANDY". I guess they remembered me from the course. I am wearing this shirt for all my long races..... thanks J - I was the most supported guy on the course thanks to your gift.
Once I got home and took off my socks I could see the war wounds. A rather large blood blister on a toe on my right foot which seems to be behind the nail so I may lose that. We lanced it and this morning it looks much better. However the same toe on my other foot has a black nail so maybe I wll lose that nail too... now I am a REAL marathon runner.
Now just a few days recovery and then I am back building up the miles ready for the really big race that I am training for - 2008 Walt Disney Goofy Race. Yes you read that right I run a half marathon on Saturday at 6am and then I get up Sunday and run the full marathon. Think of it as my mid-life crisis. Some guys get a porsche, others sleep with their secretary - neither of those things appeal to me so what else should I do for my 40th birthday but run a crazy race or 2! You will of course be able to read all about it here.