After weeks of traveling, work, and getting settled into the holidays, I am finally able to sit down and share my experience running the Seattle Marathon. It never takes me this long to reflect on a race, but this was no ordinary race, and my life hasn’t really been quiet enough to allow me to clearly sort out the details.
Two weeks ago I lined up with thousands of runners for a 26.2 adventure on foot around the beautiful city of Seattle. It was, and still is, a little surreal to think that this was my tenth marathon since becoming a runner and completing my first marathon in Houston in 2007.
This training cycle was a little different from those of marathons past. After finishing Ironman Coeur d’Alene in August, I was surprised to find out that I wasn’t quite ready to hang up my shoes and call it a season. My head was still very much in “go” mode and I wanted to challenge myself to do more before hitting the reset button and prepping for the 2017 race season. So, I signed up for the Seattle Marathon, knowing it would give me a chance to get in some good miles during the fall (my favorite season for running) and allow me a nice break between during the holidays. It would also give me a shot at redemption, since I was less than satisfied with the result from the last time I ran the Seattle Marathon in 2013.
It was really interesting shifting gears from Ironman training to marathon training. The amount of time required for an Ironman is so significant that I felt little unsatisfied at first when I entered into marathon mode. “What, only 8 hours of training on the schedule this week?” I would think to myself. But when a majority of that time is devoted to running, it quickly catches up to you and wears on the body. Eight hours became the new manageable norm for me. I was running 5 days a week, anywhere from 25-48 miles, while still riding my bike 2-3 hours a week. That was enough for me.
And eventually, it wore on me pretty considerably. It was a really busy fall with traveling, work, and taking care of a toddler. At least I was able to log a lot of warm, sunny, early morning miles (including a 20-miler) during our vacation to Hawaii. Axel is a lot more fun at this age, but definitely wipes me of energy a lot faster than he used to. I am starting to think this next year is going to be a lot more challenging keeping up with the little tiger. Even while I was tapering for the race, I never felt rested or “ready” for some kind of epic performance. When my coach and I were discussing goals and times, the numbers he was throwing out seemed way out of my wheelhouse, though I’m sure on the right course under the right conditions his expectations might have been doable. Heck, after Axel woke us up at 2:30AM the morning of the race, I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to do the race. Justin was kind enough to drive him around in the car for a few hours, though I never did fall back asleep. I was incredibly tired and I hadn’t even run a mile.
Thank goodness for adrenaline.
The race started at 8:15 a.m., which gave Justin, Jill (my sister-in-law), Axel, and I plenty of time to get ready, eat breakfast, and drive to the start area. Having run the Seattle Marathon three years ago, so I knew what to expect → cold, wind, rain, and hills. This year was no different. The weather, while frigid, was quite nice at the start of the race. I was fortunate to have my crew there at the start, as I was able to stay bundled up and warm before stripping down to my shorts and top. I started the race in shorts, arm warmers, and a long sleeve top (which I would eventually toss to Justin at mile five).
I lined up next to the 3:20 pace group and found a solid rhythm as soon as the race started. My goal for the race was to finish under 3:20 – something I have never come close to doing. The first few miles flew by as I stayed with the chatty pace group. As each of those first miles passed, I quickly realized we were running pretty fast and were way ahead of pace. The pacer was pretty sporadic and I found myself doing exactly what my coach told me not to do. Ugh.
I made the decision that running with a pace group was not for me and ran ahead a little so I could get them “out of sight, out of mind.” The first four miles are through the city (really fun), before you venture onto the express lanes of the freeway, run through a really warm, muggy tunnel, and emerge onto the I-90 bridge to Mercer Island. As I exited the tunnel and made my way to the bridge, I saw Justin, Jill, and Axel cheering for me in the distance. I stripped my long sleeve, said a quick hello, and trotted off with a smile.
Although the bridge is neat because it is a floating bridge and you get to run between two major highways across Lake Washington, it is also a bit obnoxious because it’s extremely exposed (windy) and a straight out and back. To help shield the wind, I found a couple of bigger guys who were running my pace and tucked in behind them for a mile or so. Yes, even in running you can find a way to draft.
Once I made my way off the bridge and back onto land, there was a long flat section along the waterfront, which was absolutely beautiful. I saw my family at mile 11 and then again at mile 14 after completing a loop through Seward Park and making my way back the way I came. When I saw Axel at mile 14 he gave me the absolute BEST smile and laugh as I stopped to kiss his rosy cheek. And then I heard him cry as I ran away and it made me want to get to the finish line that much faster. Having my family out on the course once again reminds me that fuel and energy comes from more than just Gatorade and GUs.
Up until mile 20 I was still feeling pretty good and was maintaining a 7:36 pace. At times I felt like I was running slower than I was, so every time I looked at my watch I was pleasantly surprised. This of course made me want to show off my spirit fingers.
Having done this race before, I knew it would all change and that I was in for a beat down when the worst of the hills began in the miles ahead. As I approached the first monster hill, I saw Justin there ready to run it with me. There was a large group of women standing on the street corner cheering for runners as they made the turn up the hill, and he had obviously prepped them for my arrival. I was greeted by a barrage of “Go Kristen” screams from this group of complete strangers as Justin started running alongside me up the hill. We started up and right on cue, my legs began to scream. This was also the point at which the rain started coming down (how appropriate) and it got really cold and windy.
We had previewed this section of the course the day before on the way to packet pickup, so I knew what to expect. Just make it to the top. Just make it to the top. I kept whispering to myself.
Eventually, I peaked up and over that first hill and had a half-mile to recover before the next set of hills through the arboretum and botanical gardens. Unexpectedly but thankfully, I handled this section a lot better than I did the first time I ran this race. It gave me both confidence and affirmation that I’ve become a better, stronger and most importantly smarter runner.
Once the hills were over at mile 24 I looked at my watch and started doing the math, only to realize that I was not going to make my sub-3:20 goal. I would have to run sub 7-minute miles and that was not a reality given the state that my body was in. But, you better believe that I tried. I ran those last two miles, pouring my heart into every step. By that time my legs were completely numb (at one point I had to look down to make sure my shorts were still on me) and I was in a lot of pain. I made the trek through the city, toward to Space Needle, and into the stadium where I would once again finish a marathon on a football field. I heard my name on the loud speaker as I crossed the finish line and was awarded my finisher medal.
I was so happy to be done. In fact, I needed to be done. It was a heck of a way to round out an incredible race season and I was proud to have run the way I did on the most challenging marathon course I have completed. I ended up finishing 5th in my age group, which was my highest placing in a marathon so far.
And a trip to Boston in 2018.
It’s a little masochistic in my opinion to hold a marathon three days after Thanksgiving, but for me it was a great way to make sure I didn’t overindulge on turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and to give me a little cheat room for holiday sweets and treats. It was a mental boost for me to know that despite all of life’s other commitments, distractions, and obligations, it’s always possible to find the time to train and compete at a high level.
But for now, it’s time to enjoy the holidays and some much needed and hard earned time off, before hitting the ground running (literally) in a few weeks to start the cycle all over again leading up to my 2017 race schedule including Ironman Canada.