Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tri-Cities Marathon Race Report

Before I start recapping the actual marathon run, I just want to jot down some background.

I started training for my fall race in August, which would have given me about 16 weeks until the Seattle Marathon at the end of November. When I decided on the Tri-Cities Marathon for my fall race instead, that cut down my training to 12 weeks. I ended up not following any type of written training plan, but in my head I knew I had to run 3-4 times a week with a long run on the weekend. I averaged about 40-45 miles per week. I also mixed in at least 1 session of strength training, cross training, and yoga per week.

My goal for the marathon was to run a 3:50. There's nothing special about 3:50. It just seemed like a good target since my previous PR was 3:54:27. Going into the marathon I knew I could cover the distance, I just wasn't sure if I could hold the pace. On one hand I felt like it had been a good training cycle and my long runs had all gone well. But on the other hand I was worried that without following a plan I hadn't gotten in enough purpose-driven runs focusing on speed. Anyway, by marathon day there was nothing left for me to do but run.

Okay, so now let's get to race morning. I didn't sleep well for both nights before the race so it was good to have the race starting right at the hotel so I didn't have to wake up crazy early. I left the room at 7:45 and the race started at 8. I used that time to fuel with GU Chomps and do some leg swings and other light stretching. I lined up maybe a third of the way back, and before I knew it we were off.

The first mile was on the road, getting us from the hotel out to the river. Then in the second mile we ran up a hill, across the I-182 bridge, and back down. None of the "hills" on this course were difficult and I ran up with ease. Mile 3 was back on the road. My legs felt good right from the start and I was just trying to run comfortably rather than trying to stick to a pace, although I did glance at my Garmin to make sure I wasn't doing a completely crazy 7 min pace or something like that.

Mile 1 - 8:36
Mile 2 - 8:14
Mile 3 - 8:31

To run a 3:50 marathon, that's an average pace of 8:46. I like to factor in some wiggle room since my Garmin is never going to read exactly 26.2 at the finish line. So that meant aiming for an average 8:40 pace. I was slightly on the fast side those first miles but close enough, and in my mind it's better to be under than over.

After mile 3 we moved onto a paved path that ran along the Columbia River and stayed on the path for several miles. From here I started to look around and enjoy the scenery. There was the river on one side and some very nice houses on the other. With so few people around me, I felt like I was out for a fun run and not in the middle of a race with over 20 miles to go. I felt light on my feet and thought about a phrase I heard on the Runner Girls Podcast recently... I was "running like a ninja on eggshells"! Or at least in my mind I was. I'm not sure where the lightness came from because I sure don't run like that during training.

I had been running behind "gray shirt guy" for awhile but caught up to him and we had a brief chat. He'd run the race before and mentioned something that I'd also read online... that there can be a bad headwind on the later part of the course when we head back along the river to the finish.

Mile 4 - 8:19
Mile 5 - 8:27
Mile 6 - 8:30

I slowed down slightly to take my Clif Shot at mile 6 and gray shirt guy pulled in front again. I stayed close behind and used him as a pacer. I saw the average pace on my Garmin was about 8:25 and had a fleeting thought that I was running too fast, but then I decided that I as long as I felt good, I would go ahead and bank the time for the second half of the race. I know that you're supposed to aim for negative splits, but I didn't have enough confidence in my ability to run strong in the later miles and I was concerned about the potential headwind slowing me down during the second half as well.

Miles 7 and 8 were still on the riverfront path, then mile 9 took us over the blue bridge into Columbia Park. I liked that the bridge crossings added some variation to the otherwise flat course.

Mile 7 - 8:22
Mile 8 - 8:27
Mile 9 - 8:14

I was still following gray shirt guy and around this point I started noticing "green shorts lady" and "green shirt lady" slightly ahead of him. They made nice bright targets to keep within eyesight.

This part of the course was an out and back and I got to see a lot of the other runners which made for some good people-watching. There were also more spectators here. I took a GU at mile 11.5. 

Mile 10 - 8:15
Mile 11 - 8:22
Mile 12 - 8:31
Mile 13 - 8:25

I was behind gray shirt guy at the halfway point and then I must have zoned out because I realized I couldn't see him anymore. I could still see the green ladies so I figured he picked up some speed and passed them.

The course went past the blue bridge and continued on this side of the Columbia River to the third bridge of the race. In this stretch between bridges, which was miles 15 and 16, I noticed that my right hip was starting to feel tight. It wasn't painful, it just felt "off" to have one side of my body feel differently than the other. Kind of like when your shoes aren't tied at the same tightness. Speaking of which, my shoes were starting to feel loose even though I had double-knotted them. With 10 miles still to go, I decided it was worth it to take a short break to re-tie my shoes and there were some handy benches along the path. I did one shoe first, ran for a bit, then stopped for the other shoe. I also tried to a little stretch for my hip but it didn't really help. During this time I lost the green ladies but the gray shirt guy passed me during my second shoe stop. I don't know how I ended up ahead of him for a bit. The path across the cable bridge was a bit narrow, so I held back and saved my energy rather than trying to pass anyone here.

Mile 14 - 8:25
Mile 15 - 8:37
Mile 16 - 8:44

After crossing the cable bridge, it was a straight shot along the river, then one final bridge crossing and the last mile to the hotel. I don't remember too many details about this part of the race. Based on the course map, I guess I came down the bridge and then took a GU at mile 17. I passed gray shirt guy again and didn't see him again the rest of the race. I think I also passed a couple other people somewhere through here. Luckily the headwind that I was concerned about never made an appearance. I really lucked out with the almost perfect weather conditions for this race.

Mile 17 - 8:13
Mile 18 - 8:29
Mile 19 - 8:30
Mile 20 - 8:45

At mile 20, I remember saying to someone, "just 10k left" but I don't think I got a response. I wasn't feeling as light on my feet anymore, but overall I was feeling great considering I had already run 20 miles. My average pace was still under 8:30 here so I was pretty confident I was going to make my goal. I started thinking about if I might even be able to come in under 3:45. But at the same time I was wondering if I was going to hit the wall. Did I go out too fast in the beginning? I wasn't going to purposely slow down now so all I could do was keep running and see what happened. I took my final GU at mile 22.

Before the race I thought I would be bored on the back half of the course since it just looked like a long straightaway. But I actually didn't mind it at all. Running on a path next to a river is so much nicer than running down a long straight road. Plus there were little turns in the path so I couldn't really see that far ahead and that helped me stay in the moment.

Mile 21 - 8:24
Mile 22 - 8:36
Mile 23 - 8:42

By mile 23 I was finally confident that I was running a fantastic race and I wasn't going to hit the wall. My feet were hurting a little, but other than that I wasn't too tired and I think my form was still good. I still had the weird tightness in my right hip but since it didn't seem to be affecting my running I stopped worrying about it.

I could see the green shirt lady ahead of me again, but green shorts lady had disappeared. I caught up to green shirt lady at a water stop. We both stopped to walk through the water stop but I took off first and passed her. The final hill was a switchback and the guy in front of me must have seen me coming because as I went by he said "I knew you were going to pass me". It felt amazing to be running so strong up the hill and at this late in the race... even if it wasn't that steep. I passed a couple more people on the bridge and then flew downhill. Not going to lie, I loved that I was passing people and not the one who was being passed.

Mile 24 - 8:28
Mile 25 - 8:19

I skipped the water stop at mile 25 and decided to go for it and give it my all for the final mile of the race. Oh my goodness, this was definitely the hardest mile of the race. My lungs were burning and I had two thoughts. First to keep my legs moving as fast as possible, and second... where the heck is the hotel?

My boyfriend came out to play photographer for me. I was happy to see him, but would have to wait a few more minutes to say hi.

Mile 26 - 7:52

The last mile was my fastest of the entire race!!!

I could see the finish line over to my right, but that final stretch seemed to take forever since I had to follow the road until I reached the hotel entrance and then turn into the parking lot. With maybe 100 meters to go I saw the finish line clock and couldn't believe my eyes. I knew I had run much better than I planned, but I really had not been anticipating being anywhere close to a 3:41. I made it my final goal to cross the finish line before the clock ticked over to 3:42...

And I did it!

My chip time was 3:41:26. Eight minutes faster than my goal and a freaking 13 min PR! I was on cloud nine the rest of the afternoon.

I hadn't been expecting to place in my age group so when I checked the results I was excited to see I was second. Of course that meant we had to stick around for the awards. I was pleasantly surprised when I actually got called for first in the 24-29 age group... The girl who would have been first in our age group ended up taking third overall female. So that was a perfect ending to an amazing day.

I feel like I'm running out of adjectives to use. The Tri-Cities Marathon turned out to be such an incredible experience I'm still so thankful about how everything just came together perfectly to result in an amazing race.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tri-Cities Marathon - Race Review

In order to expedite this, I'm going to try and keep things simple with a pro/con list. The next post will be about the run itself.

  • Terrific course! We ran along the Columbia River and the majority of the race was on a flat, paved path. The only "hills" were the four times we crossed over the river. I liked that we had the bridge crossings for some variety so it wasn't completely flat the entire race. The view of the river was nice too.
  • The course support was great with water and Powerade every two miles. I think a couple of the stations had gels too.
  • I loved that the race started and finished at the host hotel. It made things so much easier, plus the hotel is in a great location. There's a grocery store, pizza place, and cupcake shop all within a short five minute drive. With the race starting at 8, I didn't get up until 6:30, and I could have slept in later if I was more efficient at getting ready in the morning. The hotel offered a late checkout for a $20 fee which I gladly paid in order to shower and have time to pack up after the race.
  • Chip-timing - even though it only took me 15 seconds to cross the start line, it's still nice to have my exact time from start to finish. There were three checkpoints during the race and it's fun to be able to analyze my stats. There were also touch screens at the finish so we could look up our results immediately.
  • The medal is nothing fancy, but the fact that this small race had medals puts it in the pro list.
  • Free post-race massages!
  • There was a photographer at one spot on the course and at the finish. All the photos taken on the course were displayed at the finish line and it was only $10 to purchase the print.

  • The registration fee was $70. It feels slightly high to me considering the size of the event, but given how well organized everything was and all the pros above, I think it was worth it.
  • According to the results, there were only 180 finishers. I've had other races where I couldn't even see anyone in front of me, but that never happened here, although I would have been fine if it did. I think this race confirmed for me that race size isn't a big factor for me when choosing a race, even at the marathon distance.
  • There weren't very many spectators, just those cheering on friends or family. More spectators would be nice, but I didn't need them.
  • The race "website" was really just a page on the 3 Rivers Road Runners website and I found it slightly lacking in information. However, when I emailed the race director he was very helpful and got back to me in a day.
  • The race shirts only went down to a small (no XS) and were unisex. They were also bright red with silver printing, which I didn't think was a very attractive combination. 
  • This is petty, but I'm disappointed that the age group awards weren't unique. We all got a pint glass with the race logo on it. I know a glass is more functional, but I honestly would have preferred a ribbon that said 1st place - Female 25-29. 
Overall I really thought this was a fantastic race and would definitely recommend it. I'm even considering running it again, despite the 5+ hour drive. I could see myself going back next year to try for a BQ.