With one small exception, you couldn't have asked for better race weather this morning. Low 50s, overcast and no rain. The only minor weather issue was a pretty noticeable wind coming out of the tunnel from about mile 10 to 11.5. Nothing huge, just noticed it was a bit of a fight.
I got to the elite tent at about 6am. The music was loud and the crowds were big already. The nicest thing about having an elite tent is no bathroom lines and a place to sit while we waited. I will be sure to enjoy that while it lasts.
The goal going in was to see if I could do about as well as last year. I felt going in that while I was better rested than last year (coming off 21 miles at Grandmas), I was not in as good of shape.
The race started right on time, one of a few improvements over last year. The gun went off and we started up a steady but not too steep uphill right from the beginning. With the adrenaline that comes at the start of any race, it was a pretty easy stretch to get through. By Mile 1, the group had split into two. The lead guys from the Brooks Hanson group began to create a gap and a couple of brave souls, including local guy Uli Steidl went with them. Another guy, Lewis Eliot, went out with them too. More on that later.
The rest of us stayed back in the "chase" pack which was made up of four Africans all running the full marathon and a few of us local guys all targeting the 1:08-1:10 range including me, Brett Winegar, Travis Boyd, Destry Johnson and Phil Olson.
Destry and I had a race for the ages last year but he had told me he wasn't up for 5:15 pace today so around Mile 2, he dropped back. Brett has taken a 25 meter lead or so while Phil and I were happy to remain tucked in behind the African marathoners. The lead pack was continuing to lengthen the gap as expected. No worries. I was there to run my race not theirs.
Mile 1 I crossed in 5:15. Mile 2 was the same. Right on plan. Mile 3 was more uphill than I remembered. You run along the new light rail tracks on Martin Luther King Way and it's nothing crazy, but it is a steady uphill slope. Crossed the 5k mark at 16:23. I was 16:15 at the 5k last year. So a hair off pace, but absoutely nothing to panic about. Mile four is a bunch of gentle us and downs with a bunch of flat too. Mile 5, not so much. Mile 5 is definitely the hardest and slowest mile of the half marathon. It is almost entirely uphill and the hill isn't very gentle. I would say it's shallower than the Veyo hill at SGM, but not by much. I had 5:50 for that mile but I think it was a hair faster than that as I think the mile markers, albeit better, were still off in several spots. This is where I gapped Phil Olson. I didn't hear him or seem him again until the finish line.
Mile 6 is mostly a gentle downhill, with a very steep 1/10 of a mile at the end of it coming down to Lake Washington. My watch said something like 4:50 for that mile. I crossed the 10k mark at 32:58 (32:47 last year). A bit slow but given the uphill mile, it was totally expected.
The next 3 miles are along the shore of Lake Washington. Easily the most beautiful part of the course. It's very flat but very with tons of curves. If you don't run the tangents on these three miles, you will run a much longer race than you will get credit for. Yet once again, the Africans I was running with usually opted for "Lane 8." I just don't get it.
At Mile 6, Brett was still ahead of me but the gap was closing. I figured he would come back to me so I remained patient. I also noticed that the Lewis Eliot guy was seeming to fade as well.
It was here that I noticed another major improvement over last year. The bands along Lake Washington were actually set up and playing when we passed. Last year, there was no rock or roll for the lead runners. This helped a lot.
By about Mile 7, I caught Brett. I encouraged him to come along with me but he put up no fight and he ended up dropping off pace. I was hoping he would hang in there because I wanted to trade off lead duties once we split from the Africans. I remained with the Africans marathoners the entire way until the Mile 9 split where they go do whatever they do for an extra 13.1 miles. Talk about an adrenaline rush. I was sooooo glad I wasn't running a full today.
There is about a 1/10 of mile between the Mile 9 marker and the Half/Full split. It is straight uphill. I bet I was running 6:30 pace for that short stretch. Brutal but short. When you get to the top you feel dead legged heading into the tunnel. But this is where I made my move on Lewis Eliot. I have a rule that once I pass someone, I never let them pass me back. So once I passed him, I gave a nice 1/4 mile or so spurt of extra fast running to hopefully crush his hopes of catching back up. Seems to have worked because when I did look back at Mile 11, he was at least 300 meters back as we headed into downtown Seattle.
Back to the tunnel....that is one of the most surreal running experiences I have had...two years in a row now. There is crazy loud music playing in a tunnel that is almost a mile long. But I have to say I kind of liked it. From this point on I ran the race entirely solo. So having this crazy awful music blaring and echoing off the walls was kind of a pick-me-up and kept me focused on the race at hand rather than worrying about how sore my calves were.
At Mile 11 you are staring Qwest Field in the face. I looked back here for the first and next to last time. It's downhill for about a half mile and then you run uphill to the Mile 12 marker. I had forgotten about how long this uphill stretch was. Nothing crazy steep but enough to really require some extra effort. At Mile 12 you turn down a VERY steep hill down to the Alaskan Way viaduct. This might be the most challenging part of the course. This is a San Francisco style downhill that is about 1/10 of a mile long and crushing to the knees. I swear I could hear my hamstrings crying for relief.
By this point there was one mile to go. I gave one more quick look back and there was no one in sight. At this point, I was more focused on figuring out what I could finish this thing in. With the mile markers again being off their mark, I didn't really know how far I had to go with any great precision.
Once I made the final turn, I saw Mile 13. And WAY down there I could see the finish. I looked at my watch and realized that a sub 68 was probably not going to happen. I also realized I wasn't tired enough and that I probably should have pushed it harder during the first 3 miles and again from mile 6-9. Not really knowing what kind of shape I was in, I took it a bit conservatively and the result was...conservative. If I had know at the beginning what I knew at the end, I thing I could have been closer to 68:30-68:45.
But that said, I was happy with the race. I was the second fastest in WA and 8th overall. More importantly, my time was decent and it was a very good check-in on my fitness. I'm not quite where I was last year, but nearly as far off as I thought I was just four weeks ago.
An interesting observation: My Mile 9 split last year was 47:45. This year it was 47:37. I was "down" 11 seconds from last year at the 10k mark. Over the next 2.75 miles, I made up those 11 seconds plus 8 more for a total of 19 seconds over those <3 miles. Having a pack of guys to run with really helps. Now...last year, I had at least one person to run with the entire race and keep in mind that I had just run 20+ miles at marathon pace one week earlier. This year, I had no one to run with after Mile 9. So after crossing Mile nine 8 seconds faster than last year's pace, I ended up finishing the race 12 seconds slower. So when you have the option to run in a pack, even if that pack is a pack of one, DO IT! It makes a very real physical and mental difference.