Running is a crazy thing. After two months solid of crazy travel, disappointing workouts, inconsistent mileage, mental exhaustion and just overall burnout, I called my wife last night and told her I was seriously considering retirement from competitive running. Starting my own business while maintaining a solid family life have been mentally and physically demanding as of late and becoming increasingly incompatible with training at the high level I have been for the last several years. I was tired. A bit distraught. And almost 10 pounds heavier than this time last year. I fully expected no better than a 1:10 today and losing to all of my local peers. Not the best mental frame of mind going into the region's largest running event (except Bloomday).
In fact, I think the only reason I actually rolled out of bed when my alarm went off at 4am is because I knew I would regret not running the race this morning. Not really a great reason, but it was enough.
As I wandered outside, I noticed the weather was absolutely perfect. I mean perfect. Not perfect except for X or Y. But Perfect! Thick cloud cover. Cool temperatures. No wind. Absolutely no wind. This was encouraging but it didn't change the fact I didn't feel in top shape or that I was quote a few pounds above my previous race weights.
I arrived at the elite tent. I was basically the first one there. I didn't expect to find as good of parking near the shuttle area as I did so I was on one of the very first buses. The weather at the start was just as perfect as it was at home.
I looked at the elite entry list and time-wise, it was the deepest field in the event's 3-year history. Several guys were here trying to OTQ using the Half 1:05 standard. Not exactly the course I would pick if I needed every second to qualify, but as time would tell, three guys OTQ'd and four more ran 1:05 and change. You had to go down to #17 before you found a finisher above 70 minutes. It was a really good field.
Had a decent amount of time to chat with my teammates and other local elites that i don't see enough of. Always a good time had.
I did my normal warmup and felt sluggish to say the least. After a nice rendition of the national anthem, we got off to an on-time start. Weather was still absolutely perfect.
Of course we did the normal way-to-fast first quarter in :70 and that was going uphill. Not the brightest thing to do but pretty typical. The key was to back off and get onto my desired pace (5:20) as soon as possible. With in the first half mile, one of my Club Northwest teammates whom i was running right next to, Marc Bokur, was tripped and took as nasty tumble to the ground. The maddening thing was it was one of those young kids who had no business being in the front who cut over to sharply and tripped Marc. Idiots. Marc got back up and finished the race. I learned after the race that he ran the whole thing with a dislocated shoulder from the fall. Props to Marc for getting back up and finishing.
Mile 1 is pretty industrial. Nothing too exciting about running next to a major freeway. Hit mile 1 in 5:16. Good recovery from the fast first quarter.
Mile 2 my good buddy Destry Johnson took off with the main pack who was already well back of the leaders. I reminded myself to run my race and not get caught up in going out too fast. Mile 2: 5:20. Right on.
Mile 3 is gently up hill for most of the way. Nothing crazy steep. Just a steady, shallow climb. I was feeling a bit mediocre on this mile. Packs were breaking up and from here on out, I would never have more than one other person to run with. this is where some guy in a yellow Brooks singlet passed me. I didn't recognize him but I vowed to stay with him. This vow was important because I had a really slow 3rd mile. Mile 3: 5:26. Ugh. I am really glad I had someone to aim for or I may have gotten really discouraged.
5k Split: 16:18.
I hung with the yellow shirt guy through Mile 4 which was just gentle rollers. Nothing difficult. Mile 4: 5:14. Nice.
Mile 5 is the biggest of the hills. It isn't crazy steep. But it is long and steady and it's a solid mile long. In years passed, I have given back 30-45 seconds on this hill. I tried a different approach today. I passed yellow shirt man on the hill and just stayed on my toes and powered through the uphill mile. Careful not to jeopardize the rest of the race but also wanting to be far more aggressive than I had been in previous years. Mile 4 had given me the confidence I needed and by the time I crested the hill, my mile splt was 5:28. I had only given back 8 seconds. Yippee! This was huge mentally. And I felt great physically. It was at this point that I started to think that I might be able to do better than 70. But I had to stay focused on Mile 6 because it is downhill and there is some valuable time to be gained on this mile.
Mission accomplished. Mile 6: 4:57. I was feeling great. I had conquered the only major hill at a great pace and put a bunch of time in the bank heading down the downhill stretch.
The next three miles are some of the prettiest miles in all of Seattle. They are as flat as can be and they wind along the Lake Washington waterfront. If there is ever a place to keep your focus on this course, it is Miles 7, 8 and 9. The road is flat and there are tons of turns and curves. You could easily add .10 or .15 miles to your race if you weren't careful. Not surprisingly, I watched several of the elite guys ahead of me run in "Lane 8" through much of this stretch. Bummer for them. The advantage of this stretch is that it's the most densely populated with bands and people cheering of any other stretch along the course except for the final .25 mile.
Mile 7: 5:10. Nice. I was really feeling it. My coach pulled up alongside me on his bike and shouted some words of encouragement and I was really pumped. Destry Johnson, after taking an early and substantial lead on me, was coming back. He was well within reach and i was closing.
Mile 8: 5:15. Nice again. It was here where I passed Destry. I told him to hang with me and not let me gap him. We had an epic duel two years ago at this race and I was really hoping to have him along for the rest of the ride. He tried to stay with me for about 60 seconds, but he was done. I wouldn't see him again until the finish line.
Mile 9: This is where the half and full split so there were alot of people and plenty of noise to keep me going. The mile 9 marker is just at the entrance of the I-90 tunnel. There are a couple of hills at the end of Mile 9 that seem to come at the wrong time. The last one is probably a 20% grade but it's only maybe 20-25 yards long. I blew by two guys on this short stretch. They would be the last I would pass. Mile 9: 5:20. A few seconds slower than I wanted but given the terrain, I was pretty pleased.
Mile 10 is probably the most bizarre mile of any race I run. It is in the echo chamber of the I-90 Tunnel. You can hear this obnoxious noise coming from the end of the tunnel but you can't see it. It's a band playing and the walls of the tunnel make it nauseating. Mile 10 is also the start of the lonliest two-mile stretch on the course. You run through the tunner and along an empty stretch of Interstate Highway heading toward downtown Seattle. It has the most exposure to the wind (none today thankfully) and it seems to go on forever. Qwest Field can be seen in the distance but it never seems to get any closer. Mile 10: 5:17. Perfect, especially since I was now running completely alone. The closest guy ahead me me was about 20 seconds ahead. There was another guy probably 10 seconds in front of him.
Mile 11 was boring but i was trying hard to keep focused. I was too close to a good finish to back off now. Mile 11: 5:14. Beautiful.
Mile 12 is showtime. We are on 2nd Ave in Seattle and there are bands everywhere. Cheerleaders everywhere. And people screaming everywhere. The first half is a steady downhill and the last half is a steady but gentle uphill. I saw the cheerleaders from our local high school and that gave me the final burst of adrenaline I needed. Mile 12: 4:47. I crushed it.
Mile 13 has a short, steep downhill and then a short, steep uphill as we get onto the Alaskan Way viaduct. This is the homstretch. I have gained a little bit on the guys in front of me but they are still out of reach. With a quarter mile to go, we make a turn toward Qwest Field. I hear my mother screaming my name. It's still pretty early in the race so it wasn't crazy loud along this stretch yet. I then turned the corner for the final .2 miles of straughtaway. It was great to see the finish line in the distance. By this time I realized i had too much left. I hit Mile 13 in 5:09. I did the final .1 in :32.
Final time: 1:08.26. A course PR and second best time ever. It was second only to the Indy Mini. When you factor in the difference in difficulty between the two courses, I was probably at or very near PR pace today. It was only good for 11th, but I don't care about place. I can't control who shows up. I can only control my own time.
I would rate this race among my top three ever. I got stronger and stronger throughout the race. My only regret is that I didn't "go" sooner. I feel like if i had had greater confidence earlier on, I could have had a legitimate shot and going sub 1:08, something uninmaginable before the start. There is always something to learn from a race and there were a couple of spots where I needed to trust how I was feeling and go faster. BUT, I am extremely pleased with how things went today. I ran smart and took advantage of various opportunities that the course and other runners gave me.