Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yakima River Canyon Marathon Race Report

The day before

I don't consider 100 mile drive a destination race (thanks to all the bike races 2 hours away), so I just drove over the morning of the race and worked all day the previous day. Drank lots of Hammer+Noon mixture all day at work to stay well hydrated. Had some veggie pizza and salad as well as one beer as my pre-race meal. Then packed all my stuff for the next morning. I was surprised how easy and fast it was to get things ready compared to preparing for a triathlon - just running shoes and a running outfit - no need to go through a 50 item checklist. Went to bed at 10pm and fell asleep pretty easily.

Morning of the race

Woke up at 4am on race morning, took a quick hot shower, braided my hair, ate breakfast and was out the door at 4:45. Breakfast: toasted frozen waffles with cream cheese and peach jam, banana, OJ and tea. Drank 2 more bottles of my Hammer+Noon mixture on the drive over (about 1.5 hours). Showed up right in time for packet pick up opening and just before the shuttle bus with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs arrived, so managed to go to the bathroom before the lines got crazy. It was still 1.5 hours before the start, so I had plenty of time to pin my number, go to the bathroom a couple more times, and debate what I should wear for the race. It was below freezing at the start, but I knew that as soon as the sun comes up, it would warm up the temps. Ended up going with shorts and a long sleeve T-shirt. It worked out just right, though the start was freezing! I wish I had a hat and gloves to throw away.

The course

Course profile

Net downhill of 300ft. The course winds along the Yakima river in the canyon. Most of the course is slight downhill slope, but there are some hills at miles 5 and 6, then again 14, 15 and 17, and finally a brutal uphill at miles 21 through 23, then one more slight uphill at mile 25. Gorgeous course, but this kind of profile was absolutely brutal on my body. The quads and hips were not happy during the race and even more so now, the day after.
We were lucky with the weather. Even though the start was freezing, it warmed up to around 50s pretty fast - perfect marathon running temperature. We also didn't get much wind which I hear can be a major factor in this race some years.

The race

My strategy was to start right on pace for my goal of 3:10 finish - around 7:15 and hold myself back from going faster down the hill until the first uphill at mile 5 in order to save my quads from locking up later. I planned to let my legs cruise on the downhills after that point and get some fast miles in. I also knew that due to my recent right calf injury, I had to take the uphills really easy if I wanted to run the whole way since calves are usually stressed on the uphills and if I blew my calf out I would have not been able to finish anywhere near my goal. I was also hoping to find a solid 3:10 looking runner to follow so I didn't have to run on my own the whole way.
I didn't quite follow that plan. In the first mile, I found myself following closely behind the 2nd woman and 2 guys who although did not 'look' like 3:10 runners, were holding a steady pace that I felt comfortable with. (I don't mean to sound condescending when I say they didn't look like fast runners. What I mean is they were not tech'd out and geeked out like your usual marathon runners are at that pace. They were wearing cotton shirts and khaki shorts and did not have a perfect long distance runner stride, they also didn't take any gels and didn't always stop at water stations for a drink even though the water stations were 3 miles apart. But what the heck, they were hauling it pretty consistent at sub 7 so more power to them.)
I knew that starting at sub 7 was risky and that it was against my plan, but it felt doable (thanks to the slight downhill grade) and I liked the idea of sticking with some runners to make the pacing easier so that I wouldn't end up all by myself later on. And no lie, I also started having visions of 3:06 or something like that, so figured I should just give it a go.
One part of my plan that I was going to stick with no matter what was my uphill tactic. I took shorter more frequent steps on the first hill at mile 5, so I had to let my pacers get ahead. I still could see them right ahead and as soon as we reached the top of the hill, I resumed my normal stride so I kept pacing off them even though at a distance.
I crossed half way point at 1:32 and my legs still felt good. I knew that the hills in the second half were harder, so I would run a slower second split, but I still thought that 3:10 was very doable and possibly even a 3:07-3:08.
The second hill came right at miles 14-15 and I did my short step/high turn over steps again. I got passed by a guy who's been running a few meters behind me the whole time near the top of that hill. As we started down the hill, I let my legs go and was able to pace off him for the next few miles. It was at this downhill that I realized that my quads were quite shot by now after all the 'slight downhill' running. I was still able to cruise down the hill at a sub 7 pace, but the legs felt stiff.
Mile 17 hill was gentle, so it didn't slow me down too much. It started to get hard at this point so I had to start employing a lot of mental powers to keep the pace. My hips and quads hurt even on the very slight downhills. And I was just plain getting tired after running at this intensity for so long. I started counting down miles to the big hill. I knew that was going to be a suffer fest so it was important that I stay strong and don't lose any time before it if I wanted to stay on pace for 3:10. So I kept telling myself "mile 17, only 3 miles left till the big hill... mile 18, only 2 miles left till the big hill... " as if the big hill was the finish of the race...
When the big hill came I just squeezed my teeth and went up it keeping my steps short and my leg turnover as fast as I could. The worst part about it was that it had a fake summit. You see what you think is the top of the hill, but in fact after you make the turn at that point, you realize you only ran up half of it and the remaining part is even steeper. Oh well - I kept putting one foot in front of the other one step at a time. I got passed by a couple more guys on that hill, but there was no way I could have gone up it any faster.
As the downhill finally came, the quads and hips were hurting even worse, but I knew I only had 3 miles left at this point, and I had to run them fast if I wanted to finish in 3:10, so I just had to tune out the pain and let the gravity do its job. Slight uphill on mile 25 almost did my calf in. I felt it wanting to cramp up, so I had to take a deep breath, shorten my step and literally tell it to wait 1.5 miles before cramping. I managed to avoid the cramp, but I no longer had the full range of motion even on the downhill after that, I kind of had to 'fixate' my foot at the 90 degrees angle to my leg and not really push off with it any more, just keep placing one stiff leg in front of the other and let the gravity take me down the last hill. That last sub 7 mile on the last downhill took a lot of mental focus, I even managed to pass one of the guys who passed me earlier. I really wanted to cross the line while the clock still said 3:10, but was a few seconds late. Oh well - that will be a task for next time. I'll have to work just a little bit harder for it.

Time: 3:11:22
Pace: 7:18 per mile
Overall place: 3rd female
AG place: 1st in 25-29 age group

Mile Splits

mile # - time - AHR
mile 1 - 6:55 - 172
mile 2 - 6:51 - 182
mile 3 - 6:53 - 183
mile 4 - 6:48 - 184
mile 5 - 7:12 - 185
mile 6 - 7:08 - 184
mile 7 - 7:01 - 182
mile 8 - 6:55 - 182
mile 9 - 6:57 - 182
mile 10 - 7:09 - 182
mile 11 - 6:59 - 179
mile 12 - 6:46 - 180
mile 13 - 7:17 - 179
mile 14 - 7:34 - 179
mile 15 - 7:57 - 180
mile 16 - 6:53 - 175
mile 17 - 7:30 - 178
mile 18 - 7:06 - 177
mile 19 - 7:04 - 178
mile 20 - 7:32 - 177
mile 21 - 7:39 - 173
mile 22 - 8:10 - 172
mile 23 - 9:16 - 174
mile 24 - 7:19 - 170
mile 25 - 7:32 - 174
mile 26 - 6:58 - 172
last .2 - 1:51 - 178


I took one Cliff Shot Gel 15 minutes before the race, and 3 more at 30m, 1h 15m, and 2h into the race. I also carried my own bottle with Hammer+Nuun mix for the first half of the race because I knew that the water stations were sparse and like to be able to drink whenever I want to during the first half of the race. After that point I took a sip of each, PowerAid and Water at each water station (they were about 2.5-3 miles apart).

Post race

After I crossed the line, my legs locked up so bad, I could barely walk around, I couldn't manage to stretch out my quads - they were in so much pain. I made my way to the massage table and the 15 minute massage didn't really make them feel a whole lot better. I chatted with a few runners who I saw on the course including the female winner Annie - she is such a nice lady who runs 10 marathons a year all around 3 hour pace.
On the bus back to the start I chatted with one of the guys who didn't really look like a runner. Turned out it was his first marathon and he ended up with a 3:09 - BQ! He told me when he trains he doesn't even drink water at all on his 20 milers just because he doesn't like the idea of carrying a bottle. Crazy! Sounds like if he joins a runners group and does some proper training and speed work he can probably get really crazy fast... Made me jealous - I have to work so hard to get to this level and do everything "just right" to get even close to his result.. Oh well, we all have different level of abilities and ultimately just race against ourselves. That's why I love running!


I wonder if I would have been able to run this race faster if I held back a bit at the beginning. To be honest I don't think so. The sub 7s felt good then and if I didn't bank up that time at the beginning, I don't think I could have made it up later in the race. And with that terrain, my quads and hips would have gotten sore at any pace, so the amount of suffering would have been the same. The 2nd woman only came in 2 minutes before me and I could see her the whole time, so she slowed down similarly in the second half, her only advantage over me was that she could run the uphills normally, that's why she was a couple minutes ahead.
I think given the terrain and my injury I executed just about the best I could there yesterday. I think if my calves were healthy I would have hit my goal.
Great local scenic race. But probably wouldn't do it again just because of all the damage to my body is too much.