The Seattle Marathon’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and I’ve scheduled to do the half. My plan is to drive up on Saturday, register and attend the expo and visit with Dora (one of my WWGTD teammates), then drive up to Snohomish to stay with friends, one of whom has generously agreed to be my course support. Of course nothing goes as planned! First I’m a bit delayed by work; then, I check the weather and get an unhappy surprise. Snow! In Downtown Seattle! and Portland! We don’t often get snow in the lower elevations around here, and it really freaks everyone out. As one who has lived for eight years in Wisconsin, I still find this really funny. If folks in Wisconsin got this excited about an inch of snow, they’d never calm down. I waver for a few minutes, thinking of the drive up and back, the drive to the race in the morning, and the race itself. There’s a significant amount of sanity in canceling my trip, and I decide to do so, but a little while later, I think, oh, what the hell, this whole endeavor is about many things, but sanity is definitely not one of them. I get a late start, but still make it to the expo in time to register. Dora and I catch up on our 50k plans, and each buy a pair of Adidas Adizeros to try out.
Sunday morning I wake at 5 to get ready. I’m having trouble figuring out what to wear — although there may be snow, it will be mixed with rain, so the race will be wet, not white, and it will be right around 32 degrees. Luckily, its not a judged racewalk, so I can wear long tights instead of shorts. I end up wearing an older pair of shoes, that I think will have better traction. I layer up two shirts, and start out with my goretex jacket over them. I also add gloves. Unfortunately, the gloves aren’t waterproof, but they’re better than nothing, and since they cost 99 cents, I won’t mind throwing them away on the course if I get too warm. One of the trickiest questions is where to pin my number? At least by the end of the course, it has to be on my top layer. I figure I’ll probably take off my jacket when I see Steve for sports drink around mile 5, and pin my number onto my outside shirt. Hard to imagine wanting to take that off at any mile!
The race starts right near the landmark space needle, in Seattle Center. There’s a staggered start, so the marathon walkers start at 7:15, the half marathon runners at 7:30, and the half marathon walkers at 7:45. I wait as far up as possible for the runners to clear the starting chute — for once, my pace puts me near the front of the pack. I make it near the front of the start, then encounter three friends standing across, so I stand behind them. When the announcer asks “is this anyone’s first race?” all three raise their hands. “Oh, if this is your first race you shouldn’t start ahead of me.” I say without thinking. They don’t move, so I say “Would it be possible for me to start ahead of you?” “NO!” two of them say back in unison. I’m rather stunned by this (doesn’t take much to stun me at 7:30 in the morning). Its part of the deal, of racewalkers being grouped in the “walking” category. You get everything in the “walking” category, sometimes even baby strollers, and so its a vast spectrum with competitive racewalkers like me on one end. I realize these women know not a thing about racing, and don’t even understand why I asked to get ahead of them. I chat for awhile with the third woman, who comes to see my point about pace times, timing chips, and the likelihood I will run over anyone in my way once I cross the timing mat. As soon as the race starts, she puts out her arm, clearing a path for me to walk through. “You go, girl!” And I do. Incredibly, crossing the starting line I find the empty streets of Seattle. No spectators, no music, no nothing! Huh. An image of the Portland marathon start comes into my head: spectators packed 5 or 6 deep on each side, cameras and announcers on platforms to each side of the starting gate, cheerleaders, and a drum corps. So far, I’m unimpressed with Seattle. Its wet, but not snowy, and its cold enough that the few minutes waiting in the start chute has left my legs feeling as if I never warmed up.
My number one goal for the race is to control the pace of my first two miles. I’ve missed the mark on this in my past two races, after a whole string of precision races earlier in the year, so I want to just nail this one and be done worrying about it. And I do, finishing each within 60 seconds of my goal pace. I meet a walker from Vancouver, and we chat about our Mizuno Revolvers. She reports good traction (she’s wearing hers) so I decide in future not to switch off for traction as I’ve done today. We keep each other company up to mile 5, when I stop off to hand Steve my jacket and get my bottle of Gleukos from him. One thing about the temperature is, the water handed out along the course is shockingly ice cold, so its a relief to drink something a bit warmer. I’ve been warm enough to lose the jacket for a couple of miles, and its a relief to get rid of it. My plan is to ramp up my pace a bit in each third, so I set out for my second third a bit faster. The main thing about the course is, its just hill after hill. (Readers in the midwest should substitute “mountain” for hill throughout this post. I don’t know if racewalking on steep hills is hard for everyone, or I’m particularly lousy at it, but it definitely slows me down, and I switch off to regular walking for the steepest one. Remembering how much it hurt me to get up to the St. Johns bridge in the Portland Marathon just seven weeks earlier, I thank my doctors and massage therapist in my head. The foot is just *so* much better! I find it impossible to keep to my pace goals, instead just trying to keep an even effort and push more on the occasional flat parts. I get more sports drink from Steve at mile 9, then its up a windy hill into the arboretum. Here I encounter a new challenge: wet leaves. I have a little trouble pushing off in spots, and I’m a little nervous about slipping on the steeper downhills. But by now I’ve caught up to the half marathon runners, who started 15 minutes ahead of me, and I’m enjoying overhearing runners commenting to each other when they realize this. One thing about the staggered start is, I never did figure out which times the volunteers were reading out along the way, so I tuned them out and stuck to my watch. I’m doing the race without my shuffle. We’re not allowed to wear headphones at the 50k, and I want to practice accordingly, but honestly, music free just sucks.
By far the most demonic part of the course is in the last few miles. The course goes on a sidewalk alongside a raised highway. Suddenly, just in front of me, a huge wall of water comes sheeting down onto the racers, from above. Apparently, there is a puddle in the right lane of the highway, and anytime a car drives in that lane, this ton of water comes down onto the course. Even though I’m soaking wet, I feel a great sense of victory that I happen to get through between dumps. A close second in the demonic category, though, is the steep hill just before the course enters the stadium for the finish line. I’ve been pouring it on to try to get closer to my time goal, and I need to ratchet back a bit to get myself up the hill. This time I curse out loud. Entering the stadium, I realize the last piece of the course is across the stadium turf. I wonder how this will go, since I’ve never racewalked on such a surface, but as it turns out, its quite nice, so I get to push through to the finish line. The announcer botches my name a bit, but more than makes up for it by saying “and its one of our racewalkers, we love our racewalkers, let’s hear it for our racewalkers” which gets a cheer from the crowd. Cheering crowds, passing lots of runners, this is the stuff of dreams, or at least of good fun. I wrap myself up in two space blankets, meet Steve, cool down, and we head back to Snohomish. Its a nice treat to just zone out in his car, which has seat warmers. Back at home, he and his wife lavish attention on me, so I continue to feel spoiled for the rest of my visit. I missed my time goal by 6 minutes, and I was unhappy about that at first, but over time I’ve decided to credit myself for the race start, as opposed to the finish, this time. As my friend Steve put it “Pacific Northwest. End of November. A half marathon. What on earth were you thinking??! ”