Archive for December, 2006

“I don’t know how you do it!”

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

When people say this to me, and they do, I mostly feel at a loss to answer. I tend to smile, or shrug. Yesterday, during my long walk, I think about this some. The first answer that comes to mind is “well, not perfectly!” So much to learn, so many practices jammed into an already impossible schedule, and, sometimes, so little sleep.

Once, during a 5k race last spring, I forgot to double tie my shoelace when I adjusted it just before the race, and after a few laps, sure enough, I felt my shoelace flapping against my ankle. I just had no idea what to do about it! Racewalkers can’t just break form in the middle of a race, after all, and I really doubted I could bend over and tie the thing without moving my feet at all, and therefore taking a step. So I did most of the race with one shoe untied, gaining only one caution, and earned a personal best 5k time anyway. I got teased a whole bunch by my teammates, several of whom would ask “tied your shoes Karen?” before races after that! But I talked with the judges after the race, and learned the real options, and all about using the porta potty and stepping off the course during a race. And, of course, I never forgot to double tie my shoelaces again.

I left in a hurry for the airport when I was going to Florida for the 20k in November, so I didn’t have time to wrap my foot (for the tendinitis). I sat there in the gate area, with the directions and the tape (precut at home since I couldn’t bring scissors), just completely not able to see how the tape was supposed to go. This definitely intrigued my fellow travelers, me sitting cross legged on the floor with one sock off, holding the tape this way and that. And although I didn’t realize it until I got to Florida, my singlet was sitting happily at home on my couch, forgotten. When I’m working hard, or traveling, I often have to improvise. I’m supposed to heat my foot before a workout, and the first time I found myself at the Y, my heating pad safely at home, I looked around, then sat down at the vanity mirror and calmly blew dry my foot. I don’t even want to know what anyone thought about *that* one. One of my most comical moments was also at the Y, when I tried to shower without getting my foot wrap wet. Yeah, right, no problem, showering while standing on one leg in semi-public. Give me a hard 10 miles any day! A few weeks ago, I got caught up in my track workout and lost track of time, then suddenly saw the clock and realized I was due in a meeting in 5 minutes. I jumped into the car, and walked into the meeting 6 minutes later, in full athlete attire, and absolutely soaked through. (Nobody said anything — to me. :)

Every now and then, I’m right on the edge of *not* doing it. Thanksgiving day, I get into my gear and head out to the track, and its just pouring, lots of water on the track, and for a moment my legs just stop, right at the edge of the garage, and I’m just somehow not stepping out into it. This throws me — my head usually wins, so I’m startled. I make a concession to the legs, and put on my shuffle right there, and take two deep breaths, and then I just push those legs down the steps and onto the track and start the workout. Once I’m on the track, its go as always, no big deal. One Sunday I head out to the bike path, intending to do loops to my car; but after the first loop, I open the trunk, and realize what I’d thought was a bottle of sports drink is in fact just water — I have no calories at all. Disgusted, and frustrated, I throw in the towel, get in the car and go home. But I sit down at the computer to check my email, and click on itunes, and the next song on the playlist just happens to be the B52’s “52 Girls,” and as I turn up the volume and sing along, I see the race in my head, and I want it. I get back up, grabbing the actual sports drink this time, go back to the bike path, and finish the rest of the miles.

Of course, “not perfectly” isn’t the whole answer to “how do you do it?” I pay attention to what seems to help, and go with it, no matter if it seems silly. The theme from Rocky on my shuffle actually keeps me going, partly because it makes me laugh, and partly because I’m one of those people who went and saw that movie in the theater when it came out, and watched this guy take himself from nothing to running up those library steps, and it reminds me of that time when jogging just started, and the Legg’s Mini Marathon hit Central Park. To remind myself to keep good form when I’m getting tired, I tell myself “Use the feet, Luke!” in an appropriate Star Wars tone. I spent a few hours watching a show called “The Biggest Loser” on television, even though I mostly detest reality shows, just to see the images of these very overweight people jogging and working out and taking off their shirts right on camera to step on the scale; they’re the definition of determination, of focus on a goal. I watch videos: Miracles, about the winning US Olympic Hockey team; Without Limits, about Prefontaine; Walk to Me, about a woman training to walk her first marathon; and Run Like a Girl, about three generations of female distance runners. There’s this awful moment in Run Like a Girl, when an athlete explains that the male winners received as a prize well-crafted wooden chairs, but she was handed a wooden doll’s chair instead. (Sitting in my living room in 2006, I think of a few creative things I’d have wanted to do with those full-sized chairs, but incredibly, she just lightly jokes to the person handing out awards, “next year, I want a big chair.” She returns the following year, wins, and gets a big chair.) Another athlete completes a men’s cross country race, at a time when there are no women’s, but is physically prevented from crossing the finish line by a row of officials. I can’t whine about a few crunches after watching this stuff. My obstacles seem small by comparison.

The things that sound so impossible to people, are often not the bad ones. Today, in the dark on the track, stepping around the puddles, when it starts to rain, is one of those moments. To me, its a good workout — I’m warmed up and its above 35 degrees, and it doesn’t rain for long, and anyway, I like my fast interval day. I’m pretty used to wet. The time I chafed from my tampon string during a long walk, though, now *that* was BAD.

Blowin in the Wind

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Thursday, we get a windstorm. I read about it in the news, so I know its coming. I juggle my schedule, and head out in the afternoon to get my walk in. Although there are still hours before the worst of it is due, the wind’s already kicking up as I head over to the bike path, although only small things like plastic trash pails are actually blowing. I look up at the trees, knowing they’re the biggest hazard. But knowing that reminds me of the signs on the highway that say “falling rocks.” How do you avoid falling rocks?? (Once, awhile back, a wide old tree came down just about right where I was standing on the sidewalk. Just like that, one minute there’s a tree, next minute, there’s a tree lying across the sidewalk and street. I heard a creaking noise, and by some instinct, absolutely leaped forward, and it missed me by a couple of feet. Its just not the kind of thing one can plan ahead for. ) The path is mostly empty, but I do encounter a few joggers, maybe working out early just as I am. The wind is mostly at my back as I head out; but once I turn, its coming right at me. I have to work really hard to keep at it, and after my first loop, I realize I need to abandon my time goal completely — I’m exerting way harder because of the wind, and there’s no way I could keep to the planned times. I decide to just get in a good workout and its the best I’ll be able to do. The wind keeps reminding me of the three stranded climbers on Mt. Hood. This storm may literally kill them, if they’ve made it this far. Rescue teams, Helicopters — everyone’s grounded because of it.

I drive a pretty light car, so I stay at work until the worst of the wind has passed, just after 11pm. We have two deadlines the next day, and I’m making frequent backups to my laptop as I go, figuring that if campus loses power, I can drive however far it takes to find a kinko’s with electricity. I luck out — nothing goes out on campus or at home. But I read the next morning in the news that about 150,000 folks weren’t so lucky. Its the topic everyone’s chatting about on Friday passing in the hallways, waiting in line, buying coffee. Friday I work to my limit, downing chocolate bars and chips and coffee, coffee, coffee to keep me going. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know this is bad for my training, but its just what I need to do. My one concession is to hydration — I drink lots of water and peppermint tea along with the junk. We make our midnight deadline, and I head home, exhausted. I’m scheduled to race a 12k the following afternoon, but as I crawl into bed, it seems totally unlikely. I haven’t prepped my clothes, don’t know if I even have any clean, and I feel as though I could sleep until Sunday. I set the alarm for 8am, and pass out.

Saturday, I stay in bed for awhile after the alarm. “Screw the race,” I think. “Why not just stay here under the comforter and rest??” I start to wake up, though, and the part of me that registered for the race, that wants the race, and that wants really really badly to finish the 50k wakes up too. I crawl downstairs to make some coffee. Its slow going, but eventually I have all my stuff together, get dressed and head out. I’m out of cereal, but at the last minute I find half of a sweet potato, cooked, in the fridge, so I take that along into the car, along with a mug of coffee. Breakfast of champions. The race is an hours drive away, and I’ve set out quite late. Looks like I’ll get there just before the start, so I may have to warm up in my first mile. The race is a 12k on the historic Columbia River Highway, in Hood River, and the course includes the Mosier Twin Tunnels. Its not a racewalk, no judges — I’m doing it for the workout, since the time won’t count. I make good time for awhile, then I have to slow a bit because gusts of wind are blowing my car some. I get through the windy spots, but then get stopped by an accident cleanup. We just inch along for a bunch, and now I’m forcing myself to take deep breaths, because I’m realizing that I’ll be lucky to just have time to jump out of the car before the race starts. When I see Mt. Hood I think of the missing climbers. With the break in the weather, right now dozens of people are up on that mountain searching. Every person in the area with climbing expertise is out there, and they’ve closed the airspace to avoid any interference. I exit the highway with only five minutes to the start, then take an excruciating wrong turn that puts me back onto the highway. Off I go three miles to the next exit, turn around, and three miles back. When I finally pull in, the parking lot’s full, but there’s nobody around. I spot a few folks at a picnic table, who look like they might be packing up some things, so I go over and ask if I can still race. They say “sure” but tell me I’ve missed the start by about five minutes. I figure I’m here now, may as well do the race, because otherwise I have to just drive home and workout there. Its another bit of time before I actually head out, since I need to get a parking ticket for my car and put on my shoes. Its pretty surreal to start out alone on a path and have that be my race start, but well, every day a new adventure, right? The Columbia River Gorge is gorgeous, even on a cloudy winter day, and the race has gotten me out here, if nothing else. After a short while, I start seeing runners coming back in the opposite direction — ah, 5k participants are headed to the finish line. I have some fun greeting the runners as they go by, although I feel like a salmon. There’s an orange cone at the 5k turnaround, with a sign on top, and some bottles of water on the side wall. I push on, thinking maybe if there’s some fitness walkers in the race, I can catch them. Soon before the turnaround, I see a walker, looks like maybe a racewalker. Aha! I have a target. I haven’t exactly been going slowly, but I pick it up. Coming in not last would be pretty cool, under the circumstances! After the turnaround, I’m on my own on the path, although a couple of walkers and joggers who aren’t in the race go by. A mile or so before the finish, a group of runners jogs up from the other direction. They’re runners who have finished the race and are jogging easily. They turn around and head to the finish with me. This is good fun, and having my own escort makes me feel pretty spoiled. One of them is trying to racewalk, failing miserably, but when he asks me if he’s legal I take the high road, saying only “well, its not legal to wear long pants, so neither of us is legal right now.” Its not so easy to land on a straight leg, it takes some practice. I finish, although I’m not sure if anyone really notices, and I never see the time they post for me, but I have my watch time. Incredibly, I’ve just finished one of my best efforts, doing just over 11 minute miles on average. I definitely feel as if I’ve just pushed. I drink some Gleukos, eat a banana generously provided, applaud for the announcements, then head back to Portland, where I stop at Burgerville for a cheeseburger, fries, and salad. Racing seems to just turn up the knob on my metabolism for the day, and although I eat all this around 5pm, I get out of bed at midnight, starving, and eat a huge bowl of pasta with cheese. That’s me, The Incredible Eating Woman.

Sunday, I head out to the bike path for 30k slow. Even I can’t believe I’m doing this, the day after the 12k race, but its on the schedule and I stick to my conviction that if I start allowing excuses for ignoring the schedule, I’m toast. Its cold but clear, and I’m pretty comfortable in a fleece vest and gloves. The Holiday Express train is running again today, and I’m quite startled at one point when I look up and see Santa Claus barreling down the train tracks in a utility car (this thing looks like a jeep but runs on tracks instead of road).
Drats — way too fast for me to ask for anything. :) There’s still some branches down on the path from the windstorm, and there are crowds for the train, but its mostly good conditions. I finish the last half mile “on fumes” as a friend says, but I finish it, get to the car, buy some groceries, and get home. My ankle’s hurting pretty badly, so sitting’s really lots better than standing, but making my pizza doesn’t take very long, and then I get to settle down to eat it.

While I’m cooking, I go online and see the news — the rescuers found a body on Mt. Hood today.

Twenty with the Train

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Today I headed out to the bike path for the long walk. The schedule says “20 miles.” Since I’ve missed training this week, because I’ve been sick, I don’t know how it will go, but I prepare for the 20 just in case. The voice of a friend is in my head “Let me get this straight: you’ve been sick all week and you’re going to do 20 miles???” I know I may have to stop early, training is not the time for heroics, but even she concedes “well, I suppose we could say you’ve tapered.” [Tapering is the shorter workouts you do to rest before a big race.] Its pretty warm — about 45 degrees outside my kitchen window — so I wear shorts and two shirts. The forecast tells me to prepare for rain, but nothing beyond our usual Portland weather — some rain, and probably some breaks.

Starting out on the bike path, I can’t help but notice the train. They’re running a vintage steam locomotive, pulling some passenger cars, on the tracks alongside the bike path this weekend and next: the Holiday Express. Its big and black and all shined up. Signs along the path warn us of “congestion ahead” — folks boarding the train are standing along the path in clumps. The steam plume from the locomotive is impressive. As I approach, I’m reminded of a scene from a movie, some film version of Anna Karenina I think, definitely Dostoevsky. But seeing the train in the movie is nothing like this. As I pass, I’m temporarily enveloped in the white billowy steam, which has a slight odor, and I am struck by the power of this locomotive. And the specialness. Nothing at all like the regular Amtrak. There’s this feeling, that its The Train, an event, leaving in a while, and people are already gathered. Incredibly romantic.

I continue on past the train stop, to finish my 5 mile loop. Its cloudy, but the rain that came down a bit as I started has stopped, and I’m glad I decided to leave my jacket in the car. My approach is to divide the walk into 5 mile pieces, and only think about the current loop at any given time. So, I feel pretty good as I turn around to come back, knowing I’m halfway done. There’s a wind in my face on the return, but still, its not really cold, so its at worst a slight slow down. I have to make my way carefully through the train crowd, but by the time I’m finishing, the sun is out, and I’m missing my sunglasses, which I’ve left back in the car. The sun is reflecting in the river, with the hills rising from the far bank and some houseboats on my side. The train starts, and runs alongside of me for the short remainder of the path. There are people all along the path, and the adjacent paths and grass, snapping photographs and videos of the train, and I’m afraid quite a few of them include a racewalker with a runny nose. The effect of the train as it runs, steam puffing out in a regular rhythm with the wheels, is just amazing.

At my pitstop at the car, I get my sunglasses, and some sports drink, stretch briefly, and head back out for round two. My thoughts seem to want to combine the loops, to think back to the first or ahead to the third or fourth, but I keep a strict lid on that. Right now I’m doing 5 miles, just starting out, and that’s it. The train is ahead of me, and I wonder if I’ll catch it, but I need to stay slow, this is long walk day, and after a bit I realize its gaining on me. I can’t stay disappointed for long — there’s a huge rainbow stretching up from the Portland hills on the left across the river and above the path, and I gawk at it like a five year old.

I’m on the path for awhile, over four hours, and the train passes a number of times as it makes its short runs up past the end of the bike path and back. Each time I wave, to the engineers and also to the children whose faces I can see pressed up against the window. They wave back, eagerly, very excited to be on the train. Most days, we can hardly run the Amtrak on schedule, but today we have the result of some small army of folks who have readied the tracks, and polished the train, and are standing out all day in santa caps, just to get this vintage train to run, and for the first time this year, I feel the magic of Christmas.

During loop three, it starts to rain, and along the way I encounter a man walking along in a heavy jacket and hat, who says “Nice weather we’re having, huh?” I think for a second, trying to keep to my “no negatives” rule in spite of the wet, and say “well, its not snowing.” This gets him to laugh and agree. By the time I get back to the car, the rain has stopped once again. I feel okay, and I’m smiling, because I think I’m going to do the twenty, and that would be so cool. Time to head out for loop four.

Its starting to get dark, and as I go, I notice the pretty effect of the lights on the hill across the river. As I approach my turnaround, I’m closer to downtown, and all of the lights of Portland are across from me. There are several construction cranes for the waterfront construction, across the river, and they’ve all been decorated in Christmas lights. I turn for the home stretch, and it hits me: I’m going to do it. I just need to keep steady, not speed up, stay in good form, stay tall, pay attention to my feet. Well, not too much attention to my feet, because the right one is hurting a pretty good amount at this point, but enough attention to plant them well and keep good form. There’s a fairly dark portion, of half a mile or so, but then I emerge into a brighter area, with the lights of the hills across on my right, the lights and decorations of the houseboats closer in, and to my left, the large Sellwood Christmas tree shining down onto the nature preserve. Up ahead, there is a clearing in the sky, a stretch of light blue as a break in the gray clouds, and I’m walking towards it. I get one last chance to wave to the train, then hit the marker for the end of my walk: twenty miles!! I stop racewalking, and walk slowly the rest of the way to the car.

I’m always a bit loopy after this many miles. I stop in the grocery store, and as I’m checking out, I pick up the pen and search my receipt for the signature line, but of course there is none, I’m using a debit card, and I can’t help but wonder what the clerk is thinking as she corrects me. Back at home, I gather my bags, and carefully take my key out of my pocket to get ready for the door, but its my car key, and after trying to open the house door with it, it takes me a minute to figure out what’s wrong. Eventually, though, I’m safely in the house, bags of groceries stowed away, in a hot shower.

What a magical day.


Friday, December 8th, 2006

“It doesn’t matter whether it is hot, or cold, rainy or windy, I just want to run.”

Sunday’s long walk day, so I head out to the bike path, but I already know today won’t be very long. I’ve got a bad cold, and Dave’s already cautioned me not to push it, even suggesting I just stay in bed entirely, if I feel like hell. I’m not sure if its that I don’t feel like hell, or just that I’m that stubborn, but I get dressed, fill my waist pack with tissues, and go. As I start out I run into one of my teammates doing 2k loops at the start of the trail. I walk with her some, just to touch base, then she heads off for a short break and I head out along the trail. After an hour I am just exhausted, so I head home feeling the opposite of strong. Tired out by a one hour walk, what a wimp! I stretch some, then rest, trying to deal with a coughing spell. I used to get these sometimes in Wisconsin, from the cold air. The hard part is, the feeling that I’m choking and can’t breathe. Afterwards I’m just tired.

Eventually, things calm down, so I dress and head in to campus to get some work done.
After only a short time, though, I get a call from my Mom, telling me my Aunt’s just died. My aunt’s not very young, but still, I’m a bit stunned, and quite a bit sad. I make some calls to get the necessary details, and check into some flights back East. There’s no point checking my schedule — there are really almost no times in a year when suddenly disappearing for a few days won’t cause all manner of hellish errors, so its more or less a non-issue, I’ll face it when I return. My cold, though, may be a problem. I learned that lesson about eight years ago by flying with a cold and damaging my eardrums, both ears at once. That time, though, it happened on my return trip — there’s not much point in flying across the country now if I arrive too incapacitated to attend the funeral. I’m using frequent flyer miles, and the funeral’s Wednesday, so I decide to wait and see how I feel on Monday.

Sunday night I only get about four hours of sleep, and Monday its just really disgusting. I carry a box of tissues around with me as I move around the house, so I always can grab a few with no notice, but I feel like what I really need is a giant mop. Well, I think, now we know the answer to the burning question, what am I like when I don’t train? Snotty. Ha ha. I’m totally exhausted, and actually need to rest from sneezing. My body’s getting me back for all of those stomach crunches, I just know it. I lay on the couch and watch old episodes of the Avengers.

Tuesday I know as soon as I heave myself out of bed that I can’t fly. I don’t even feel like I could walk from the airport entrance to the gate. Training’s totally out. Even I can’t cook up some line of reasoning that will let me claim I didn’t “feel like hell.” I feel like hell. But I have some meetings, so I get some clothes on, bundle up, and head to campus. My first meeting goes pretty poorly — turns out its hard to design elegant solutions to complex system performance problems in pantomime — but I can’t stop coughing. I run down the hall and grab a bowl of chicken soup from the deli, and get through my next meeting by sipping at it throughout. Two down, one to go — the last one’s a telecon. It goes long, but I get through it, sitting at my computer armed with tissues, hot coffee, cough lozenges, and water. I don’t even make it out of my chair when the phone rings, and altogether its four and a half hours of continuous meetings before I finally head home. I’m really grumpy and entirely unhappy with this illness that is interfering not just with my training, but with MY WORK dammit. On the way home I stop off for drugs, soup, garlic, juice, and vegetables; I’m not going down without a fight.

I wouldn’t say I wake up Wednesday refreshed, but I do sleep, and it makes a huge difference. After one short meeting, I get dressed and head out for 45 minutes easy. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite this happy at a slow walk of a few miles, but it feels so much better than doing nothing. I call this kind of walk “just enough to stretch.” Afterwards I stretch and rest, falling asleep on the couch halfway through the Avengers. The bad part hits later, when I get almost no sleep at all. One of those nights, tossing and turning and congested, and all kinds of things I need to get done running through my head. I start Thursday feeling really wretched. I usually have some work items on my list that require less brainpower, but I’m on a paper deadline, so I need intense concentration and ferocious focus. I fake it with extra coffee.

On the way home I stop off for some groceries, and right there in the greeting card aisle, trying to select a sympathy card for my cousin, the stuff I’ve been trying to hold at bay hits me. I manage to swallow down what feels like sobs, but I sense I need to get out of this public place pretty fast, so I just grab all three cards instead of choosing, check out, and get home. As I’m making myself a cup of tea to calm down, I realize that I’m using the last of my honey. Not just any honey, this honey was jarred with care by a guy who died last year, all of a sudden, when a tree fell on him, so I’ve stretched it out, using just a tiny bit at a time, to make it last. And now its done. This time I cry and cry. Its all too fast. My aunt is dead and I haven’t even had a minute to even think about it all. I need to go out and walk, long and hard until I’m exhausted, but I can’t, and its making me nuts. Shit.

Thursday night I sleep. Well, its more like passing out, really, while working on the paper, and I wake up 9 hours later, pretty confused about why I’m in bed with my fleece jacket and glasses on. Before I’ve even had enough coffee to fully panic, I read the happy email telling me the paper deadline’s been extended a week. I actually whoop for joy.

I’m so happy this awful week is over, I want to just cut the length of it out of my wall calendar and shred it.

Snowy in Seattle ??

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

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??! ”