Practice

I ran both a Half Marathon and a Full Marathon a couple weekends ago. On two consecutive days. And I survived.

The Half marathon was on Saturday. It started at the Hyak trail head on Snoqualmie Pass. I roped in my cousin (R) and my uncle (K) to run the race. It was K’s first half marathon. The trail head parking lot is large and feels wide-open. I was focused on making sure I had everything, but when I allowed myself to look up and take in the surroundings I noticed ski chalets all around. After we ran about a quarter of a mile, we reached the Snoqualmie tunnel, which runs for almost 2.5 miles beneath the Snoqualmie ski runs. Because we had just started the race, everyone was still bunched together; the crowd couldn’t really thin out much in the tunnel because we couldn’t see enough in front of ourselves to pass anyone safely. Some people wore headlamps, but most of us used the small flashlights the organizers gave us when we checked in. I felt like I was running a good pace, trying to keep up with the people around me, not get dizzy from all the lights and shadows, and not trip on the uneven ground that I couldn’t see. With over 200 people in the tunnel, I expected it to be fairly bright, but it was more dim-glow than bright-lamp. I got into a rhythm and it didn’t really feel like we were in the tunnel for 25 minutes. Somehow, seemingly without anyone passing anyone, I ended up pretty much by myself for the last half of the tunnel. This made it easier to see what was around me and gave me more room to maneuver around the tripping hazards.

Once I got out of the tunnel, the world was nothing but green. Almost 3 miles into the race, the miles seemed to stream by. R and K were long gone, running their own races. I never planned to run alongside them and was glad they seemed to be doing well (something I assumed to be true because I didn’t trip over them in the tunnel and I couldn’t see them in front of me). I was also happy to run my own race, knowing that I’d have to conserve energy for the marathon the next day. In retrospect, I may have spent too much time thinking about conserving energy.

In the moment, I was just running around shaded corners, hearing wind in the trees and waterfalls. I love waterfalls. I don’t know what it is about them specifically; I love everything about them. I love the sound of them. I love the romance of them. A waterfall is one of the few things that can immediately transport me to my childhood imagination. They make me think of Disney movies and the paradox of safe-mischief. So, when I hear or see a waterfall, I feel calm and excited at the same time. I want to savor it and see more of them. On this run, I could see some waterfalls, others were out of sight but were still encouraging.

As I approached the last three miles, I felt like I had energy to spare and could speed up, but I was still preoccupied with the marathon on the schedule for the next day. So, I kept my steady pace. I finished comfortably with all the family and friends at the end. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely felt like I ran 13 miles, but I wasn’t completely spent. I took this as a good sign for my efforts the next day.

The next morning, we got up early and headed back to the same start line for a race that started an hour earlier than the half marathon. The race had noticeably more participants than the half marathon.

For the first five miles, I started at the back of the pack and moseyed my way through the miles. I could have run faster, I suppose, but my legs were tired from the half marathon and I was afraid I’d burn out if I went too quickly. I passed a few people, but really didn’t have an idea of where I was in the pack. I started the race with a woman from Florida. She was traveling in an effort to do a trail marathon in all 50 states. She was lovely, totally relaxed, and in no hurry — so I didn’t stay with her long. Then there was the “sweeper” at the end with the crazy wig, big personality, and great smile. The route starts at the same place as the half, but goes in the opposite direction for 2.5 miles along a lake before turning around and doubling back toward the same tunnel we ran through at the beginning of the half marathon. This meant that I reached the tunnel just after mile 5, instead of within the first quarter mile.

With people spread out, the tunnel was a completely different place. I came with a headlamp this time, in addition to the race-provided flashlight. There weren’t as many people around and, with my experience during the half, I had confidence that this would yield an easier experience through the dark tunnel. It was a less frenetic journey, but still didn’t feel like 25 minutes in the dark. About .25 miles in, I came across an adventurous father with his small daughter on bicycles with headlamps. If they knew they were traversing a 2.4-mile tunnel with a bunch of marathoners, they didn’t seem to mind. Not long after that, I discovered that what I’d thought was a light bulb far ahead the day before was really the tunnel exit. I spent the next 2 miles marveling over how I could see the opening 2 miles ahead! This part was a bit meditative, actually.

The day before, while running the half marathon, the last three miles seemed extremely flat. I felt good, but I was just chugging along. The marathon route covered exactly the same ground as the half, but mile 12 of the half marathon was mile 17 of the marathon. This was great for many reasons, not the least of which was that I could use the half marathon as a scouting run – finding good places to take pictures and getting a feel for half of the marathon route. Yet, I still saw new things on the second day. It turns out, there is a small incline toward the end of the half marathon route that I hadn’t noticed the day before.

Once I passed my cheering family around mile 18, and got past the half marathon finish line, I started exploring anew. Where there is one beautiful trestle on half marathon route, there are an additional half dozen of them in the last 8 miles of the marathon route. And they were beautiful! I came across mountain bikers and walkers. But the most unexpected groups were the throngs of rock climbers hanging (literally) out along the trail. Dogs, children, groups of friends. They all seemed to be having fun and, collectively, did not notice the marathoners plodding past.

This was my third marathon and I still remember the pain and mental challenges of the first two. I specifically remember the feelings of needing to walk, of my legs and feet being unwilling to cooperate and continue moving in the same fashion. I vividly remember giving myself pep talks during the Mt. Lemmon marathon. But this race was different.

This time, I was sore and my legs were tired, but I didn’t fell like I needed to walk. I didn’t need to give myself pep talks about fighting through the pain. When I ran past some people I knew at a water stop, I even had enough energy to run backwards for a few steps so I could keep talking to them as I continued heading toward the finish line! About four miles from the finish, I thought I’d try to pick up my pace. I knew I had more the day before and, since I didn’t have to run again the following day, I thought I’d see if I could push myself for the remaining miles. At that point, I’d slowed to a 12:30 minute mile pace. I only wanted to get back to an 11:30 or 11:45 mile pace.

I blew through the final water station. The entire course was a gentle downhill, but the last half mile was unexpected and a significantly steeper grade downhill. According to my Garmin watch, I got up to a 6:30 minute pace by the finish line.

I’ve been processing this experience for a few weeks now. I am both blown away by myself and, simultaneously, puzzled. The training felt so hard and there were so many times it seemed impossible that I could finish with anything close to a time I would consider “good” for a stand-alone race. But I accomplished that for both races anyway. I’m sure it had something to do with training at double the elevation in close to double the heat. I’m certain that the consistent downhill grade had a significant impact on my success here.

I’ve been taking a bit of a break from running, though not complete. It is still summer in Arizona, so I’m allowing myself to enjoy spinning classes and treadmills for a few weeks before diving head first into my Dopey training schedule in August. I am preoccupied right now with trying to get into a mental space where I can have confidence enough to train for faster times, but also enough kindness for myself that I won’t get upset with myself if I don’t accomplish the times I train for during the actual races. This is my new challenge. But for the next week, I’m going to focus on my self-care and attempt to detach from the training ahead.  

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