Friday, May 6, 2016

The Western Pacific train isn't taking me to Boston

OK, I know that not even a train would likely be enough to get me a Boston qualifier time, but it's fun to run a race where there are real runners that really do have a shot at a Boston qualifier time, train ride or not.

The Brazen Western Pacific Marathon concluded my spring of long and flat races (remember Riverbank and Ruth Anderson?). It also represented the first time since early 2012 (!) that I finished a real Marathon (I got a DNF at one in 2012 and dropped to a shorter distance at one last year).

My A goal coming into this race was to get a PR (which isn't saying much since my current Marathon PR is 5:58); my B goal was to beat 6:30 and the C goal was to beat 7:00. Based on my previous long races this spring, I thought there was an outside chance of the PR, but I knew it was a long shot since I'd have to go significantly faster than those earlier races, and there was no logical reason to expect that to happen, especially since it was going to be warm.

Double-click to see this bigger, but only if you are brave. There be sharks! And not the kind with missing teeth and a hockey stick!
I was never really interested in running this race - it's all on trails, but they are flat and a bit monotonous. There are lots of aid stations, and really, the trails are fairly scenic, especially considering that you are spending a LOT of time right outside of people's backyards. Granted, they are fairly scenic backyards.

Weather sun screen manufacturers love. 
We started at 7:30 AM, and it was already hinting at the warmth to come. What wasn't hinted at was the aggressive breeze that was supposed to kick up in a few hours. We were warned not to freak out if the arch was missing when we came back, and to provide GPS info if we happened to see it floating past us overhead.

The slowest Marathon pace group was for a 5:25 finish - that's her just ahead of me. I knew that if I tried to keep up with her, I would explode spectacularly at about the halfway point. So I kept behind her, which made me the last runner for the first few miles.

"Which way do we go?" I want what that volunteer had for breakfast.
"Which way do I go?"
It's really pretty hard to get lost on this course, but there are intersections where different distances do different things, so it was fun to have volunteers directing us. Especially since I could badger them into posing.

The first aid station (mile 1.8) would also be our last aid station, much much later.

We had twelve aid stations for this race - the idea was that you could run carrying minimal or no water, which is unusual for this long of a trail race. In my case though, I was drinking my Tailwind, so I wore my vest and carried two bottles and ended up skipping about half the aid stations.

"Which way do I go?" at the Bermuda Triangle intersection of the race.
Still right behind the 5:25 pacer. Dang.
After that Bermuda Triangle intersection, we were on the long Alameda Creek trail. This would be our home for the next 22 miles, and it looked a lot like this for most of the way.

The second aid station, mile 3.35, and the 10K turnaround. Note the shade - I was surprised (and thrilled) by how much shade there was along this trail, at least in some sections.

When you run a road Marathon, the best thing are the people that line chunks of the course and cheer you on - it's the closest I will ever feel to being a rock star. So I really loved the few places where there were a few people cheering us on. Granted, it was likely because they had family or friends running the race, but still, it was awesome!

Our third aid station, mile 4.6. It was just before this aid station that the faster Half runners, who started 30 minutes after us, started passing me.

"Hey Racso, not your real name, which way do I go?" The world's most subtle directions.
There is one odd stretch of the trail that's actually paved, and has a short bit out to the road to cross a creek, then head back to the main trail.

The lead Half runner coming back at me after his turnaround.

The fourth aid station, mile 6.75, and the Half Marathon turnaround. After this point, I would not see any other runners outside of the Marathon runners, so things were about to calm down a bit.

Still the fourth aid station. I really hated to leave here.
The Marathon rabbit!
Not long after I left that aid station, the lead Marathon runner came back past me. Yikes!

Another random group of people cheering on the runners - they couldn't believe I paused to take their picture. They didn't realize how hard I was looking for reasons to pause.

The fifth aid station, mile 8.3. By this point I was stopping at each aid station just to get myself wet to help keep cool. It was getting pretty warm, but there was a nice breeze that thankfully was coming at us from the side, so if you were wet, you stayed cool. I also had to stop and mix up a fresh bottle of Tailwind at about every other aid station - I was determined to drink a bottle and hour and it was working out perfect.

Picture by Retep, not his real name, who was pacing the 4:55 group. That I still look a bit like a runner is due to this being only mile 11 or so. And his camera skills.
The 5:25 pace group was about a half mile ahead of me, which is about right. That's the turnaround off in the distance at that white awning.
After that fifth aid station, there is a pretty big gap (at least for this race) before the next aid station, and the trail was completely exposed as you headed out towards the bay.

The sixth aid station, mile 11.9. It was our first turnaround and the only real cutoff for this race, and I was at least an hour ahead of the cutoff. (And you really do end up in the bay if you don't turn around here.)

If you look hard, you can see the seventh aid station (which was the fifth aid station in a previous life) just ahead. In between the time that I left there and came back, Yllom's (not her real name) crew (her squeeze Nhoj, not his real name, and their 5 or 6 kids) put this message on the trail! It was so awesome!

The seventh aid station, mile 15.5. I had a goal of running the whole first Half Marathon, then seeing what I could do after that. As it turned out, I nearly made it all the way to this aid station before my legs started to let me know that they needed a walk break. I was pretty happy with that and was determined to keep my walking pace pretty fast and to mix in many running bits. All of that went pretty well for quite a while - I would pick out a tree or rock and tell myself to keep running to that point, but I was often going farther than that, which really surprised me.

The eighth aid station, mile 17. The wind was a bit stronger so some of the awnings had been taken down.

At this point there were about 6 or 7 runners behind me. I was determined to keep them there, but was a bit nervous about my chances. All of this meant that these volunteers, who had been out there a long time, could see the end of their day. Finally.

"Which way do I go?" 
Remember this point from a few miles ago? It really helped seeing milestones on the way back - it made you feel like you were really making progress.

The ninth aid station, mile 19.2. Way to go Ylrac (not your real name)!

There were a number of small branches that the wind had blown down since I had last been through here. And me without a chainsaw.

What you love to see - a volunteer with an ice scoop on a hot day!
The tenth aid station, mile 20.5. At this point you could look off to the left and see the finish area and hear the runners getting announced as they arrived. But I still had almost six miles to go. Heavy sigh.

See those two runners? I caught up to them and even passed them for a bit, which was enough to inspire them to pick up the pace - nobody wants to get beat by me, especially getting passed so late in the race.
Back at the Bermuda Triangle. The 10K and Half runners got to turn left and storm the finish line. The Marathon runners had to stay on the trail and keep going to a second turnaround.

"Hey mister. Wanna get wet?" That kid had been busy squeezing the sponge over his own head when I walked up - I loved it!
The eleventh aid station, mile 22.9. By now I was really dragging. My walking speed was slowing and I wasn't doing as many running bits as before. I knew that a PR was not going to happen, but that I still had a pretty good shot at beating 6:30.

Hi Miss Chris Bliss!
So I got my last bottle filled, sucked it up, and stormed out of there. I liked the idea of maybe catching those two runners again, although I think they were determined to not let that happen.

Back at that Bermuda Triangle, but this time I get to go right and head to the finish. And just before I got there, and amazing thing happened - I passed two runners! Not the two I had hoped, but me passing anyone at this point was outstanding. I also knew that it was likely to be short-lived if I didn't keep the pace, such as it was, up.

The twelfth, and last aid station! Mile 24.8. Less than two miles to the finish, although the two most significant hills of the whole course were ahead of me. (Granted, they were not significant at all under normal circumstances, but after 25 miles, they were nearly cliffs.)

The finish line, minus the arch.
So, a really cool thing happened on my way up the second of the hills - the really mean one that you have to go up, with the finish line in sight. I was met at the bottom by Alilak (not her real name), who really wanted to pace me up to the finish! (I'm not going to say that her mother had put her up to it since there was a good chance I would have gotten lost, but maybe.)

Picture by Nosaj, not his real name. Pacing by Alilak. Victory pose by a dork that was so ready to be done.

All done.

That really shouldn't have been as hard as it was, but I managed to finish it in 6:21 and was not last. I also managed to stay ahead of those two guys I had passed, although one of them was very close behind me and I suspect had pity on me and let me beat him (you can see him just behind my pacer).

This was my ninth Marathon finish, and my third fastest. An odd thing - my Garmin showed a distance of 26.8 miles, which was a bit dubious since it also showed an elevation gain of a bit over 900 feet, which was not remotely possible. (I think the Garmin just assumes if you went that far, there had to have been hills. The corrected elevation turned out to be 183 feet, which sounds about right.)

I've got a theory about this course that makes a bit of sense, I think - as you head towards the bay you must be going slightly downhill since the creek you are following is flowing that way. That means that, after you turn around, you are going slightly uphill. I think the key word is "slightly." But it's still there.

That was a really fun event. By the end of it I was really sore, but I liked that I had gotten it done. Given my current training, it was well out of my comfort zone, but I was determined to hang in there and squeeze out a finish.

I don't have any more long races planned for a while (Brazen Dirty Dozen?), but we'll see. Right now, 10Ks sound great and I would love to take a serious shot at an "Ageless Wonder" (running a 10K in fewer minutes than your age).

It's not like I really wanted a trip to Boston in any case.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.


Fun Size said...

Flat sounds good to me right now. I didn't realize this race was a Boston qualifier or that it had pacer groups.

Beth said...

Nice job! Sun, wind, and one massive downed tree to...tip toe over. Your time is darned close to our last Napa Valley Marathon time. : ) I doubt we'll ever get to Boston, either, lol.