Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tacoma City Marathon

Runners crossing the Tacoma Narrows Bridge
(via: The News Tribune)
Some things I have learned running the Tacoma City Marathon
  • Whenever a race says it is a net down hill course they mean that there are lots of hills. 
  • 75 degrees is nice for the beach but not for completely exposed miles 19 through 26.2.
  • The Pacific Northwest is beautiful when the weather is nice. 
  • But most importantly, don't run a marathon with a sprained ankle.
I was very worried about running 26.2 miles on a pretty much sprained ankle. Until Friday of last week, I wasn't so sure I would get through the race. But thanks to the improvement to my stability achieved in the last few days of PT, I went into Sunday with a pretty good idea that I would be able to finish but it would hurt, like a mother. 

Guess what?  I was right. I ran my second fastest marathon on a sprain, in 75 degree heat, on a rolling course through beautiful areas of a city I most likely will never visit again.  A win in my book.

On Saturday after hanging out with an adorable two year-old (and her mother and grandparents in Bellevue, WA) we returned to Tacoma to drive the course. And I am very happy we did. This "pretty flat and fast course" was hilly.  Not like some hills here and there, it was hilly. The first 18 miles of this race were up and down constantly. The elevation chart was misleading in that the elevation changes were averaged over the mile.  The only hill that was honestly represented was the hill coming across the beautiful Tacoma Narrows Bridge. 
Pretty steep, as you can see.
(via: The News Tribune)

We started out early from Downtown and piled into school buses to get out to the Tacoma Narrows Airport. The drive was easy and pretty quick. I made some small talk with the woman sitting next to me who had run well over 25 marathons in the last five years (nuts if you ask me) and then we went about our business at the airport. There was a LONG line for the porto-potties but it moved quickly and they opened a hanger for us to sit in while we waited. There was a festive feel and I was shockingly relaxed as we got ready to go.

The ankle hurt from mile one. My signature WAY TOO FAST first few miles were actually under control and in the range of 8:30ish as I had planned.  I made it to six miles keeping that average and took it up a little to 8:20ish to 8:30ish at that point. My lovely wife was on the course at six and I yelled to her that I would finish, but it would hurt a lot. 

From six until a bit after 10 I was able to find a pretty good stride, complete with pain but I felt good to get another 16 miles under my belt.  I was, at this point, on pace for a 3:40 marathon. 

Over the course of the last few months of training, especially as my ankle hurt more, I would run against traffic so to have my left foot lower on the street than my right.  I did this for much of the first half of the race.  This made my ankle feel better but at the pace I was keeping, didn't do my right IT band any favors. (Remember this point for later.)

I saw Abby again at mile 10ish where she made some friends including a photographer who told me later in the race that she made friends with my wife. "Hey San Francisco! I met your wife." "Yeah I like her a lot!" (Laughter from others on the street). This photographer made me feel important as she snapped more pictures as I passed by.

After crossing the half way point well on pace, I took a corner and found the hill I was dreading. The last hill going up into Point Defiance Park (which was absolutely beautiful) was when the pain kicked in.  This hill was steeper than Fort Mason in San Francisco and just a bit longer. That is to say it was steep.  But the thing that got me was the equally as steep and long downhill the immediately proceeded this climb.  This downhill thrashed my quads and my right IT band, without any time to recover.

If that hill was a surprise I would have gone all fetal position and cried.  Even with the knowledge of of the hill I got a little teary-eyed.

The next five miles were nice but my legs really started to hurt.  After running thousands of training miles and three other marathons I have come to expect discomfort but I have never had injury-like pain during a long distance run.  I started to develop a bit of an awkward gate. 

Just before leaving Five Mile Drive and the park there was one more climb when I started to hear blues music.  There were signs with quotes from the Blues Brothers and at the top of this hill was a water station staffed by guys in suits (black), hats (black), ties (black), Ray-Bans, and watches (broken) jamming out old blues songs.  It was a good laugh and the last pleasant memory of the race. 

As we left the park, we lost all shade and it was now hot.  With temperatures expected to hit the low to mid-80s, it was solidly 75 in the sun by this point in the day. But I was hopeful that the last eight miles of mostly flat (truly flat) water front would allow me to put the pedal down and come in with a PR and maybe even a 3:45. 

So on the way out of the park we did a few zig-zags in a parking lot with a number of very sharp turns and poorly marked speed bumps.  I lightly tripped over one of the bumps and made a dog-getting-stepped-on noise and the 3:45 pacers turned around to see if I was ok...so yeah, 3:45 was out of the picture. Also, taking left hand turns was becoming more difficult at this point. 

By the time we got out of the neighborhood and made it to the waterfront at about mile 18.5, I was straight up limping.  This was only made worse by the slope of the last seven or so miles. The waterfront street had the opposite slope than what I had sought out to relieve the pressure on my ankle for the first ten miles.  So now, already hurting from the first 18.5 miles, I was dealing with something that hurt no matter how far I had run. 

This slope caused severe pain in my IT band and great discomfort in my sprained ankle.  But the nice surprise issue was the strong pulling sensation that developed on the inner shin of my left leg, the leg with the sprain. My pace was strong until 19. I was well under 9 minute miles, staying comfortable, even with the limp in the 8:45ish area. 

But once we hit the waterfront it was over. 

The heat combined with the shooting pain slowed me down drastically.  I started doing the rationalization math that runners do. (If I just keep a sub-10 minute mile I will finish just under 4 hours.)  Needless to say my math skills aren't very good.  Because for the rest of the race I was averaging around 10:45 to 11:15 complete with a full on limp and body bend to soften some of the impact of my ever devolving foot strike. 

There were a number of overpasses including one at mile 24 that almost ended me.  I had no control over my right leg on this very steep grade. Added to this the slope of the road was getting more pronounced as we got into the more industrial area of the port.  

As we approached mile 25 and we crossed another horrible overpass back towards Downtown, there was one more slight climb and then the push to the end.  We started seeing people, including my lovely wife who had a number of people cheering for me, which was very nice.  

I took a number of very sharp turns as I careened down the last hill and then I saw my lovely wife, sister, my sister's best friend from college, and their stuffed animal "Cow" waiting for me with about 100 yards from the finish.
Cow is marathon ready on Cinco de Mayo

I did pick it up for 26 and the point 2, with a just over 10 minute 26th and a 7:27 minute/mile point two. The finish was fast...and almost took my hamstring with it.

My sister, who came to Tacoma to run the half with her best friend and support me, ran me in for the last hundred yards yelling my name and getting people to cheer for me. That was super helpful and it made for a very happy finish. Not to mention I crossed the finish with one minute and 51 seconds to spare to finish under 4 hours.

I got my hammy stretched, a bunch of water, and my ankle wrapped in ice and then limped my busted-self back to the hotel to shower. 

Unlike other races, I wasn't hungry at all. I think the heat may have done a number on my stomach.  But after we left the hotel we got some grub and then drove around a bit to take in some of the sights that I missed during the race.  The day couldn't have been more beautiful.  We then headed to the airport to give us plenty of time before our flight, because there was no way I was going to rush to make the flight. 

Some concluding thoughts: This was a beautiful course through an under-rated small city. There were some ugly parts but for the vast majority (I would go so far to say 25 miles of it) this was a great course, that was challenging but fair.  The elevation map left something to be desired, but otherwise the course was good.  The Marathon Maniacs, the producers of the race, put on a great show.  Tacoma City is a very small marathon but it felt like a big deal thanks to lots of support from locals and the Maniacs.  There were only a very few places with no support from the sidelines and that always helps. Despite the pain I had a great time.

Two days later I am limping. But it is getting better. Surprisingly my ankle doesn't hurt, but the IT band and shin aren't doing so well.  Then again I ran 26.2 miles in 3:58:09 so I suppose it was going to hurt no matter what. 

Long story short: Don't run marathons with sprained ankles.


Ann said...

First congratulations on your finish. Second, I think you should join a club I belong to on Facebook - The Idiots Running Club. I think you would fit right in.

Donald C. Cutler said...

Ann- thanks for stopping by. I am for sure an idiot runner and as soon as I can spin around two times without falling over I wi take the path.