This was supposed to be a training run! Ha.
As I’m sure you’re now well aware, I’ve taken on the lofty goal of running Mountain Lakes 100 at the end of September. Although my original goal for Jack & Jill had been my long sought after sub 3:21, the demise of any ability to run fast had convinced me to set that goal aside and merely use it as a long run in training for the hundred miler.
Needless to say, the competitive side of me will never allow me to run a marathon without giving it my best effort. So I went into it joking I’d run a 3:30 (my current PR / PB) and expecting between 3:50 and 3:55. I came out with a 3:32 and a realization that my sub 3:21 is TOTALLY HAPPENING NEXT YEAR! But I’m jumping ahead of myself…
There’s something to be said of ‘no pressure’. Hubby and I drove down to North Bend, Washington on Saturday and because it was the long weekend encountered a wait of nearly 3 hours at the border. A situation I’d normally have freaked out at, I was honestly pretty chill. I mean I did start to get nervous when we also encountered traffic in Seattle, because if we didn’t make it to the North Bend Nike Outlet store where the bib pickup was they’d literally put our bib up for sale at 7:01pm. But we made with plenty of time to spare.
This Jack & Jill Downhill Marathon is a small one (about 500 runners) and I’d only heard of it last year from a client who was running it. I was intrigued as I LOVE running downhill and it is indeed an official Boston Qualifier course. However when I went to register in January, there was already a waiting list – I’m counting myself lucky to have gotten hubby and I in!
After we grabbed our bibs, we went to check into our motel – the ONLY pet-friendly place could find in the area (that wasn’t a bazillion dollars per night) – Motel 6. It was as plain as could be, but honestly worked out just fine. We were really hardly there as after checking in we went for a walk in the park across the street with our furkids (Sparkle and Sunshine), and then just called it a night upon getting back.
The alarm went off at 4:15am and because this race was ‘just’ a training run and we were staying in such a plain motel that didn’t even have a coffee maker for hot water, I ended up eating hubby’s granola with strawberries for breakfast (instead of my usual oatmeal), and drinking a quarter cup of cold matcha latte (saved from the Whole Foods I’d grabbed it from in Seattle the day before). We were out the door by 5am and off to the finish line where we’d catch a bus to the start line!
As it happens, our 5:45am bus was over a half hour late, so we didn’t end up en-route to the start line until nearly 6:30am. Again, in my ‘no-stress-it’s-just-a-training-run’ mentality, I dozed off on the bus without worry. Luckily I managed to continue clutching my cold triple shot espresso (also grabbed from Whole Foods the day before) and gulped it down as the bus pulled in. It probably worked out better that we had less time waiting at the top – it was cool up there at the start line (about 12°C)! Hubby and I hunkered down beside a building that provided some protection from the breeze and waited until we were directed to make our way to the start line.
The race started at 7:30am – and it was with little fanfare that I began running, choosing at the last minute to slide myself in behind the 3:35 pace bunny (I’m still not sure why – I think it was kind of a ‘go out Kenyan style and hold on as long as possible’ kind of plan). We made our way along a rather rocky gravel path and within less than a kilometre we came upon the entrance to the tunnel!
There are a few other marathons that follow this route – and they feature the tunnel in their titles: “Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon” (mid-June), “Super Tunnel Marathon” (late-August) and “The Tunnel Lite Marathon” (mid-September). I think the tunnel is definitely one of the coolest and most unique parts of this race! It was pitch black inside – you absolutely need a headlamp or a flashlight. It goes on for 3.7km total, but very soon after you enter you can see the light at the end of the tunnel – a tiny pinpoint that gets larger as you run. The surface is uneven and I tripped twice and slightly rolled my ankle once as I tried to fall in line with the pack I was running with.
I was glad to be out of the tunnel as it was much easier to see the ground… Rather important in a race haha. I dropped my headlamp in a box that volunteers had set up for runners to do just that – my name and bib number were written on tape hubby had attached to our headlamp bands.
As the kilometres clicked by I was growing increasingly confused – I knew my GPS would get messed up in the tunnel but my watch was beeping km splits of 5:10/km to 5:35/km meanwhile the pace leader was saying we were right on pace. I didn’t know what the ‘right pace’ was (it was supposed to 5:05/km) but I felt like it was too slow. I felt like I had SO much more in me to give. So just before kilometre 8, as my watch beeped with a 5:17/km for kilometre 11, I finally found an opportunity to pass the group on the first bridge. I’d likely have gone ahead earlier, but passing was rather difficult due to the narrow gravel path that was uneven enough at that point that you had to run in either the right or left groove on either side of the path.
As I pulled ahead I fell into a pace I felt was comfortably hard and drifted off into my own thoughts while enjoying the amazing scenery. Seriously, I wish I’d pulled out my phone and just started snapping pictures of the trees and views – they were just awesome. But I didn’t want to trip on the uneven gravel path, so the phone stayed zippered away in my back pocket.
I encountered the one and only ‘hill’ at about 13.5km in. And to call it a hill is a bit of a joke. A slight incline, and then back to the gentle downhill. At some points I would have sworn it was flat, but that’s how gentle the downhill was for much of it – sometimes it didn’t even feel like downhill. Over and over again, I marvelled over how wonderful this course was for me. Somewhere just before (or just after) the halfway point came the second bridge – and here was where a photographer sat (clearly I was happy to see him?!).
I crossed the halfway point at 1:45:47 (and the second half in 1:46:16 – closest I’ve ever come to a negative split, but still didn’t quite make it ahhhh). I took my second gel at that point with 2 cups of water, and was buoyed by the cheers from the spectators around that point. One thing about this race – it’s super beautiful but there’s really almost no point for people to get to and cheer (until much later in the race). So you’re on your own for much of it. I didn’t mind this at all – I quite like running in solitude, I just always have (that said I like running in busier marathons too!!).
Things didn’t start feeling tough until about 32km in. Even then, my pace stayed even until about 35km in, where I clocked a few slower kilometres here and there. I continued to pass other runners though. I’d been passing runners the whole race after leaving the 3:35 group, but it became very evident at this point that some runners were hitting the wall. Even downhill marathons get hard in the last quarter!! One guy I passed with only 5km or so to go was in the middle of having his legs cramp up on him – he was in agony and swearing all over the place – I felt so bad for him. I know that something similar had happened to hubby the last time he tried to run a downhill marathon. He’d hit the wall so hard at the halfway point, he’d had to walk it in.
Things got really tough in those final 5km. I talked myself through them like crazy and convinced myself to keep pushing hard – so close now!! It’s funny how those last few miles in a marathon feel so long. You know the finish is close, but it just hurts so darn much and you really want to slow down – and most times when I get to this point I just give in a slow down. This time I managed to fight though (although my pace did fall just a bit).
And then all of a sudden there was hubby (with a medal around his neck, having finished nearly an hour before me in an amazing time of 2:48:04, a new PR / PB by over 8 minutes!!!) and about 400 metres away was the finish. Every second counts he yelled at me, and I just gave it everything I had left. I crossed in 3:32:03 – and literally couldn’t be happier with my results. I’m absolutely amazed I had that in me with literally no marathon specific workouts completed and a mere handful of ‘speed’ workouts only recently completed in the past few weeks.
I’ll admit, for a brief moment I was disappointed I didn’t get sub 3:30 and a new PR / PB – after all, I was so close! But then the reality of it all hit – I’d just run a 3:32 on pretty much only easy running and higher mileage (I’ve been averaging about 100km per week for the past few months) alone. That being the case, just imagine what I could do on a properly executed marathon training plan?!!
So, next year – July 2017 – is the date when I’ll finally run my sub 3:21. I’ve found my perfect marathon course in which to achieve this VERY long-standing goal. Now all that’s left to do is run my 100 miler, and (after some downtime of course as well as completing a few other fun races I’ve got planned) jump into full on sub 3:21 marathon training for next July.
See ya soon again Jack & Jill 😉