Spent the pre-race night at a hotel in Ellensburg and of course the sleep was fitful. While I spent 7 hours lying in bed, I was up every hour or so adjusting the temp, using the restroom, etc. But since I've focused on sleep this week, it probably didn't affect me too much. Ate some oatmeal at 5, got some coffee from a strategically located (and opened) Starbucks, picked up my race packet at 6:30, used the bathroom a few more times, and was lined up for the 8am start. Unlike last time I ran this race in 2007, I toed "the line" hoping to finish somewhere in the top 10 and to run this race without crashing and burning like I'd done on my first. The weather was perfect.....low 30s to start, mid 50s at the finish, no real wind to speak of. Did a light jog from the bathroom area to the start (maybe 1/3 mile) but that was about it for a warmup.
At the gun we were off....I ran the first half mile or so in 2nd place, which means I went out too hard, but quickly reined it in and got passed by a few and settled into 11th place. While my first 5 miles were in the 6:39-6:43 range, I felt tight and a bit labored, so I knew it wasn't going to be one of those races where everything came easy but rather a battle at the end. Ran for a mile or so with the eventual female winner before tackling the first small hill at the mile 5 mark and getting down to business headed down the canyon.
My first checkpoint in the race was at mile 9 which I'd hoped to hit in 1 hour. According to garmin, I was a smidgen ahead, but the course mile markers had me 40 seconds behind at this point. The cant to the roads on the curves in the canyon were pretty wicked and really affected my ability to hit pace.....on the stretches when the road was flat, I was a good 4-5 seconds/mile better and more relaxed, but on the curves where the cant was bad, the effort increased and my pace slowed. But I tried to keep running the tangents as best as I could, since I remembered from my first trip down this course that not running them well adds some serious distance (and time). Hit the 13 mile marker 58 seconds off a 6:40 pace and the halfway point in 1:28:40-ish, so I was still a bit behind.
This was about the time the outside of my left foot started hurting. In previous half-marathon races where I'd worn the previous incarnation of the NB 905 shoe, I'd developed this same pain in the later miles, but hadn't experienced it for a couple of years now, nor in the training runs. Well, whether the cant to the roads or the pace or the distance, the pain started returning. In some ways, it was good because it gave me something to focus on aside from the miles ahead, but I dealt with it the remainder of the race. Fortunately, it got to a pretty painful but consistent level and stopped growing worse, so it didn't turn into much of a factor.
The first major hill during the 15th mile was painful but doable. I'd just gotten done conversing with another runner who was shooting for his first sub-3 and advised to save some for the 2nd longer hill later in the race and not to expend too much on the first. My uphill mile was 7:15 and the backside downhill was 6:07, so I think I did pretty well. I could've run the downhill faster, but knew I needed to save the legs for the next hill that shows up near the 23 mile mark.
Somewhere between 1-2 minutes off the 6:40 pace at the 18 mile mark, and by that time just trying to stay focused and to keep the physical and mental demons at bay. By 20, the mental urge to walk for a few seconds, to give up trying for a 2:54 and just "settle" for a 3:xx something was growing. Only the experience of having gone thru that before helped keep those thoughts at bay, and I spent some energy forcing myself to have positive thoughts. Mostly I was trying to dole out the little energy reserves I had to keep the pace near the target range. Then came the last hill, a monster.
Actually, at first sight, I thought, oh, not as bad as I recall. It isn't all that steep, only a 2-3% grade the whole way, but it's a long long way. Stretching for close to 1.5 miles total, I not only slowed below a 7/min mile pace, I hit a 8:04/mi according to garmin, and that felt generous. The energy completely left my legs and just picking them up felt nigh impossible. I was reduced to focusing on each individual step, not daring to think any further into the future. Getting passed by a master who just seemed to float up the hill didn't help much, but I did manage some words of encouragement to someone who'd obviously saved a bit more energy than I had. Oh, how I hate that hill, especially with a pseudo-summit partway thru (or did I hallucinate that) that makes you believe you've hit the top when you really still have a ways to go.
But the great thing about that hill.....it's almost all downhill to the finish. The downhill coming off of the crest was pretty significant and I tried to take advantage as best I could, but now suddenly the hamstrings and glutes started protesting. A couple of spasms later and now I was simply trying to go as fast as I could without locking up and falling on my face. A 6:22 downhill mile was a blessing and I feel fortunate to have gotten that much speed out of it.
The last few miles were just plain hard. I was locked onto the runner in front of me, trying to reel him in since a few miles ago he seemed way out of reach. Plus, I knew I had a couple on my heels but I didn't dare look behind. Managed to pick off a couple in the end and moved into 7th place overall. I'm not sure how (although I know there was a bit of downhill but also a lot of flat), but my last mile was a 6:14. With .2 to go, I was giving everything for a 6:23/mi pace just wanting to be done. Another hands on the knees, are you okay, just let me stand here finish, glad to be done.
Garmin gave me credit for a 2:56:43 over 26.37 miles for a 6:42/mi pace, despite running the tangents nearly as perfectly as they could be run (scaling rock walls to cut corners not considered). So even though I didn't hold a 6:40 average, with the course, the cant, and the hills, I'm damn happy to have run as well as I did. 4th in my AG, 7th overall, a second sub-3 performance, a PR, and probably most importantly, a return to marathoning after an injury induced hiatus last year. Now to get ready for the 50 miles in 2 weeks!
GUs at 6, 14, & 21.