Sunday, June 29, 2008

2008 Seafair marathon pacing experience

7:15am, Seattle-Kirkland-Bellevue, WA
Temperature: 70F-78F
Humidity: 57%-45%

Having finished the Seafair marathon both of the last two years, this year I decided to run as part of the official 3:30 pace team. I was assigned the hilly third leg so I had a decision to make:
i) Start at mile 13.1 and pace leg 3
ii) Start at the beginning and run 19.6 miles at 8:01 pace

Under normal circumstances I could have easily accomplished the latter option. However, this was a very tough course, it was a going to be a hot day and I had not really recovered well from Newport. I made the fateful decision to go with option ii) since I wanted to cross the 520 bridge (one of the main highlights of the new course this year).

I went down to Bellevue square at 5:15am to take one of the first few shuttles to the start in Husky stadium. This ended up being a smart move since they had a major fiasco with the race shuttles later on. Even after delaying the race start by 15 minutes (on this hot day), they still could not transport 400 people to the start before the timing mats were removed. There were accounts of long lines for the shuttle after 6am.

At the start, the roads were open to traffic till the very last moment. As a result no-one had any idea where the actual race start was. As pacers we were being asked by runners, since we could be expected to know where the start was. When the race start sign was finally put up ALL the pacers were asked to come to the front (so people would need to pick it up after the start to catch up with us?).

I had to lend my Garmin to the 1:30 half pacer since he had left his on a local bus (trying to acquire a satellite :)). So for the first 6.5 miles I was "blind" and had to "trust" the pacer for this leg, Paul. While I did not have my HR reading, 8:00 pace was not feeling easy in the heat. I did not really enjoy crossing the 520 bridge as much as I had expected.

After the first leg, I had expected the course to be relatively flat. The scale of the elevation map on the website was wrong and that had masked some difficult hills. These were not helping me. By mile 10 I was struggling. The pacer for leg 1 had dropped out and the pacer for leg 2, Pat dropped out at mile 12 (they had intended to go all the way through). I had to get to mile 19.6, whatever happened. Then at around the half point the 1:30 pacer started running with me (Jason was going to go all the way and had intended to stick with the 3:30 group). I told him I was struggling and asked him if he could pace this leg. He told me he was not sure and that I should go on for a bit more. Finally, after 14 miles or so I told him I was stopping and requested/forced him to take over (I had handed him a 2 minute buffer which would be handy with the hilly last 10k in the heat). I gave him my Garmin again. When I stopped a couple of runners following me shouted out - "No, you cannot stop. You are my target". I pointed at Jason and told them to follow him. Perhaps if Jason had not caught up with me I may have gone on and I just had a couple of miles before I hit the down hills.

I got someone to give me a ride to mile 20. I walked over to make sure that Jason made it and the pacer for the last leg, Meren took off in time. I also saw them at the finish.

While our pace group made it in time I feel pretty horrible/guilty about this experience. I guess I went with the decision I did because I knew that Jason and the first 2 pacers intended to go all the way with the 3:30 group but I did want to fulfill my responsibility. If I ever pace again I will make sure there is a 0% chance of me not making it by i) Either pacing at my long run pace OR ii) Just running a single leg.

From the organization point of view this marathon had other issues with incorrect mile markers and possibly the course being short. They had also run out of water after a bit. However, I think the new course has a lot of potential and this can be a nice marathon. As we saw for Chicago last year, when we have record temps, the organizers have to deal with a lot of flack in spite of their best efforts. I am sure they will get things figured out next year. Personally, I have another score to settle with this course.

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