Sunday, September 18, 2016

Tunnel Light Marathon 2016 Race Report

A tough year

2016 is my 13th year of running and perhaps my toughest year of running yet. I got injured on Dec 31st 2015 in India. I've spend the rest of the year plotting recovery, with multiple failed come-back. While I had run over 3000 miles in both 2014 and 2015. I haven't even crossed 1000 miles this year. There hasn't been a month in which I've run over 200 miles!

The Streak

In each of my last 12 years of running I've run at least one marathon. It looked like this streak would come to an end this year... Until it looked like I might be able to pull it off ... just about... at the Tunnel Light Marathon.

The Tunnel Light Marathon

The Tunnel Light Marathon is a predominantly downhill course from Hyak to North Bend on gravel rail-trails. The race starts with flattish miles through the "Tunnel" before a gradually losing 2050 feet in the next 23 miles. This results in a fast course with the surface mitigating a bit of the speed. Therefore, when I had thought about running this, I had envisioned a pretty fast time! Not so any more...


My goals for this race were three-fold

1) Not get injured 
Running a 22.5 miler on the waterfront 3 weeks out gave me the assurance that I would be able to attempt this run safely.

2) Finish
I intended to run very conservatively. The basic rational was that my skeletal system was just not ready for this course. The bulk of my runs have been on the flats of the waterfront trail. The flatness has allowed me to help my ITB and hip woes heal. However, those would be stressed in a downhill course. There was nothing to gain by being aggressively and having to drop out. I had also not done a training run on the course before - something that most locals do multiple times.

3) Not set a Personal Worst
My Personal Worst remains on the Seattle Marathon course. That is a respectable course to have a PW on. I did not want to re-write my personal record books.

The weather for race day was quite perfect. Earlier predictions of a warm day and then rain fortuitously cleared up!

Start - Snoquamie pass - 44F, 93%, Cloudy
Finish - North Bend - 63F, 70%, Sunny

Race-day morning

I reached the North Bend shuttle location near the race finish at 6 pm. I could have taken a later shuttle but didn't want to take a chance! The shuttle ride to the start ended up being extremely uncomfortable since I was over-hydrated and desperately needed to pee. So as soon as I got there I staked out a porta-potty!

My bib number was a nice and round 50. Perhaps it was because I had registered on the very first day.

I ran into Cyrus at the start... He was going for a BQ and a sub-3 (unfortunately, it would not be his day. His calfs cramped and he was quite off target).

The early runners started off with quite a bit of fan-fare at 7 am.

As I removed my hoodie, I was shivering... That's always a great sign because it indicates that the weather will be just perfect when you start running!

The start was very low-key indeed. I was behind the 3:40 pacer. In a sense that would ensure that I didn't go out too fast :)

The Race

mile 1: 8:12
mile 2: 8:02
mile 3: 8:09

The race started with a brief out and back, before we entered the tunnel. To be honest I didn't enjoy running in the tunnel very much and I was glad when we were out of it. Some runners were making risky passes on the uneven surface - as if they were running a race which ended once they came out of the tunnel!

I didn't bring a source of lighting. As I had read in reports, there were enough runners around me to light up my path. For the first bit I stayed behind the 3:40 pacer before pulling ahead.

The first mile marker was comically misplaced, and not too far off from the second mile marker. Remarkably my Garmin 225 held signal all through.

There was a photographer strategically placed outside the tunnel. The first water-stop was soon after. Manning the water-stop was Izi, Ken and gang. It's always nice to run into familiar faces.

mile 4: 7:43
Hitting the downhills make running a lot easier. I noted that the gravel meant that you could not run on the center - only on the sides. That made cutting tangents a little more difficult. I'd hang in behind runners at times because it would take more effort to pass.

mile 5: 7:51
I found myself behind a guy talking to himself... I really hope he had a GPro else I'd have to say he was mad or delirious :p

mile 6: 7:44
The water stops in this race are less frequent than most marathons (at 2.6, 5.3, 8, 10.7, 13.4, 16.4, 18.8, 21.2, 22.8, 24.5). I was therefore more careful to have my gels when I saw a water station up ahead. I was on a 6 gel strategy as usual. I did slow down, almost to a complete. In some stations I took both water and the sports drink.

mile 7: 7:44
mile 8: 7:48
I was happy that I had managed to keep my HR around of below 160. It's typically higher for my long runs. That meant that at the very least it would not be an aerobic struggle, more of a muscular struggle. Having it fight both is when it's so tempting to quit.

mile 9: 7:49
As is often the case (in training runs or races), I set myself distance goals to get to - 1/3 done, half done, 2/3 done, just 10 more to go, 5k to go... Something for my brain to focus on.

mile 10: 7:45
mile 11: 7:58
mile 12: 7:57
While I was focused on the race, I could not help but marvel at the beautiful and serene trail. It would be nice to come back and run/walk a part of this trail at a leisurely pace :)

mile 13: 8:02
mile 14: 7:48
This mile marker was on a beautiful wooden bridge. Followed immediately by a photographer.

mile 15: 7:58
mile 16: 7:41
The first signs of the carnage of trashed muscles - some folks walking or struggling.

mile 17: 7:47
mile 18: 8:05
mile 19: 8:09
My legs were certainly tiring but in general I felt OK.

mile 20: 7:57
mile 21: 8:10
Izi and co. were cheering at this stop :) It was where the trail took a turn. Some of the folks in the group were helping pace the last 5 miles...

mile 22: 8:19
mile 23: 7:55
Mentally I channeled the 3 miles on the waterfront trail. In my six mile runs on the trail the 3 mile turn-around always gives me a boost!

mile 24: 8:12
I noticed a red shirt and someone looking like Ken in the distance. It indeed was - he was pacing David. I would go onto pass them as David was struggling.

mile 25: 8:02
Motivational signs in the final stretch...

mile 26: 8:03
mile .22: 1:55
The finish wasn't quite visible amidst the tree cover. It was only after the 26 mile marker that I saw it.


Net Time: 03:27:39 @ 7:55 min/mile
Gun Time: 03:27:46
OA: 126/504

Age: 19/37
Sex: 106/277

The Streak Lives On
Indeed. My marathon streak lives on for another year... barely...

Overall, I am happy with my execution of this run. My average heart race was consistent and in fact lower than it tends to be on my long runs!

An interesting note - I noticed that this was a course which punished the folks who went out too fast (a lot of tales of cramping and quads giving way) and rewarded folks who ran sensible races. Not to stereotype, but I saw a lot of females passing walking guys in the last 10k...

An interesting fact - this time is very close to my time for my first marathon. (That however was on a tougher MCM course on a 80F+ day). So it looks like I've come a full circle and am ready to move on.

For the rest of the year I hope to work on getting fitter and stronger, with the hopes of a memorable 2017 (the year is a prime number so that has to signify awesomeness)!!


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