The Bellingham Trail Marathon : Race Recap
It was a defining life experience.
First off, I can’t thank my wonderful running partner Kyle enough. He treated the race as if it was a ‘fun run’ and acted as my pacer / coach / motivator / source of good conversation and laughs / trail medic / all around trail hero rather than run for time himself. If he had run it for time, instead of for me, I guarantee he would have been at least 2 hours faster overall.
Now, onto the recap J
We absolutely lucked out on the weather. The expectation going into it was low 40s and a 55% chance of rain. It didn't rain at all and the temperature proved to be just about right.
9 am: We set off at a good clip from Lake Padden and got into an early stride of ‘fast-hiking’ hills and springing back into run mode on the flats and downhills as they came upon us. When leaving Lake Padden we had a short road section under the I-5 overpass and hopping onto the Interurban Trail. This was a nice gentle section with a solid pace. Things didn't get hard until we started climbing up the Hemlock Trail. It’s wide, but it’s a drawn out climb and we hiked for an extended period here.
Next up, we were rewarded with some technical downhills that, while fun, turned out to be less of a reward for me. We knew I had trained inadequately headed into the race. Namely, not enough mileage logged on technical, uneven, single track. It was here that my lack of adequate preparation made itself known with sharp pain in the outside of my left knee. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) can be brought on by running downhill and/or running too many miles. I arguably did both Sunday. The pain is sharp and hits when you bend the knee, making it feel like something is quite wrong and it becomes instinctual to cut your gait in half, then walk, then limp in a funky side shuffle. Or at least that’s what I did. It had eased up a bit by the time we got into Aid #3 aka mile 15 aka the bottom of Chinscraper, the steepest ascent on the course.
We devoured some delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the aid station and I decided to try a silly idea of getting my calf compression sleeves from my pack and wearing them over the knee to treat via compression. Nope. Didn't work. Nice thought though. Distraction helped the situation for the next ¾ of a mile. Going up Chinscraper at such a steep angle created a nice warm burn in the hamstrings, keeping my mind off my knee. As it turns out Kyle does the best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation I've heard and had a whole “feel the burn” bit from Pumping Iron that was cracking me up making Chinscraper one of the highlights for sure.
Once we reached the top though we had mostly descent to deal with for the next +/- 4 miles. Nature was absolutely gorgeous there on the Ridge Trail. Boulders and roots abounded in their stoic, steep, technical, beauty. Perhaps I appreciated them more because I wasn't able to pull off a full walk at that point. Kyle was great about psyching me up then and managed not to show the level at which he was concerned he’d have to eventually carry me out. I’m stubborn enough that I was bent on finishing on my own two feet regardless (for the sake of still earning a finisher’s medal), but we both knew if I wasn't able to start running again we wouldn't make the 8 hour cutoff.
I began to notice that any little uphill felt great, like therapy for my knee, so I started carrying on about how nice it would be if the rest of the marathon was uphill. Certainly nothing I would normally beg for. The woods will humble you J Before the end of our descent I was, by some miracle, able to start running again. When I say “some miracle” I mean Kyle putting me through some stretches and trying three rounds of friction massage (that hurt like a ##@@$%!!, but helped) on the outside of my knee over about a 2 mile period. It’s also possible that the superhero powers emanating from my son’s water bottle that I borrowed for good luck on the course helped too ;)
With only about 6 miles to go we checked the clock, 2:59 pm. The thought of finishing sub 6 hours that had seemed so attainable 6-7 miles back was gone. Kyle reminded me that I was there to finish, I wasn’t there for a time.
We had two more aid stations to hit and we ran most of that last bit at a very gentle 11-12 minute mile pace with a handful of short walk breaks when the outside of my knee flared up. When we hit the last aid station I had for some reason expected that there would be only 1 mile left. As it turned out there were 2, and that knocked me down mentally at that point. I was on empty.
The last mile and a half or so mirrors the finish of the Lake Padden Trail Half Marathon that I’d run 3 weeks prior. There’s something about the layout that makes you feel like you are almost there when you’re not, about three times over. I hit the wall mentally.
Once more it was Kyle to the rescue. The first race he ran with me was the Skagit Flats Half Marathon back in September where he had also coached me in the last 2 miles on my form, breathing, and motivation. I think he channels his cross country coach from high school or something, because he’s very good at it. At Skagit he built me up so that we could pass 5-6 people right in the end. At Bellingham Trail he coached me to not fall apart and walk the finish after all we’d gotten through on the course. It worked – I did keep running.
To a degree I felt like I was outside my body watching us at that point. I remember him telling me not to think about what hurt, but to look out at the lake. It was beautiful and serene right then. I remember coming around the final twist where the finish line became visible. I saw the big red clock and it said 6:36:18 and I thought in my half there mind, “you can get in under 6:37. You have this.” I broke into a sprint at that point, not wise all considered, but I wanted it. Next thing I knew they were handing Kyle and I our finisher’s medals and we were getting plates of just out of the oven wood-fired pizza and big cups of steaming tomato soup to drink. In the end, I placed 130th out of 154 marathoners with a time of 6 hours 36 minutes and 39 seconds.
I want to do a 50k sometime next year, but first I’m going to make myself run at least two more marathons and I’m going to train properly for them. Go big or go home is who I am, sure, but sometimes I need to remember that my mind gets ahead of my body when ascertaining goal capability and that I’m going to render myself injured and couched if I don’t respect and correct that disconnect.
P.S. My first marathon - It was awesome!