Monday, February 23, 2009

Birch Bay: The 24 Hour Race

Everyone’s life is speckled with some craziness. Good or bad, they are the stories we talk about and define who we are. My last 24 hours made for one of those stories … obviously. It was a full 24, but I’ll try to keep it concise, which is very unlikely.

Being on Active Duty, I sometimes have the pleasure/opportunity to provide extra service for my country. It comes in the form of someone telling me we’re doing an exercise and I get to work my days off. These exercises aren’t the kind that athletes do and working extra days does not mean extra pay. My shifts are 13 hours, add in travel, life and real exercise, my sleep number is pretty low (I’m not talking about a Sleep Number Bed by Select Comfort).

My plan for the weekend was to compete in the Birch Bay Marathon to test my early season fitness. It’s an important test for my first big goal of 2009 (run the Lincoln Marathon under 6:00 pace). With this military exercise, I couldn’t make Birch Bay since it’s a 370 mile one-way drive to the farthest NW corner of the state (Blane, WA). That was until I got a one-word call, “ENDEX!” That means end exercise! Hallelujah! I’m one tired hombre and needed some sleep.

This is where things get interesting. When opportunity comes knocking, I always answer. Birch Bay was an option and I had part of Saturday to prepare. I’m hardcore like that. I was in business mode. I got online, to check race information, travel distance and come up with a game plan. As far as running goes, I’m in my best run shape ever for this time of year … perhaps any time of year. So I set an aggressive plan to run this marathon in under 2:40:00. Even .01 seconds under was good enough. I program the Garmin, look over previous year’s journal information and I’m good to go.

Unlike my running, my biking is about as bad as it’s ever been. It took me 4 tries to ride over 20 MPH. Granted it’s cold and I used my road bike with cold weather gear, but for me it’s very bad. It would be like Roger not being able to ride 25 MPH. I’m exaggerating on that last one with the shout out to a local uber biker. Because my biking is so bad, I’m really trying to work hard on it. After 21 tries, I broke 21 MPH, so it’s progress, even if it is very little and frankly very depressing (not joking about that). After this marathon, I planned to ride the 25K course, which is held in conjunction with the marathon.

After everything was packed, I hit the sack (a king size adjustable Tempurpedic Deluxe in an altitude tent with filtered and purified air). I’d never spare any money on a bed, especially since I have a sleeping disorder (not referring to my job). A couple days ago I cranked the altitude to over 2 miles. My lungs and throat didn’t totally love it. Anyway, my sleep ended up being a brief 75 minute period. At least I took a 2.25 hour nap earlier after the ENDEX.
It's too small a map to see, but Blane is at the top of the map (in Washington), just slightly to the left of the "W" in Washington typed on the map. I was running about 1 mile from Canada and a few feet from the water. That's about as close as NW Washington as you can get without swimming.

I hit the road at 1:00 AM. That’s when I’m normally working or working out. Cruising at 75 MPH (yes I was speeding a little bit) and listening to some great country tunes, I was happy to be on my way. Three hours later, my car runs out of gas about 100 miles early. I’m not sure what happened there, but I’m only about 4 miles from North Bend. Now I’m really glad I brought the bike, which I ride down I-90 around 4 AM with no lights, but it’s better than walking. Ironically, every station is closed. I was hoping to borrow a gas can and take a gallon back to my car. Instead, I’m digging through the trash for a 32 oz. cup. It’s a lot less humiliating digging in trash when nobody is watching. I find a cup, use my card to buy gas and head back trying to ride with one hand and hold a cup with the other while avoiding rumble strips, which feel like they could rattle a race bike to pieces. I had to be creative, but I got the gas in the car, which gets 45 MPG unlike the cars these days that boast 37 MPH highway (what a bunch of crap that our auto industry is going backward).

After buying gas that goes directly into the tank, I’m on my way. At Issaquah the interstate is blocked, so I take a back road. It’s a good thing I was ahead of schedule, because driving 370 miles to miss a race would be annoying. As I headed north on I-5, my enthusiasm began to wane. It was getting to be around my bed time and my right hamstring hates long road trips and locks up to show me how much it cares about my hopes and dreams. With all the time to think, the 25K is starting to seem a lot more appealing. It’s 10.7 miles shorter, so I’ll be done sooner despite starting 30 minutes later, I won’t hurt as badly afterward, will allow me to work on my speed over distance more and did I mention it’s 10.7 miles shorter. I’ve trained hard this year, but as I drove, I had plenty of time to reflect on how I probably don’t have a good enough base, especially during this tough week and being sleep deprived after a long road trip

Marathon start with the sand and water in the background at Birch Bay State Park.

Long story short, I ran the 25K instead. After registering, I went back to my car to nap, waking only to snap a couple photos of the marathon start. My 25K goal was 5:48/mile. My PR is 1:34:06 on a very tough Newman Lake course. I started out running with a nice guy who’s mean coach told him to run 5:30 pace. There was no chance of me doing that, so I sent him on his way. After taking water at mile 2.5, I got a side ache (no more water for me). I was slightly ahead of pace until a big hill in the sixth mile. I knew I’d get it back on the downhill. Best of all, side aches are far less painful when climbing, so I cranked the effort. At the top, I caught the leader (way off his 5:30 goal), so we had a race on our hands. He pulled away again, but I was feeling great. On the other hand my quads felt like they were cramping. It ended up being muscle soreness. Other than the quads, I felt strong, so I ran harder to compensate for the power loss. The next five miles averaged 5:43.4, but my legs got so sore that it felt like mile 25 in a marathon. I fought all the way to the line, knowing I’d pay for it as I slowed to 6:10, 6:20 and 6:33 pace for the final 2.62 miles. My time was 1:32:20, but the course was 15.62 miles, not 15.535. My actual pace was 5:54, so I beat my time and pace PR by large margins. I’m really happy about, especially considering how things went awry. I was second to a 1:30:08, which is about where I’d be without the quad problem. I think I made the right choice in backing out of the marathon. It’s hard for me to be smarter than I am tough.

Following the run, I warmed up in my car, then headed out for a ride. I thought it would be good for recovery on my legs that felt like they did after my first marathon (I’ve done about 2 dozen now). It was tough, but I barely averaged over 15 MPH. Afterwards I chatted with the race director (Joel Pearson) and his dad (Jim Pearson). Birch Bay put my run run streak at 1,881 days; however, some have done far more. Joel and Jim are perfect examples. Joel, in his early 20s, has run every single day, over a mile each day, for over 15 years. This isn’t like the people who work out every single day, save a rare exception every couple weeks or so. I’m talking 15 years without a single exception. If you think that’s a lot, his dad’s a legend. He’s 3rd on the all-time list and about to reach 40 years of running every single day. That makes 5 years, 1 month and 23 days seem like a drop in the bucket. We fellow streakers took our picture together, representing around 60 years of streaking among three people.

Joel, Jim and me at the finish line after I was walking again.

Following the race, I drove to my aunt/uncle’s house in Bellingham. They wanted to feed me, but I was feeling too ill from the sleep deprivation and travel. The 25K PR/bike ride may have contributed as well. Instead I took a shower and an hour nap (in that order). Again I wasn’t interested in eating, so we visited for a while before I hit the road. My return trip included a trip to Foot Zone (a Wenatchee Marathon sponsor). I had a coupon for free shoes, which I was able to use just before closing. Chelsea (5:02 1600m runner) and Aiden (9:10 3200m runner) were absolutely awesome. Don’t try to steal shoes there, ‘cause that girl will run you down. The owner is very lucky. My coupon was expired, but that happens when a runner from eastern Washington drives to central Washington and wins a coupon for a store in Western Washington. I can’t just drop by and pick up my prize on my way to work. I got my free pair of shoes and was on my way, but not without a stop at McDonalds. I haven’t eaten out for a couple months and was finally getting my appetite back.

Aunt Geri (Red Cross Boss) and Uncle Don (Bellingham Fire Chief).

I was getting a bit tired on my way home, so I planned to stop for gas and take a nap. Unfortunately, the largest snow flakes I’ve ever seen were quickly turning the road into a mess. I got my fuel and tried to outrace the storm. It woke me up (competition does that). After getting to Vantage, the weather had cleared and I was sufficiently amped (no relation to the energy drink, which I do like). The rest of the drive home was then a race to beat the 24 hour mark from when I left. I made it with 36 minutes to spare. Rather than making it a full 24 hours, I left everything in the car and went to bed. The end.