I ran the Yakima River Canyon Marathon this past Saturday in
Yakima, WA. It's a beautiful course on the Yakima River Canyon road between
Ellensburg and Selah. It's a race I've been training for pretty hard this past
winter and little bit of spring we've had so far. My goal was 2:43:52, which is
6:15/mile pace. It was a lofty goal, especially with a p.r. of 2:51:11 set last
year at the Napa Marathon. Taking a little over 7 minutes off my p.r. wasn't
going to be easy. But my shorter winter road races, a few trail ultras, Pilot
Butte repeats, and weekly track sessions told me I was fit and ready to run my
After looking at the course profile the day before the race, I knew the first 1/2 was a bit easier than the second 1/2, so I didn't think a negative split was going to be in the cards. I thought a 1:21/1:22 would be pretty nice. I purposely started a bit slow so I could ease into this road thing. By mile 5, I was in 10th or 11th place, and felt warmed-up and great. That's about where the first hill was. So I just eased up that mile in 6:10 and was in 6th place at the top.
In this marathon, I decided to try something new (even though you're not supposed to try new things on race day) - I looked at my watch at every mile. I liked it because it gave my brain something to do (trying to figure out splits late in the race can be challenging on one's brain). After my 5 warm-up miles, I was running anywhere between 6:10 (if there was a little upward bump), down to a few sub-6s, including 5:40 for one mile (which was fine because it was a nice downhill).
A "weird" thing I did at Yakima was to carry a water bottle. This is always a question for me to do in road marathons (the few that I actually run). There are aid stations every 2-3 miles, but what if I get thirsty, or need to swallow down a gu, before that? Since I'm so used to carrying bottles in ultras, I decided to do it here, too. I figured I would just go through the bottle once, then when it was done, drop it at an aid station.
About mile 8, as I was sucking down my third gu (one right before the start, then one every 4 miles), I moved up to 4th place and was still feeling great. As I passed a couple guys here to move up, I also saw the lead pack of 3 guys up the road. They looked to be over a minute ahead, and I wasn't in a big hurry to catch up. I just continued running my own race, solo in the beauty of the canyon.
A bit before I reached mile 13, I looked up and saw the lead pack passing the 1/2 way point. I reached 13.1 in 1:21:00. Right on pace and feeling great. A mile later, my bottle was empty but I didn't want to drop it yet. So I quickly re-filled at the aid station and headed for the first "big" hill of about a mile long and almost 300' vertical. The lead pack quickly fell apart and I pushed pretty hard going up. A few miles later, back on the flats, I quickly passed the early leader and was now in 3rd.
I kept rolling along at 6:08-6:18 miles, now working a bit harder to keep up my pace, but still feeling in control. Passing by mile 20, I was happy this race didn't make a big deal of it. A lot of road marathons have some sort of "wall" at mile 20 for people to run through. But really, 20 is just a number and just one of 26.2 miles of the marathon. I was glad I kept and re-filled my bottle, because by 21, I had emptied it again. With only 5.2 miles to go, I finally decided to toss it (my friend Van was there, so she was nice enough to pick it up for me), and charge ahead for the big hill. From 21.4 to 22.9, we climbed almost 400'. I noticed the 2nd place guy was struggling going up, so I pushed pretty hard. I felt good going up, and still strong heading down. When I reached the next aid station just past 23, I was feeling tired and very thirsty. So I choked down my 6th gu with two cups of water. Second place had come back to life and was out of reach.
With only 3.2 mostly downhill miles to go, my time was 2:24. I knew I was going to be close to my goal. I pushed hard, reaching 24 in 2:30:29 (6:16 pace). The next mile, to the last aid station at mile 25, was slightly uphill, and I started falling apart a bit (2:37:10). My feet were making that "slap, slap" sound, and I was tired. I was really thirsty and looked forward to a big cup of water. A volunteer handed me one, and the little bit that was in there mostly flew out of the cup before I could get any in my mouth, and the rest, I mostly choked on.
I saw Van again and she gave me one more rah-rah, which helped make me stop feeling sorry for myself and get my butt to the finish line as quick as possible. The last mile was a nice, gentle downhill, so I was able to push it a bit in the home stretch. With 100 meters to go, I saw Kelly and my 7 year old nephew Parker, and I was happy. I tried to give Parker a high-5, but he really wasn't interested - throwing rocks seemed more fun to him. Then I uncharacteristically slowed a bit before the finish so I could relish the day and my accomplishment.
I finished in 2:44:35, 3rd place overall out of 458 finishers. A marathon p.r. by 6:36. Yeah, I was 43 seconds off my goal, but I was happy. And totally wasted. I left everything on the course. I don't think I could have run a better race. I don't know if it was the "perfect" race, but it was definitely my best race to date.
Thanks to Kelly, Mom, Dad, Parker, and Nana for being at the race as my cheerleaders. That was awesome! Thanks to all of my training buddies (especially Sascha) for kicking my butt in training runs, on the track, and on the butte, to get me fit enough to pull this off.
If you're interested, here's a cool photo gallery taken of the race by the local Yakima paper. Can you pick me out in two of the pictures?
Now it's time to hit the trails hard for my upcoming summer full of trail ultras. Hopefully this "speed" I got from the marathon will carry over.
I hope to see many of you in Sisters on April 15 for the Rumble. http://www.footzonebend.com/rumble/