Seattle and The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Marathon

Elise & Josh in SeattleOn June 7th Elise and I flew to Seattle for a short vacation together, and for me to run the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. The trip started with a early evening direct flight from Austin to Seattle. We arrived at 11 p.m. PST, and had a bitch of a time getting transportation from the airport to our rental apartment in Wallingford (northern suburb of Seattle). It took us an hour of shopping all of the rental agencies to learn that there were no available cars for rent. So we finally hailed an Uber. I don’t think we went to bed until 2 a.m. I couldn’t tell you the last time I stayed up until 2 a.m.

For some reason we woke up early on Thursday and walked to the nearby grocery store for food and other sundries to sustain us for our 5-day trip. We stopped at Julia’s, a local cafe, for a hearty breakfast. Elise had eggs benedict. I had the corned beef hash. Then we did all the tourist things. We walked to Fremont to see the Fremont Troll. Then found a bus stop and took a ride to explore Pike Place Market. We had an early dinner at the Athenian Seafood Restaurant. I got the fish stew. Elise had fish & chips. Elise soon decided she didn’t want just fish & chips, so we traded meals. After dinner we tooled around the market & downtown a bit, and got to experience the great gum wall.

On Friday we did even more tourist stuff. We took the bus into the city again to rent a car, and then started our day’s adventure on a underground walking tour of Pioneer Square, and learned the history of Seattle’s sea level settlement and the plumbing & backwash adventures thereof. We also learned of local development, architecture and Chief Seattle. Next we walked over to the market for some [more] fish & chips at Ivar’s, which is a must-do in Seattle. We rode on the Seattle Great Wheel and enjoyed the views of downtown and Elliot Bay. Then we went on a self-guided tour of the Olympic Sculpture Garden. Two days before my marathon and I think we’ve covered 20,000 steps so far. I’m supposed to be taking it easy. Lastly we drove up to Kerry Park for a really pretty hilltop view of Seattle.

Elise & Josh at Pike Place MarketOn Saturday we hopped in the car and drove out to Renton to have lunch with our friend Jen and her daughter Addison, with whom Mara went to preschool this past year. We visited for a bit and then headed back to our apartment so yours truly could get off my feet and do some resting. Elise drove back into the city to do some gift shopping and to pick up dinner for us. Note to self: penne, garlic & tomato spaghetti sauce, ground turkey and mushrooms make for a great pre-marathon meal.

The race started at 7 a.m. Sunday morning. Since the race is in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, we had to get there extra early as they don’t allow vehicle parking at the start. So that meant we had to get me to an elementary school near the finish line to catch a bus that hauled runners to the start of the race. Buses started running at 4:50 a.m. I tried going to bed around 9:30 on Saturday night. I read for a while, thinking that would lull me to sleep. I think I might’ve fallen asleep somewhere shortly after 11 p.m. I’d set my alarm for 2 a.m., and 2 a.m. came quickly. I don’t think I woke up during the night, but my sleep was pretty restless, which is to be expected the night before a big race. Thankfully I’d slept pretty well on Friday night.

We left our apartment at 4:15 a.m. and made the hour drive east into the mountains. Thankfully the sun starts coming out around 4:45, so we were able to see the beautiful landscapes as we drove through the forest. I hopped out of the car and loaded onto a bus with a bunch of other runners and after a short wait, we started the trek 30 more miles east into the mountains.

We arrived at the starting area with plenty of time to spare, so I had time to check in, get my bib, go to the bathroom a couple times, meditate, and shiver my ass off. It was 40-degrees outside and this Texas boy coming from 95-degree summer temperatures was having a hard time keeping warm. Thankfully they had tents, so I waited until 6:55 before heading to the start line after ingesting a chocolate coconut Gu Roctane and chasing it with 12 ounces of water and Emergen-C. I lined up with ~700 people, tried to listen to the pre-race announcements, and when the clock struck 7 a.m., the gun sounded and we were all off.

As mentioned above, I tried to listen to the pre-race announcements. Since I wasn’t able to hear any of it as the races PA system was terrible, I missed the part where we were told that we’d run a few hundred yards to the east and then turn around at an orange cone. 700 people running in a straight line, and then turning right back around to run in the opposite direction. I was confused and a bit worried there for a good 30 seconds. I was mostly worried that someone was going to trip me and I’d get injured a tenth of a mile into the race. Thankfully I just took it slow & easy and kept my distance from other runners.

Another quarter mile in and it was time to go into the tunnel. The cool thing about this race is that it starts out by going through 2.5 mile train tunnel through the mountains. It’s pitch black, cold, quiet and wet. After you get a couple hundred yards into the tunnel, you can see the exit, over two miles away. And that’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Since my GPS watch couldn’t get a signal, I had to pace myself by feel alone. And that proved to be hard because we were still very early into the race, and while it’s a relatively small race, I was running amongst a lot of people, which made for a lot of dodging and weaving.

When the end of the tunnel was a quarter mile away, I switched off my headlamp and took off my hat and pullover. There was a volunteer at the tunnel exit who collected headlamps and other drop-offs. After lightening my load, it was time to settle in. It wasn’t long before mile 3 beeped on my watch. I looked down to find that I was two minutes behind pace. I worried briefly, shook it off, and then kicked into a bit of a quicker pace. I’d guess it was 42-degrees out and I felt great. I settled in behind a group of 4 guys and kept at a 7-minute pace. In order to hit my goal time and hopefully qualify for Boston, I wanted to keep my pace between 7:15 and 7:17.

Mile 5 came and I took another Gu, and slowed at an aid station for water. Settled back in just under a 7 minute mile.

Mile 10 came and I took another Gu, and slowed at an aid station for water. Settled back in just under a 7 minute mile.

Mile 13 came. The halfway point. I took inventory and decided that I felt great. I kept my pace and decided I might just crush this race.

Mile 14 came and I decided that I’d most likely made up for the slower-than-I’d-wanted first 3 miles, and that I need to pee. So I found a spot in the woods that would make for a good quick pee break and took care of business. I took a pee break at mile 1 in Houston last year and I think that’s what cost me my entry to Boston. This time it only took me 17 seconds to pee. Believe me, I counted.

Back on the trail and settled into a 6:45 pace at mile 15.

Mile 16 came and I took another Gu, and slowed at an aid station for water. Settled back in to a 6:45 pace.

RUNNINGNote that this is a beautiful course along the John Wayne Pioneer trail, through the mountains, lush pine forests, over trestle bridges, along waterfalls and the flowing Snoqualmie River. The race is all downhill at a steady grade decrease of 2000-feet across the full 26.2 miles, so it actually feels like it’s flat. I’d never been to Washington, so everything was new and green and beautiful to me. The course is absolutely stunning.

Mile 17 comes quickly and I’m still holding strong. However, my brain kicked in. Mile 17 is where I started coming unraveled in the Austin Marathon back in February. The last thing I wanted was for brain to start telling me things. Running is 90% mental. The other 10% is mental. I told my brain to shut it, and I kept going.

Miles 18-20 are dangerous too, as those are notorious “walls.” The wall is that proverbial point where your glycogen stores are depleted, your brain lets the monkey get onto your back, your legs stop working, your stomach hurts, and a myriad of other things. Mile 18 was actually my fastest mile at a 6:27 pace. And I started passing a bunch of folks at this point.

I stayed steady at mile 21.

Mile 22 came and I took another Gu, and slowed at an aid station for water. Settled back in to a 6:45 pace.

I think I got a cup of Gatorade at mile 23. I can’t remember. It was somewhere in the back half of the race that I drank some Gatorade. I just wanted some extra sugar.

I think it was at mile 24 where I almost started crying. I started thinking about my dad. I told him that I was going to do it. I was going to get a personal best in this beautiful marathon and that I was going to qualify by a large margin and run the Boston Marathon next year. My dad never knew me as the runner that I’ve become. I think he’d be proud of me.

I shook off the emotions (because that’s what Dad would’ve wanted me to do), and dropped the hammer. I kept an even pace through miles 25 and 26, and then saw the finish line. I sprinted as hard as I could on beaten legs and saw Elise at the finish and heard her scream, “Go Josh!”

I saw the finish line (gun clock) at 3:05:55. I’d beaten my goal time by six minutes. My race results are here.

I gave Elise a big sweaty hug. I don’t remember what she or I said. I was on cloud nine. I think she followed me around as I kept walking to keep my legs from seizing. I grabbed some food and something to drink and tried to just keep walking. Elise wound up volunteering for the race to help with food and water, so she had to get back to “work.” I hung around the food and tried to keep replenishing and getting lots of water.

After hanging out at the finish for about an hour, we finally hopped in the car and headed back to our apartment in Seattle. Elise had to do some work for vacation bible school, and I just sort of hung out with her on the patio in basked.

Later that afternoon we drove back out to Renton to have dinner with John, Jen and Addison. We had a nice seafood dinner at Wildfin, and it was good to hang out with friends and have a restful evening. We went back to John & Jen’s house to hang out for a bit, and then it was time to head out and get Elise to the airport. Elise took the red eye back to Austin so she could start her week as director of vacation bible school bright and early on Monday morning.

Yours truly headed back to the apartment and took it easy for the night. As exhausted as I was, I was quite restless. I didn’t sleep very well that night, and had to get up in the morning to clean up the apartment, turn in our keys and head to the airport in time to return our rental car and catch my plane back home.

I sat next to a runner and mom of three on the flight home. We talked about running quite a bit.

Photos can be seen here.