Sunday, May 18, 2008

Beat the Bridge 8K

What, I still haven't written about Bloomsday and I'm already writing about today's run? Well, I'm trying that new method, writing about the race shortly thereafter before I forget everything.
So, today was the Beat the Bridge race in Seattle. I finally signed up a week or two ago, just before the online deadline. I had been vascillating over whether or not to do it. I had some things going on at work that would have interfered, but that all got postponed and freed me up, schedule-wise. Then there was the question of whether I was burned out on races, after doing four in a one month period (April 5 - May 4). I guess I wasn't, because I finally bit the bullet and clicked in my registration. (There was also my weariness of fundraising expectations, which seems really shallow, but there's only so many times you want to go to the well of friends and family, or your own pocket. I compromised by making my own donation, and calling it good.)

Bad omens, or at least questionable omens, continued to arise. This weekend spring arrived with a vengeance. Our 50 degree days of weeks past skyrocketed to a hellish 90 degrees on Saturday. Luckily, the weather forecast promised cooler 70-ish temps on Sunday. I prayed they were right.

Finally, my own bad luck peaked on Saturday afternoon when, for no good reason, I threw my back out. I was at my parents' house and innocently bending over the freezer drawer to scoop out a spoonful of ice cream when, like a lightning bolt or electric shock, my entire lower back spasmed painfully. I ate the ice cream (of course), then slowly straightened myself out and attempted to stretch out the soreness. After a period of recovery (which was not on my afternoon schedule), I was able to walk comfortably enough to head down to the beach for my planned long walk. Thank goodness I had already decided not to run on Saturday!

Saturday night I went to the Norwegian Independence Day dinner in Ballard and, instead of carb loading, filled up on salmon, meatballs, cucumber salad, and Norwegian hot dogs (pølse wrapped in lefse). Heavy stomach!

Throughout the night whenever I woke up to go to the bathroom I felt the stiffness in my lower back. I dosed myself with Advil every four hours, hoping to stave off some pain. At least I wasn't suffering from the heat (and believe me it was warm), because I brought up a window fan from the basement and my bedroom was delightfully cool!

I set the alarm for 5:30 Sunday morning and got up a little before 6:00. My mom was supposed to arrive at 6:15 but it doesn't take long to get ready for a race. Just throw on my clothes and shoes and make sure I have my race number, chip, and other accessories packed in a bag (as well as a breakfast cookie and banana for breakfast on the road). We actually left my house at 6:20 or so, which is a timeliness record I believe! Of course we could not leave town without my stop at Starbucks. It's just down the road and even though we got there a few minutes before their Sunday opening time of 6:30, they were already opened. (As opposed to some Starbucks I remember in England, where I stood outside the door until they were good and ready to open!)

We headed down to Husky Stadium knowing very little about how this event would progress. I knew that the start time was 8:30, and it started on Montlake in front of Husky Stadium. Not much else. Particularly since the brochure I printed had very very small type, I had not bothered to try to read the details! Oh, of course I knew that you had to try to run across the University Bridge by 9 a.m.

We parked in a very very big parking lot north of Husky Stadium, and walked toward the starting area. It was about 7:30 (and would have been 7:15 if we hadn't spent too much time going roundabout trying to find a "better" situated parking area). It was still quite cool, even breezy, which bode well for the race but not so good for my mother who would be hanging out waiting for me to finish (and was dressed for warm weather, a la yesterday).

I felt a little unsettled by the big crowd, and was still concerned about my choice of the dark orange (slowest) race bib. To recap: I signed myself up for the "more than 8 minute mile" group, which was accurate. However that would give me only 20 minutes to get to the bridge. Should be no problem (2 miles!) but who knew whether the crowd would hold me back?

On the good side, there were indoor restrooms in the stadium and no lines to speak of!

I really didn't feel like a warm-up run, but knew I needed it. So I parked my mother on a bench and took off around the stadium. Slowly. Painfully. Oh my goodness, my back was still sore. Hopefully the warm-up run would work the kinks out! I ran for 20 or 25 minutes, then quickly hit the restroom once more before make my way toward the starting line.

The procedure was that the (fastest) blue bibs started at 8:30, the light orange bibs at 8:35, and the dark orange bibs at 8:40. But as I worked my way through the crowd (wanting to be at the front of the dark oranges), I found that dark and light oranges were mixing quite freely. As the airhorn sounded at 8:35, I asked a (dark orange) person beside me whether she was waiting at the start line or just going. "Going!" she said, so I did too. I crossed the start line at about 8:37, giving me at least a three minute cushion and putting me ahead of lots of slower runners.

Even so, even though I was theoretically in a group of runners who were faster than me, I was quickly passing lots of people in the beginning. Because of the bridge deadline, I felt compelled to push the pace right away. As I passed the one-mile mark, then approached the two-mile point before the bridge, I checked my watch and calculated that I was doing pretty well, probably under a nine-minute pace. There was a water station before the two-mile mark, which is a good thing given the heat, but I couldn't imagine stopping for water at this point! Only two miles in? Maybe if it had been hot like Saturday.

A word about bridges. The first bridge we crossed was the Montlake Bridge, near the beginning of the run. As I ran over the metal grating (which I could feel through my shoes), I vowed "never again"—the next time I ran over a bridge I would stay off the grates. So. There I was at University Bridge. Did I run to the side where there were no grates? No. It was right down the middle over the grating once again. Oh well. I don't think it slowed me down particularly, it was just awkward.

I noticed, after I crossed the bridge, a number of people walking. Perhaps they put all their energy into getting across the bridge? I focused myself on keeping up my pace over the remaining three miles. Compared to my recent races, this one was practically flat. In fact, I didn't really notice any discernable uphills, but appreciated several downhills! (There must have been an uphill somewhere....)

Somewhere around three to three and a half miles in, we turned back onto Montlake. This time we were running northward, back past the stadium. I looked for my mother on the bench where I'd left her—in fact, I crossed the street to her side—but she wasn't there. I wondered if she had given up and gone back to the car already.

North, north, north on Montlake—never has a half mile or so seemed so long. Finally, just after passing a four mile balloon, we turned to head toward the finish. My goal, based on when I thought I had started, was to finish at 9:20 on my watch. It was 9:09 when I passed what appeared to be four miles. (It's a little confusing, because although we had the four mile balloon out in the street with us, there was also a four mile marker on the roadside as we were heading back. So I don't know which was the actual four mile spot.) (Although, n.b., having finally obtained my time on Tuesday—writing in the future again—I'm inclined to think the later mark was the one.)

Because I hadn't read the brochure closely (and because I'm clueless), I didn't realize the race ended inside Husky Stadium. So the route veered off of Montlake into a road leading behind the stadium complex. Then—to my best recollection—we ran around the end of the stadium and finally into the stadium.

As I attempted to put on my final speed push, I could see the clock ahead of me. Of course, the clock reflected the time since the actual start, not since my start. Still. It was at 48 minutes plus, and my immediate goal was to cross the finish before 49 minutes. I ran as hard as I could (within reason), and threw myself across the finish line—just past 49 minutes.

Of course that wouldn't really matter in the end, since my starting delay would eventually be subtracted to give me my net chip time. I hoped, since my watch had read 8:37 when I started, that my time would be under 42 minutes, which would definitely be a record for me (for a five mile race). (I don't want to raise false expectations, so I will say now that my actual time turned out to be 42:37—quite respectable if not quite as fast as I'd hoped!)

After I crossed the finish line and stopped running I immediately had the urge to throw up. I did manage to avoid it! That's not as bad as it sounds. Usually when I feel like throwing up at the end of a race it means that I've run hard and can expect a pretty good time.

After relinquishing my race chip to one of the collectors, I paused to look around. A giant screen above the finish area displayed the runners as they were finishing, big enough to be viewed even from the stands. I felt quite regretful that I hadn't known to expect this, so that my mother could have watched from inside the stadium. Of course she could have found out about the finish line herself, had she done any enquiring while she was waiting during the race.

Before leaving I strolled through the exhibitors stalls, picking up a few giveaways and signing up for a couple of drawings. Maybe I'll win a ticket on JetBlue, or a gift certificate for hair removal!

As I headed back to find my mother, I walked around the end of the stadium where finishers were still coming in. Obviously this lot looked slower and more ragged than the faster runners. In the midst of orange bibs (both dark and light), I saw one man with a blue bib. So tell me, what is a guy who signed up to run faster than seven minutes per mile doing in a group of people averaging 11 or 12 minute miles? (My mother did tell me that she saw several people, including a blue bib, arrive late and start after most everyone else had left, but I would think that Mr. Fast Blue Bib should have been able to make up the time, if he really is that fast. But I can tell you, he was not running that fast at the finish!)

I found my mother back on her bench where I had left her. She had moved to another spot during the race but returned to meet me. By this time the sun had warmed things up and the bench wasn't quite so cool and shady (but not yet too hot either).

We strolled back to the car, then spent the next half hour or so in the car inching toward the exit. Apparently all the cars parked in the lot were funneling toward the same exit—which meant a lot of pauses. In between we tried to prevent line-cutters from squeezing in front of us (without causing any parking lot violence).

At least, once we got out we were at the north end of Montlake, heading right onto 25th and an easy trip up to 65th and the Sunflour Cafe (for the traditional post race breakfast). It was still only about 10:30, and for once there wasn't a huge crowd in front of us at the cafe. We had a short wait then got a nice wall table.

Of course I ordered a cinnamon roll—what would a race be without one? Then we couldn't resist the crab cake breakfast, which was a yummy crab cake with pesto scrambled eggs, crispy red potatoes (I only ate the crispy bits, in an effort to show some self control), and thick slices of wheat toast (which I ate, despite already having half a cinnamon roll).

(This lavish breakfast, combined with the Norwegian smorgasbord on Saturday night, may be the reason my pants are tight this week. Okay, that and all the other bits and pieces—like the ice cream out of the carton—I was picking at all weekend. Something about free time and grazing...bad news!)

I had really good intentions for the rest of the afternoon. I just needed to have a little bit of rest (especially with my sore back, you know). So I headed over to my parents to lay on the lawn swing for a while.... and there went the afternoon.

Early that evening I started looking at the Beat the Bridge website for race results. They were supposed to be posted by 10 p.m., but I thought they might be early. Well, by 10 p.m.... nothing. I even dragged myself out of bed at 11 p.m. to check (in vain). I was obsessed by my hopes of a sub-42 minute time! (As it turned out, in vain.)

Finally on Monday morning, the link to the results came up. I put in my name and... nothing. I put in my race number (and I had to go look at the photo my mother took with her cell phone), and it came up with somebody else's name, a male who was 10 years younger than me and had a time 10 minutes slower than mine!

I sent off an email to the timing folks to see what the problem was. Then I started obsessing about what the problem could be. Did it have something to do with me starting in the wrong group? But I thought the chip timing was supposed to take care of that. Would I be disqualified for "jumping the gun"?

On Tuesday I got an answer to my email, simply explaining that the listings were being updated, giving me my time, and congratulating me on the race. I went back to the website, put in my name, and was happy to see that I did exist after all! With a time of 42:37 (pace 8:35), I finished 48 in my age group (out of 196) and 404 of all women (out of 2000+). Okay, so I'm not winning any prizes here, but 75th percentile for gender/age and 80th percentile for gender overall is not bad! (Yes, I did look up "percentile" to make sure I was using it correctly. But I remember from the SAT's in high school that a higher percentile is good!)

So in the end I got away with starting in the wrong group. But next year for sure, if I do this race again I am signing up for the faster (not fastest) group from the beginning! Maybe it will even help me get a time under 40 minutes. (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)

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