When I was pursuing my goal of completing a marathon in all 50 states, my choice for Washington state was the Rock ‘n’ Roll Tukwilla to Seattle Marathon in June. This was based on reviews I had read in Marathonguide.com and elsewhere, including the two race websites. While I am not a fan of the expense and crowds so prevalent in Rock ‘n’ Roll races, they do tend to have some positive aspects. Streets are usually closed for a full 7 hours and the large crowd of participants ensures that I will not get lost. I did the race back in 2010 and remember having a good if not spectacular time. I never really gave the ‘other’ Seattle marathon a second thought.
However, at the end of September my husband approached me with the idea of squeezing another race into my already rigorous 2012 schedule. His motive was clear; he was a Delta Silver Medallion Skymiles member and was very close to achieving Gold status. He knew quite rightly that I would not consider traveling anywhere unless I could fit in a race. I was skeptical and very hesitant to consider adding in another race; I like to plan my events months in advance and finding a popular race that was still open, along with a near-by hotel and decent airfare, seemed too much to ask for. I did remember seeinga brochure about the Seattle Marathon at a recent expo, so I checked the website and discovered that, yes, registration was still available, the host hotel had a room for us, and flights could be had from our regional airport for a reasonable cost. Everything seemed to be falling into place, so I went for it. I registered, reserved our room at the host Westin Hotel downtown, and bought the plane tickets. We were set.
The Friday after Thanksgiving we left Florida for Atlanta, followed by a 4 hour flight to Seattle (and both of us were upgraded to first class, a very pleasant experience). We arrived in Seattle just at rush hour; the weather was cold and drizzly. Our prearranged Shuttle Express took us from Sea-Tac to the Westin, where we checked in, deposited our bags, and made straight for the 4th floor of the hotel, site of the race expo. Surprisingly, it was not too crowded for a Friday evening and I was able to quickly pick up my bib, D-chip, long-sleeved lime green tech tee shirt (all sizes were available), and goody bag, and even spent some time browsing the booths and items for sale. I picked up some brochures about races I might do, including Victoria, Dublin, and a new ultra in Sweden.
By this time both my husband and I were famished. My husband had done his usual very careful research to seek out some of our favorite restaurants. He found that there was a Gordon Biersch Brewery a few blocks away from our hotel so we headed there for some burgers and microbrews. When we were finished, it was about 9 pm Pacific time – and midnight according to our body clocks. Time for bed!
The next day was Saturday and time to relax and do some sightseeing before the race on Sunday. After breakfast (a filling repast at Ruth’s Chris Steak House), we walked to the outdoor Pike Place Public Market to absorb the real flavor and atmosphere of Seattle. This has always been one of our favorite places to browse and shop and this time was no exception. One additional stop was Metsker Maps, along 1st Avenue. Both my husband and I are geography buffs and this store was nirvana to us. We were like kids in a candy store and had to exercise a great deal of restraint to avoid purchasing a host of maps, globes, and books. Another stop was at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Store, where we sampled delectable cheeses and bought several blocks of cheddar for later snacking.
We returned to our hotel room around 11 am to rest for a bit. In digging through my goody bag, I realized that I had no ticket for the course tour I had signed up for, so I returned to the expo to ask at the information desk. What a surprise to see a huge line of people waiting for the doors to open. I was so very glad I had picked up my race things the evening before. The information desk was already open for business so I asked about the missing ticket and was sent to the Solutions table where they quickly resolved the problem. The bus for the tour did not leave until 1 pm, so I decided to go to some of the lectures offered by University of Washington School of Medicine, one of the race sponsors. The best of these was an overview of the course itself (where I learned that there were indeed some hills and that these would come during the last third of the course) and a discussion by the head of the medical team about hypothermia, dehydration, and other medical issues.
At 1 pm I headed to the bus pick-up spot, along with a number of other participants. We waited in the cold for about 20 minutes, until finally two school buses came by and we quickly filled them. This bus tour cost $18 (usually they are free) but nobody collected my ticket so I am not sure how strictly this was enforced. I had also paid for my husband to come along but he decided to stay in our room and watch the critical Florida-Florida State football game. I was definitely glad I took the bus tour because it was extremely helpful. Our guide was one of the course developers and he was very knowledgeable. It was useful to know what to expect and when.
I spent Saturday night getting my race outfit ready; it was not supposed to rain but it was expected to be cold, so I gathered together several layers of tops and a long pair of tech pants, as well as my mittens, handwarmers, hat, and, yes, sunglasses, just in case the sun actually made an appearance. I slept fitfully, not sure if I had made the correct decision in signing up for the marathon run rather than the marathon walk. The walk was to begin an hour before the run (and usually I would opt for the early start), but I was dismayed that as a walker I would not be eligible for age group awards. I decided to take my chances doing the run but I would have to finish in under 6 hours, and that always causes me a lot of anxiety.
At 7 am, my husband walked me the ¾ mile walk to the starting line near the Space Needle. We cheered as the marathon walkers took off at 7:15, followed by the half marathon runners at 7:30 and the half marathon walkers 15 minutes later (that was smart; the runners had a head start and the walkers did not have to worry about being run over by fast runners). Finally, it was time for the marathon runners and that included me. We took off at exactly 8:15. Each race was preceded by either the singing of the Star Spangled Banner or America the Beautiful. Another nice touch. I felt okay once we started moving and I began to run a little, walk a little, until we passed the one mile sign. From that point on until the last 1/3 of the course, I ran the downhills and walked the rest.
The course begins downtown, proceeds along interstate 90 on a floating bridge to Mercer Island, where we pass through a tunnel, turn around inside the tunnel, and then head back across the bridge. The half marathoners maneuvered their way back to town following the last half of the full course (so they did not miss out on the steep hills) while we full marathoners headed south along Lake Washington. On Sunday morning the fog was thick and I could barely see the lake. This was one of those times when I was grateful for taking the course tour because I knew the lake was there even though I couldn’t see it. We followed along this broad boulevard until we reached Seward Park, circled the park, and then returned along the same route. On the way back, the fog had lifted and the view was beautiful. This out-and-back portion was fun at first because I could see all the faster runners ahead of me on their return trip but when I was heading back, it was pretty lonely. There were a few people ahead of me and a few that I knew were behind me but otherwise I was alone. I did meet up with lots of Maniacs who were doing the Quadzilla (the 3 marathons that preceded this, the final and fourth marathon, of the sequence).
Once we reached mile 20, the hills began and these continued through mile 24. Part of this route took us through a shady arboretum and back towards the city. The last couple of miles were on city streets and, except for one final hill at the very end, the route was flat or downhill. The finish line was at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. I crossed the finish in 5:57:42 chip time, just under the 6 hour limit, although there were a number of people still on the course behind me. I was 3rd in my age group, so both my goals of a sub-6 hour finish and placement in my age group were achieved. I was very satisfied.
The medal was rather small but attractive, with an engraving of the Space Needle on its face and ’26.2 marathon finisher’ on the reverse, along with the date. We were handed a bottle of water and then entered the heated hall where we could check our times (one of the few instances where this technology actually worked) and get a banana and some tea or instant hot chocolate. I was surprised that there was no other food but later learned that the ‘real’ food had disappeared several hours earlier. That was okay with me – my husband had made reservations for an early dinner at P. F. Chang’s. I was ready for a shower and a meal. The nap would have to wait this time. It was starting to get cold outside and I wanted to eat and then sleep in that order.
Other important things to note – there were plenty of aid stations and enthusiastic volunteers as well as a lot of medical support staff at 7 medical stations along the course. There were also roving bike monitors. I appreciated knowing the medical aid was available although thankfully I did not need to use it. As we passed the medical stations, the people manning them (doctors, nurses, medics) cheering and clapped for us – another nice touch.
All the events seemed extremely well-organized and efficient, much better than many events I’ve participated in. Walkers who can make the 6 hour time limit without a lot of angst should go for it. For those who need the extra hour, I would encourage them to try the marathon walk (rather than the run). The course is scenic and challenging and the city of Seattle definitely fun to visit.