Getting here was easy - the start is right by the Experience Music Project, just down the hill from the Sonics' Key Arena. For over a decade, I've been trekking up here to follow GP and the boyz on the hardwood. And, for seven years, this was my back yard at work; a half mile from the start, under the Monorail tracks, is my corner office from those days. So I know how to drive in the back way, and park at the "free" AAA lot three blocks from Memorial Stadium. No traffic, no hassles, I know right where to go. Cheryl and I merge with the other 10,000 runners and assorted hangers on, crossing blocked off streets, past the EMP, and towards the Memorial Stadium, where we'll finish on the astro-turf field.
I climb the steps of the south stands, searching for my assigned row and seat, so I can leave my stuff to pick up after the race. A very clever and convenient system - the stands are covered, keeping us dry before and after the race, should a late November shower (more probable than not) bracket the run. I've already had my oatmeal at home, and finish my Metabolol about 45 minutes ahead of our 8:15 start. Cheryl lounges while I go though stretches, and take a few laps and sprints on the carpet down below. As I round the finish chute, volunteers are unfolding THOUSANDS of mylar sheets, ready for finishers to warm up in. A huge mound of shiny, crinkly blankets quivers under its own weight, sounding like the Beatle's plasticene forest in "Lucy in the Sky..."
Fifteen minutes before the start, I strip down. An overcast day, with wet air, but no drops, and about 42F. I've got shorts, yellow turtleneck full zipper long sleeved bike shirt, and a trusty Timex cap. No gloves, tights, or ear gear, like a lot of others are wearing. I intend to warm up fast, and stay warm while running.
I head up to where I think the 80th %ile group are - the back of the runners, the front of the joggers. In the middle of the crowd, it's warm; there's lots of room to stretch one last time, and do a few calf jumps. My heart rate is up at 100. I pan around a bit, feeling not only the body warmth of us all packed in together, but the static buzz from everyone's anticipation. They've all pointed, planned, prepped, waited, peaked, and now they're here, ready to test themselves against the clock, and the sheer energy of a mass start road race.
Under the Monorail, we groan through a few formalities from the dignitaries, then an air horn, and we're off.
I've got a plan for this race: I want to ramp my heart rate
up from 143 to 151 at the end, AND do miles in 7:30 to 8 minutes.
I also want to do the first mile at a heart rate of 132. Everyone
seems intent on sprinting up Fifth Avenue, so I feel somewhat
like a fool while those behind me race by. It's my first running
race - ever - so I'm worried that maybe I seriously misjudged
my pacing, and my speed relative to the pack. But after a mile
or so the crowd around me had thinned a bit, and most seem to
be going my speed.
Leaving downtown. we hit a freeway on-ramp curving in front of the baseball and football fields south of Pioneer Square. Once free of Seattle's skyscrapers, we approach the fastest walkers, who started 15 minutes ahead of us. Some are ambling, some are powering forward with seriously intent arm swings. But all seem to have no clue - despite hundreds going by them every minute - that they are IN THE WAY. We are squeezed into one lane, with a small shoulder, but no sidewalk, and nothing but air on either side. Bobbing and weaving, trying to avoid the bunched walkers in front, and the sprinters coming from behind, I head onto the HOV lane of I-90, the main highway over Lake Washington to the Eastside.
Next landmark - the Mt. Baker tunnel. Carved at great expense into the hills between Seattle and the lake, this multi-billion dollar cave is quiet save for the incessant shuffle/plop of all our feet. Perfectly flat, free from weather; friskier runners pick up the pace. I hold my heart rate steady at 151 (so much for the plan - I got to the max within 3-4 miles!) and let them go by.
Leaving the tunnel, we wind down a 270 deg ramp off the freeway, to head north along the lake. The marathoners, starting 15 minutes behind us, will go straight across the lake, through Mercer Island, and back again. This marks about our half-way point. I check the time - If I want to break 1:40 (a purely artificial standard), I'll need to do a negative split - run faster on the back half than the front. With my HR nearing 152/3, I decide to go for it.
Here, we are winding through the ritzy neighborhoods along the lake shore. Rich folk have set up spectator stations, and a cheering crowd funnels us along as smoothly as the trees above, and the asphalt below. Little ups and downs appear. I try to keep my heart rate steady going up as well as down, hitting 157 on the rises, and 154 on the downs. I fly by most folk going down, but drop off a bit on the uphills with this strategy.
A left turn away from the lake, and we're in another neighborhood, more middle class, with most spectators either confused locals, or intense tourists cheering friends and relatives. A couple of significant hills appear. My Ironman training fairly screams at me "Don't go anaerobic!" But my body doesn't care - it seems to know I'm in a "short" race (less than 2 hours), so I can afford to scrape right up to and a bit beyond the ragged edge with only 30 minutes to go. So, I pump up the jets on the steepest hills, and I'm starting to keep with the pack up hill now, and pass 'em all going down.
Into the Arboretum, and the road becomes a winding single lane with a full canopy of trees overhead - kind of like mountain biking, but without the bumps, rocks and roots. I'm cutting the corners smoothly, and passing everyone in sight at this point. Except for one guy, about 1/2 my age. He sees me go by, and uses that as a cue to pick up his pace. We stick together, within ten feet either way, silent, for the next 3 miles. Finally, we briefly share thoughts on times and splits, and agree we're going for 1:40, but will have to burn a bit to get there. He takes off ahead of me as we near the crest of Capitol Hill, and turn down towards the freeway once again.
This awesome downhill, with its vista into Seattle from the giant canyons to the South, across the old World's Fair site dead ahead, and up to the hills on the right, all bordered by the Sound beyond, and Lake Union at our feet. The Space Needle would act as a beacon, if I cared about the concept. At this point, however, I have no thoughts, no enjoyment, and an endless present Now full of ever faster strides, and trying to stay upright on the hard downhill plunge across the freeway to the REI store.
HR is up at 158 now; if it goes over that, I'll only last 1-2 minutes, I know, so I try to hold just this intensity for as long as I can - maybe 15, maybe 17 minutes to go. I pass my erstwhile running buddy, dragging him into my wake. Many around me have been reduced to a shuffle, or an agonizing combination wheeze and arm whip, while their feet don't want to rise from pavement anymore. I feel like I can hold this pace, but not one step faster, into the finish chute.
Hitting Mercer, finding the Monorail once again, I know I've got about 2 minutes to go, and let it all hang out - 160, 161, any more and I pass out, saving the 164-7 max for the final sprint on the turf
At last, under the arch into the stadium bowl. Somewhere massed along the screaming crowd is Cheryl. I don't see her, don't see my time, only see and hear the mylar crinkle, and the lady urging me into the chute, tearing at my runner's bib for the little tag. I'm done; I'm learning how to run, at last.
Details: Seattle Half Marathon, held Sunday, November 25, 2001. Time: 1:41.06; 19/172 in age group, 341/1916 overall (male). Temp about 42 F, overcast, dry.
Here's the Seattle Marathon web site
Here's a picture of me finishing.