The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon 2014

Race: The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon
Date: Sunday, July 13, 2014
Start time: 8 a.m. 7:30 a.m. due to heat
Location: North Bend, WA
Course: Point-to-point downhill race from Hyak to North Bend on a scenic gravel rail-trail
Field Size: 400 runners
Price: $129 (that's with the race shirt) OR you can opt out of the race shirt and save $33.90

Some people say runners are crazy. I'm inclined to say those people are right. I think I have quite a few screws loose to think the following plan was a good one: 

On Friday, we worked the California State Fair from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Plus, we arrived early to train staff, get our footprint ready to go and we always stay after the event to close everything up for the night. So, we're looking at 12+ hours on our feet. 

Saturday, it was back to work the California State Fair and thanks to my company, Casey and Sal, I was able to fly to Washington to run a marathon I had previously committed to. Around 1 p.m. I requested an Uber X, hopped into the back seat of a Prius (in my work uniform) and made my way to Sacramento International Airport. Once I landed in Seattle, I grabbed my rental car and my lovely Enterprise rep reminded me that temps in Seattle were going to reach the 90s, which was a first since 2009.

Crazy is...
work + travel + marathon + travel + work in less than 24 hours

The Tunnel Marathon, Seattle for that matter, is known for its cool, almost perfect running temps in the midst of summer which made this an ideal race for me. Not this year. 

You see, my body has two things that sound the internal alarms. The kryptonite for this not so heroic body of mine: heat (especially dry desert heat) and vodka. The latter is unrelated to this report. 

I was worried about the temps, but my flights were booked, the money had already been shelled out and I was locked in. 

Plus, I had really been looking forward to this race (even though I thought I was no longer racing it, until work approved it about 3 weeks prior). It had a lot of my favorite things included, race day packet pick up being one of them, and a lot of quirky traits that lured me in. 

Just check out these stats:

-No race expo
-Only race day packet pick up
-Shirts with zero sponsors attached to them
-Race shirts were optional; meaning race registration was cheaper if you opted not to purchase the shirt
-Almost 2.5 miles of the race course went through an old abandoned railroad tunnel (Snoqualmie Tunnel). Flashlights and headlamps recommended, and this is where the race received it's name...because while you're in the pitch black tunnel you can see a faint light at the end of it. 
-Race caps at 400
-No spectators for the most part. I could count the amount I saw on two hands. 
-Point-to-point course; Hyak to Northbend, WA on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail (trestle bridges included). A BEAUTIFUL and incredibly scenic gravel trail. 
-A gradual decline the entire race with only four turns, meaning it's a fast course and a great race to BQ. 
-LOTS of Marathon Maniacs.
-Race Director Brian Pendleton's sarcasm is hilarious (just check out some of descriptions on the website) and his organization is impeccable. 
-Even an opportunity to potentially see a bear!

What's not to love about this race?! Everything was right up my alley. No frills - just running with others that love to run, on the most breathtaking course I've ever been on.

Anyway, once I picked up my rental I headed towards Bellevue where I was staying. I was starving so I stopped at the Bellevue Brewing Company for pizza and beer, the ultimate carb-loading experience. I was a wimp and couldn't finish my sampler, but the Rye Ale, Scotch Ale and Medina Malt Liquor were my favorites and the food was delish. I used points, but if you run this race think about staying at the Residence Inn Seattle Bellevue. The brewery was only 1.5 miles from the hotel and only about 35-40 minutes to the race parking in North Bend.

That evening I downloaded some new music, laid everything out for the morning, talked to Casey, and unpacked and repacked for my less than 24-hour trip. I didn't sleep well because I was worried. Worried about the heat and concerned with my lack of training. When you're constantly traveling or on the road it's hard to have a routine. Half marathons are more doable but to find the routine and the time to train for a marathon while touring is almost impossible. I have done 4 half marathons this year, but I've been slacking in running distances over the 14-mile mark. I know, I'm stupid. Please insert the Do Not Try This at Home disclaimer. 

All items (except for the sports bra) were purchased at local running stores.
#ShopLocal when you can.
1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5. | 6. | 7. 

I woke up at 4 a.m. ready to rock 'n' roll. I immediately ate a bagel and a Clif Bar so I had plenty of time to digest. And between 4:30-7:30 a.m. I had two bottles of water. I had to catch the bus to the starting line, so I left around 5:15 a.m.

The sky was on fire with a mountainous silouette for the gorgeous sunrise drive to North Bend. Parking was a breeze and I quickly hopped on a bus. We were halfway to the start line when the bus broke down on the side of I-90E. It's not just the run, it's all about the experience and this spiced up my race story a bit.

They sent an empty bus to come get us and we reached the starting area to pick up our bibs, shirt, drop bags just after 7 a.m. Right in time for our 7:30 a.m. start (*note: this race was originally scheduled to start at 8 a.m. but due to the heat they pushed it up to 7:30 a.m.). 

I used the porta potties, checked in, removed all extra clothing and anything I didn't want/need in the drop bag, used the restroom again and got into the starting line just in time to take off.

May not be hot to you and your 26.2, but it was hot for me - 83 degrees by the
time my sorry ass crossed the finish.

We ran away from the start about 100 feet or so and turned to head back towards the tunnel. My honest opinion is that you don't necessarily need a flashlight for the tunnel. I was among so many runners rockin' their flashlights or headlamps that I barely used my own. In fact, the flashlights flooded the tunnel with so much light that for a while you couldn't see the signature "light at the end of the tunnel."

Either way, running through an old tunnel for almost 2.5 miles is pretty awesome no matter how you slice it. I would recommend running down the center of the tunnel as it's sloped and therefore flattest in the center. However, if you're wanting to pass by all means use the side lanes.

Towards the end of the tunnel I turned off my flashlight, used the sunlight and other's LED lights to guide the way, and sealed my flashlight into my marked bag for a quick and easy drop off.

Once you come out of the tunnel you're back on the gravel trail. I don't think gaitors are at all neccessary for this race, but sporting trail shoes is probably the way to go. The rocks are pretty large at the beginning, but it gets smoother towards the middle/end of the race.

As mentioned the course couldn't have been more beautiful. We had incredible views of the mountains, we ran over trestle bridges and Mother Nature was our biggest fan. It was phenomenal.

It was a hot and humid day for Seattle, but I was feeling good until about mile 17 or 18. I knew I had to be careful in the heat and I was making sure I was taking in plenty of liquids without taking in too much at the same time. I made a concious effort to fill up my handheld with either water, Nuun or Gatorade and even continued to spray water on myself or over my head to keep my body temperature cool.

Feeling like I was on top of the world at the halfway point.

Apparently it wasn't enough and I knew I was in trouble. You see, I've had 2-3 bouts with dehydration in just the past three years with two visits to the ER to get pumped with IVs/liquids. All occasions have occurred in the dry heat of Arizona and all have been work related (working long hours/minimal breaks/events outdoors) versus running related. It's quite fascinating to me that my body has such a hard time in the dry heat when I grew up in steamy/muggy St. Louis. However, our bodies change and you have to constantly stay in tune with what it's trying to tell you. Mentally I may feel great, but my body has a mind of it's own and it's important that I listen to it.

And around that 17 to 18 mile mark, my body was telling me that it was throwing in the towel and raising the white flag. My legs felt good, but my abdominals (both sides) began to cramp. I began to feel dizzy and light headed (the first signs of dehydration that I've had in the past). I was on a remote trail of a point-to-point course with no family present at this race, so you better believe I wasn't going to let it get any worse than that. I was not going to let the nausea creep up and the vomit set in. So, I eased up and started to walk.

I had gagged down 2.5 gels by this point that had grown extremely warm throughout the race. By the way, is there anything worse than choking down a hot gel? 

Yet, I was still cramping. I felt like I had been completely zapped of energy. I began to drink even more, but the cramps weren't going away. It was a struggle to breathe, my stomach muscles had grown so tight...something I have never experienced before. I tried to shuffle, but gravity was a killer as it was so painful for my stomach to move up and down.

When a problem occurs, you want to fix it. So I was going through every scenario as to why this was happening and how I was going to fix it. I knew what was happening and I thought I had been taking the proper precautions throughout this race to avoid dehydration, but you can't always control your body and it's reactions. As I continued to walk/shuffle my way to mile 20, I realized I hadn't used the restroom throughout the entire race. I had been slamming liquids since the race started at 7:30 a.m. and yet I hadn't needed to pee. And I always use the restroom at some point during a marathon. Always. 

So with the realization that my body wasn't absorbing the liquids, I knew it wasn't my day. And for once, without beating myself up, it was OKAY. I was going to walk/crawl my ass through the last 8 miles (DNF is not in the vocab) and I was going to be proud of myself for being smart. Sure, this whole work-fly-out-run-a-marathon-fly-back-work-breakdown plan may have been stupid, but in this moment I was going to do the right thing to ensure that I made it safely to the finish and back to Sacramento on time.

Around mile 25 or 26, I met Jackie from the Marathon Maniacs who was also struggling. Despite us both cramping, we coached each other across the finish and that made me feel a little better about such a crappy performance at a race I had been looking forward to for so long.

I collected my finisher's medal, downed some more liquids, gobbled down some watermelon and an orange slice, snagged my drop bags and got on the bus that took us to our cars at Twin Falls Middle School. There, I packed/repacked my book bag yet again and made my way towards the airport. I stopped at a gas station to clean myself up by using almost an entire pack of Burt Bee's wipes, changed and hoped to God that the person next to me on the flight wasn't too repulsed by my marathon scent.

So comfy!

I flew back to Sacramento, hopped right back into the Prius that picked me less than 24 hours prior (thanks, Uber James!) went straight to our event to finish out the last three hours, broke down our event footprint with the boys, got home around midnight, washed our staff uniforms and my dirty marathon clothes and didn't hit the sack until about 2 a.m. Yes, crazy.

I swear I did not see or feel this until after the race. The least of my concerns.
First - get these puppies cleaned up so I don't mortify the folks behind me in the TSA line.

But, I've never felt more proud of myself for being smart when I needed to be. To illustrate the condition I was in (note: we're entering TMI territory) I did not go numero uno until 2:30 p.m. I had been gulping down liquids prior to and since 7:30 a.m. and did not have a need to use the restroom until seven hours later. Not normal.

Lessons learned from this 26.2:
LISTEN to your body.
KNOW your body.
Don't RISK it.
There will ALWAYS be another race.

Also learned: Stick to fall/winter marathons; the cooler, the better. And marathon training while touring may not be congruent.

So what? I may have bonked (again) but I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity and the ability to run walk such a gorgeous course. Thank you to all the volunteers and to Brian and his wife Susan for putting on such a stellar race. I hope to be back to redeem myself someday! 

Finish time: 5:06.26
From the Tunnel Marathon website: "...times were slower than usual this year - the median time of 4:19 was more than ten minutes off our average median time from previous races on the course." 

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