Race recap: Seattle Marathon 2021

This was my first marathon back since Honolulu 2018!

Marathons are very intimidating. My shorter Dopey training runs have been mostly okay. The longer ones have not gone very smoothly but I’ve gotten my miles in. Seattle has been much colder than Colorado or New Mexico, so I was a little worried about the weather transition. I also spent a lot of time in the office prior to the race.

My last marathon experience was nice-ish. I mean, Honolulu! There was no time limit. We walked/jogged for the first three miles and then pretty much stopped to walk the rest of the way. A 23 mile walk is a very long way. It was a really good trip. I wasn’t very well prepared for the race since there was no time limit. (As you can see I was really banking on that!)

I have never been able to do a marathon in Seattle because all of their time cut offs are faster than what I can run. I remember not being able to do the Seattle Marathon because their cutoff times were either 5:30 or 6 hours. Rock n Roll Seattle was also a 6 hour cutoff. There’s some other races too but overall I’ve only been able to do half marathons in the state. This year, when I peeked at their time limit, it was very generous. In fact, they didn’t even state a course limit. They just said every runner would get the chance to finish. I saw that as an opportunity for a Dopey dress rehearsal. I did my two short runs back-to-back on the hotel treadmill, and then did a 10 mile walk around the lake and city. I figured with a 23 mile training run on the schedule, it wasn’t much of a stretch to do 26.2, so I decided to register for it. My husband and friend then jumped on the bandwagon so it turned into a race-cation work trip with training runs. The ultimate runner multi-tasking! 🙂

I have mixed feelings about this race. Their website said that walkers and slower runners would get a 15-20 minute head start. However, on race morning this was not the case. Walkers and slower runners started first, and then a few minutes after, the 7+ minute pace runners came up from behind and elbowed their ways up. They weren’t intentionally elbowing us slow pokes, but it is kind of inevitable given that we started on really narrow paths during the first mile of the race.

I don’t get emotionally hurt when I am being passed or anything. That’s not it at all. What I find most difficult about a scenario like is being able to find a walk/run rhythm that works for me. If I stop to walk/run, chances are I will be run over by a runner who is right behind me (who will inevitably miss my hand signals). The course was too congested to really move over onto the side of the road. With a steady stream of fast runners on the heels of walkers and slower runners, it was really difficult finding a safe place to walk/run at my pace. Unfortunately that meant that I kind of burned out my legs during the first 10K and then had a sufferfest for the next 20 miles. My RunKeeper/GPS also cut out during the first 6.2 miles because we ran a few times in the tunnel, so I was unable to really dissect where in my race I started slowing down. I remember getting on the Burke-Gilman and it was PACKED. It wasn’t until the half marathon turnaround (mile 9.8) that the course lightened up considerably. I was finally able to do my walk/run intervals, but even then my legs were completely toast. Can you imagine doing an additional 16.4 miles on those legs?? I didn’t have to imagine, because I had to do it. I didn’t feel like I hit the wall, but just that I was tired. More tired than I should’ve been at that part of the race.

Anyways, I am jumping ahead a bit. I had a friend earlier in the week who asked me about the dreaded “wall”. It’s hard to describe the wall. You definitely know it when it hits you. Sometimes there are false walls. I used to hit the wall at around 16 miles…the last time this was demonstrated was at Rock n Roll San Antonio, when I decided to end my Hall of Fame year on a marathon. (WHYYYYY?!) With Dopey training, I felt that the marathon wall goalpost has shifted a bit out to other rounded numbers…18 and 20. However, during the Seattle Marathon, I felt like it was at mile 23. That’s progress, right? My training run that weekend was supposed to be 23 miles anyway, so perhaps I was right on schedule?

Okay, so what did the wall look like during the Seattle Marathon? I started feeling really down. I cried a bit. It was really cold, rainy, and windy. (That’s the “let’s make Amara cry on race day” formula!) I think the hardest part about the wall is the immense loneliness I feel. It’s not like I’m running with a pack of other people. Typically I am very much alone. I might see one person ahead of me. Sometimes there’s a sweeper vehicle right at my heels. In this case, it was the medic and course marshals circling the remaining runners on their bikes on the race course. Every time the marshals came around, I got really sad. My race bib was partially obscured by my jacket, so they kept asking me if I was part of the race. Like, who else is walking out here in the rain with the bright blue jacket? The same two people kept asking me every 20-30 minutes so it felt kind of demoralizing. That added to the misery, probably more so than what I was used to. At one point there was a photographer who unzipped himself from his tent to take a photo of me. He missed me, so he literally asked me to come back to him and run past him again. I begrudgingly did what he asked. Guess what? That photo doesn’t exist in the photo gallery. At some point I was crying a bit and my face was a little red from the cold, and some random guy on the trail just smiled at me. I couldn’t tell if it was a smirk? Maybe a “hey! this isn’t too bad!” smile. Who knows.

The last part of the race was back along the Burke-Gilman trail. I had ran this trail countless times when I still lived in Seattle. I was very familiar with it. However, the finish line (which was at Gas Works Park) was not as far as I remember. I felt like every single step I took forward actually somehow pushed the finish line further. My husband texted me about an hour before I finished about some finish line goodies. I was not in the best mood so I said that I would prefer he not tell me about goodies that they don’t bother setting aside for back of packers. He kind of went radio silent after that, to which I learned after that he meandered over to the finish line to make sure that there would be goodies. It turns out they started taking down the finishers arch and he kept pestering them to keep it up. The photographers all went home and there was one aid station left with some goodies for me.

During the hardest parts of this race (of which there were plenty) I thought about all of the times during 2020-2021 that I couldn’t race or see my friends. I thought about my surgeries and how I’ve spent almost two years as a human pin cushion. I thought about the 50k I wanted to race in January. I thought about my aunt who didn’t deserve to be taken by cancer. I just kind of stewed in that difficulty during my last few miles. This was my first major race back and I pretty much had a 100% meltdown.

Before I knew it, my 26.2 miles were over and Erik was recording me running through the finisher’s chute.

As we all know, 26.2 miles is already inherently difficult. I have winged 13.1 miles before without training. It’s doable but my body gets pretty angry with me afterwards. My genetics are not in my favor. I am not athletically gifted. I cannot wing 26.2 miles (unlike my friend, who does lots of marathons without training for them). Something about 26.2 miles is exponentially harder. I actually started this race feeling like this would be one of my last marathons, but something turned around for me after the race. Even though my finish time was in the 8 hour mark, I felt more confident about doing them. I was not intimidated by the distance afterwards. I had done the distance, and I acknowledged that it would be difficult, but after 8 marathons it eventually gets less mentally intimidating. A week after finishing this race, I thought to myself that marathons actually aren’t all that bad. They are of course much more challenging than half marathons. Am I ready to consider 13.1 as my ‘fun run’ distance and skew more towards 26.2s? Would my new 26.2 be 50Ks? Who knows…right now I can really only take it a month at a time, especially with my third year of IVF treatments coming up in a few months.

So, would I do the Seattle Marathon again? My answer is a solid maybe, if there was a generous time limit and they adhered to the corral schedule.

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