Monday, January 31, 2011

Redding Marathon Race Report

Quick Stats:
Date: Sunday, January 16, 2011
Time: 3:37:32
Pace: 8:19/mile
Place: overall 25/178; female 4/88 (?); age group 2/15
Pre-marathon meal: Spaghetti with an olive oil anchovy sauce (sounds kinda gross but it was delicious)
Post-marathon beer: Black Butte Porter, Deschutes Brewery

Pictures: View my photo album on Picasa

The view of the Shasta Dam from the start - it's huge!

Summary: I ran this race as a “training run” for the 50K trail run (my first ever) I’m doing next month (Psycho Wyco Trail Run in Kansas, on Feb. 12 -- wish me luck!). I didn’t decide until about a week before that I was for sure going to do it. I was hoping to find someone to run one leg of the three-leg relay with me, but couldn’t. That said, my goals were a) take it easy, b) have fun. I accomplished both of those...sort of. My first 5K was basically race pace (ouch), because it was downhill (oops). For me, having fun meant going as hard as I could on the downhills, which I love love love, so it was worth the tired quads later on. I think of it as kind of an unconventional 10K speed workout followed by a 20 mile long run.

The Redding Marathon is the most beautiful course I’ve ever run...really really! (And I’m lucky enough to have run several gorgeous marathons.) It starts on Shasta Lake (yes, reservoirs are man-made, but they truly can be stunning - both the lake and the dam were huge and awesome), runs over the Shasta Dam, then down into the Sacramento River Valley. There were mountains on all sides. I was never bored because I was staring at the beauty of the valley the whole time. Almost entire course is on a rails-to-trails bike path, which was flat and smooth. The first five miles are downhill, with the first three being extreme downhill (read: you will go way too fast if you don’t consciously focus on slowing your pace). There are some nasty hills (at least, they felt nasty by that point) around miles 15-17, which (thankfully) give way to a nice downhill mile that was much appreciated at that point in the race. The course ends by crossing the Sundial Bridge and taking you into a riverside park.

The spectators and other runners in the field were sparse, so I was running alone for almost the entire time. Most of the people around me were relay runners, which can be a bit disheartening when you are struggling and they are on fresh legs. The course loops back on itself for the last few miles, so some of the slower runners on the course gave me some targets to focus on. There is this horrible out and back in mile 26: Just when you are in sight of the Sundial Bridge, they make you turn around and do a quarter-mile on gravel. I am sure the race organizers didn’t realize what a cruel trick that wa when they were designing the course, though. :)

We got lucky with perfect weather: It was in the low 50s, cloudy for most of the race and sunny for the last six miles. Oh, and the post race food was awesome. Sweet potato chili and pie = just what I needed!

Prologue, part 1: Before I even got to Redding, I spent nearly two weeks driving up and down the Pacific coast. My friend Sarah, as astronomy PhD student, and I drove from Berkeley to Vancouver, BC, and back stopping in the Redwoods, Portland and Seattle. On our road trip, we listened to countless episodes of This American Life, drove along cliffs and rocky coastlines, camped next to what was most likely a pile of bear scat, drank gloriously sour beer, ate peanut butter and jelly french fries at one of Portland’s late-night food trucks, went running along beaches and through coastal bogs in Vancouver, got snowed on, attended an astronomy conference in Seattle (Sarah as a student; me as a member of the press corps), watched the Ducks barely lose the BCS championship, drank away the sorrow of the loss, got snowed on again, watched some spontaneous glass blowing, enjoyed the work of Pablo Picasso, and played (not enough!) Kinect Dance Central. Phew! It was totally worth having most of my high-altitude advantage wear off before the race.

Prologue, part 2: We stayed in Redding, Calif., on Friday and Saturday nights, in the budget Stardust Motel (~$40/night for three people). The accommodations were almost as glamorous as the name. Our first night, we were welcomed by dumpster divers in the motel parking lot. I was fascinated by their activities, and camped out by the window intermittently peeping out at them through the blinds. On Saturday, we picked up my race-number and then headed out for a hike in - wait for it - Whiskeytown! Well, it was actually the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, which was free because it was MLK weekend...bonus! The area used to be a mining community, and we drove through a ghost town on the way. The actual settlement of Whiskeytown is now at the bottom of a lake (well, reservoir). We did a loop up to Brandy Creek Falls, which was gorgeous.

That night, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant that had so many identical waiters running around it felt like we were in a musical and they were about to break into a song and dance number. We returned to the cozy Stardust Motel, watched The Neverending Story. (From this movie I relearned two key lessons that would help me the next day during my marathon: You can’t let yourself be overcome by the sadness; if you are positive, a luck dragon will find you. Ok, I lied. Neither of these lessons turned out to be helpful, and the movie doesn’t really hold up when you watch it as an adult. But it did help me get to sleep.)

Race start: I was really just blown away with how pretty the race start was. We were surrounded by mountains, overlooking a was perfect. I took a couple of pictures with my phone (which don’t do the scenery justice at all) before handing in my gear bag and warming up. The start was calm and casual, no timing chips, no gun. It felt like a fun-run 5K, which helped me relax. However, I wasn’t relaxed enough to not go out too fast (like I always do).

The downhill: My first mile was about 6:50 (oh noes!), then the second mile flattened out a bit as we went over the dam (maybe 7:00-ish), then the third mile was my fastest, a 6:40. I knew I was going way fast, but it was fun, gorgeous, I felt good, and I didn’t care because at that point it felt amazing. As the grade smoothed out, I ran 7:30s for a while. (Note: I slowed down to an average of about 8:45s for the last 16 miles. Not the most even marathon I’ve run, to say the least.) For the first few miles, there were some other runners around me (mostly relay runners), which was nice. I was wearing my Canadian Death Race shirt (btw, I love that shirt), and another runner asked me about it. (Sidenote: I got a massage after the race, and I left perfect sweaty impression of the CDR logo on the massage table. It was kind of amazingly gross.)

The course went through a railroad tunnel, which was a lot dark and a little spooky and a yurtload of awesome.  

Then it got flat and reality set in: Did I mention before that the course was ridiculously pretty? From miles 10 to 15 I just kind of settled in and relaxed. The first relay runners finished at I think 10.9 miles, so running through the exchange was fun. It was the first time I really saw any spectators. Sarah walked back along the course from the exchange to meet me and run with me for a mile - very much appreciated! She has a knee injury, so the fact that she ran with me means a lot.

I tried to eat calories early and often in this race, to prepare myself for all the eating I’ll need to be doing in next month’s 50K. Well, that plan worked well, but it was foiled by the fact that water stations were sparse. It felt like they were every 5 miles or so, although in reality they were probably closer together than that. Nonetheless, even in the cloudy, cool weather I felt like I wasn’t able to get enough water. Sarah ran with me again at mile 14.5 or so (I think?) and brought me a bottle of water, which was really great. She left me right as I started to climb those vicious hills.

And up and up...: The hills covered about two miles, rolled a bit, but mostly just climbed and climbed. This was the loneliest part of the course for me. I couldn’t see any runners in front of me, so it was hard to motivate. The course did remain gorgeous, though, winding around the sides of the hills as it went up. One I reached the top, I had a much-needed downhill mile to an aid station (also much needed...seriously, where was the water on this course? I was running next to a river the whole time, which probably just made me extra thirsty).

And then I kind of zoned out: I don’t remember the last eight or so miles of the course. This is where it looped back on itself and the sun came out (yay!). The only other runners I saw were either relayers (who were passing me), or slower runners still on their first loop. It would have been nice to have some people going my pace I could try to catch. But, alas, such is the nature of a small marathon. Sarah ran with me a third time during this last bit, and I really really needed the company.  The course crossed the Sacramento River four times over three different bridges (if I’m counting right...), which was kind of rad. The final two miles were through a heavily used park, so there were little kids on bikes with training wheels and skateboarders to dodge - not exactly what I was in the mood for, at that point, but at least it was a little less lonely.

The finish: In the final mile, I could see the Sundial Bridge up ahead. Salvation! But, as I mentioned before, right when I got to the base of it they made me take this quarter-mile gravel loop. I actually said to the people directing traffic, “Are you serious? That’s so evil!” They just kind of laughed at me. The one good thing about the loop was that I could see that there were a few groups of women a couple of minutes behind me. There was no way I was going to let them catch me at the end, so that gave me the extra motivation I needed to finish.

I came in at 3:37:32 - pretty good for a “training run” (although it was slower than the 20-miler I did when I was home in Portland over the holidays...oh well). Sarah and our friend Libby (who was along for the last few days of the road trip) met me at the finish line with a beer - Black Butte Porter, yummy even when slightly warm!
The aftermath: My recovery from the marathon went very smoothly (I was able to do a 90 min. run in the snow by Thursday), until I decided to do a really hard mountain run the next Saturday. It was great fun, until I realized that it probably set my recovery back by at least a week. [Lesson: Running a marathon a month before a 50K is probably ok, but you have to give yourself time to recover. Doing an icy eight mile trail run that has nearly 3,000 ft. of climbing does not constitute recovery. Doh!]


Adam said...

Thanks for the race report, nice to see a non-local's take on it. I was wondering if you'd mind me reprinting it or linking it on my site, Thanks again.

Jordan said...

Hi Adam,

Glad you enjoyed the race report. Definitely feel free to link to it or reproduce portions on your site -- all I ask is that you credit me.

Thanks, and happy running!

Adam said...

Finally got your report posted: Put up a photo from the race photographer too, so let me know if that's a problem. Thanks again, and good luck tomorrow!