My day at the Tunnel Light Marathon

My day at the Tunnel Light Marathon

By Amy B.

WARNING: If you want to run a rain-free race, do NOT sign up for any marathon that I am participating in.  Based on true statistics, if you run with me, you are 100% guaranteed to be wet and cold.  Proceed with caution (or at least a good pair of socks, lots of body glide, and a waterproof hat!)

I know better than to watch the weather forecast.  A week before, the weather looked picture perfect.  3 days before, it changed to “a shower around” – OK, no big deal! That might actually be nice.  By the day before it was 80% chance of steady rain….all night the night before, and all day the day of the race.  Granted, the race was outside of Seattle so not completely unexpected, but the weather was ideal the day before AND the day after the race – aargh!  So no, Coach Joe, it was anything BUT 80 and sunny!  (Although you wouldn’t have known it with all of the Boston hopefuls buzzing around…)

Speaking of Boston hopefuls…I am one.  I hate not being able to do something, that’s simply not acceptable to me.  So a year ago I decided I wanted to run a downhill marathon just to see what would happen and how much time I might gain doing so.  I needed to get from a 4:23 PR in Chicago to 3:50 to even hit the newly tightened qualifying time for my age group.  33 minutes is an awful lot (and really you have to be faster than that to actually get in).  I thought what the heck, I’ll give it a go anyway.

After much research, I selected the “Tunnel Light Marathon” outside of North Bend, Washington.  It sounded just perfect, with 2,000 foot elevation loss over the course, at a consistent 1-2% grade.  And not only that, it is on a “rails to trail” path, so no brutal beating on the pavement, and essentially a straight shot with only one turn and only a few hundred participants, so in theory you don’t lose any time weaving around.  Sounds awesome, because it is awesome.  Despite my weather woes, I still feel this marathon course is epic!  As an added bonus, you get to run with a headlamp through a 2.4 mile tunnel – definitely a unique (and somewhat creepy) experience.  Here is Charlie checking out the tunnel the day before the race:


We arrived quite well rested after a wonderful night’s stay at the Roaring River Bed and Breakfast in North Bend. (Shout out to Herschel and Peggy who run it – they are the best!  Herschel is a 3-time marathoner and Boston finisher, and Peggy makes the BEST breakfast – highly recommend!)  The smell of pine trees and the sound of the river rushing? Yes please!

For the morning of the race, we were able to secure a spot in the “preferred parking” area near the finish, and bussed 30 minutes up to the start, where it was raining and cold – about 48 degrees.  I had on a sweatshirt and a thick poncho but was still shivering.  I skipped my warm-up routine other than rolling my ankles in circles and doing a few hip swings (probably a mistake), but I just couldn’t bear the thought of starting soaking wet and shaking like I did in Tokyo.  I huddled under an awning until 5 minutes before the start.

There were 2 waves, and we were in the front of the 2nd wave.  Unfortunately, the pacer we intended to follow was in the back of the 1st wave, but due to huddling under said awning I didn’t snap to that….

That turned out to be fine since I needed warm-up time anyway.  First few miles were about a 9:15-9:30 pace as I got my legs under me.  At this point, I already know BQ possibilities were not likely.  I adjusted to my Plan B goal of 4 hours.  After getting out of the tunnel and getting my bearings, I realized what was ahead.  23 miles of glorious downhill, yes, but unfortunately also 23 miles of having to watch every single step to avoid giant puddles.  In some cases this meant running on rocky terrain, in other cases it felt like quick sand.  There was a LOT of maneuvering trying to find runnable ground.  Sometimes there was no choice but to go through giant puddles, resulting in soaking feet.  It was so frustrating!  You couldn’t see the spectacular vistas – because of the clouds and fog – but it was stunning anyway.  We went past at least 6 waterfalls, and over several train trestles.  I wish I had pictures to show but it was raining too hard to even contemplate taking my phone out, and I was still trying to run fast.  We stayed on pace for hitting 4:00 through about 20 miles, and then as usual, my body started slowing down.  I sent Charlie on his way and turned on my music.  The rest of the way was a struggle.  I started interjecting longer walk breaks as I felt my muscles really starting to cramp.  My salt tabs disintegrated inside the plastic bag I had them in because I hadn’t fully sealed the bag and I was soaking wet…so I didn’t have those to help combat muscle cramps. Also, aid stations were spread out to every 2-3 miles unlike the World Major races where they are every mile.  Because of this, while I did drink at every aid station, it wasn’t enough.  I had my UCAN sludge with me and I sipped on that, but I got terrible bloating and stomach cramping from Mile 8 on.  UCAN has worked for me in the past, so I was pretty surprised.  After researching, I think the issue with the UCAN was being too dehydrated.  Who knows.   I lost my bladder at Mile 24 (sorry TMI) but figured who cares – no one can tell the difference between streams of water from the rain and streams of pee….so gross I know, but I carried on.  At least I didn’t poop myself – unlike the lady running next to me…

After Mile 25, the 4:05 pacer passed me….NOOOOOOO!  That got me going.  If I wasn’t going to hit 4:00, I was at LEAST going to finish in front of the 4:05 pacer!  I got some pep in my step and surged ahead.  At this point, poop pants (felt so bad for her) and her friend passed me – they looked like they were barely moving.  If poop pants was running that slowly, and she is passing me, what does that mean I looked like?  I was mortified.  I attempted to sprint the last .2, finishing just in front of poop pants, with a finish time of 4:04:16.  A 19-minute PR.

So…I did not BQ.  I did not hit my second goal of 4:00.  But I did hit my first goal to get a significant PR, and I’m OK with that.  I think if I re-ran the same course on a dry day, I would absolutely break 4:00.  I fully intend to go back to do just that.

Lessons Learned:

  • If your cat pees on your brand new Hoka’s that you bought for the race before you wear them once – that is an omen and it WILL rain on your race
  • Don’t bother watching the weather – it will be rainy and/or freezing – prepare for the worst, be pleasantly surprised if you get something better. You can’t control the weather!
  • It’s OK to adjust your goals based on situations that are out of your control
  • Your nutrition plan from one type of race may not work for a different type of race – consider the differences and plan accordingly (ET’s Team Dietitian Laurie Schubert is a great resource for nutritional guidance!)
  • If you are going to do a downhill course, be sure to practice downhill running to get your legs ready. My phenomenal Coach Suzy Cerra of ET Personal Coaching Services set me up with downhill treadmill access and made sure I was ready to do – it really made a difference!
  • Some of us may not be genetically inclined to be fast runners, and BQ may take a long time to get to. That’s OK.
  • Don’t get super obsessed with the BQ phenomenon. Keep it fun – next up – going to take a break from speed and try an Ultramarathon trail race – anyone in for a new adventure with me?

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