Disclaimer – The race I ran in 2016 was expertly done. This is because they had an amazing race director calling the shots. Since then, the race director has departed to pursue other opportunities. The race in its current state is probably not worth running. The owner does not have a good grasp of things, and currently does not have a race director or anyone with any experience in race production assisting her.
Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon – June 12th, 2016 – North Bend, Washington
I largely write these blogs for myself, as I’ve found that I really enjoy writing them and since I don’t keep a formal running log it is a good way for me to read about past performances. If I ever needed to write a post for myself, it is about this race. This race was full of promise for me – a long targeted marathon PR attempt. Having largely been in the trail and ultra world for the past 2 months, it was going to feel good to get back on a “road” race and run a fast time on a fast course. My training was where I wanted it, my tempo runs were being nailed at the right pace, my legs largely felt good…until 2 weeks before (we’ll get to that). In this post I’ll offer a brief review of the race, course and what you need to know, then we’ll get to the meat of what went wrong. Studying and analyzing bad races is the way we get better, so time to analyze away because this one was a turd. I’ll end this opening with one final point. While I’m disappointed with what I did on June 12th, I am not upset. I had a bad race, I had a bad day, and life goes on. In many ways I was due for a bad race. In many ways I let this thing get to my head…and once your head goes south it is very hard to get it back. This will be a long one kids…so buckle up and enjoy.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon has become quite a popular race for two big reasons. First, it is run on a scenic course with epic Pacific Northwest beauty in the mountains about 45 minutes west of Seattle. The point to point course starts in Snoqualmie Pass and slowly descends out of the mountains ending in the town of North Bend. The course takes place on an old rail line that has been converted to recreational trail. It is wide enough to drive on (one lane) and features a largely crushed gravel surface. The trail crosses many creeks and gorges on old railroad trestles and you get some truly amazing views as you cross. It is in the mountains, so you get amazing glimpses of pine forested mountain peaks. The trail is largely shaded with the thick pine foliage you expect in the PNW. Have I said enough?…the course is the freakin’ shit.
So let’s get onto reason number two this race has become so popular…it is fast…and is somewhat unique in it’s fastness. While many “downhill” races have popped up promising fast times and great shots at PRs and BQs, the Tunnel course remains one of the few that can do this without tearing you apart. The course starts at about 2500′ above sea level and then slowly descends about 80′ – 100′ per mile down to a finish at about 500′. This constant and gentle descent is much easier on the legs than some gimmick courses (cough…any Revel race…cough). Many report shaving 10+ minutes on average off their marathon times simply due to the course design (unfortunately I can’t include myself in this). The relatively low elevation at the start (unlike Revel races that can be 10k plus at the start line…breathe much?), plus the gentle descent make this a very manageable downhill race. So let me make one final note here. I failed to mention why the race is called “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” Well, this is brutally evident at the quarter mile mark when you enter a 2.5 mile long tunnel that is bored through the mountain. Yes, you run through a tunnel (headlamp strongly recommended).
So, these two factors have led this race to sell out very quickly in the past few years (8 hour sell-out). Due to the logistics, the race is capped at about 600 runners. If you want to run it, get good and setting alarms for race entry and signing up fast. If you miss the June race, don’t fret…there are two others (one in August, one in September) that offer the same exact race under slightly different names (they are organized by the same RD…so it’s the same race).
So let’s cover the rest of the basics quickly. This is point to point, so there are some logistics involved. You need to park at the finish and are bused up to the start…no big deal there…just plan you day accordingly and you will be good. There were tons of buses, they loaded fast and there were no issues with transportation. Aid stations were well stocked. There were a total of 10 on the course. Due to the remote nature of the course and the trails, this is a little less frequent than spoiled road runners have come to expect (seriously folks, you don’t need 17 water stops in a marathon). Aid stations offered water and Clif electrolyte drink. Some had Clif shots as well. If you are a thirsty runner (like me), I suggest you carry a small hand-held with you with the fluid of your choice. Aid stations are on average 2-3 miles apart, so totally manageable. Shirt and medal are nice.
What Went Wrong
This isn’t about excuses, this is about me trying to piece together an analysis of how I laid a big egg on this course. I’m going to try and keep this short, sweet and to the point…but that isn’t my strong suit…so here we go.
1. It Was Mental – I chalk the number one reason I had a bad race up to my head. I think running is 50% physical and 50% mental and so you need it all working together. The mental stuff started weeks before the race. I never felt in my head that I had this so that ain’t good. The mental stuff got far worse after mile 3 when I felt my back start to get tight. Normally things loosen as you run and early pains can disappear…but this got in my head. I kept telling myself to relax but it wasn’t happening. By mile 10 I had given up in my head, and told myself to just make it to 13 then I can walk…once you say that your day is over…
2. It was maybe physical, but maybe not – I think my training was exactly where it needed to be. I think I had a bad day with a tight back and that hampered me. My back felt fine the day after, so this wasn’t some long term injury. In fact I ran 7 miles on Monday with no issue at a decent 7:40 pace. I ended up with over 70 miles for the week after the marathon…I felt as good as I had felt in weeks.
3. I didn’t sleep well – this is an extension of it was mental – I don’t sleep well when I travel…I’m a fussy sleeper and I know this. It is all in my head and I know this. I had the most comfy bed in the world and I couldn’t sleep. I’m a head case when it comes to sleeping…I can basically sleep in two places…my couch and my bed. Someday I’ll sort this out…until then…yaaawn.
4. Placing the race on a pedestal – I rarely advertise a goal, and in this case I was vocal about it. How many social media posts did I make (too many) advertising a PR attempt and a sub 2:50 race? I told too many friends about it and the time I was “going” to run. It’s nice to set goals, but I’m normally a quiet goal setter (internal). When I advertise what I’m going to try to do it usually blows up in my face. I’m not Babe Ruth…I don’t get to call my shots. I’ll go back to pleasantly surprising myself and others from now on.
5. I Tapered? – I haven’t tapered for a race since last year. I have run great races on no taper at all. I tapered for this race an never quite felt right for two weeks. I was stiff and sore. I felt tight. I don’t know why. Rest should have been good. I need to play with this theory more…but my body feels better when it is running consistently. I felt better after a 70 mile week than I did after a 30 mile week. I’m not sure why…I’m either used to high mileage and have adapted and need it, or I’m just screwed up in the head. I’ll play around some more and let you know.
As far as the race, it went down sorta like this. On pace for 13.1 miles (1:25 on the dot) and then I decided to walk that town. My mile splits went into numbers that started with numbers like 9, 10 and even 11. I would walk a few tenths of a mile to let my back loosen up and then run the rest. I did this run walk thing for the better part of the 2nd half of the race…call me Jeff Galloway. I finally strung together a few decent miles to finish without walking, and even ran a split that started with a 6 from mile 25-26. Another indicator that some of this was a head game…
So this is about all I can muster on how this went down so bad. I wish I could point to something more solid…but this is all I got after almost 2 weeks of thought. I felt really good in the days after the race, so this one will remain an enigma. In the end, I’ve come to one realization…sometimes it just isn’t your day…sometimes it just isn’t your race. Bad races happen (especially when you run so many). I was due and it happened. So…we get up off the ground, dust off and live to run another day. Lots more goals on the horizon, and there will be another day to attempt a PR. I can tell you, I will be back to Tunnel again and get my revenge on that course!
In the end, I can’t be upset about anything here. I got to go run a beautiful race in the amazing PNW and get out of the hell of Houston summer for a few days. I also got to spend time with some awesome friends doing what we do best at races…having fun! If you don’t run happy, it ain’t worth running!
So, that wraps up the story…with that comes the stats…
Career Marathon/Ultra #52 (Marathon #42) – 7th Marathon of 2016 (12th Ultra)
Washington is State #17
Time – 3:25:34 – Not quite a PW!