Well, the short story is that I finished the Seafair Marathon in about 4:17 and I'm very pleased with my result. The course was well marked and support was excellent. My nutrition plan worked well and I had no problems with that, but some problems with leg cramps.
Update 2/25/06: I've learned a lot about endurance training the last year as I've trained for Ironman Arizona, and that's changed my thinking about certain things. I've inserted some comments below based on that, but otherwise left the text alone.
The 7am start weather was perfect for a marathon - sunny, with some light clouds, temperature around 55F. As the race progressed, it became overcast and even a few droplets on occasion.
I was in something of a rush at the start - we had left the house late at 6:24, I had forgotten to eat my banana & bagel breakfast (which isn't so bad, I had eaten plenty of carbs late into the evening) the traffic to the parking garage was awful, etc. My wife dropped me off near the start line then went to park while I figured out where I should be, etc. There was a lack of signage that made it somewhat confusing to find out where to be and what was what. Then directions starting coming over a public address system and we all figured out where to go. I did hook up with my family so they could see where to position themselves to see me start.
I started across the timing mat in the back third of the pack, and by mile 2 or so had worked up until I found the 4:00 pace runner. The initial eight miles were more or less consistently uphill. Most climbs were minor and none were by themselves were an issue, but I was getting worried about the cumulative effect of the climbing. At 8.5 to 11 miles, there was a huge steep downhill portion down to West Lake Sammamish Parkway that was really tough on my knees. The pace chart says to speed up for that section, but I think I actually slowed down on that part.
Running along West Lake Sammamish was great - slightly downhill, weather great. I passed the half marathon mark at around 1:59 or so, right on pace for a 4 hour finish. I was surprised to two people I know cheering from the sidelines. I suppose if I run in my hometown I shouldn't be that surprised.
The climb out up to I90 involved a switchback path which was tough. By now there were a lot of people walking the hills, but I was determined to run them. Running alongside I90 was easy, and around mile 16 then turned back north. My family was waiting just before mile 17 with a banana, which was great. I had been following my nutrition plan (Camelbak with Accelerade) plus Gus every few miles.
Update: OK, it's obvious now running here was a huge mistake. I blew up my heart rate way too high (it was already too high, but now it was sky high. And that amount of effort would fill my leg muscles with lactic acid (a by product of energy production at sprint-type exertion levels).
Somewhere between mile 17 and mile 18 I fell about 30 seconds behind the pace. It didn't feel slower, it just was slower. It wasn't even uphill. So I picked up my pace slightly to get back on schedule.
Update: Yep. That's what lactic acid does to your legs. Perceived effort stays the same, but speed slows way down...
Just before mile 19 is where the real trouble started - my old nemesis leg cramps returned very suddenly. I was running along fine, felt a little twinge in my left hamstring, and 30 seconds later it cramped up like a fist. This was right after a steep uphill section most people were walking, and I ran. This was clearly a mistake - I should have walked that hill. My heartrate had shot up to 194, and my legs were really straining to keep me going.
Update: Yep. Another effect of a lactic acid accumulation.
I walked about 60 seconds stretching out the cramp, then returned to running, only to cramp again a few minutes later. Miles 19 to 22 were the toughest and slowest of the race. My legs were cramping - both legs, hamstrings and quads - and I'd have to walk off the cramp then start running again. I also walked most of a steep hill on Kamber Road just before Eastgate Way, at mile 22.75. As I walked, the 4:00 pace runner ran past me. I understand he finished a few minutes late himself.
I was also slow on the huge downhill right after that, approaching Richards Road. Again the downhill was tough on my knees, and by now my left ankle, calf, and knee were feeling some aches so I didn't want to stress them unnecessarily.
It got easier from mile 22 to the finish. I was slower than before, since my legs just wouldn't take me any faster. My form stayed pretty good though, and I had only one more cramp to walk off. My 4:00 goal time passed as I was running somewhere between mile 24 and mile 25. The finish itself was down a chute into Downtown Park. I didn't see my family (thy did see me), but I heard the announcer say my name as I came into the finish which is always cool.
Update: Again, I "flipped the switch" on my legs with my insistence on running. It was downhill from there, if you'll pardon the pun...
Course & Support
The course seemed a bit tougher than I expected. The uphill running was more than I had prepared for, although the elevation chart was pretty clear on how much would be uphill. One runner told me that the course was "tougher than the Seattle Marathon because it has more hills" but I don't know if I believe that since the Seattle Marathon has such a hilly reputation around here.
The couse itself was well marked, with easy to read signage for each mile. The police and volunteers kept car traffic off the course. There were plenty of volunteers, homeowners, and the families and friends of runners cheering us along from the sidelines, which is always nice.
The support stations were well stocked with water and sometimes Amino Vital sports drink, and enough volunteers to give them out. I've been on organized bicycle events where the support stations have run out of supplies - there were no problems here.
The start of the marathon seemed disorganized until the very last minute when the man on the loudspeaker started giving directions. As I said, signage would have been helpful.
Leg endurance was clearly the limiting factor on my performance. I need more longer runs to give my legs the endurance to finish. I did a bunch training runs in the 12-14 mile range and one 17 mile run, but clearly that wasn't enough. I had hoped it would be, but I went in with no illusions that the end of the race would be easy. But the damn muscle cramps were a surprise. I had experienced little to no cramping problems at all during training. I guess the only real way to avoid those is longer training.
Update: The real way to avoid cramps is to avoid excessive exertion while maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte levels.
Cardio wise I was fine. My heartrate was in the 180 range most of the race, peaking at 194 as I ran up that hill I should have walked, and then dropping to 160 for the last 4 miles as my legs gave out.
Update: 180 is fine?!! Yes, I suppose it was at the time, but now I could probably run this at the same pace with my heart rate at in the low 140s. A high heartrate like that (near or above my age calculated maximum) is indicative of a poorly developed fat burning system. My body had to burn glycogen the whole way, and when that started to run out, well, then I slowed down as did my heart rate. The cure for this is to do most training at or below lactate threshold (or some such, lots of different names for that) which for me is around 140. That trains my fat burning system and avoid over-reliance on glycogen burning, and thus I can now do long endurance events with a much lower heart rate. Or at least my training says so; I've have yet to compete in any events since I became a convert to lower heart rate training.
My nutrition plan was fine, but I didn't really need the Camelbak. I think a fuel belt supplemented by the aid stations would have been enough. I went back on forth on that and decided on the Camelbak since I had used it on long unsupported training runs. I also didn't eat all the Gus I brought along since I didn't feel any bonking from lack of carbs.