The Maniacal Double

Ghost of Seattle Marathon, Nov. 24

Seattle Marathon, Nov. 25

            By Burko Crutcher

            By now, most folks need no introduction to the Seattle Marathon, a Thanksgiving weekend fixture for runners from the Northwest and beyond. Whoops, my bad. By truncating the title, I don't mean to diss the "University of Washington Medical Center Seattle Marathon '07." Sorry.

            Now meet the Ghost of Seattle Marathon -- sans sponsorship prefix. And that is one of the key points of the race, also a Thanksgiving weekend fixture for the Northwest's running counterculture. It's a low-key event with an ultramarathoning attitude and ambience, occurring annually on the day before its much more massive marathoning cousin. For some participants, it's a nostalgiac trek on the former Seattle Marathon course, a now-two-decade-old layout along Lake Washington, a double out-and-back that loops through Seward Park and up past Interstate 90 and back. It all harkens back to when the marathon was a glorified club run, with few of the 21st century mainstream marathoning accoutrements, and it drew fields that numbered in the hundreds rather than the thousands, .

            On this Saturday, the field numbered in the dozens -- well, maybe four. Most were running the marathon, a handful in an accompanying 50k and half-marathon. A disproportionate number were Marathon Maniacs, a club whose entry-level membership requires completing three marathons in three months. Prospective MM members also can run two marathons in two days, and that admittedly was an attraction in this race for yours truly. But the back-to-back marathoning nut fell from the tree eight years ago, when I did the 50k version of the Ghost. At the start, the race director asked for a show of hands on who was doing the Seattle Marathon the next day, and more than one-third confessed. It's a thought that hadn't crossed my mind before but has loitered there since.

            Thus began the quest for the maniacal double:

            * GHOST OF SEATTLE MARATHON:

            Arrived about 15 minutes before the start after the Metro bus driver on Route 39, who had been asked to let me off as close to Seward Park as possible, somehow forgot about the one remaining passenger on the predawn weekend route and took me to the end of the line and then back. It mattered little, as there was no line for the bathroom or the check-in table. The bus was a warmer place to wait than the park, anyway. Not that the weather was extreme. It was cloudy but dry, temps in the mid-30s for the 8 a.m. start but rising above 40 as the sun peeked through around noon.

            Lined up with fellow Hard Core Runners members James and Mary Klarich -- James in the marathon and Mary doing a shorter training run. I stayed with them a mile or so, but they were long gone after my first walking break. The plan was to treat the double marathon like a 50-miler and walk two minutes a mile -- at regular intervals on the flat spots and on the few upgrades. After looping Seward Park clockwise, we came back to the start and one of two strategically placed aid stations that offered provisions about every four miles. It was ultratype stuff -- water, sports drink, candy, fruit, potato chips, pretzels, some other stuff that skipped my mind. I carried water and sports drink; the chips supplemented them beautifully.

            Quickly, the other runners left me behind, even those replicating my double. I saw them coming back maybe a mile or more before the first turnaround. I was settling into an extremely comfortable 11-12-minute-per-mile pace, supplemented by extended -- and unanticipated -- use of the facilities. So *this is the true price of Thanksgiving overindulgence.

            Meanwhile, we ran amid neighborhood residents out for a stroll, neighborhood residents' dogs out for a stroll and scores of bicyclists touring the lakeside bike loop. One peloton must have had 30 riders. Near the north turnaround at Leschi Park were restaurants and the ubiquitous Starbucks, all occupied by bicyclists. The race director advised we could stop at Starbucks ("But you have to bring money"). I brought money but opted for the aid station with the chips and M&Ms.

            The halfway point, the quarter-point for the double -- saw a stop for food and an extra pair of gloves -- the wind had picked up a tad. Off I went with a 2-hour, 23-minute half-marathon split, comfortably under sub-5 goal. Another loop around the forested peninsula of Seward Park, another potato chip stop, another out-and-back focusing on, then passing under, the Interstate 90 bridge.

            The extremely nice lady at the aid station near the turnaround unfortunately believed me when I said I thought I was the last runner. She closed up shop, only to rush back when she recognized a couple of women behind me. It was hard to tell us from the locals -- this race had no bib numbers.

            The legs started feeling more stressed in the final miles than I would have liked, so I kept walking two minutes per mile through the end. The key to all of this was not bonking in the first race, and I wasn't quite sure if I avoided that or not. The race director's cell phone got me at 4:57:06 -- I wish I could subtract the eight minutes lost in the facilities. That put me 30th out of 34. At the finish were a couple of surprise witnesses: the tolerant spouse and the bemused stepson. I thought they had better ways to pass the time. In true ultra style, the race director was warming soup and grilling hot dogs for all the finishers. Both went down well, as did the remaining Payday candy bars.

            The warmish sunshine (temps in low 40s) and cordial companions encouraged lingering, but eventually it was back onto Metro Route 39 and to downtown Seattle, to the high-rise Westin Hotel with its expo and packet pickup and timing chip and prerace instructions for the next day's race. Thus armed, it was back to Metro Route 255 and a trip back to the suburban motel and a bath, a large meal (salmon/garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus no doubt from Peru, a sore point for asparagus growers in the Yakima Valley) and a long sleep. The quest was halfway done.

            * SEATTLE MARATHON, Nov. 25:

            Here's a confession. I have no problem with the UW Medical Center's sponsorship of this race. I wouldn't be up and running back-to-back marathons, and arguably not up and doing anything at all, without the UW cardiologists who laser-angioplastied my 100-percent coronary blockage back in 1993. That was, like, serious stuff. I appreciate the sentiment of the Ghost; I'm indebted to the skills of the UW Medical Center.

            Sunday morning, off Route 255 and onto Route 13 with two young women, sisters. One recently moved to Seattle and was a spectator, the other a marathoner from the Philadelphia area. The Route 13 driver, on his toes as Metro bus drivers tend to be, shooed us off at a stop: "You'll get closer to the marathon start on the 16 that's right behind us." The 16 dropped us two blocks from the start. 

            The marathon walkers had already gone, and the half-marathoners were lining up. Numerous porta-potties kept the lines nonexistent. It was chilly, again in the mid-30s in the morning, but the day promised more sunshine than the previous day. Midday temps reached the mid-40s. No rain for two straight days in Seattle? What gives? Is this allowed?

            Talked to a Maniac whom I'd recognized from the day before. He was a veteran of this doubling thing. He was also a lot faster than yours truly. I knew from training -- back-to-back long runs -- that the first mile would reveal everything. The initial signs were ominous; the legs felt dead, the pack with water, sports drink and cell phone in case I crashed and burned felt very heavy, man. Anything in the neighborhood of 10 minutes for the first mile would be very encouraging.

            Off we went, not quite 2,000 of us. I lined up way in back, where I belonged, and it took a little over a minute to get to the start. We meandered under the supports of the Monorail, and soon came an impressive and enduring image of an urban marathon: the skyscrapers of Fifth Avenue banking a river of runners. Several of us commented on that. The crowd of runners kept my pace slow, and I had no expectations as we approached mile one. The bullhorn call was barely distinguishable in the crowd: " ... 10:58 ... 11 minutes ...." In real terms, that's about a 9:55. This just might work. I started walking for two minutes a mile.

            A long, sweeping ramp took us out of downtown and onto the Interstate 90 express lanes. Another enduring image: the condensation from the breathing of 2,000 runners rising in the faint morning glow. We entered and exited a long tunnel and emerged onto the Lacey V. Murrow (brother of Edward R.) floating bridge, which carries I-90 traffic across Lake Washington. Mile 4 in the tunnel was right at 45 minutes with seven minutes walking. This might just work.

            On the mile-and-a-half-long bridge, I caught up with Bob Dolphin, our internationally famous Hard Core Runners member. The lead runners were coming back after a turnaround; Bob spent about half his energy moving forward and the other half acknowledging the scores of returning runners yelling his name. Together in about 1:10 we hit the 10K, where we touched land on Mercer Island before taking on the bridge again. The 100-foot or so upgrade from lake level to land was the most significant hill of the first 20 miles.

            As we returned on the bridge, a young woman brightly said, "Hi, there!" It was the Philadelphia visitor from the 13/16 buses. She said, "I did a marathon last weekend, so I'm going real easy today." I one-upped her with my tale of the day before, then immediately felt like a schmuck. Quickly I pointed out one of the distinctive Marathon Maniac yellow singlets and explained. That seemed to pump her up after she realized that finishing this race would also qualify her. We ran off-and-on together for the next six miles or so.

            Off the bridge at mile eight, we were in very familiar scenery. The next 11 miles would cover the same ground that I had traversed twice the day before. Two key differences: We ran the Seward Park loop counterclockwise as opposed to the day before, and for three-plus miles we were heading south -- directly into the sun, which sits low on the horizon in late November at latitude 47. Seward Park brought us to the halfway point, 2:31:06 in gun time, and also put the sun at our backs for most of the rest of the race. This is also when my confidence began to build. The splits weren't blazing -- 11:30 to 12:00, slower during any of my four pit stops -- but the legs were holding up and I was starting to pass people.   

            This was a gentle, friendly, loving, huggable course for 20 miles. After that, it turned mean. I don't know what we did to it, but suddenly the course hated us. Mile 20-21 threw a 125-foot rise topping out with an old friend, the Madison Street hill, last covered by yours truly in the 1986 Emerald City Marathon. Back then, it was mile 10. Back then, I actually ran up hills in marathons. Then a glorious plunge into the Lake Washington Arboretum -- glorious if you still have quads left. Because of 45 minutes of walking, I did. Then came the mother of climbs, 250 feet up to mile 22. From there it obviously trended downhill, but it was all grade, either up or down, to the finish. For any runner who has hit the wall, this was a trek through Hades.

            An oddity at mile 25: Passing right in front the nightclub where I saw the bemused stepson perform a musical gig last summer. Just past that, I managed to avoid stumbling over the tracks for what officialdom calls the South Lake Union Line of the Seattle Streetcar; the locals prefer South Lake Union Trolley -- because of the acronym.

            Though this, I was moving well and picking up places. My pace dropped under 11 min/miles, even when walking uphill. After 18 miles of wondering what I was doing, the last seven I wondered why it had to end. This was a finish to savor, which I did in 5:04:56 (gun), 5:03:49 (chip), 1,108 of 1,236 men and 1,634 of 1,879 overall. In the age group, 87 out of 100. My encore witnesses were the tolerant spouse and bemused stepson, who joined hundreds of others in Seattle Center's Memorial Stadium, then accompanied me indoors to the heated Recovery Area for soup that didn't measure up to the day before.

            Thus ended the weekend of racing contrasts. The one constant, of course, is the distance: twin 26.2-milers for Marathon Maniac No. 724, Iridium (four-star) Level.

            * FINISHES BY HCR MEMBERS AND FRIENDS:

            Ghost: James Klarich, 3:44:16 (11th of 34 overall); Burko Crutcher, 4:57:06 (but under an assumed name)

            Seattle: Clifford Banister, 3:09:22 (78th of 1,237 men, and negative splits by five seconds); Karin Kupp, 3:21:00 (15th of 643 women, fifth in 35-39 age group); Jill Banister, 3:25:24 (24th of 643 women, second in 45-49 age group); Diane Jones, 3:50:14; Heather Fauth, 4:28:28; Burko Crutcher, 5:04:56 (but under an assumed name); Bob Dolphin, 5:44:20.

            Did we miss anybody? Please let us know.

            * MARATHONS BY THE NUMBERS:

            * Number of finishers:    

            Ghost of Seattle Marathon: 34 (plus 11 half-marathoners and four 50kers)

            Seattle Marathon: 1,879 (plus 130 or so marathon walkers and 5,100 half-marathoners)

            * Entry fee

            Ghost: $20

            Seattle: $107.50 (including "processing and shipping" for online entry)

            * Bib number:

            Ghost: No bibs

            Seattle: 1567

            * Splits:

            Ghost: When you hit aid station and turnaround (4.57 mi, 8.88 mi, 13.1 mi, 17.68 mi, 21.99 mi, assuming you remembered all that from looking at the Web site)

            Seattle: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 miles plus 5K, 10K, 15K, 20K, 25K, 30K, 35K, 40K. All (or most) splits read by volunteers with aid of amplification.

            * Road closures

            Ghost: None

            Seattle: Fifth Avenue, Interstate 90 express lanes, lakeshore drive by several names, at least a half-dozen neighborhood streets and arterials

            * Transport from Kirkland:

            Ghost: Metro buses 255/39

            Seattle: Metro buses 255/16/13 (or 2, 3, 4 on online trip planner); return by Monorail (but only after 9 a.m, because tourists aren't awake before then)/255

            *Aid stations:

            Ghost: Two (hit four times)

            Seattle: 15

            *Aid station offerings:

            Ghost: Water, sports drink, candy, fruit, potato chips, pretzels

            Seattle: Water, sports drink.

            * Clothing check

            Ghost: Leave gym bag next to van at start-finish

            Seattle: Mark race-issue plastic sack with name and bib number, twist with tag that has bib number, leave with volunteer at Memorial Stadium.

            * Race time:

            Ghost: 4:57:06 (race director's phone)

            Seattle: 5:04:56 (gun), 5:03:49 (chip)

            * Personal half-marathon race splits:

            Ghost: 2:23:20, 2:33:46

            Seattle: 2:31:08, 2:33:11 (gun time)

            * T-shirts:

            Ghost: None

            Seattle: Long-sleeve dirty yellow tech, "walking billboard" on back

            *In prerace packet:

            Ghost: No packet

            Seattle: Copy of Outdoors Northwest magazine, entry forms for nine races, including three Sunbelt rock 'n' roll marathons and three Canadian marathons, a card for "nutrition drink" sample, card for a financial adviser, samples of lip balm, hair elastic bands, "high performance sport detergent," vitamin supplement and ubiquitous "udder cream," plus an admittedly way-cool poster that features a Google-type race-course map       

            * Number of stories in daily newspaper questioning race director's salary and race organization's fund-raising practices:

            Ghost: None

            Seattle: Three (through Tuesday, 11/27)