BQ at the Jack & Jill Downhill Marathon

After running 50 ultras for 50 last year, I stayed in the run-without-goals mode for a while, until in April I saw a few Strava friends running the Boston Marathon. This had always been on my list of things to get to, but with my older son graduating from a school near Boston in 2023, there was suddenly a self-imposed urgency to qualify for Boston Marathon. I had already planned to run CIM in December, but even if I did BQ, that would’ve put me on the 2024 queue. So just like that, the week after 2022 Boston Marathon, I decided to try in earnest to become a real marathoner 🙂 Here’s my Strava activity:

Jack & Jill Downhill Marathon

After searching around for a qualifying marathon, I registered for the Jack & Jill Downhill Marathon in April giving me about 14 weeks to “train” *ahem*. From running all of the ultras, I knew I had the endurance base, so it was a matter of getting fast enough, in time to qualify. I’ll write more about the actual training in a subsequent blog, but the highlight during the buildup was a 22-mile run at 7:45 min/mile pace on week 9 (!!!), which was a huge confident booster! With a little assistance from the gradual downhill, I figured I had a solid chance of running 3:25 to BQ.

Week Before Race

Psychologically, taper week sucks. So many phantom pains, moodiness, doubt & uncertainty and just overall fidgetiness. Ran a relaxed 8-miler on the local trails on Monday and went to the track on Wednesday to run a few 1200s.

But as the quote goes, everyone’s got a strategy until they get punched in the mouth. On taper week, I got stung by a wasp and re-busted my shoulder from rock climbing. On top of that, the Pacific Northwest was experiencing a heatwave. I mean, just pile ’em on to make things interesting, right? The race directors had moved up the race by 30 minutes to 6:00am and with copious shade on the route, expected temperature for the first few hours was around high 60’s to low 70’s. Here’s the forecast when I got to North Bend for bib-pickup on Saturday afternoon 😳

Drove out to the start line in Hyak after I picked up my bib to explore a little and by golly what a view! I even walked into the Snoqualmie Tunnel for a quarter mile and felt the temperature drop significantly.

Snoqualmie Tunnel
Snoqualmie Tunnel
Keechelus Lake

Read a few chapters of “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” in bed, turned off my phone and lights out at 8pm. Not sure when I actually slept, but when I woke up at 3am, I felt fairly refreshed and looked like I actually managed to get some sleep!

Race Day

I don’t think I’ve had race jitters in a long time, but the whole “finish-by-a-certain-time” thing was looming over my head. Just needed to start running. It was a gorgeous morning up at Hyak with cool temperatures belying how hot it was going to be in a few hours.

I lined up next to the 3:20 pacing group and I figured I’ll run with them for a bit to see how things went. We took off promptly at 6:00am and as expected, everyone went out too fast. I had no sense of pace inside the 2.5 mile, pitch dark, tunnel stretch, but it felt fast. The cool, damp tunnel was awesome (headlamps a must!), but I lost track of time just following the bobbing headlamps and listening to the footsteps. Exited out of the tunnel, dropped off the headlamps into a bin and woah! The view! Sun coming up over the mountains, green forests as far as the eyes can see and the cool morning breeze. Not to mention starting to feel that downhill! This was my very first race where I didn’t stop and take pictures during the run!

Throughout the course, I caught myself hitting 6:45 pace on the steeper segments and consciously throttled back. A 7:20-7:25 pace felt comfortable, faster than my training runs, but I attributed to the downhill boost. Left the 3:20 pacing group shortly after the tunnel and then mostly just ran my own race, being very mindful of just letting it flow, but never speeding.

For “road runners”, there are three things about the course that you may not have encountered during your training. One, this is a trail run – which means you do have to watch your footing at places. Can’t zone out. Two (unique to this day), heat management. While there was water at the aid stations every 2-miles, you need to know how to stay cool and hydrate. Three, this is a downhill run. You have to learn how to run downhill without excessive braking.

Three things to watch out on the Jack & Jill downhill marathon

The miles went by easily and every chance I got, soaked up the views. I had a total of 4 gels every 40 minutes and that was enough. Stayed cool by dousing myself in water regularly, and the trees with the shade were huge help.

Home Stretch and the BQ

When I hit mile 22 in 2:42, I knew I was going to BQ and with a big enough margin. I finally took a breather, slowed down briefly to get another gel in, a drink of electrolyte and felt the pressure ease off. This was actually going to happen! One last push and I rolled into the finish line @ 3:17 with a huge smile, a little earlier than planned. Looking back at the splits, it was super consistent, just about 23 minutes for every 10km. I’ll take 6th in age group as cherry on top too! 🙂

This would be my first time to mostly run the entire marathon without walking extended stretches. I guess I’m a legit marathoner now! Can’t wait to run Boston in 2023! The day after though, I couldn’t help but think a 3:10 marathon could be within reach! Now that I’m 51, I feel like I have a (shrinking) window where I can get faster after which, dem ‘ol bones ain’t gonna move as quick – even if I wanted to. If not now, then when, right?

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