Avenue of the Giants

Packet pickup was the day before the race, at the start (which was good as it made me find the start at a stress-free time). It’s at a place called the Dyerville bridge over the Eel river. Once upon a time there was a town call Dyerville, but in 1955 the river rose 19 feet in an hour, and after that very little was left of the town. At Dyerville three rivers join (two forks of the Eel and Bull creek).

Then I went to look at the course, to get a feel for it (and to take the pictures I would not take while racing).

Dyerville is on a scenic highway called “The Avenue of the Giants”, right at the intersection with another road called Bull Creek Road (and also US 101, but the freeway doesn’t interest me). Both roads go through stands of old-growth redwood forest. We start out by running 6.5 miles up the Bull Creek, then turn round and run down it again back to Dyerville, and then out on the Avenue for 6.5 miles and again back to the start. Somewhere there’s another .2 miles too.

About the first thing I saw as I drove up the Bull Creek Rd. was a view of the confluence where Bull Creek flows into the Eel. There was a large sand spit at the confluence and people were parking on it. In the middle of a river that rose 19 feet in an hour? That seemed, um, silly. Later that day at the talk given describing the course I was told that we would be parking there. That seemed, um, dangerous. (Remember, it takes more than an hour to run a marathon). So I asked the man giving the talk, and he replied “Oh, don’t worry that won’t happen today.” Since I was worrying about “tomorrow” this wasn’t as consoling as it might have been.

It started to sprinkle shortly after the talk…

I arrived for the race a hour and a half early and could not figure out how to get down into the river. But I did find a spot above it. So I decided to use that instead.

It was cold at 6:30am. Sunlight was striking the hills, but not the river valley, and the waning moon was visible. I wandered around a bit, and then decided to go sit in the car and stay warm.

I was cautiously optimistic about this race. It was the first time in more than 2 years that I’d been able to do a marathon. The first time ever that I’d been able to train properly for one. The first time I’d carbo-loaded. I was pretty sure I would break 3. I hoped for 2:56~7.

I was a bit worried about the carbo-loading. Minor worry: I managed to do the final depletion work-out, and I got the impression from Rusty that if you deplete properly then you can’t finish it. But plenty of people just load and don’t deplete, so that didn’t worry me too much. What did worry me was that Rusty warned me that I’d probably loaded incorrectly. I hadn’t realized that it mattered what form the carbs came in and I just drank a bunch of HEED. Rusty said I should have eaten normal but high-carb food. I guess I’d assumed sugar water would be better because everything else is full of protein and fats and if you really want just carbs you stick with sugars… Oh well. Mike had me load for two days (dunno why) on the second day I contracted the dire rear.  And it had not gone away. It wasn’t really bad, but it did require a toilet every few hours. I wasn’t sure how the marathon would affect it either.

I got out of my car at about 7:15 and it seemed considerably warmer.

I changed into my running shoes, put on my plastic bag, gathered my GU, strapped on two watches (an HR monitor and a GPS), cap, etc. Stretched a bit. Then I went for a tiny warmup jog. Not far, because I didn’t want to waste my carefully loaded carbs.

If there were any. Advanced Marathoning says you should expect to feel stiff and out of shape from loading. I didn’t. I felt pretty good.

I get back to the start at about 7:45, consumed a GU and went to line up.

I wanted to start out relatively slowly, so I hung back in the second row.

No gun but a claxon. Startling.

After the initial confusion of the start I count 9 people ahead. That seems fine. Then four people pass me. I  look at one woman and just know “You’re going out too fast… you’ll never hold this pace.” I glance down at my GPS and it tells me 6:53. It often reads 5 seconds faster than it should, but I’d like about 7:10. So I slow.

Four more people pass me. Sigh.

Unfortunately the pictures were taken in the afternoon and miss the dark morning feeling

We’ve been running beside sort of scrubby brush next to the creek, but now we dive into the redwoods. They are huge. You can’t see the top of them. It’s all dark and cool under the trees.

I realize I’m not paying much attention to the scenery. I’m racing. I’m more concerned about not running too fast. I keep glancing at my watch and often slowing. (I notice a woman ahead of me is doing much the same.)

I pass the woman I thought went out too fast. She did.

The first mile was 7:00 exactly. Not quite as slow as I wanted, but not too fast. I had intended the first mile to be at 7:10 and the second at 7:00, but I guess I’ll try to reverse that order. So I slow a tiny bit.

Just before the two mile mark I see something so normal that I don’t even think about it. And then I do a double take.

Of course you see dogwoods blooming in the woods in the Spring. Normal. But that is east coast thinking. I have never seen a dogwood on the west coast before.

I look at it closely (not on the run, I must admit, but when I noticed it the day before. Looks like a dogwood. The flowers seem bigger than those I’m used to so perhaps a different species? Or a commercial hybrid? I know there are bunchberries on the west coast (herbaceous members of the dogwood family (or genus depending on your taxonomist)) but I didn’t know there were trees. I even ask at the Park Visitors’ Center and the guy there tells me that, yes there is a Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), and yes it is  now in bloom and the best place to see one is about 2 miles out Bull Creek road. Um, yup. That’s just where I saw it.

But getting back to the run… Mile two is at 7:11 pace which is pretty much exactly what I wanted. So now I pick up the pace a bit. I want to run the next 4 or 5 at 6:50 pace and then speed up to 6:40s if I can. Or 6:45s. Even 6:50s would be OK, but I think I can do better than than.

I pass the woman who has been checking her watch. And then another guy.

We come to the first aid station, and I get a drink of water. The volunteers know what they are doing and run with us a bit to hand off the water. And they smush the cups properly so you can suck on them rather than splash water in your face. Excellent people!

Just before mile three I hear feet behind me. Two guys, running together. I’m impressed. They’ve gone out slowly, even more slowly than I, and are now picking it up, even faster than I. They might know what they are doing (One of them finished 5th (I think) and the other 7th). They pass me. I’m sort of losing track of who is ahead now, but I think there are about 16 or so.

Although they pass me, they slow a bit and run just ahead of me.

Here two streams cross the road (under it, I should add) one is called “Cow creek”, the other “Calf creek” and they flow into “Bull creek”. There seems a common theme in this.

Mile 3 is 6:54. That will do.

Mile 4 is also 6:54. I begin to notice that I’m warm. So I start to take off the plastic bag I put around me. I have to rip it off and it would rather stretch than rip, but eventually it comes off. One of the two guys in front hears me and turns back “You had that bag on for a long time!”. “I was cold.”

Now here’s a spot where water oozes over the road. Not deep, but it goes on for a long time and it is wet and gets kicked up by feet.

Mile 5 is 6:50. The second aid station is right round the corner. Another good choice. I have time to click my watch before I have to deal with getting water. Oops I forgot to take a GU — I intend to take one every 5 miles or so, and now my hands are full of plastic bag and I can’t. There’s a trash can before the aid station. They really have got this worked out. In goes the bag. Cup of water. Then a GU. Not my preferred order, but it will do.

We (the two guys in front and me) have been slowly gaining on a large clump of people ahead, now we join them and all run together for a time. This clump includes both lead women (both now, and at the finish) and about 4 males. Slowly we pass through them.

Mile 6 is 6:55. There’s another aid station right after the mile, but it’s so close to the last that I don’t bother with it.

We start to see runners coming back now. So the leader is about a mile ahead of us. I count them as they go by.

And suddenly I’m in the lead of this clump. Not sure how that happened. We approach the turn-around. I’m looking for a large chip mat like the ones we use; I don’t realize that theirs is actually rather small and I miss it and have to, awkwardly, swing back over it.

The guy behind laughs and says “You don’t want to miss that!”. I laugh too.

The turn around is at 6.5 miles (exactly — or as exact as we get), which means all the mile markers are in the same spots going back. Coming out here we climbed roughly 200 ft. Now we descend the same amount.

My counting tells me that I am now 9th. Right where I was at the beginning. 🙂 This seems good.

I glance at my GPS and it tells me that my pace since mile 6 is 6:12 (OK that’s probably 6:17, but even so it is far too fast). I slow a bit and get to mile 7 in 6:36. Still fast, but not by much.

The two guys pass me again. Sigh. 11th. It looks as though they are alternately drafting off each other.

Around mile 8 one of them slows and I catch up with him. We end up running together for most of the rest of the race. I (eventually) learn that his name is Steve. He asks me how many times I have run Boston.

Now I still feel a bit guilty about Boston. I ran it without qualifying. But then many years later I qualified (with the time I needed when I was in my thirties) and registered but got injured and failed to run it. So it’s sort of ok… Anyway I tell Steve “Once.” which is true. And then say that at my age qualifying is too easy. I hope he’ll drop the subject of my running it. He does. He is hoping to qualify. Since he is now running at a pace which will bring him in at about 3 hours I assume he’s ~30 and will have no difficulty qualifying.

Oh yes, mile 8 was 6:41. Which is just about what I want it to be.

Steve and I sort of leapfrog each other for a bit. First he’s in front, then I am. He says I run faster downhill than he does. Interesting.

Mile 9 is 6:44. That’s a bit slower than I’d like. If I can’t manage 6:40s now, on a downhill stretch, I’m not going to do very well on the flat. My quads are beginning to hurt too. Sigh.

One nice thing: I have not been bothered by my shin splints. Two nice things: I have not been bothered by the dire rear. Yay.

There’s a fallen tree off on the right. Someone has sawn out a round and there is a path that leads right through the tree. I took it the day before the race. The trunk is much taller than I am. Not quite twice my height, but close.

I take a GU. Mile 10 is 6:54. That’s worrying. 6:51 is my limit if I want to break 3 hours. I’m starting to realize that I’m not going to hit a 6:40 pace, but I do hope to maintain 6:50.

The half marathoners were released an hour after we were (on the same course) and the first of them (going out, of course) meet us (coming back, of course). We cheer each other on.

And then more of them.

Soon they seem to be taking up the entire road and forcing us off into the mud. They are very enthusiastically cheering, but I’m much rather be able to run than  be cheered at.

Mile 11 is 6:59. Ug. That’s really sad. Maybe it’s from dodging half marathoners? (The funny thing is that although I am slowing down I continue to run with Steve. He seems to be slowing at almost exactly the same rate).

Just before mile 12 we come into a big-leaved maple thicket. The light has a much different quality here, instead of the dark from the tall redwoods there is a golden glow as the sun shines through the new leaves.

Mile 12 is 6:52. Whew. That’s close enough that I don’t worry.

We’re coming back to Dyerville. I can hear traffic on 101, I can hear the announcer at the start line (I can’t hear what is said, just that something is). Mile 13 is 6:50. Good.

And we pass under the freeway bridge, and suddenly there’s a count down and a claxon and I’m confused and then there are people running all around me. Now we cross over the Eel and in the middle of this bridge is someone saying “Left, left” so I go left. And I realize that I have missed the chip mat at the half marathon point— the someone was actually saying “10K left, left”. So the claxon and all the people are the 10K that has just started. That’s what all the fuss was about.

And I missed the mat. Oh well. Tough. But that means I hit the halfway point just a few seconds after 1:30 (assuming the 10K started on schedule) and that is comforting. I still have a chance for a 3 hour marathon.

We’re now on the Avenue itself. Back into huge redwoods.

10Kers continue to pass me. And then we reach a stasis point and we’re all running together, and then Steve and I start to pass them. (some of them anyway). They went out too fast.

I miss the 14 mile mark.

My gut starts to feel mildly uncomfortable. Oh dear. This could be really bad. I slow a bit, hoping that will calm it, and I don’t take a GU, hoping that will calm it.

The Avenue makes a short steep climb as it bridges over the 101. Nasty.

I mention to Steve that it doesn’t look as if we will break three. He is surprised. He hadn’t intended to. (Then why was he running a a 3 hour pace for the first half?). He just hopes he can hold the current pace and qualify.

Miles 14&15 13:47.

The forest floor is covered with this lovely little plant called Wood Sorrel. It’s an Oxalis (probably O. oregona, but I need to look it up when I get home). And unlike the Oxalis in SB (which is non-native) this one belongs under the redwoods. So I can enjoy it without guilt.

Mile 16 is 7:00. This is not looking good. At least at Cal International collapse didn’t happen until I got to mile 20. And then things just got really bad quickly and I ended up running 9 minute miles. Please, please don’t do that to me again….

Mile 17 is again 7:00. Small favours.

My tummy is feeling better, so I try a GU now.

I perk up a bit, and manage to catch up with Steve. And we chat and (finally) exchange names.

Mile 18 is 7:08. Well. I thought I had perked up. I guess I just perked relative to Steve. Steve appears to be running easily, but he is slowing just as I am.

I wonder what I look like.

We start seeing runners coming the other way. Steve thinks we’re in 10&11th place, I think 11/12. We see Steve’s friend, who is now in 5th place.

Mile 19 is 7:07. So the collapse really is more gradual than two years ago. I start trying to figure in my head what a 7:10 pace will mean, but I haven’t been keeping track of the sum of time, only noticing the splits.

We reach the turn around. And this time I run right over the chip mat with absolutely no problems. I’ve learned something! Steve was right. We are in 10&11th place. I’m currently about 3 feet ahead, but that’s not going to last. We are 3/4 done. I joke to Steve that I’ll race him to the finish. Of course that’s what we’ve been doing all along…

Mile 20 is 7:12. I have to drop back from Steve again.

As we head back we run into the wind. When we’re under redwoods, the wind can’t get to us, but every now and then we come out into a relatively open spot where we can see the Eel, and the wind strikes. This slows me even more.

Mile 21 is 7:20.

I’m going to try one more GU. I haven’t had any more intestinal distress, so maybe things have calmed down. Of course I’m running more slowly, that’s probably helped.

Mile 22 is 7:15. Nice. And I catch up with Steve again. There seems a definite pattern here. I guess I’ve sort of hit the wall and but can burn fat better than I could 2 years ago? All that trail running may be helping. That might explain why I seem to manage only an 85% heart rate now.

Steve and I see a guy ahead of us. We’re catching him! He slows to a walk. And we pass. Steve offers him some jelly beans. I’m too tired to think of this. He says he’s OK, just has cramps. We’re now in 9&10th place. Steve has plans. He wants to catch more people. I have my doubts…

Mile 23 is 7:36. And now the collapse seems to be accelerating.

Just before mile 24 I start passing 5K walkers. I’m feeling unusually annoyed by them. Maybe because I’m doing so badly. Here I have run 11 miles in the time they have walked 4. That’s pathetic. I’m not running fast. They are doing less than 3 miles an hour.

Mile 24 is 7:47. Mile 25 is 7:56. Then the bridge over the freeway. Mile 26 is again 7:56. Wow. This is so much better than Cal International. Even though collapse started earlier it has been much more gradual.

I can hear the announcer calling out finishers. And then up the bridge over the Eel, and I can see the half marathoners streaming in. These are 2:10 (=~10 min/mile) half marathoners, so even in my depleted state, running 8 minute miles, I have no problems running faster than they do. Indeed their presence gives me a (small) sense of encouragement. I’m not so bad after all.

I cross the line. I see 3:06:10 at some point. So it’s a technically a “PR”.  A whole minute and a bit faster than my last collapse.

I see Steve and I congratulate him. He is really happy. He wanted to break 3:21 (it turns out he’s 40) and instead he did 3:05 something. His wife isn’t here yet. She wasn’t expecting him to finish so soon.

It takes a while for results to appear. Quite a long while. Several hours. But appear they do eventually. Steve was 7th. But to his annoyance he is fourth in his age-group (so he gets no award). I was 8th. 3:06:19. And was first in mine.

It was a PR. But a downright depressing one. Maybe I should give up on marathons. I can’t seem to store the fuel I need for them.

(On a happy note: The river did not flood, and all the cars were safe)


12 Responses to “Avenue of the Giants”

  1. Kary Says:

    OR you could keep running marathons and “collapse” even more gradually! 😉

  2. maggie Says:

    Loved your report, George…felt like I was running with you. You PR’d! And were 1st in your age group! That’s something to celebrate. Keep going…you’ll have your breakthrough.

    Great job!

  3. Brian Says:

    “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
    — Viktor E. Frankl

    Time to send Eeyore home, George. Be proud of what you have accomplished…everybody else is. Allow yourself that pleasure…

  4. georgeruns Says:

    Only if I learn to carbo-load. On the other hand I could stick to half marathons and trail races…

    But now is not the time to make that decision.

  5. Adger Says:

    An estimable performance, as always. I don’t think you need to be disappointed by a PR and 1st in Age group.

  6. Tek Says:

    Thanks for the detailed race report, George. The marathon is such a tough nut to crack, which is probably why I keep coming back for more. I think I know the feeling of a marathon PR that disappoints, where your training and race predictors show that your fitness is better than the result. I felt the same way after SBIM. I guess I’m something of a challenge junkie, forever tweaking my training and fueling strategies until I can run that mythic “Glory Days PR”. Congrats on the 1st place finish in your Age Group. Do you know if you set the course record for your Age-Group?

  7. Drea Says:

    Good job George! Congratulations on your PR! (even though it wasn’t what you wanted, I know that feeling). You are still very speedy my friend!

  8. Gina Says:

    Congratulations, George! You should be proud. Enjoy your first place.

  9. nichol Says:

    I can’t believe that you remember each mile. I finish a marathon and don’t remember much at all about ANY of the miles. Maybe women are hardwired to forget the hard stuff to ensure the survival of our species.

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