November 26, 2012

Seattle Marathon

Goofier Challenge, day two.


When the alarm went off at 5:30am, I had already been awake for a few minutes. As I swung out of bed, I wondered what it would feel like when my feet hit the floor. How bad would it hurt, and was I really prepared to run another 26.2 miles. I was definitely stiff, and the heels of my feet were pretty sore, but there were no sharp pains. A good start. 

After taking care of the pooch and getting myself put together, I hit the road two hours before the start of the marathon. Even though the normal drive time was 40 minutes, two hours almost wasn't enough. Traffic was fine until I got off the freeway, but then it took an hour to move about a mile. Five cars away from making the turn to the parking garage, they closed that street. Then I made it another block before they shut down the next street to let the half marathoners run by. I was stuck in place for 20 minutes as my own start time ticked closer. 

After finding parking and walking to the start, I had five minutes to hit the restroom and hop the fence to get in the starting chute. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to find Brett, so I didn't know if he was queued up already, stuck in traffic, or still at home nursing an injury. The gun went off and we started shuffling to the start line. While we were still walking, I spotted a gal who was serving beer at yesterday's finish line. Volunteering for one marathon, running the next. We wished each other luck and headed out. 

Once moving, both my right shin and achilles tendon started to hurt. I have had troubles with the tendon off and on all year, but the shin pain was new. Just like yesterday, the plan was just to run at a pace that felt natural, and take the day as it came. Of course with 26 miles already in the tank, I had no idea what I was in for. 

It was colder than yesterday, and very foggy. On the drive in, a blanket of fog curled over the 520 floating bridge like a slowly crashing wave. As we ran through downtown, the fog added an extra mystical feel to the white lights in the trees that lined 5th Avenue. The fog would remain most of the day, blocking out all the great views I enjoyed yesterday. It was difficult to even see the water from the bridge or lakeside path.

Minutes later, I caught up to a woman I recognized from yesterday's race. She was doing the full Quadzilla, so this was her fourth marathon in four days. We chatted briefly, wished each other well, and disappeared into the crowd. I had run into her at the Seattle expo the afternoon before, and would see her one more time as I drove past the course after I finished. Weird coincidences in a crowd of thousands of runners. 

After leaving downtown, we headed over the I-90 floating bridge. This is a long stretch with little to look at, so I watched the faster runners coming the other way. The weird, random sightings continued as I spotted a friend I hadn't seen in a decade. She was walking the marathon, so I figured I would catch up with her later, but when I was actually looking for her, she passed by unseen. 

After making the turn, I saw Brett heading east. I crossed the road and we gave each other a low five. I was glad to see he had made it, and even though we weren't running together, it was encouraging to know he was out there as well. I would see him one more time on the long out and back on the lake road, and he looked even better by mile 10.

Much of the rest of the day was a bit of a blur. After getting off the bridge, the next 11 miles were on the same course we ran twice yesterday. We were running through a bank of fog, with blinders up blocking out the scenery, and my mind fell into a similar sort of tunnel. I tried not to think about much more than putting one foot in front of the other, fell into a rhythm and sort of zoned out.

Halfway around Seward Park, we reached the halfway mark of the race as well. There was a mat and a big clock at the 13.1 mile mark, and it showed that I had just run the first half in just under two hours. I was blown away. It felt like I was doing pretty well, but this was faster than either half of yesterday's race. 

Going in, I had no idea what a second marathon in two days would be like. There was no goal other than to do my best. I would have been very happy with a 4:30 finish, and I would be ecstatic if I could match the 4:15 from yesterday. Here I was seven minutes ahead of my dream time pace. If I could keep this time cushion, I could still net a good time with the walking I felt was inevitable. The four hour pace team was just ahead of me, and I just tried to keep them in sight.

At mile 20, the course leaves the lake road and heads uphill. Sharply. The first block is very steep, and I knew I couldn't run it much faster than a walk, so I walked. A left turn onto Madison and the road was still uphill, but I was running again. The pace group would disappear, and then I would reel them in. Up and down for the next three miles, though mostly up, and I lost sight of them by mile 23. I was more than spent, but kept pressing. 

A mile from the finish the road headed downhill, but so steeply that it was difficult to navigate. As a final insult, there is climb out of an underpass at mile 26. I ran about a third of the way up before deciding to walk the rest, hoping for a strong finish. Running again, there were only a few steps to go. I was mentally fuzzy, but the thought popped in my head that I don't get as emotional at finish lines as I used to. As soon as I turned the next corner though, it was all over. 

The course finishes inside Memorial Stadium, and soon as I entered the finishing chute I began to lose it. When my feet touched the field, I was completely gone. I was overwhelmed by the moment - running around my home city after three years away, the miles of the weekend, the effort I had put into finishing, and a finish time I didn't think possible. I was blinking back tears as I found a little something to sprint to the finish. The clock read just over four hours as I broke the imaginary tape. 

I walked through the finish area, unable to catch my breath. I had not only finished my second marathon in two days, but I had somehow cut 15 minutes off of my dream time. 4:00:11 on worn legs. I was just blown away, and I alternated between tears and crazy laughter. Relief and pride. Pushing up against my limits, and then to keep pushing. 

After walking around the recovery area, working my way out of delirium, I made my way back to my car. The pain was really setting in now, and the half mile walk felt particularly long. I was meeting friends in Bothell for a belated Thanksgiving Day celebration, and wasn't able to meet up with Brett afterward. Looking at our finish times, we both had surprising days. We both ran very steady races, each of us running the second half within a minute or two of the first half. Brett actually ran the hillier second half a minute faster. That is some great running.

It was an incredible day and weekend. Over 52 miles in a 28 hour period. To not only avoid breaking, but doing better than I could have imagined. Running with a few hundred, and then a few thousand. Running with a friend, and then running alone in the fog, but still seeing familiar faces. What a crazy experience.  

November 24, 2012

Ghost of Seattle Marathon

Goofier challenge, day one.

It has rained cats and dogs, buckets and tubs of water since I returned to Washington. After a near record dry spell over the summer, it felt like Seattle was trying to catch up on three months worth of rain in a single week. Running two marathons was going to be hard enough without sideways rain thrown into the mix.

As race day got closer, the forecast improved incrementally, and Brett and I were treated to near perfect weather this morning - temperature in the low 40s, clouds but no rain, and a bit of sunshine breaking through at the end. There was a open flame heater at the start line, and a few runners were huddled around it, but it was perfect running weather.

Brett and I set off together, and ran side by side for the first 13 miles. We hadn't seen each other in years, so we traded stories about family, work, running and other adventures. Though we weren't burning up the clock, the miles went by relatively quickly with the easy conversation.

Since neither of us had attempted running marathons back to back, we had no real clue as to how to approach day one. I figured I would run at a comfortable pace, similar to what I would do on a long training run, and just see how the day went. I had a rough thought that running a half hour slower than my best back in January was a good plan, but it was kind of a shot in the dark. And as I found out at the marathon a few weeks ago, going slower than you are capable is no guarantee of an easier day. You aren't as short of breath, but your body hurts just as much, if not more.

The marathon was two loops of the same course, so we ran through the finish at half way. Brett and I split up after that, ready to run the pace that felt best for each of us. The route first heads south and loops around Seward Park.

The road around the park was just off the water, but also bracketed by trees in many places. With only 300 or so runners, we had the roads mostly to ourselves as we made our way round.

After a 3.5 mile loop around the park, the route heads north for a long out-and-back run along Lake Washington. The paths were a little more congested in this section because you had runners going in either direction, but it was still far from crowded. Not overly worried about my finish time, I stopped and took a few more photos of the lake and fall colors.

With the long out-and-back run being run twice, it was easy to recognize faces as they passed by multiple times. Also, with relatively few people running the marathon, there was a certain extra camaraderie, and words of encouragement passed freely back and forth. As usual, things got a little quieter near the end as the fatigue and soreness mounted, but there were still smiles and nods.

All the muscles in my legs grew tighter, and certain pains would not be ignored, but I was able to hold off a crash at the end. I crossed the finish line in 4:15:17, almost exactly a half hour slower than my January time. I also ran my first ever negative split, running the second half about five minutes faster than the first. Brett came in a little bit later, and I was able to get my phone out in time for one last shot.

Brett and I hung out at the finish line and shared more stories over a cold beer. I also took a quick walk into the lake to get some cold water on my sore muscles. I am hoping that the natural ice bath will help reduce the swelling and help prepare my weary legs for tomorrow's challenge.

Today was a great run. Good weather, nice conversation, a scenic route and a relatively strong finish. I am sure tomorrow will be much harder, but so far so good. If I make it to the finish, I can use my finisher medal to crack open a celebration beer.

November 19, 2012

A goofier challenge

For the past seven to eight years, running has obviously been a big part of my life. I like to have a race on the calendar to keep me honest, and get me out the door on days when I am not feeling my strongest. I thought that running the Seattle Marathon would not only be a great way to mark my return to the city, but also give me a great tour of the city to see what had changed in the past three years.

I am blessed to have great running friends in both Seattle and San Diego. As I mentioned in a previous post, I ended up running a marathon with my San Diego friends a couple of weeks ago, and that run together was a wonderful way to celebrate our friendship, and my time down there. However, though I look forward to running again with my Seattle friends, I hadn't mentioned my marathon plans this time around, and planned to run it solo.

A month or two out, someone I had only recently reconnected with on Facebook mentioned he was looking for people to join him in a Thanksgiving challenge. For a little background, Disney World has a marathon/half marathon in January, and for a number of years, they have had something called the "Goofy Challenge". Those who take on the Goofy Challenge run the half marathon on Saturday, and then the full marathon on Sunday. My friend was talking about an even crazier challenge that is run in Seattle over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Apparently there is something called the Quadzilla. Marathons are held on all four days of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and some crazy people run all four of them. Brett mentioned the Quadzilla on Facebook, and was looking for friends to run one or more of the events with him. I said I was already planning on running a marathon that weekend, and that I would run whichever one he needed company on.

Then the seed started to grow. Maybe I could run two marathons over the four days. The past couple of years, I ran a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning with Sean and Marci. I was planning on running a vicarious 5k with them that morning, and I thought maybe I would run the marathon that day instead. Then after a few days rest (and lots of turkey) maybe I could run the big Seattle Marathon on Sunday. I was trained to run a single marathon, but I had no idea what two marathons in that short of a span would be like. But maybe...

Another friend recently asked why I found marathons appealing. Training for them keeps me out on the roads regularly, but I think the main reason I continue to run them is that they keep redefining my breaking point. They force me to go beyond what I think I can do, and force me to find reserves I didn't think I had. I think that digging that deep when you don't think you can, and finishing something that seemed impossible, carries over into the rest of your life and makes you stronger.

So...the goofier challenge. Brett and I have now decided to run marathons on back to back days. We will run the Ghost of Seattle Marathon on Saturday, and the regular Seattle Marathon on Sunday. The two events have a connection in history (and route). From a recent email:
The Seattle Marathon began in 1970 with just 38 runners...In 1984 the Seattle Marathon changed from Saturday to Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. In 1985 it was moved to October 13th for only one year but this was enough to get a group of people running the original course on the original day. The Seattle Ghost Marathon has been held every year since 1986. It has been held on the original 2 loop course from 1970 to 1985 on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend...It has always been run on the sidewalks and never on a closed course.
Though the races have this common history, running them will be very different experiences. The Ghost on Saturday will have roughly 300 people running on sidewalks, no bibs or timing chips, and few water stops or spectators. The regular Seattle Marathon on Sunday is a more typical marathon with all the amenities, and there will be closer to 9,000 runners jostling their way through the downtown streets. Both share a section of beautiful Lake Washington Blvd, but the Sunday race also makes its way across the I-90 floating bridge, and has a much hillier finish. I have run the Seattle half marathon twice, so I know what the finishing hill is like, but I have no idea how hard it will be to climb by the time I get there this time.

52.4 miles in a span of 30 hours, and three marathons in three weeks. I think I will find my breaking point.

November 18, 2012

Home again

Sierra and All Day on the road.

The pooch and I set out from Ashland Thursday morning, with some 470 miles to go to the end of our journey. It would be our longest day on the road, but I was glad to have the mountain passes behind me.

It turned out that there was still plenty of climbing through southern Oregon, up and down short passes for the first hour or two. The fall-colored hillsides were beautiful, but muted, as we never quite descended out of the cloud cover. When the sun came out a couple of hours later, it felt like we had awoken a second time.

We pressed on and clicked miles and cities off the map. Sierra did surprisingly well on the trip, not whining once, but she was clearly ready for the trip to be over.

We hit Portland long before rush hour, but we hit traffic just the same. Stop and go traffic worked the weary clutch, and delayed our arrival in Washington, but crawling along did allow me to take a shot of crossing the state line.

Once into Washington, we were back in familiar territory. Having participated in the STP a number of times, the section between Seattle and Portland is burned into my brain. After passing Longview, a city with its own connection in memory, I was soon checking off small towns from the route as we made our way backward to the start line. Castle Rock, Vader, Winlock, Napavine, and then to the aptly named Centralia (halfway between Seattle and Portland).

We started hitting traffic as far south as Fort Lewis, and it was slow going from then on. We stopped somewhere around Fife so Sierra could have dinner and I could grab a cup of coffee, and pulled over one last time for her shot of insulin. The sun had already set, so there wasn't much to look at, or to trip the nostalgia meter as we made our way closer to Seattle.

We pulled up in front of my parent's house just before seven in the evening. I let Sierra wander the front yard for a while before going in, so she could sniff things out and I could take a few breaths. We were here, back after almost three years away. There will be plenty of changes in the coming months, and I suppose I was pausing for one more moment before leaving one road for another.

San Diego was more than just a place I lived. It was a second home, and it will probably always feel that way. I am going to miss all the people and much of the life I left behind. But Washington has always been Home, and I felt a certain pull the whole time I was gone.

I saw this somewhere a couple of months ago.

In some ways, I think I was a different person while I was gone. Nothing dramatic or unrecognizable, but an improvement on the person who arrived there. Part of the reason for the move down there was to break out of my routine and comfort zone, and now that I am back home, there is the danger of losing what I have gained. There is plenty left to work on, but I think I brought home enough of San Diego in my heart to keep moving forward.

The address has changed, but the journey continues. Thanks for continuing to follow along.

November 15, 2012

Second leg

I woke all too early after repeated nights of short sleep, but it did allow us to hit the road at a decent hour. Fueled up on gas, coffee, and a fast food breakfast, it was on to our next destination.

When plotting out our course, I decided to veer off of I-5 after getting out of L.A. to take the smaller highway 99 north. I remembered the stretch of I-5 between L.A. and Sacramento as being pretty desolate. Not much to look at, and not many towns to stay in overnight. Highway 99 offered multiple turn off points if we were running out of daylight or energy. I was happy to make it as far as Modesto on day one.

Much of the traffic on 99 (and probably I-5) seemed to be long haul truckers. I was constantly leapfrogging them on the flat portions of the two lane road, and struggling to keep pace on the climbs. Even though we shared the right lane for hundreds of miles, when I joined them again in the rest stops, my little truck trailer combo seemed a little out of place.

Though my truck struggled on the hills, I probably picked the perfect week to travel. Temperatures were cool enough to prevent any overheating, and snow and ice are still a few weeks off. Many years ago, my family got stuck in the passes of northern California, and memories of seventeen hours in Pollard Flat made me extra thankful for relatively smooth sailing this time around.

Highway 99 was nicely tree lined in some sections, and when we reached Sacramento (City of Trees apparently), the landscape started to change overall. The hillsides once folds of brown were now covered in rich textures of green. It also began raining off and on, so it started to feel like Washington with eight hundred miles still to go.

Once we reached Shasta Lake and the base of our last mountain pass, the trees started showing their fall colors. I tried to take pictures as I was driving, but of course most of them didn't turn out. The one semi-decent photo has the snowy peak of Shasta mountain hovering above the changing forest hills.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Sierra was doing much better this time around. I still tried to stop every two hours so each of us could stretch our legs. While leading her through parking lots and rest stop sections of lawn, it became apparent how much she was relying on memory to get around the house. When she would get to a painted line in the road, she assumed it was a curb (or small cliff from her reaction) and brace against moving forward. When I urged her forward, rather than test it out with an extended paw, she would leap ahead to dive in head first. Even a wet portion of pavement was enough color differentiation to make her think the bottom was falling out.

Our destination for the second night was Ashland, Oregon. Holly's cousin had offered up her spare bedroom  as a stop over on our journey. I had met her a couple of years ago at Thanksgiving, and we had become good (if distant) friends on Facebook. She ended up having the next day off from work, so offered to show me around town and give us a day away from the road.

I had heard stories about Ashland from my parents when they used to travel to the Shakespeare festival each year, but had never seen the town myself. While she tied up some work things in the morning, I headed out to a local coffee shop to get some writing in. I would have defaulted to Starbucks, but she pointed me to Noble Coffee, and it was a much better experience. We had a little time to spare, so Sierra and I went to a local park to walk around in the fall leaves.

Sara and I walked around the shops of the downtown area, through another beautiful park, and eventually out to a nearby lake. The town is lovely, and everyone I ran into seemed friendly and outgoing. I can see why she likes it here so much. Really glad we stopped, but now it is on to the last leg of our trip. We are setting out (relatively) early, and should be in the Seattle area later Thursday night. San Diego still lingers in my thoughts, but I am starting to get excited about getting Life 3.0 off the ground. I know Sierra will just be glad to be off the road.

November 14, 2012

On the road

The plan was to hit the road on Monday the 12th. Since I wanted to spend as much time with my friends over that last weekend, I tried to do as much to prepare ahead of time. When I moved down in February of 2010, I only brought what would fit in my pickup truck. But since I don't travel particularly lightly, I had it stuffed to the gills. The back was packed, the front seat was full of stuff I might need to get to, and Sierra rode in the shelf that is my back seat.

Of course over three years, I accumulated more stuff. I picked up mundane stuff like a laundry hamper, and during visits to Seattle I shipped down more tools and grabbed my golf clubs (which were ignored). I also started homebrewing beer in the past year, so that added more equipment to the mix. So, even though I did my best to thin out my possessions over the past month, it was clear that I was going to need to rent a trailer to get it all home. 

I packed the truck to the gills on Friday, and would throw the rest in the trailer I picked up first thing Monday morning. I ended up unpacking and repacking the truck to get some weight off of the sagging springs, but even so I was ready to hit the road by 10:00am. Matt, Holly and Annabelle were the last to see me off, and we hugged and cried until we couldn't take it any more. With a last look at my San Diego life, Sierra and I hit the road.

When we drove down to San Diego three years ago, I had planned to re-travel the route I had biked back in 2006. The Big Ride was one of the best times of my life, and I wanted to relive it in some small way. Sierra had other ideas. She whined and cried as we drove the twisting roads, and soon I gave up the nostalgia and headed inland to the straighter I-5. She was still miserable, but we were making better time. 

She was diagnosed with diabetes shortly after our arrival, so it is possible that had amplified her problems in the truck. Still, I was not sure how she would tolerate the drive north, three years older, more fragile and now easily disoriented. Since I was going to have the extra room in the trailer, I decided to take out the passenger seat in my truck to give her more room to spread out. She would be less confined, able to see me and stand up and stretch her legs now and then. 

Riding shotgun. 

 She has done great so far. I have no idea if the new seating arrangement has made any difference, but it is kind of nice having her right beside me the whole way. The other two things I was concerned with for the drive was making it through L.A. unscathed, and whether or not my truck would be able to climb the passes. On our trip down, we got stuck in a traffic jam that tested us both. Sierra would not stop whining, I had to pee something terrible, and my clutch leg was getting worked. I did not want a repeat performance, dragging a trailer, goosing the clutch to keep it in gear.

Well, we sailed right through L.A. Monday was Veterans Day, and that may have made all the difference in the traffic levels. My truck struggled to climb the hills of the Grapevine, but we made it as far as Modesto the first night. The planned hotel did not work out as there was no place to park my truck and trailer combo, but we found a Motel 6 farther down the road with tractor-trailer parking.

After sending off text messages and emails to update folks, Sierra and I tried to get some rest. Unfortunately, I am also dragging a cold with me, and we were both up way too early in the morning. More stories from the road to follow.

November 13, 2012

Saying goodbye

I was never much good at goodbye. Practice doesn't seem to make it any easier.

I sort of stretched out the goodbye to San Diego over a couple of months. It gave me time to see things again, or for the first time. Either way, it was now through the lens of a short-timer, knowing that it might be a long time until I experienced this place again. For a while things didn't hit me, but in the past few weeks with time running out, I could no longer pretend that I would be able to fit in another visit.

With my friends, I put off the goodbyes for as long as I could. They threw me a going away party on Saturday. It would be the last time I saw some of them, but for some reason it didn't hit me square in the face that night. Somehow, it felt like another gathering, another celebration, and that there would be one next week or something. I had been down for visits a number of times before moving, so maybe it felt like it was just "so long until next time."

It finally hit me on Sunday. I had reserved the last day for a final Sunday outing with Matt, Holly and Kristy. Before Kristy and I were dating, the four of us often did things as a group on Sunday afternoons. It was soon dubbed the Sunday Activity Club, or SAC for short. We visited parks, zoos, beaches, or sometimes just found a nice wine bar where we could sit in the sun.

My move down here sort of started on one of those outings. The four of us spent New Year's holiday together in 2009/2010. To start the year, we went to Dog Beach with their dogs, and we went out to breakfast at Tower Two, a dog-friendly joint by the beach. I ended up moving down two months later, and it seemed appropriate to spend my last day the way I spent my first.



Sierra wasn't with me that first time since I was down on vacation, and I left her home again this time. Getting her to the beach was on my bucket list, but I realized seeing her at the ocean was more for my benefit than hers. She can't walk all that far, so it would have been more of a chore for her than an adventure. But I wanted to get my feet in the ocean, so I walked through the waves and let it all sink in.

After breakfast and our walk on the beach, Kristy and I split off to go hike up Cowles Mountain to see the sunset. We had been trying to fit this in over the past month or so, but something always seemed to come up to derail our plans. The hike and the company were worth the wait. Seeing the sun go down for the last time in San Diego with her turned out to be perfect way to end the day and my stay, if a little bit too metaphorical.

After finding our way down in the diminishing light, we went out to dinner, and then back to her place afterward. I could have stayed there all night, enjoying each moment as it passed, but saying goodbye wasn't going to get any easier. We both wanted to pretend that I would be back over next weekend, but reality set in minute by minute. I would have a tearful goodbye with Matt and Holly the next morning, but saying goodbye to Kristy was the hardest.

There will be lots of great "hellos", "welcome backs", and a new life in my future, but as I drive the road north, alone but for my silent canine companion, I can only replay the goodbyes to what I have left behind. I suppose I am one to slowly peel away the Band-Aid, rather than rip it off in one fell swoop. I don't know which way is best, but it hurts all the same in the end.

I will be back down for visits, so in a way it is "until next time" rather than any sort of final goodbye. I am not sure how soon, or how often I will be able to make a trip happen, but it will happen. Texts, Facebook and emails will keep me in touch, but it is of course very different than being there, seeing friends on random Tuesdays and hearing all the small stories. It was like that with my Washington friends for the last three years, so the situation is simply reversed.

I am blessed to have such strong connections in two different places. But it does double the number of goodbyes.

November 8, 2012

A long run with friends

As I mentioned in a previous post, I signed up to run the Santa Clarita Marathon sort of last minute. I had been training for a marathon a few weeks away, so I was more or less in shape for it, but 26.2 miles is not something you typically run on an impulse. I am so glad I did.

The other Sean had dedicated his running year to a couple of goals. The first goal was to get his friend Steve across his first marathon finish. The second was to run most, if not all of his steps in the glove-like Vibram barefoot shoes, up to and including the 26.2 miles of the marathon.

He had been encouraging me over the past couple of months to run this marathon with him, but I felt that I would sort of be a party crasher. When Steve dropped out and Marci joined in, everything changed and it became a great opportunity to run alongside my two great friends.

Marci had a couple of goals of her own. After having a child, she likes to dedicate herself to running a marathon. I am sure there are multiple reasons, including getting back in running shape, having a place and time all her own, and just to get back to doing something she enjoys. I think there is also a certain stubborn streak in her that just wants to prove that she can do it. Sean and Marci had their third child in March, and this would be the third time towing a marathon start line six or seven months after giving birth.

The first time she did this was in Washington D.C. back in 2006, which was also my first marathon finish. She and I ran (and walked) together, and she made it easier to believe I could make it through. I tried to send her on ahead when I struggled, but she stuck with me all the way, and we finished. Finished. What a feeling it was to cross that finish line of my first marathon.

Sean, Marci and I have participated in several races and marathons since then. I have even run alongside Sean in a couple of marathons, but we hadn't crossed the finish line together. More typically we encourage each other at the start, celebrate the finish together, and in between we set out and run our own race. This was my twelfth marathon, and have had wonderful experiences at each one, but this past Sunday was a little different, and it was one of my favorites.

The Santa Clarita Marathon is a smaller race. Where that first marathon in D.C. had some 23,000 people at the start line, there were only about 1,600 on Sunday, and only around 400 were running the full marathon. We weren't jammed together in a mass of humanity, there were no lines at the porta-potties, and it just felt all together more relaxed. We even had time to ask a stranger to snap a picture of us at the start. Check out our matching shirts and fanny packs. We definitely looked like a team.

Though there was music blasting at the start line, there were no bands along the way, and only small pockets of spectators here and there. It actually seemed like the same fifteen people leap-frogged ahead of us to cheer on the random strangers. Even the course felt more serene and relaxed. Most marathons are run along city streets, but this course was largely on tree-lined pathways called Paseos, making it feel that much more like a run through the countryside.

We left our headphones at home, and passed the time talking, joking and laughing with each other. Maybe because there were fewer spectators, or since we weren't locked in our own heads the whole time, we found ourselves encouraging more runners as we passed each other on the out-and-back portions. After losing the half marathoners at the twelve mile mark, it really felt like it was this small group of us out on a Sunday run. The course photographer caught several good shots of us, and we seemed to be smiling in each one.

Even though it is a smaller marathon, there was excellent support along the way. There were volunteers at every turn, and water stops at every mile staffed by Girl Scouts and Brownies. By the end, we were pouring as much on our heads as we were drinking (being careful not to pour Gatorade all over ourselves).

Things did get a bit more quiet after the 20 mile mark. The temperature had climbed from around 50 degrees at the start, to over 80 degrees at the finish. The increasing miles and heat took their toll, and the thoughts of a PR for Marci slipped away. Sean's feet were also hurting from running essentially barefoot all those miles. We were running slower than I trained for, so I wasn't out of breath, but my muscles seemed to hurt just as badly. The laughing and joking more or less stopped, but it was replaced with encouraging words as we pressed on to the finish.

We climbed a couple steep overpasses at the end, but then there was a nice down slope to a flat finish. Marci turned on the jets after rounding a corner and seeing the finish line, and Sean and I had to push it just to keep up. We crossed the line together, and the announcer said something along the lines of it being a family affair.

The finish area was small, but again there was plenty of room to relax and lots of recovery food to pass out. There wasn't a beer garden, but only steps away was a BJ's Brewhouse, and we stretched out on their patio and celebrated a great day on the roads.

We didn't break any records that day, but it was still one of my favorite races. Beautiful scenery, great support, and a wonderful way celebrate our friendship.