I love when people get creative with their race signs. Power up buttons, political references, offers of high fives, anti Christopher Walken signs (even though you have a 1 in 3 chance of seeing me “Walken”, please keep in mind, the man is a national treasure), sexually explicit signs, funny punny signs, signs that support mothers and sons and sisters and loved ones who are not me – I love them all. More importantly I love the people who carry them. Even if you don’t have a sign, standing on the side of a course and offering your support to runners is an amazing act of compassion. I was blessed to not only receive these random acts of kindness from random strangers like sticking my ego in a cardboard glory hole, but I was also supported at the Tacoma City Marathon by local friends of 15 years and by a special friend who flew all the way across the country bearing race signs designed by loved ones from back home. Add to that a number of runners I had met at other races and online, cheering and motivating me along the course. Truly, I floated through some of this city, buoyed by the support of loved ones, even if some of the spectators were loved for a moment, a glance, or a high five.
I did need all that support. The Tacoma City Marathon is filled with rolling hills – not super steep hills, not hills that endlessly climb towards the heavens, but consistent, up and down, 15 knot winds in a row boat, getting slightly seasick, hills. I feel an special need to point this out because the friend who recommended it to me described it as flat. I am here to tell you this course is not flat. Maybe they were recommending one of the 4 other marathons that take place in the area or they were being facetious and I missed the sarcastic font they used. In any case, I want to be clear and explicit – make sure you don’t skip hill training in the weeks before this race. You will regret it.
Nestled between two beautiful National Parks, Tacoma has some beautiful water views and rising mountains to the east and west, great spring time foliage and an ornate downtown. Fortunately a small part of the end of the race takes place on a flat strip leading to a quick, steep, curve before finishing behind the art museum, because the hills in the downtown core are daunting! The race starts at the Tacoma Narrows Airport across the water in Wallochet and gives you a light two mile warm up running back and forth in front of the small commercial landing strip before taking you down to the first major landmark of the race – the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. A good half mile downhill makes it a little easier to run and lineup your photo with Mount Ranier in the background, but just as you get over the perfect cellphone photo opportunity, you’re confronted with the longest and steepest climb of the route. Hold the memory of the bridge crossing firmly in your mind, because 5 through 14 are run through mind-numbingly boring neighborhoods. Certainly, well manicured lawns and pretty tree-lined boulevards are comfortable scenery to run in for most people, but the course bypasses a number of city parks and barely skirts the campus of the University of Puget Sound and runs along the side of the Puget Creek Natural Area. This is also where the bulk of undulating hills are as you travel from one neighborhood to the next. Finally, after a somewhat long climb with the sun bearing down on the back of your neck, the course turns into the shady lushness of Point Defiance Park. Although the hills continue through the park, the benefit of the tree cover can’t be overstated; it was a hot day and running in the park felt 10 to 15 degrees cooler. The second most dramatic climb takes place right after a beautiful view of Puget Sound from the tip of the park and a number of runners were taking an over extended photo opportunity there before climbing that hill. After one more dipity-do in the forest, you have a nice, long, half mile downhill plunge before bursting out in the sunlight. One more neighborhood loop up a slight incline (with a water stations and Portapotties at the top) before you make your way to scenic Ruston Way. Running from miles 20-25 along this gorgeous elongated waterview of Commencement Bay is definitely enough to clear your sinuses of stifling suburbia like taking a seawater Neti Pot to the nose. It was hot, but there was a light breeze blowing in from the bay, almost making it tolerable. Even on this mostly flat expanse the are two hills in the forms of bridges at miles 22 and 25. After that final bridge you run along the city’s beautiful downtown front street past a number of classically inspired museums before entering the final speed chute to the finish line.
Running Heros Are Accessible
I finally got to meet the Mayor of Runnerville, Burt Yasso at this marathon. If you have done a certain 800 meter speed training that bears his name, you shouldn’t hate this guy because of it. He is one of the most down to earth people on the planet, taking my awkward interruption at 6 am for a photo op in stride. After running his own half marathon, he went out and was cheering at mile 23 on the course – who does that? Then, not only does he cheer me at the finish line, he spends 5 minutes helping me search for the top of my water bottle (“You know those caps are $10 to replace?”). Politely but definitely, introduce yourself and your story to Burt Yasso. He is a stand up guy.
Popsicles In The Final Miles
If someone offers to support me on the course this summer, I’m not asking for Gatorade, I’m not asking for Smartwater or gels. I’m asking for popscicles. Big, frozen hard, popscicles. A random stranger was handing them out at mile 22. I love her. I really love her. Seriously, if you’ve got a number I may have already bought the ring. It has proven that it is going to be a very hot summer and I think the only way I can make it through is popsicles on the marathon course.
I was feeling pretty strong and on target throughout the beginning of this race. There were pacers for a wide variety of paces, and my goal was to stay ahead of the five-hour pacer. This may have been a bit aggressive considering the heat in the hills, however I was able to stay ahead of the five-hour Pacer all the way through mile 18. Unfortunately, my system started to overheat with that final tiny hill, and I staggered to the finish from there. I was encouraged by my speed and consistency through and past the first half. I did start having some issues with my right knee after mile 21, a feeling that something had popped out of joint. Fortunately, that evening I had the pleasure of have a massage from someone who was very familiar with my body’s quirks and pitfalls and I felt better enough the next day to do a little hiking up at Mt. Ranier. My finishing time was decent at 5:24:53 but a far cry from the under 5:00 finish I was shooting for. A very special thanks to Kelli Palmer for carrying signs from friends (especially Brenda MacDonald) all the way across the country, and cheering me on along the course. As well as Reyes Carranza and Joe Rixman for the big hugs and encouragement before and after the race. Tacoma will always be a special race because of you all. Thank you for reading my review and I hope you’ll join me on my next installment as I run a trail race in scenic Montana – the Two Bear Marathon in Whitefish, Montana. As always I look forward to your comments, questions, and discussions.