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Warning: Long and relatively unedited. I'm still a bit tired. :)

After getting reassurances from this board about my 22-mile training run a couple weeks ago, I felt pretty good about everything.

Then my wife and 2 1/2-year-old daughter caught the local ick, and I was suddenly trying to defend myself from getting sick. I did just about everything I could -- drinking tea until I floated, dosing myself with vitamin C remedies of every kind, and trying to take it easy when my throat started to dry out and the telltale signs of catching cold.

It didn't do any good. By last Monday, I had the crud but awful. Didn't panic, kept myself warm and hydrated, cut out the exercise entirely, and tried to let it run its course.

And I almost got there. But then there was the small matter of a transcontinental plane trip to go from western Massachusetts to Seattle. A crowded and dehydrating plane trip.

I made the best of it. I drank enough liquid to annoy my seatmates by crawling over them every hour or so. In Seattle, I took it easy that last night before the race and got myself psyched.

The morning of the race was amazing. In Seattle, I knew I'd get the temperature I wanted, but rain was a distinct possibility. Not this weekend, though -- Mt. Rainier peered out over the city as I rode the bus over the Aurora bridge toward the Space Needle and the race start. It was a crisp, humid 40 degrees or so. I got there about 45 minutes before the race, and just before the half-marathoners started. That was a nice reminder of where I was 8 years ago when I ran my first half.

As the start time got closer, I felt an amazing sense of awe and sadness. Awe that I had prepared for this day for four months; sadness that something I'd put so much effort toward was about to end, leaving me without the same intensity of purpose that had driven me for so long. I knew I was still a bit sick, but it somehow ceased to matter the closer. Someone sang the national anthem. The gun went off.

Nothing happened.

At least not at first. Granted, this isn't New York or anything, but there were probably a couple thousand people starting. Slowly, we started walking to the start line. It seemed like a long time. But eventually, I got to the line and started running.

It felt like everyone was going so slowly. I hung back, willing myself not to hurry, aware that I was excited and trying to conserve that feeling for later.

The run starts from the Space Needle and runs the length of downtown to the baseball and football stadiums. We went through a canyon of tall buildings, emerging at the bottom of a long hill to climb up the on-ramp to the express lanes at the beginning of Interstate 90.

Right before we got there, we passed mile 2, and I got a pleasant surprise: someone was yelling out pace times. I heard them call out 18:30 when I went by and thought, hey, that's a little fast, but not ridiculous, right?

But then I realized that they were calling out race time, not my time. And if I'd been waiting for even just a single minute, then I was running sub-9 minute miles -- quite a bit under the 10-minute miles I had run throughout training.

We went up the ramp and ran on empty lanes sandwiched between speeding traffic in both directions, the occasional honk of support coming from passers by. By mile 3, I had my answer -- 27:15 meant an 8:45 split for mile 3. I told myself, "Too fast," and tried to slow down.

We went through a tunnel, with an otherworldly echo of footfalls and conversation. I grabbed Gatorade and managed not to splash it all over my shirt while keeping pace. Mile 4 brought a 36:00 split. So much for slowing down. "You're going too fast," I told myself out loud.

The tunnel opened out onto the bridge to Mercer Island -- about two miles on the open water, where the wind came up. I was glad I'd kept on the long sleeves, even though I'd started to wonder in the warm, still tunnel part whether I'd overdressed. Being a little sick hadn't caused problems yet. We all cheered when the pace cars came the other direction, bringing the race leaders with them as the race course doubled back on itself. The leaders had a couple or three miles on me already, but that wasn't important -- everyone yelled support anyway. More water, and mile 5 didn't have anyone yelling splits. I wondered if they just had timers to get us started. But by the turnaround at mile 6, I was back on my too-fast pace at just about 53:30. And with the help of a downhill ramp on the way back, I ran mile 7 in 8 minutes flat. "Too fast!" I muttered under my breath. But I also started cutting myself some slack. I still felt great.

Mile 8 brought the end of the bridge, as we turned south to run along Lake Washington toward Seward Park. The weather was holding very well -- a few thick clouds obscured the sun, but that was almost pleasant, and most of the time it was perfectly clear and not very windy. My split at mile 9 was 1:20:15, still under 9 minute pace. This was another double-back section, and the race leaders passed by again somewhere around my mile 10 and their mile 15 or 16. There were some pretty decent crowds out in the nice weather, yelling encouragement. Got to mile 10 at 1:28:40 and mile 11 at 1:36:50, and like a pitcher throwing no-hit ball in the 5th inning, I started thinking about the here-to-fore unimaginable: a 4-hour finish.

I'd been drinking solely Gatorade so far, which was an improvement over the all-water regime I'd used through most of the training. I considered taking one of the gel things they were handing out, but I'd never had one before, and I decided doing something chancy with my stomach was a bad idea. I still felt good, although I'd started feeling the occasional familiar twinges and minor aches that I'd felt during training. I was doing well though -- those pains were coming later than they had in during training, so I felt confident.

Throughout most of the race, runners were considerate and the course was wide enough that traffic wasn't a problem. In Seward Park, however, the path narrowed. By mile 12, everyone had spread out pretty well, but there occasional lumps of runners who were sticking together. It was there that I had my only moment of irritation during the race, as about half a dozen people were blocking the whole path at a slow pace. Some other runners and I put up with it for a little while, until I finally got tired of it and passed them in a burst of annoyed speed. Others followed suit and we shared a brief smile. Shortly afterward, I passed the 13.1 mile halfpoint at 1:56:00.

I inventoried myself. I felt pretty good, though legs were getting sore in typical ways that didn't bother me but just told me that there'd be a price to pay at some point. The water stations were well spaced so I hadn't needed to use my water belt at all. It was warm in the sun and cool in the shade enough to make me feel happy with what I was wearing. I decided that by now, I wasn't going to slow myself down, so I might as well make the best of what I had.

The madness of my speed continued. Mile 14 at 2:03:45. Mile 15 at 2:13:00. I was finally slowing down a bit, but I was within a few minutes of being able to finish the course with 10 minute miles and still break 4 hours. I told myself not to count on it, but it was still a pleasant distraction as my brain started focusing in on itself. I was still looking at the nice scenery, although I recognized that it was a matter of time before I started hitting some sort of wall.

But not yet. Mile 16 went at 2:22:30, and mile 17 around 2:32:00. I just needed a couple minutes to be able to slow down and still grab that 4 hour time.

Yet then, the inevitable happened: we got to the uphill part of the course. Someone had chalked onto the road: Now the fun part begins....

Seattle's marathon course has pretty even terrain and is probably fairly easy compared to other courses, but it does have a heartbreak of a hill between miles 20 and 21. I'd already started to slow down around even before that, as relatively flat roads went to reasonably gentle but still noticeable ups and downs. I finished mile 19 in 2:53:45, losing ground for the first time. Mile 20 confirmed it at 3:04:30. By now, I was resorting to the same math games I'd played on the treadmill -- how fast do I have to run 6 more miles to finish in 4 hours, 4:30, 5 hours.

Then the sharpest uphill started, and progress slowed to a crawl. Others around me were walking, but I kept running even though I wasn't really going much faster than them. It eased up a bit, and we went most of a mile on a somewhat gentler uphill before cresting the hill and racing down into the Arboretum.

The course runs through a forest of different trees, with a steady uphill slope that was substantial but still felt better than that uber-steep part before.

I slowed and stopped worrying about time, though I still listened for the pacers, who were notably absent. By mile 23, I was at 3:36:30 and at the top of the course, a little sooner than I had expected.

Around mile 23, the crowds start doing something that I always had thought was supportive but which took a different meaning as a runner: they started saying we were "almost there." Now relatively speaking, they were right -- 3 miles out of 26 should qualify as "almost." But it didn't feel like almost. It felt like "am I really going to make it three more miles?"

But I had a couple of things going for me. One was the amazement at breaking new ground: I was running beyond my prevous best of 22 miles. Another was that it was somewhat downhill. And perhaps most importantly: I could see the finish.

Still, those last three miles were long. The "almost theres" kept coming, but the finish seemed no closer. Running next to the freeway wasn't the best chance to catch my breath. But the combination of downhill slope and excitement at seeing the finish gave me a little burst of speed, and mile 24 came at around 3:45:00.

Now I'd run plenty of 7 minute miles in training, and if I'd pulled a couple out of my hat now, I'd have my 4-hour time. But I had no illusions of doing that now. Having given myself permission back at mile 21 to walk if I needed to, I was just happy to still be on my feet and running, albeit slowly. But that's where training came in: I knew how slow those last miles would feel and how impatient I'd be. I started paying attention to how long the distance between the marathon mile-markers and the half-marathon mile-markers was. Finally, there was a big downhill beyond mile 25, and then a gentle uphill back as I ran the last mile or so into the stadium. I passed mile 26, saw the half's mile 13 around the last corner, and had enough left for a big kick to finish. Luckily, there was a complete vacuum between me and a guy ahead of me by probably half a minute, so I had the perfect incentive to speed it in.

I finished at 4:08:42 by the race clock. Unfortunately, the chip reader apparently missed my start time, so I'm not sure what my real time was, but I'd guess probably a minute or so faster than that.

Afterward, I was surprisingly okay. My shirt front was a little bloody from where a jury-rigged attempt to protect, er, sensitive skin had failed, but it didn't hurt. I'd clipped my right ankle badly enough to make my sock look like Curt Schilling's after game 6 of the 2004 AL championship series. But they gave me a medal and I was able to walk just fine to the recovery area.

I proudly bought a finisher t-shirt.

I really enjoyed the experience. At the moment, I'm not sure I'll ever do it again. But I remember having thought the same thing after shorter races in the past, so we'll see how I feel a few weeks from now.

Thanks again to all of you for your kind words and thoughts!

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