This journey started with some air miles given to us by Virgin Atlantic for volunteering to take a later plane home from New York after the marathon last November. We decided to use them in the summer to run another overseas marathon and when we looked at the possible destinations, Seattle stood out. It was a place the two of us were keen to visit: it is a city that prides itself on its running credentials, has one of the growing number of US parkruns, and is the nearest city to a marathon that we wanted to run – The Tunnel Vision Marathon, in the mountains just outside.
The Tunnel marathons take place in the Cascade mountains of Washington state, in the far north-west of the country. Starting at Hyak, they follow a disused railway track known as the Iron Horse Trail, beginning with a two-mile tunnel and then winding down the mountain to Cedar Falls, passing over a number of vertiginous trestle bridges. Despite being trail, the race is a Boston qualifier, and because of the net downhill nature sells itself as a fast PR course. We were a little dubious about this claim beforehand, but after talking to a local runner working in the famous Fleet Feet running shop close to our accommodation in Seattle – who described running the trail like ‘floating down the hill’ – we got quite excited about the prospect of me running at least an age-grade PB of sub 3:49 and Cam running her sub 3.35 that would qualify her to run Boston next year. We’ve laughed about the ‘floating’ since. On reflection we did both have good races – Jacquie ran 3:59 and Cam 3:42 – but there was no floating going on. It was hard work right from the start. Both of us struggled to run our pace with shortness of breath and heavy legs. We’ve since thought about why that was and there were a number of possible reasons.
- The nature of the trail. The ground was very stony and uneven throughout most of the course, and the two-mile tunnel at the beginning was hot and airless, run by light of our headtorches. (Cam’s Garmin lost signal in the tunnel which made it difficult to use it for pacing afterwards.)
- Temperature and air quality. The Seattle area had been having its own heatwave and this, combined with lack of rain, meant not only unusually high temperatures (29C on race day) but also extensive wildfires in the North West USA and British Columbia, which have been affecting air quality. You could see the smoke in the air in the city. It gave everything a pretty pink tone. The race organisers were nervously watching the air quality index and updating us on a daily basis. The race did go ahead but the index on race day was orange / red, which made it very unhealthy. That said, plenty of people did run well on the day.
- Another factor that we looked at was jetlag. Our strategy when we arrived in Seattle was to try not to adjust too much to the 8 hours’ time difference. We knew that we had to be up at 4:30 on race day to be bussed to the start area for 7am, so we thought early waking would work in our favour. Having now done a bit of research into jetlag, we are thinking that this might not have been the best strategy, and maybe just confused our bodies even more. Jetlag is basically our internal clock and the external clock being out of synch, due to travelling across multiple timezones, and studies do suggest that it can cause athletes to suffer excess fatigue and reduced lower-body power. Although travelling eastwards is worse, according to an article in Runner’s World, even going west takes your body up to 6 days to adapt to an 8 hour time difference. They do give some tips on to how to reduce the effect if you can’t spend enough time before your event. The suggestions are, firstly, in the days before you set off travelling, start to pre-adapt to the new timezone by gradually changing mealtimes and sleeping patterns. They also suggest that you use exercise specifically in daylight to help your body to adapt to the new time; so travelling west, do a morning run as soon as possible after arrival. Daylight is important, as opposed to artificial light. The final suggestion is to use food to help re-set your body clock; high-protein and low-carbohydrate meals in the morning increase alertness, and low-protein, high-carb meals in the evening increase sleepiness. Maybe next time we’ll try to change our strategy.
- Other factors could have included a lack of specific training, and just running too many races in the lead-up to this one. Although this has always been our approach in the past, perhaps we need to re-think our strategy in order to reach our new goals.
Any of the above factors could have contributed. Or it just might not have been our day!
Despite not running the times we wanted we did have a brilliant time overall. And in the service of positivity (a blog post to come) we decided to write about the highlights of the trip, which was definitely one of the best. Ten is always a good number, so here they are (in no particular order).
1. From Richmond to Renton
parkrun in North America is starting to take off, and now has over 40 events in Canada and the US, one of which is Renton, just outside of Seattle. So on Saturday morning we made our way there to join around 40 runners, including a few other Brits. Event Directors Kortney and Cathryn were incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic, and the course
– an out-and-back along the Cedar River Trail – beautiful, flat and potentially very fast. It must look even more spectacular in the autumn when the salmon return to spawn and we were told the river is teeming with fish. After the run we joined some of the other participants and volunteers for coffee at a nearby café, and chatted about all things running and parkrun. It was amazing to be so far away from home and yet hearing people express the aims of good health and inclusivity that are synonymous with parkrun. What a brilliant morning.
2. The man at mile 23
This is really Cam’s story, but we were both quite moved by it. At around mile 23 into the marathon, when she was really struggling to keep running and stay positive, knowing that her BQ was not going to happen that day, another runner passed by and handed her a folded piece of paper without saying anything. She opened it up and read: “When your legs can’t run anymore, run with your heart”. She carried it for the rest of the run. We both thought this was such a thoughtful gesture and wondered about adopting it at a future race.
3. Stoli Doli
A Stoli Doli is the signature martini at the Capital Grille Restaurant in downtown Seattle. It consists of Stolichnaya Vodka infused with fresh pineapple for a number of days, chilled and served straight up, and Jacquie declared it the best cocktail she’d ever tasted. The restaurant itself had been recommended to us by a friend. It was housed in the historic Cobb building, and inside was plush and elegant, yet this being the USA it didn’t matter that we arrived wearing extremely casual attire. We were still treated like valued guests. It was way out of our usual price range for these trips, but the food was delicious and we enjoyed our extravagant evening.
4. Guest appearance in Twin Peaks
The night before the marathon we decamped to the nearest town of North Bend, which is famous for being the setting of the cult TV series Twin Peaks. The town does nothing to dispel the image. We stayed at the none-too-salubrious Edgewick Inn – doing a good impression of a 1950s B-movie motel – and we don’t want to dwell too much on the place we ate our evening meal, seemingly joined by the weird and wonderful cast of Twin Peaks. The saving grace
was the Nike store in the North Bend Shopping Outlet, and the two wonderful runners we met from Nashville, Lisa and Mary-Anne. Hope to join them at the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon one day (if only because it’s got such a brilliant name!).
5. The light at the end of the tunnel
The marathon we ran was actually called “Tunnel Vision”; we’ve already spoken a bit about it above, but it needs to be included in the highlights. What we didn’t say was that the organisation was brilliant, right down to small details like taking your headtorches from you at the end of the tunnel, providing ice-baths at the finish line for runners who wanted them, personalised announcements over the line, and best of all hot food at the end. The views were spectacular, but you needed a head for heights over some of the bridges. All in all a fantastic experience.
6. Leash pets
We stayed in a lovely B&B (11th Avenue Inn) with very friendly and helpful owners and staff. It was situated in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle – a very desirable area for both the alternative cool crowd and the more affluent set. What struck us most of all was the attempt to not discriminate against any person or species in any way – see photos. Street art was prominent, as were small “political” demonstrations, and it felt like a very liberating place to live.
7. Cagney and Lacey do Seattle
This was not one of our finer moments. We had decided to join what was described as a 3-4 mile “social run” with the Seattle Running Club, which was based at the famous Fleet Feet running shop in Capitol Hill. We looked at the their Facebook page to see what time their run started, and were slightly concerned at how “fast” everyone looked, and their times were very impressive. We started to get nervous – so when the time came, we decided to case the joint first. We staked out the shop from a park opposite, and when the runners turned up completely gave up any idea of running with them. As we expected, they set off up the hill at quite a pace. We consoled ourselves by buying
an ice-cream from Molly’s Moon (which was extremely nice!) but were horrified when the runners returned before we’d even finished eating them. We reckoned they’d done sub-22 mins for (we hope only) 3 miles, and decided we’d made the right choice, as we wouldn’t have been very sociable running that pace. The ice-cream was the highlight.
8. Trains and boats and ….buses and Google Maps
Getting round Seattle and the surrounding area was good fun and easy thanks to their cheap and extensive public transport system which consists of trains, trams, monorail, boats and buses. In combination with Google Maps, which even updated us on bus arrival times at stops, it allowed us to get around everywhere we wanted to go.
9. The Mermaid with Two Tails
Seattle is, of course, the home of the original Starbucks. We’d been asked by some friends to pick up some mugs from the shop, and we found what we thought was the right place on Pike Street. We thought it looked a bit ordinary, and it was a bit busy in the middle of the day, so we took a few photos and decided to come back another time. We walked on to see Pike Place Market, and lo and behold we came across another Starbucks – which was incredibly busy, with a long queue outside, and didn’t look so ordinary! We decided to run down the next morning for opening time: there was still a bit of a queue at 6am, but we had a coffee and bought our mugs. Starbucks might not be everyone’s favourite company, but it is a bit of an icon, and it was really nice to have our coffee on the peaceful riverfront. Unfortunately it was all uphill back.
10. Trails in the Emerald City
One of our reasons for going to Seattle was its running culture. There are so many good places to run in the city! One of the locals’ favourites is the 5k shoreline of Green Lake. We went along one morning and joined numerous other runners, cyclists, rollerbladers and skateboarders on the paths surrounded by cedar trees, and skirting lillypad-covered waters. Another beautiful spot.
As we said earlier, we had a brilliant time in Seattle and hope that we can make it back there some day.