Gravity. It’s not something most of us spend much time thinking about, including me, until this summer, when I read Chuck Klosterman’s essay collection But What If We’re Wrong? It begins (p 3), ‘Like most people, I like to think of myself as a skeptical person. But I’m pretty much in the tank for gravity. It’s the force most recognized as perfunctorily central to everything we understand about everything else. If an otherwise well-executed argument contradicts the principles of gravity, the argument is inevitably altered to make sure that it does not…My confidence in gravity is absolute, and I believe this will be true until the day I die (and if someone subsequently throws my dead body out a window, I believe my corpse’s rate of acceleration will be 9.8 m/s2). ¶And I’m probably wrong. ¶Maybe not completely, but partially. And maybe not today, but eventually. ¶”There is a very, very good chance that our understanding of gravity will not be the same in five hundred years. In fact, that’s the one area where I would think that most of our contemporary evidence is circumstantial, and that the way we think about gravity will be very different.” These are the words of Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University…’ I’ll leave it to you to make your way through the rest of the essay to find out why Mr. Greene claims (p 4), “…gravity is the least stable of our ideas, and the most ripe for a major shift,” but just so you know, I find the idea that our current beliefs about gravity are likely to change significantly some time in the not too distant future very unsettling.
Fortunately, when it comes to the average person’s beliefs about gravity’s effects on humans near the earth’s surface, I think we can agree: it hinders us as we move away from the center of the earth and helps us as we move towards it. The promise of help from gravity compelled my sister JoDee and me to give the Iron Horse Half Marathon in North Bend a go this past weekend. Race information states, “The Iron Horse Half Marathon is a point to point half marathon taking place in Washington state on the Iron Horse Trail…and Snoqualmie Valley Trail…Both trails are the remains of old railroad tracks, hence the ‘Iron Horse’ moniker. The course is nearly all downhill at a steady, gentle grade, except for some very short flat sections,” and “The course…is pretty awesome. It starts at Olallie State Park and finishes in North Bend, and in between the two covers 13.1 miles of beautiful scenery, numerous railroad trestles, and a whole lot of gentle elevation loss…approximately 880 feet. The course starts at about 1300′ and finishes at about 450′ in North Bend.”
By the time we signed up in mid-July, only the last two waves of six staggered-by-15-minutes start times remained, so we chose the earlier one at 8:45 am. On Saturday, 27 August, we headed from opposite directions towards our hotel in Issaquah. I stopped at Road Runner Sports near Green Lake to pick up our race packets as recommended; however, the packet pick up table was empty at 8:00 am the following morning, so those signed up for later waves would likely be fine with race day packet pickup..
There was plenty of parking for the 1,200 participants on streets not far from the finish line near the shuttle loading zone, from which buses transported runners to Olallie State Park. From the drop off location, we hiked a quarter mile to the start line, listened to the pre-race instructions and took off right on time. The route followed the Iron Horse Trail and Snoqualmie Valley Trail, but “trail” was better defined as, “a route planned or followed for a particular purpose,” than what I had expected, “a beaten path through rough country such as a forest or moor,” but then I am spoiled because I live near and run on the trails of the Anacortes Forest Lands and Deception Pass State Park.
JoDee and I set our race goal ahead of time: under two hours or about 9 min/mi pace, and vowed not to make the rookie mistake of setting out too quickly. We blew it by completing the first three miles at 8:30 pace, but finally slowed down to meet our under two hours plan. As promised, the course was downhill. The scenery was nice, but..ahem…difficult to match high standards for a person used to running where I get to run. The Iron Horse and Snoqualmie Valley “trails” were former railroad track locations with track and ties removed, covered with gravel. Fortunately, for the first 8 miles, you could stick to softer stuff, compacted dirt in what looked to be tire ruts, further on, they disappeared and the entire path was covered in gravel. My gps watch showed a climb of about 200 feet, but we didn’t feel it. As promised, it was a slightly downhill nearly the entire way. Plus, the weather was perfect.
At about the third point of the race, when we were getting used to the quiet, we crossed under I-90 and could hear vehicles barreling by above us. At nearly the two-thirds point, we reached the first of two out and backs, near Cedar Falls, though we didn’t get to see the falls. The course crossed several bridges, but from the bridge deck, we couldn’t really see their coolness, which we’d have needed to view from the side or below. Eventually, we neared the Snoqualmie River, one of the prettiest parts of the course. Except for a few super scenic spots like the river view, the course was consistent in look and feel.
My sister finally caught the running bug about 16 months ago and up until this race, had a half marathon PR of 10:04 pace. Her kryptonite is mile 11 and beyond, so we discussed it as we approached the mile 11 sign (it seemed like she kind of wanted to punch me) and agreed to keep our consistent pace and stay strong to the end. Two miles later, I pointed out the finish line off in the distance and restated that we should run strong for the last part (since we’re training for a 30k in October). She growled that she couldn’t run any faster, so I just shut up. As we approached the finish, we recognized one of my high school classmates, bellowed his name, and he high-fived us as we passed by. We came in just under two hours, so we met our goal, and JoDee bested her previous PR by over 1 minute per mile, so I made her stand by the PR bell, though she refused to ring it.
Post-race, we attempted to drink coconut water (which was just as disgusting as the last time I tried to like it), sat out the line for food (grilled hot dogs and more) and stretched. Although before the race, we’d discussed running the course with friends just for fun some day, afterwards, we decided we’d had enough of slightly downhill gravel road surrounded by trees. Best of the race: well-organized, super friendly volunteers, consistent slight descent throughout, experiencing a sisterly PR and especially the absolute nicest-looking, best true-to-size, flattering event t-shirt. Worst: the waves aren’t pace-dependent, so you could end up catching up to (and having to pass) a lot of slower runners, and running on gravel got old after just a few miles.