Race: Tunnel Vision Marathon (Part of Tunnel Marathon series)

Runner: Matt K

Date: 8/21/2016

Location: North Bend, WA

Results – 3:09:30 (13th of 225)

3 Bests – what aspects of the race did you like the most

  1. Good start line / finish line logistics, with easy parking and a relaxed, non-hectic start.
  2. Running through the tunnel. It’ll probably mess with your pacing and GPS watch, but it’s a unique experience and a lot of fun.
  3. The course is very fast, and very scenic compared to your average city marathon. We even ran past a group of rock climbers, which was fun to watch!

Not so much – aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

Aid stations either weren’t ready for us or were understaffed. A few times I wanted to grab a cup and a gel without stopping, but volunteers weren’t handing out aid, requiring a painful abrupt stop to grab stuff and go again.

Weird factor – what’s the weirdest thing about this race

Definitely the tunnel. The race starts just outside an old, 2.3 mile long train tunnel that runs under Snoqualmie Pass. The tunnel is unlit, requiring a headlamp as you barrel towards a pinprick of light that is the other side.

Highlights of your race – what did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular

The highlight for me was my big PR. This was just my second marathon, and I improved from a 3:54 to a 3:09; knocking way more time off than I thought possible in one year’s worth of training.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

The downhill course can be deceptive. Early miles go by all-too-easily; you need a lot of discipline for proper pacing.

Aesthetics – is it a pretty course

Overall I’d say this is a pretty nice course. I complained a bit about this same course in my Mt. Si 50 miler report because a few places you pass close to the I-90 highway, but in this case I think I have different expectations. The 50 miler I expect to be a trail run and to be immersed in nature. This is a marathon course where seeing the mountains and trail was a welcome alternative to dodging a pack of runners.

Difficulty – is it a tough course

The course is a slight downhill all the way to the final 3 miles, which are flat, so objectively this is not a difficult course, however a few things can conspire to make it more difficult if you aren’t careful:

  1. The downhill profile can easily lure you into going too fast
  2. The tunnel will almost certainly mess with your GPS watch. If you’re aiming for a specific time I would recommend a pace bracelet or some other mechanism to track your progress
  3. After running downhill the whole race, the flat final miles will feel extra tough

Organized and well run – did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Overall a well run race. Check-in was easy, course was well marked, and the race even has a drop bag for your headlamp at the end of the tunnel, which was available promptly at the finish.

Competition – is there a strong field?

Not particularly. This year the winner’s time was 2:56, with an average finish time of 4:14.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

Registration is simple; they usually do sell out, but there are 3 identical runs per year (Light at the End of the Tunnel, Little Tunnel, and Super Tunnel), so finding a race that fits your schedule shouldn’t be too tough. There aren’t many hotels close to the race, but it should also be easy to book one if you’re coming from far away. I live in Seattle so I just drove directly from home to the start.

Aid Stations

Aid stations were spaced 3 – 5 miles apart, which is a bit far compared to many city marathons, but I think aid every mile is overkill. Nothing special here, and as I mentioned previously I had to stop at a few aid stations to grab water or gels instead of handing off at speed.

Weather and typical race conditions –

The race is near Snoqualmie Pass, so typical “anything can happen in the mountains” caveats apply. Typically the race seems to be in the 50s – 70s degrees, with either overcast or rainy skies. For our run it started off quite cool, but warmed up throughout the race.

Gear – did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

I saw many other runners geared up for a trail ultra (vests, packs, etc.), which I felt was very unnecessary. Try to run with as little gear as possible. I’d only bring along some gels, as only two aid stations had gel, which may not be enough for you.

Spectators – is this a friendly course for your friends

This is decidedly not a spectator-friendly course. After the start there’s just a single point along the route (Cedar Butte / Rattlesnake falls) that runs anywhere near a road.

Awards –

Small finisher’s medal. There may be awards for top finishers, but I didn’t see any.

The Overall Score – how many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it

I’d give race 3 out of 5 stars. It’s a small race, but a good, fast course. It’s advertised as one of your best chances to qualify for Boston, and I think it’s great for that.

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