Overall Rating
Overall Rating (2 Reviews)
4.5
(2 Ratings)(2 Reviews)
DIFFICULTY
2.5
SCENERY
5
PRODUCTION
4.5
SWAG
4
The Tunnel Marathons offer one of the fastest courses in the country. The point to point has the best profile in the country for a fast time due to the consistent gentle downhill grade and the low starting elevation. It is the perfect race to set a PR and snag … MORE
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    This is a race report that I don’t know exactly how to write. It is uncharted territory for me. Usually, the gist of my race reports is this: the race … MORE

    This is a race report that I don’t know exactly how to write. It is uncharted territory for me. Usually, the gist of my race reports is this: the race was wonderful; I had a fabulous time; I would recommend this race to everyone. Well, this race was wonderful; I would recommend this race to everyone, but, I most definitely did not have a fabulous time.

    First, this is a seriously fast course. It is without a doubt the easiest marathon course I have ever run. I just wasn’t having a good day.

    The race, a point-to-point, started about an hour east of Seattle at Hyak in Snoqualmie Pass. My hubby Bill drove us to the race start, which meant we didn’t have to ride the shuttle bus, always a plus. It was chilly at the start, so we were glad to be able to sit in our car to wait. You can pick up your race bib the day of the marathon, a nice perk.

    A unique feature of this race is the old railroad tunnel that you run through beginning half a mile into the race. Runners are instructed to wear headlamps or carry a flashlight. The tunnel is almost 2.5 miles long, and it is completely dark inside. I never felt claustrophobic, however. There are hundreds of runners, all wearing lights, going through the tunnel at the same time. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel almost a mile before you reach it, so that gives you a nice point of reference.

    You can read my full race report here: https://meditationsinmotion.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/tunnel-vision-marathon-race-report/

    DIFFICULTY
    1
    PRODUCTION
    5
    My Report
    SCENERY
    5
    SWAG
    4
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    Lani FIRST-TIMER '16

    QUICK BITS - USATF-certified marathon is eligible as Boston Marathon qualifier. - Gentle downhill course offers a chance for faster times (with some caveats) - Small race with friendly organizers … MORE

    QUICK BITS

    – USATF-certified marathon is eligible as Boston Marathon qualifier.
    – Gentle downhill course offers a chance for faster times (with some caveats)
    – Small race with friendly organizers and volunteers
    – Unpaved bicycle trail course puts less shock on the body, and is not technical
    – Most famous for the 2.5-mile pedestrian tunnel at the start of the race; you won’t run through anything like this on any other marathon

    EVENT INFO

    [If you want to run this race specifically to qualify for the Boston Marathon, scroll down to the section labeled “COURSE CAVEATS”.]

    The Super Tunnel Marathon is the newest sibling in the Tunnel series; added in 2016 in response to popularity of the Light at the End of the Tunnel (held in June) and Tunnel Light (held in mid-September) races.

    This is a popular course and in the last few years, has seen the addition of the Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon, put on by a different race organization. [This review is for the Tunnel race only, and does not reflect any evaluations of the Jack and Jill race, which I have not run.]

    Although Super Tunnel is brand new, since the race director has been offering the Tunnel races for many years, this has a feeling of a seasoned race. The race website looks like it came straight out of the 1990s, but is perfectly functional and you can register for the race just fine.

    One of the pluses for this race is that it’s USATF-certified, so your official time is valid as a Boston Marathon qualifier. If you don’t want to wait until right before the registration for Boston opens in mid-September, running this race versus its later offering (Tunnel Light) is a good option. For those who can manage two marathons within a month, you could run this one, then run Tunnel Light a few weeks later to see if you can improve your time (to either qualify for Boston, or to improve your placement for Boston if you already qualified).

    The focus is not just on Boston hopefuls, however. This is a beautiful and scenic race that offers a wonderful view. If you are a slower runner or walker, the gradual downhill means you can enjoy the distance without completely wearing yourself out from going uphill. If you think you might take longer than five hours, this race offers an early start option; start one hour earlier, and you get an extra hour on top of the 6:30 time limit (that means you get 7 hours 30 minutes to hike this downhill course).

    The starting area is a nice little open parking lot by the course trailhead, but race organizers strongly discourage participants from going there directly. Instead, you are encouraged to park at a lot near the finish line; they offer a free shuttle bus ride to the start line.

    The finish area in North Bend has limited hotel options–what we did was to stay in the Seattle/Bellevue area and drive to the parking area early in the morning. The early start was at 7:00, and we caught the 6:00 shuttle from the finish area and got there in plenty of time to watch the early folks take off (this meant we left our hotel at 5:30; not terrible for a morning race). The regular race start is 8:00.

    The shuttle bus from parking lot to the race start was around half an hour.

    PRE-RACE DETAILS

    This is an extremely low-key trail race. There’s no fitness expo or early bib pick-up. You don’t even get your bib before the shuttle ride. You just catch the shuttle, show up at the starting area, and get a bib. In fact, they don’t even assign you a bib number until you show up; it’s that low-key.

    Race organizers are very good about communicating all this information, and as race day nears, you will get a couple of emails providing last-minute details.

    THE COURSE

    The most unusual part of this course is the beginning, where you run through almost two and a half miles of the Hyak Tunnel, a narrow tunnel wide enough to fit a car. There are no lights in this tunnel, so you will be running through pitch blackness; race directors strongly urge you to bring some form of light.

    I wore my baby headlamp that clamps onto my visor bill, as well as a $1.00 WalMart light, and these sufficed ONLY in lighting the runners ahead of me–and I used the runners in front of me to guide me forward. Had I been the only one running, my lights would have been pretty weak.

    Once you leave the tunnel behind you, the rest of the course is all on an unpaved bicycle path that’s on a gradual downhill. Think of it as essentially a fire road with mostly packed gravel. There are a few slightly looser spots but nowhere is there anything remotely technical on this trail course, unless you count the inside of the tunnel (since you can’t see where you’re going, and you’ll be stepping through some puddles and such).

    The course is beautiful, and there were three bridge overpasses you run over. The whole area is just magnificent, with lots of tall green trees. Coming from Northern California with its years-long drought, seeing so much green (and breathing the fresh air) was just spectacular.

    The course is not closed for the race, so you’ll periodically come across other hikers, mountain bikers, and even some rock climbers.

    Mile markers looked like they were laminated cardstock sheets posted on orange safety cones, but there are so few distractions on the course that the markers were always very visible and easy to read.

    The Tunnel races always have official pacers (people who hold up signs of what time they expect to finish by, so that if you stick with them, you can finish at around that time).

    AID STATIONS

    Aid stations are small and spread out, but very very friendly, with always a smiling face, always helpful; just not a lot of extras. Some had porta potties. A few official bathrooms along the trail. The race website lists 10 aid stations; they are roughly 2-3 miles apart. The site also spells out exactly what to expect at each one (water, gatorade, Clif Shot Enery Gel, etc.).

    If you don’t want to slow down too much to hydrate at the aid stations, consider bringing your own water source, whether it be a bladder backpack or a bottle in your hand. I relied just on aid stations and I’m sure I was dehydrated by the end of the race.

    BLING

    Goodies are plain but solid. You get a finisher’s shirt at the finish line, and they are gender-specific tech shirts. You also get a nice smaller finisher’s medal with a custom lanyard. They do not give out age group awards, but you can view the results to see how you placed. It’s a small race so if you’re relatively fast, you have a good shot at placing in your age group.

    POST-RACE INFO

    The post-race area included plenty of water bottles, volunteers handing out medals, a big spread of food, a tent to pick up finisher’s shirts, an area to get your gear bag, plus the best area for me — the massage tent. They actually had three massage therapists set up, and Todd, who helped me, was fantastic. They charged $1 a minute.

    For a small race, these folks put out a pretty good spread at the finish line. In the shadows of Seattle and the headquarters for Costco, the smorgasbord is thanks to a trip to the warehouse store. We enjoyed lots of watermelon and cut up fruit, sheet cake, potato chips, cookies, sodas, water, and much more. The highlight was hot chili! OK so may they came from big cans at Costco, but after running a full marathon, a cup of chili feels much more substantial than just sweet or salty snacks. It’s something you’ll find at an ultra-marathon race, but not often for a marathon. For me it was a welcome treat (and they provided all the fixins as well; sour cream, chives, tortilla chips!).

    COURSE CAVEATS (BQ RUNNERS: READ THIS!)

    If you are running this race to BQ and every second counts, heed these caveats.

    #1: Pacers: There are inherent issues with the pacer time offerings, because unlike some BQ-focused races, times butt right up to actual qualifying times, rather than giving you a cushion of a couple of minutes (that is, 4:00 instead of 3:58, etc.). Offered for this race were 3:15 (BQ for M40-44), 3:30 (BQ for M50-54), 3:40 (BQ for M55-59; W35-39), 3:50, 4:00 (BQ for W50-54), 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, 5:00.

    As you can see from this list, only four of nine pacers were tapped to meet exact Boston qualifying times. These pacing times are fine for those who simply wish to meet these finish times, but seeing as this is prominently marketed as a Boston qualifier, be mindful that your desired pace may not be offered.

    For example, my BQ time is 4:00, but I did not want to finish *AT* 4:00 because that would not be fast enough to meet the cutoff. For me, the optimal pacer would have been 3:57 or 3:58. Without one, my next option would have been a 3:55, but that pace was not offered at all. This meant that in order to stay ahead of the bare minimum, I would have needed to stay with the 3:50 pacer, considerably faster than anything I would normally be able to keep up with.

    This may just be a matter of pacer availability, but having more pacers would have been helpful (for example, more BQ-time pacers and fewer slower pace times).

    #2: GPS: Do not rely on your GPS watch to keep track of you while you run in the tunnel. If your GPS watch has the ability to track you via shoepod or you can mark the miles manually on it while in the tunnel, do so. Make sure you start your watch when you start the race, and verify, before you turn around the corner and head into the tunnel, that it’s found the GPS satellites and that it’s working.

    Even then, expect your GPS mileage to be considerably off. This course is heavily shaded, with lots of turns around mountainsides.

    The only TRUE thing you should rely on, is your TIME ELAPSED stat. If seconds matter in your finish time, wear a pace band (or write the times on your arm) that shows mile markers with total time passed. This is the best way to rely on whether you are on track.

    #3: The TUNNEL: This course is not technically difficult, but the tunnel is disorienting, and it will be very hard for you to keep track of your pace. If at all possible, find other runners (or a pacer) going around your pace, and stick with them through the tunnel. The darkness of the tunnel could cause your pace to vary.

    You are given the option to check your flashlight in with a separate gear bag at the end of the tunnel. Should you choose to check your light here, you can put it in your bag in the dark while you run, and volunteers will catch your bag as you toss it to them–but my recommendation is to you wear a headlamp and keep it on your head after the tunnel so you don’t have to stop to drop off your bag.

    Also, aid station #1 is at this same location. It’s immediately outside the tunnel, so if you aren’t expecting this, it’s easy to miss your chance at getting some water. Just be ready; the tables are to your right.

    #4: “GRADUAL DOWNHILL COURSE”

    The race describes it as a “fast downhill course” and with the combo of prompt notification to the BAA of race results, this course is designed for the BQ runner in mind. That said, this downhill course is deceptive.

    Yes, it’s a wonderful gradual decline. The course is never technical, the downhill never steep. There is maybe a 20-yard stretch that’s a very slight rolling uphill, but everything else outside the tunnel is a downhill.

    But.

    The course isn’t paved. While unpaved and compact gravel means less wear on your joints, it also means you need to be mindful where you step so you don’t take a gravely misstep.

    You also can’t afford to stop to take pebbles out of your shoes, so gaiters are a must. The race website recommends Dirty Girl Gaiters; while I like them, I prefer UltraGam gaiters from Etsy. They offer a wider range of prices, and their down-facing hook is much easier to remove than the up-facing hook Dirty Girl uses.

    The gravel takes a toll on you. That, with the added extra speed of a downhill course, means you MUST train for hills. This course is gradual, but still. Train for the downhills–your quads will get a definite workout.

    TIPS — Based on my experience, here are my personal suggestions:

    – Bring your own water to help augment what’s offered at the aid stations.

    – Bring your own fuel if you want something other than Clif Shot Energy Gels.

    – Wear a headlamp for the tunnel, then leave it on your head and don’t bother checking it in so you can avoid slowing down your pace if you’re trying to meet a finish time goal.

    – Wear a pacing wristband or write down key mile splits on your arm; do not rely on your GPS to track you after the tunnel correctly.

    – Wear a pair of gaiters around your ankles to avoid pebbles from getting into your shoes.

    GENERAL THOUGHTS

    This race is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s both a trail race, but not technical–and also fast. That downhill course is deceptive, though; definitely train for it. I wound up with a severe charley horse on my left calf that almost incapacitated me in the last five miles of the race. I stopped a few times to massage it out and was able to keep running, but at a much slower pace. I was fortunate to have enough of a cushion from earlier in the race that I was still able to make my BQ time, but my finish time was considerably slower than had I not had a calf that seized up on me.

    I’ve never raced with a cramp that bad before, and I suspect it was due to an angry piriformis (pain in the glute for me) and my leg compensating for this with a slightly altered gait, and pushing for a faster-than-normal pace because the downhill course let me push myself. Add to that, that I was probably dehydrated, and I consider myself fortunate that I still BQed.

    If I run this race in the future, I will know a lot about what to expect. Without the charley horse, I’m sure I would’ve finished at least a few minutes faster.

    All in all, though, this is a wonderful and unusual race. The tunnel is a real experience, and different from anything I’ve run before. The volunteers were all friendly and supportive, without exception. Things were low-key but run very smoothly.

    I would definitely recommend this course. If you’re trying to find a small certified Boston qualifier that’s fast point-to-point course with a gentle downhill, definitely give this a consideration.

    On the other end of the finish clock, this is also a very hiker-friendly race. With the early start option and the gradual downhill, you can really enjoy the scenery and you should be able to make the cutoff time as long as you keep moving at a reasonable clip.

    DIFFICULTY
    4
    PRODUCTION
    4
    SCENERY
    5
    SWAG
    4
    My Media

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