On a perfect day for running, my second marathon of the current era went very well for 24 miles and decent overall, with an 8+ minute PR. I enjoyed it, learned much and am ready for more.
The Long Gory Details
The run-up to the run
I realized I’d never flown to a race before while I was driving to the airport on Friday. I don’t know why that hit me, but it made the race seem a little “bigger.” On the flight to Portland, I met several fellow marathoners; what fun to compare notes. They ranged from an injured runner who was walking, to a runner who was happy she had only done one 13 mile run in training, to a semi-elite runner/triathlete. For me, a guy who runs by himself almost all the time, just being able to talk to folks who love running is a treat.
Friday afternoon was a treat…my son Nathan had some necessary work to do, so he set me up with an internet connection at an empty desk in his office. What fun to “see” him do his professional thing while I pecked away at the Web in the corner. He took me downtown Friday evening and I picked up my bib and goodie bag while he waited with the car…well organized and I breezed through!
On Saturday, I played disc golf with Nathan and friends in the morning then settled in to watch our beloved Purdue Boilermakers lose to Notre Dame. Around 5pm, I joined Rob, Michelle, Sara and about 16 other runners for a great pasta dinner. Again, it was fun to meet face-to-face people I had only blogged and commented with before. The conversation was lively and animated. Yeah, we were all pumped.
I actually slept pretty well, other than a dream I got lost on the course around mile 11. I hopped on the rapid transit train around 5:20am, heading downtown, picking up more runners at every stop. The few sleepy non-runners on the train marveled at this odd collection of people wearing shorts on a chilly morning.
The train deposited us in the pre-dawn darkness of downtown Portland, where we were swept along with a river of people walking to the start area five blocks away. Which took us to the only real negative of the day; the significant disorganization of the start.
I don’t have the most experience, but I’ve run a few large races, especially the Indianapolis Mini-marathon, with 35,000 starters. And I think the race had some problems with the start. The most glaring was the almost-complete lack of audible directions about lining up, the complete absence of signage for pace and a major breakdown of the bag-drop process.
All of which led to one of the major lessons of the day: be prepared. For anything. It would have been easy to get rattled by all of this, especially for me, a fairly organized guy. But, in the midst of it, I pointed out to a fellow bag drop linestander that a) we had chip timing, so even if we were late, we’d still get a real time and b) it really didn’t make a big difference.
It ended up that despite getting to the start area over an hour early, I had only 5 minutes to get into the pack, try to stretch and slowly work up to a reasonable spot with people who were running, not walking, as near as I could tell. It never was really clear when the race started but the pack started moving, so off we went, and crossed the timing mats to start the race.
Part 2 of the “be prepared” theme became apparent now: the GPS unit in my Garmin was completely ineffective in downtown Portland, surrounded by high-rise buildings, allowing no angle to any satellite. And so I had to quickly decide to simply use the Garmin as a stopwatch and I would use the list of split times in large fonts I had prepared last Saturday. Funny, given my navel-gazing over marathon-pace and Garmin offsets, it all went back to the basics; check the splits every mile and adjust accordingly.
Miles 1-2 were quite clogged as we tried to find our pace moving through downtown Portland. The most significant thing holding up progress was a point at about .75 miles at which the entire field had to fit through a 15 foot-wide gate between concrete barriers at a road construction site. We all slowed to a walk as the field worked thorough the bottleneck. From there, we tried to find our pace, with the expected passing and being passed given the unorganized line up. No rhythm yet and my first two spits were 10:15 and 11:08.
Miles 3-6 saw the flow and the enjoyment start to happen and the race became most enjoyable. We made a gentle climb back south of downtown with wide streets, no traffic and the human congestion of the start sorting itself out. The miles clicked by at 8:23, 8:59, 8:32 and 9:20. By mile six I was back on pace for a 4:15 finish.
Miles 7-11 were on a very flat out-and-back run through an industrial area. I backed off the pace a bit, as my trusty split chart showed me I was two minutes ahead of my desired pace. So I got into some enjoyable conversation and sang along with one of the bands along the route. Splits here were 9:21, 9:22, 9:32, 9:29, and 9:42.
A treat here was seeing my son Nathan! He knows this area of Portland well from his work activities and was able to find a route in despite the many blocked streets. As many of us know, the sight of a smiling friend or relative is often all we need. He had a bag with some Gatorade and a dry towel, which he dispensed with as easily as his big smile. Seeing him twice on this out-and-back section was a real boost.
An unfortunate thing happened as we approached the turnaround and the road clogged with runners in both directions. A big guy just ahead and to my right caught his toe as he ran near the curb and went down, hard. I swerved over to block off runners behind him and then helped him up. He had abrasions on his hands and shoulder and was rattled. I walked with him a bit and got him up to some nearby volunteers who could help out. Ouch…it could happen to any of us.
Miles 12-16 pushed us farther north, through a residential area then along the base of a large bluff. Splits stayed consistent at 9:48, 9:47, 10:11, 9:39 and 9:45. Nathan circled around the blocked streets to magically find me again around mile 14.5. The dry towel was a treat. My half-marathon time was 2:04:18, a 9:29 pace. I was quite pleased with that; hey that time beat my last half marathon by 2 minutes!!
Miles 17 and 18 provided the major challenge of the course. We had to climb up a road to a bridge at the top of the bluff. Nathan drove up this ramp with me the day before so I had an idea about it but such climbs are a lot easier in a car than on foot. As we turned onto the climb, four of us glommed together and settled into a steady, resolute, mile-long push to the center of the bridge. It worked well and the splits were 9 45 and 10:26.
We were rewarded with a spectacular view back to the south of downtown Portland in the bright morning sun. It was truly beautiful and one of the views that makes running worthwhile.
One of my climbing buddies was Phil and we stuck together for the next seven miles. This was his first marathon and he was amazed and excited about how good he felt as we came off the bridge and headed back south. He asked “Should we pick it up a bit?? You’ve done marathons…whaddya think?” “No.” “But I’m really feeling strong!” “No. We won’t make any ‘move’ until mile 23.” “Mile 23?” “Yeah, mile 23. Funny things will happen between now and then. Stay cool.”
This settled, we moved into miles 19-22. Phil and I enjoyed conversation of the kind that is also one of the best parts of running. As a local, he was a great tour guide of our wonderful views, the residential areas, the University of Portland and other sights. The crowds really picked up in this area of homes and education. Along this section, we were entertained by a group of belly-dancers. I’ll simply say those ladies really put the “belly” into belly-dancing with their sizable girths.
I do think the conversation caused me to lose focus a bit on this stretch as splits fell off to 10:07, 10:21, 10:06 and 10:33. Fatigue may also have contributed but I simply wasn’t paying attention to pace in the midst of the conversation and scenery. Yet, Phil and I barreled thorough 20 mile marker still feeling good. This was new territory for him, but I still managed to persuade him to hold off running fast, yet. Perhaps I was subconsciously covering for my own onset of fatigue.
I did overhear one conversation by some spectators as I ran this stretch:
“Gee, that guy doesn’t seem to run too smoothly.”
“Nope. But his shoelaces sure are sparkly white!”
Nathan amazingly appeared once again in the midst of this stretch. What a great kid!! And the towel was still dry
Mile 23 was a turning point. It was mostly downhill as we came off the top of the bluff back towards downtown. The split was nice at 9:25, coupled with a run through the large offices of adidas. Their workers were out in full force, all in adidas gear of course and it was a boost.
Mile 24 was where it got tough for me. At this point I wished Phil well and he worked on ahead, quickly getting out of sight. He really could go quickly. My legs, however, were running out of gas. My split was 10:28 and while I felt fine mentally and had no nausea or other problems, I simply couldn’t keep the legs turning over at the same rate. I realized I would not make a 4:15 finish at this point and so resolved to simply run the rest of the way and not walk.
Mile 25 saw us cross the river back into downtown and afforded what I found to be the funniest moment of the race for me. As we approached the bridge, I saw a group of cheerleaders from a local high school lined up and, rather than the usual just random cheering and bouncing, they were getting set to do a real organized cheer, which they started just as I approached. Here’s how it went:
Glycogen makes the leeeeeeegs go.
Both legs (clap) Both legs (clap, clap) [Repeat]
I’m so glad I heard this. First off, has the essential fuel for muscle movement ever been immortalized in a chant by identically dressed bouncing high school girls with matching hair bows?? And second, since my glycogen was nearly shot, at least the cheerleaders could urge me to keep my legs going. Both legs. Clap. Clap. I laughed all the way across the bridge. Which I needed at this point.
I crossed the river and curled back through the same construction bottleneck we saw at mile .75, this time moving through with no restriction. The split was 11:16 and I was finally heading for home.
Mile 26 was tough too. My objective remained “Don’t Walk.” And my legs, now a glycogen-free-zone, just wouldn’t cooperate. I had to relent. I picked out a landmark about 100 yards ahead and I allowed myself to walk to it. That helped. This was also the first time I played the dreaded mental game of “Why are you doing this, you fool?? Do your half marathons and avoid this!!” I tried to fight back that gargoyle and kept moving.
Over this last mile, the streets of downtown were fully lined with spectators and the encouragement was palpable. I was getting passed by a lot of folks, yet I was also passing folks in worse shape than I. I didn’t walk again, knowing I was nearly done. At the 26 mile marker, a group had put up a 30 foot poster of an cartoon-like operatic “Fat Lady” with loud opera music piped in behind her. Knowing that since the proverbial Fat Lady was singing, I had to be near the end. Mile 26 was my slowest of the day, at 12:33. Yet, I broke into a huge smile, knowing another marathon was in the books. One more left turn, 70 yards of running and it was done.
What was really cool was that the post-race set up was as well organized as the prerace had been disorganized. This was about as good as it gets. Even though I came across the finish line with a lot of other people, the set up encouraged steady movement by already-tired legs without the “keep moving” barking that happens at other races. I quickly was de-chipped, medaled and wrapped with a space blanket that really felt good. I picked up a banana, some fluids, two trees (really…they gave away pine saplings…”so Portland” as one of Nathan’s friends observed) and a very nice finisher’s T shirt. I picked up the bag I had left at the start and found Nathan at the family meet-up area. What a hug we gave each other. It was huge to share the event with him.
I found a sheltered spot to sit down and change into a dry shirt and dry socks, one of the wonderful little pleasures after any race. Nathan and I laughed and yacked for about 30 minutes as I got my legs back under me. It was huge fun. The gargoyle went away. I was also pleased that I had little of the foot cramping and none of the wooziness that I experienced following the St. Louis marathon last April.
I caught a very early flight out of Portland on Monday morning and sat next to a fellow resident of Indiana who was wearing his finisher’s t shirt on the trip home, just as I was. Next to us was a veteran marathoner who had been at the race but couldn’t run himself due a bout with tendonitis. The three of us talked extensively on the flight to Dallas and swapped experiences of Portland and many other races. Thanks, Larry and Vern, for a nice trip.
So, that’s it. I’ll try to post photos later in the week. Thanks for hanging with this long post, I hope you enjoyed it.
Persevere. On race day and on every other day.