Twenty-Six Miles through a Lake, Part II

The Splits:
Mile 1: 8:51 (recorded as 1.17 miles)
Mile 2: 9:28
Mile 3: 9:09
Mile 4: 8:32
Mile 5: 8:38
Mile 6: 8:25
Mile 7: 8:51
Mile 8: 8:33
Mile 9: 8:20
Mile 10: 8:25
Mile 11: 8:20
Mile 12: 8:55
Mile 13: 8:24
Mile 14: 9:03
Mile 15: 8:00
Mile 16: 8:32
Mile 17: 8:55
Mile 18: 8:18
Mile 19: 7:46 (recorded as .9 miles)
Mile 20: 9:41 (recorded as 1.12 miles)
Mile 21: 8:29
Mile 22: 8:24
Mile 23: 8:42
Mile 24: 8:38
Mile 25: 9:21
Mile 26: ???
Mile 26.2: ???

The Story:
To say I was happy with this race would be a lie.  Fortunately, with time all races develop a particular patina where I appreciate the things I gained while training and while on the course and overall the memory becomes a series of positive takeaways instead of a chain of challenges that systematically bore me down.   Unfortunately, this race hasn’t completely developed that patina yet.  It still feels like a non-accomplishment that I need to trick myself into believing was a great achievement.

What is holding me back from enjoying this race as yet another triumph over the Marathon is that I am tired of complaining.  Every time I run a race I have a series of excuses and bitchings as to why it wasn’t my perfect race. 

As a seasoned Marathoner I feel I don’t have the right to complain anymore.  I lost that right somewhere along the way because at this point I know what to expect, I know what I’ve signed up for, I know how to prepare for it, and I know what will happen afterward.  If this all caught me by surprise I’d be correct to complain about it.  But I know what’s coming and I do prepare for it.  So it still catches me off guard when after a race all I can list is the things that went wrong and the things I can improve for next time.

In order to set this right I need to embrace complaint as part of the process; have a bit of catharsis before the euphoria.  It’s only through a thorough hashing of 100 things that I perceive to have gone wrong that I can truly inventory and appreciate the 1,000 things that went right.  With this in mind I will proceed with the complaints.

While running this race I knew about four miles in that it would be a long race.  The miles weren’t passing by as quickly as they normally do during a race.  This isn’t a comment on my speed, it a comment on my mental state.  Usually I can get about halfway through a race just on excitement and the real racing doesn’t come until after the halfway mark.  But with this race I remember specifically looking at my watch before Mile Five and thinking “OK, when is this going to be over?”  That was bad.

Of course I blame the rain for this, but I also blame my reliance on my Garmin too.  At the start I knew the GPS signal wasn’t registering, so my splits would be a bit off.  But then my first split came back at 8:51: about appropriate for the first cluttered mile of a race if I’m shooting for an 8:24 pace.  However, I didn’t see until after I loaded the race into my computer that the GPS signal registered within the first block of the race and that the first split registered as 1.17 miles instead of one so that I had a pace of 7:35 for that first mile.  Now that probably explains why it felt so difficult to get into a proper pace during those first few miles, which probably explains the erratic pacing later in the race too.

A brutal truth about this race is that large chunks of it are just not pretty.  I can count at least nine miles (five through 11 and 13 through 16) that went through warehouse districts, large rail yards, or remote strips of highway lined by industrial businesses with large parking lots.  And it’s not the race directors’ fault.  The geography of Portland is essentially a valley: stray too far away from downtown/the river and you run into hills.  It is actually quite an accomplishment that there is only one significant hill on the entire course.  But those lonely miles do take a toll on you, especially the strip from Mile 13 to 16.

Speaking of the hill, it was a mighty climb and I loved every single second of it.  With everything else on the course virtually flat, it was a relief to climb up the 205 foot rise of the St. Johns Bridge.  My quads came alive with power, their stores of energy finally being tapped.  I passed people left and right, as if it were the easiest thing to do.  This was the part of the race I loved the most—and I felt a little sad once I reached the peak knowing that there were essentially no more hills for the rest of the race.

On the other side of the bridge the crowds were great and essentially did not stop until the next bridge some seven miles later.  Actually, I was really impressed with the crowd turnout at this race.  Portlanders were great at coming out in the non-stop rain and cheering on runners.  The kids were also never afraid to take a hi-five from a soaked runner.  The volunteer turnout was also incredible: each water station easily had 25 people handing out liquids and for a race of 12,000 that is a luxurious ratio (I never had to worry about getting water).

The only bad thing about this the race after the St. Johns Bridge was that to the right you basically had an uninterrupted view of downtown (the finish line) behind a whitewash fog.  Something about that made the finish line seem so far away.  It was also in these miles that I started to feel the absence of my water bottle.  I noticed halfway between water stations that I wanted water and that I couldn’t turn to my hand and get it.  While I had appreciated having both hands free during the race, I saw that I really needed a steady flow of liquids during these last six or so miles.

Besides the rain, missing water bottle, and choppy pacing I really thought I was doing well.  And up until Mile 24 I was still looking at a PR—not 3:40, but something like 3:45 or 3:46.  Then it just all got really hairy after that.  Since the halfway point I could feel my stomach aching for more food (despite a steady schedule of GU every 45 minutes).  I could also feel cramps going through my abdomen (a sure sign that I should have stayed in that port-o-potty a little longer before the race).  Knowing that the finish line was close only made those sensations worse.

Despite only having two miles to go I couldn’t muster up enough good thoughts to keep me plowing through.  Or maybe I had forgotten to focus on the good thoughts once I got to this point. 

On the other side of the Broadway Bridge I started to feel the weight of the previous miles upon me.  My knees were starting to worry me because for the preceding weeks they had been aching more than usual and feeling weird and for some reason I couldn’t find my heating pad to make them feel better.  Trying to envision the finish line was useless because of all the tall buildings and street names were unfamiliar—I had no idea where it was and could only tell you it was not close enough.

All of these things compounded into a weird heart burn/stomach cramp/gas bubble/stitch flare up concentrated in the area at the bottom of my chest sternum.  I felt myself start to hobble and then uncontrollably started walking.

“Fuck,” is all I could say.  Less than a mile to the finish line and I had to stop to walk.  I felt like I let myself down, but it was something I could recover from.  About 30 seconds later I picked it up again set on making it to the finish from there.  But a minute or two later I stopped again from the same pain.  The second walking break felt like failure.  That was where I realized that the PR would not happen and that I felt I let the race get the best of me.  That hurt in a way that was trivial (I was still going to finish a Marathon!) and soul shattering (I couldn’t perform despite my hardest effort).  And that is the same thing that prevents me from coming to good terms with Portland today. 

When I felt better and finally recognized where I was (only four blocks from the finish line) I started running determined to not stop until the finish line.  And I did.  I unzipped my wind breaker (never ended up taking it off due to the rain) to show my bib number, which had my name printed in all caps on it.  Sure enough people started yelling my name.  Though it was vain it was great.  Despite the shortcomings of the previous mile, I crossed the finish line as I always do: running hard and strong, blasting any doubt that I once again defeated the juggernaut.

Final Numbers:
Net Time: 3:49:00
Overall place: 1388/7835 (top 18% of finishers)
Men: 1025/3407 (top 30%)
M25-29: 160/437 (top 37%)

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