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%)


Twenty-Six Miles through a Lake, Part I

Marathons are run come hell or high water.  Well, I got the latter.

The forecast I posted ten days prior of partly cloudly and 62 never happened.  The very next day the forecast changed to 50% chance of showers and only went up from there.  Even the night before the race, when the local weather man forecasted the rain to start an hour after the race start—even that delay didn’t happen.

This was my first race in the northwest and fate had decided it was going to be a quintessential experience, climate and all.  When we got to the lobby and looked out the front doors my heart sank.  Sheets of rain were dancing across the street.  A curtain of water was pouring over the awning.  We huddled under our one umbrella and went out into the downpour. 

As we walked the ten blocks to staging area, more and more runners joined the trek.  Some were carrying umbrellas, others wearing ponchos—several pragmatic ones were wearing garbage bags.  I thought the garbage bag was a good idea: the jacket I was wearing was no match for the elements, one minute out from under the umbrella and I’d be soaked.

A block away from the starting area we ducked out of the crowd and into a covered area in front of a building.  It was still very dark, the rain and clouds prevented any light.  I went through my stretches while I was still mostly dry and had the space.  I started eating an apple, but knew that I probably didn’t have quite enough food inside of me.  For the previous 72 hours I had been a nervous wreck between staying up late to pack, squeezing a ten hour work day into seven, taking a transcontinental flight, all mixed with the anxiety that comes with a Marathon.  And when I get stressed, I don’t eat—my stomach just locks up, to the point that the day before I had to force myself to eat lunch and dinner because I just didn’t have an appetite.

Even while eating the apple, I could feel my body saying “I don’t want this.”  Getting down two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches earlier that morning was already a major effort.  But I forced myself to eat as much as possible of the apple as you can see here in the moments before I entered the starting corrals:

Note: when I said “human baggage” I actually meant the people accompanying the runners (like Wifey was accompanying me) not their actual personal effects.

It doesn’t come out so well in the video but I was mentally stuck between “I don’t want to run in the rain,” “I don’t want to be on camera,” “where is the nearest port-o-potty,” and “how much more of this apple can I take?”  The surroundings were equally discordant: runners trying to stay dry under ledges, a giant crowd of runners trying to get through one gate in the fence, marshals calling out directions, humming generators from the flood lights, the faint smell of port-o-potties.

I kissed my videographer goodbye and wiggled into the mob.

Once past the security fence I went immediately to the port-o-potty lines.  Geez, there are never enough of these.  Right before my turn to go in I decided to go for quick 30 second jog around an empty area of the start.  When I hopped back in line I was ready to, um, go.

After the pitch black port-o-potty there was about 10 minutes left before the start of the race.  I went over to my starting corral.  Not sure how, but somehow I was placed in the second corral just behind the elites/really fast people.  I found a dry spot off to the side under a tree and waited. 

At this point the rain had gone from downpour to drizzle to almost gone back to drizzle.  I just accepted the fact that I was going to have to run in the rain for this race and that I would be very wet.  I thought of the previous times that I had run in the rain and nothing bad happened then—I was just running wet.  And then I realized: I left my water bottle with Wifey.  I had meant to grab it when I grabbed the apple, but didn’t.  I scanned the crowd near the fence to spot her umbrella, but no luck.  And with only minutes before the start I couldn’t step out and find her.

I hadn’t run a race without a water bottle in years.  And I had run all my other Marathons with a water bottle.  Funny, it was going to be my wettest race ever, but my first without a water bottle.

As they sounded the wheelchair start I went over my basic game plan: get down to an 8:24 pace as quickly as possible and then hold it for as long as possible.  That pace would get me a 3:40 finish.  I also remembered to turn on my Garmin.

After the horn sounded for the runner start I figured that all the corrals would be released at once.  But when my corral (B) shifted to where corral A was they held us back.  Not only had they corralled runners according to pace, but they were spacing apart the corral releases by about a minute.  Something I think was very smart.

In the seconds before they released my corral I looked at my Garmin, it still hadn’t registered a GPS signal.  Uh oh.  It was taking longer than it should to get the signal, probably because of the weather and tall buildings surrounding the start.  So I assumed I would have some choppy splits for the first couple miles: one more atypical thing to juggle during this race. 

And then they counted down for our start:


A rough transition back

So I can't hide that I've had a hard time blogging over the past few months.  It's been hard with work to find the time like I used to, and when I do find time I'm not inspired to write.  It sucks.  It really and truly does.

Then, when I was inspired to write in the days before the Portland Marathon we were rushing to pack and tie up loose ends before we left.

After the race, well, I was on vacation.  And despite the best intentions of writing up my race report cozied up in a hotel bed, we never had a day where we got to be lazy around the room for a morning.

And now, we've stepped back into the shit-storm that is our normal life.  Sigh.

Race report is coming.  And I promise: it will be a wet one.


Ten days to go

Marathon Fever. It has snuck up on me this time. When I turned on the TV this morning and realized it was Oct 1 and that the Portland Marathon was only 10 days way I realized that I had been showing symptoms all week. I’ve visited the Marathon’s website at least twice a day this whole week. I carefully analyzed the starting and finishing area maps, scoping out ideal entry and exit points. Despite the fact that the Portland Marathon is just a piece of a much longer Portland vacation, I only have eyes for this race for next ten days.

It’s such a great feeling to have, especially since I didn’t get these kinds of butterflies with the Delaware Marathon.

The only problem? It has essentially rained every morning this week. And we’re not talking wimpy rain here—the cover from our grill has blown off and dowels from our tomato plants have been pulled out of the ground. But I must take it for what it is: Mother Nature is forcing me to taper. And since I suck at tapering as much as the next guy, this coaching by weather might just do the trick.

PS--Did I mention that the race day is now in the 10-day forecast?  It looks like it's going to be a perfect day: