I may have already mentioned it before, but this was my third attempt at the marathon, and only the first time I actually made it to race day. My first shot was back in 2000. I rolled my ankle very hard a couple months into the training program I was following and lost too much ground to continue. The second time was the following year, and about two months before race day, I found out I was pregnant. In retrospect, I think I could have still finished as a walker, but the morning sickness was too much and I was nervous about that kind of exertion. After that, I quit running altogether until last year.
So you can only imagine that this was a pretty special day for me. Crossing that finish line Sunday afternoon was in every sense of the word an uncategorical milestone in my life.
The night before, I didn’t get to bed until about 10:30. When I glanced at the clock before I finally drifted off, it was after 11. I woke up at 12, 2:40 and then 3:50am – and that was the end of sleep. After another 40 minutes spent under the covers trying to relax with deep breathing and meditation, I finally gave up and hopped in the shower. Wisely, I’d laid everything out the evening before – clothes, bib, shoes, Glide – and aside from the butterflies in my stomach, getting ready was smooth and methodical. The rest of the family drug themselves out of bed around 5 and we were headed to downtown Portland by 5:35.
By the time we got to my assigned staging area, it was still dark and pouring down rain. People were milling around in garbage bags and cursing the sky, but in a lighthearted and jovial sort of way. In Portland, this is often what you get this time of year. It is what it is. And naturally, all runners worth their salt – especially those who are dedicated enough to work towards the marathon – will run no matter what the weather brings.
|30 minutes to Go, hanging out under a coffee shop awning, trying to stay dry...|
Gun time was 7:00am. We went out in waves, so I didn’t cross the mats until nearly 7:20. I was feeling awesome, the rain was coming down in sheets, tons of people were yelling and cheering and going to town with the cowbells, and there was a drumline to see us off, which was a very good choice for the “kickoff entertainment.”
To say I was conservative with my pace is probably the understatement of the century – I was ridiculously nervous about how my foot was going to hold up – but in the end, it was a good thing that those nerves kept me from going out too fast. I did a frequently-alternating pattern of running and walking, and didn’t actually run an entire uninterrupted mile at any point during the race, which again, was probably the best plan of action.
The first 5-6 miles were a breeze. The foot was good, the rest of me was good, and there were so many people around me it really didn’t matter at all that I was in the “back pack.” Within the first mile, I was so wet my clothes were literally plastered to my skin, and water was dripping steadily from the rim of my visor. There were puddles everywhere, and they became harder to dodge as the rain pretty much didn’t let up, so after a while, folks were just plowing right through them instead of trying to skirt them. After all, what was the point?
It didn’t take me long to figure out why it is so awesome to have your name printed on your bib – it’s a real boost to have a total and random stranger – a fellow runner or even a spectator – call out your name with a smile, a thumbs up, a “way to go!” At about mile 7, I saw my friend Catrena out on the course – she was running the half marathon, had already hit her turnaround point and was headed back towards downtown and her finish line, and I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have known it was me if she hadn’t seen my bib. She and I went to high school together and not too long ago managed to locate each other on Facebook, and for the last several months, we’d been rooting each other on via cyberspace as we did our own races and compared notes about this day. Oddly enough, the few fleeting seconds that we made eye contact was the first time we’d actually seen each other since graduation! She was cruising along like a veritable gazelle, and as quickly as I had noticed her, she shouted my name with a wonderful smile and a wave and was gone.
By mile 9 during the long out-and-back along Naito Parkway, I was beginning to feel some twinges in my foot and tightness in my quads and calves. I took that as a hint and dialed it back some more, firmly securing my place among the massive crowd of walkers that had been the last wave to start. By that point, the rain was off and on – more on than off – and there were no signs whatsoever that the sun planned to make an appearance. Obviously, it was going to be a very soggy day, period. I chatted with various people here and there, saying hello and asking how they were doing, secretly hoping I would find someone who matched my pace that would want to stick around with me for a while, but most that I talked to ended up wanting to go faster than me, so after a while I conceded the fact that I would probably run the whole race by myself. Then at around mile 10.5, the crowd thinned out as the halfers continued straight up Naito Parkway and back to downtown and the finish, and the fullers peeled off to the right and headed up to the Pearl District and then the long, lonely stretch headed out along St. Helens Rd., Hwy. 30 and to the St. John’s Bridge.
After about another 50 minutes I reached the halfway point and ducked out for a Honey Bucket break, did my business and took the opportunity to wring out my clothes a bit – hard to do when you don’t actually take them off, but the amount of water I did manage to get rid of was impressive! I was also starting to really feel the miles, and considering this was the last fully logical place to call it quits, did a bit of mind-wringing as well as I camped out in the relative dryness of the Honey Bucket stall. I seriously considered stopping, still paranoid about my foot, and now that other parts of me were speaking up, I wondered just how ready I was to tack on another 13.1 miles to this venture. The St. John’s Bridge loomed in the distance – barely visible through the mist and rain. It looked as if it was a million miles away.
|The St. John's Bridge, from roughly mile 14|
At this point, it would have been easy to quit – this was one of the major aid stations on the course, and there were plenty of volunteers there who would have taken care of me. But I thought about everyone waiting for me – my husband and kids, my dad and his wife, and how disappointed they would be if I didn’t push on through…and so I promptly dismissed the idea, got my water belt back in place, stuffed a few Clif shots in my mouth, and kept going.
Another hour or so found me at the base of the long, fairly steep ramp up to the St. John’s Bridge, a sight for sore eyes if there ever was one. For those who are not familiar with the Portland course, the St. John’s is the major turn in the course – once you get over the bridge, then it’s back towards downtown you go and all relatively downhill from there – both literally and figuratively. I stopped for a few photos, and texted them to my husband to let him know where I was (although he was tracking my iPhone with an app on his own phone, so probably knew where I was anyway) and also to have another small, literal piece of my milestone – once I got to the other side of that bridge, I would then officially surpass my highest mileage to date – 17 miles.
|On the St. John's! I was there!|
It was a bit surprising how good I still felt when I hit the far end of the span. My dad and his wife Kathy were just a few minutes past the bridge, giving me another little shot in the arm with cheers and smiles as I kept trucking. The course then meandered through the neighborhoods that surround Portland State University, and the atmosphere picked up a bit as there were more spectators – many of whom appeared to have simply “set up camp” out in front of their houses with lawn chairs, tents and cowbells to watch the runners pass by. Of course, by this time, only the tail-end of the walking pack was left, and I was situated pretty far back even amongst them. Mile 18 passed slowly, then 19, then 20 – my husband and kids were waiting for me there, which was a good thing, because by then I was in some serious pain. Nicholas ran out to hug me, and they were all cheering, and I almost burst into tears – it was so great to see them there. A handful of gummi bears and another extremely well-timed Honey Bucket stop at mile 21 gave me just enough of a reprieve and a shove forward, and on I went.
The stretch of Greely and Interstate Avenues between Adidas Headquarters and the Broadway Bridge – roughly miles 22 and 23 – was the most bleak and heart-wrenching stretch of the entire race (and you Portlanders surely know what I am talking about!) On one side of this fast-moving four-lane road is a steep, very high cliff of rocks and grass, and the other side slopes down into a stark, railroad-stitched industrial section of town cluttered with warehouses. Litter was strewn everywhere among raggedy, sad-looking weeds that poked up around the cracked sidewalk, and it just kept going and going. Time seemed to slow down and distances appeared to expand exponentially the further I went – indeed, my pace averaged only about 3.4 miles per hour by then, and pondering the specific length of a mile, which normally doesn’t phase me too much, was just about overwhelming and totally counterproductive to my efforts. Any pretense of actually running anymore was totally gone, and to top it all off a hot spot was blooming on the ball of my right foot, and suddenly I was dealing with blisters for the first time ever. Operating completely on auto-pilot, I forced myself to think only about putting one foot before the other.
I had been out on the course for nearly six hours now, and I was still being passed by other walkers. It had at least finally stopped raining, but clearly, it was “come to Jesus” time – I was so stressed out and hurting and full of despair that it was all I could do to keep from simply stopping, planting myself on the curb (as if I could have actually sat down at that point!) and refusing to go any further. And then, I heard a bunch of screaming and shouting coming from the topside of the cliff to my left – and there at the very top was my family once again, jumping up and down and cheering me on. Where exactly they were specifically and how they’d gotten up there I had no idea, but I was so glad to see them I almost started crying again. I was less than four miles from the finish line. Quitting the race completely and totally ceased to be an option.
|Meeting up with the family again just before mile 24...and they managed to wring a smile out of me!|
About 15 minutes before I hit the Broadway Bridge, I noticed a woman about fifty feet ahead of me with a colorful tattoo on the back of her calf and realized we’d been taking turns reeling each other in for about the last two hours. It occurred to me that I probably knew her – back in July at the Lacamas Lake Half I’d met a nice woman named Jenn with such a tattoo. Gritting my teeth, I managed to pour on just enough juice to run ahead and catch her – and sure enough, it was her. Finally – someone to talk to and get my mind off of all points south of my waist, which were screaming non-stop in protest. We enjoyed catching up with one another as we gimped along, comparing notes about what was hurting and how bad, and how awesome it was going to be crossing that finish line, if we could just get our sorry selves there at some point before the end of the day! Besides the medal and the shirt and that finish line, all I wanted was a shower, a very large and juicy steak with garlic mashed potatoes, a ginormous glass of chocolate milk and a five-hour nap…
And speaking of pain, it was now a complete toss-up as to which foot hurt worse – the left with the still-healing soft tissue injury or the right, which felt as if it was sporting a blister about the size of a teacup saucer. My running shorts, which were still wet, were riding up no matter how much I readjusted and I was starting to chafe in very sensitive places. My quads, hip flexors and calves were toast. In the scheme of things, only childbirth – which I have endured three times in my life – seemed to match the intensity of discomfort I was experiencing. The fact that both situations were entirely voluntary made me feel like some sort of saintly masochist with a slight tendency towards utter insanity.
We got over the Broadway Bridge and back onto Naito Parkway, and the homestretch. Jenn felt like she could run the last half-mile, so once again I was alone but that didn’t matter, because I knew it was in the bag now. A few minutes later, some random spectator yelled that I only had six more blocks to go. And suddenly, the milestone was mine, already won. There was absolutely no way in all of existence that I wasn’t going to get my medal and shirt. Turning up Salmon St., there was my friend Donna on the corner, with whom I’d trained off and on since last December. She was wrapped in a space blanket and sporting a grin about a mile wide, long done with her run by over an hour and a half, but still waiting to see me finish just like she’d promised me.
“Let’s go!” she screamed at me. “Time to run it in! Stop walking! Run!”
And then the family was in view, and they were all freaking out. So yeah, I was going to run. And I did – all the way across the timing mat.
|Rounding the corner onto 3rd Ave., less than a hundred feet or so from the finish line|
I have never, ever been so happy to see the big finish banner and the line on the asphalt that finally, after 7 hours, 11 minutes and 58 seconds, let me be done with the marathon – medal, shirt, space blanket and rose in hand.
Well, done with this marathon, anyway.
I’m already planning on doing it again.
|Happy Shiny Runners!|
|A fistfull of grapes, still upright (and thinking of steak and chocolate milk....)|