Well, I just finished a marathon, the first, the most physically challenging thing I've ever done. It was surprisingly easy at first, and then around the 'halfway' point of 19 miles, got more and more wearing, but nothing awful. I eventually finished the race of 5:10:26--including two potty breaks and a bit of shoe tying. This will be a longer write-up than most, as I really want to remember how I felt today, so slog on through.
I decided to do this way back in January, though as the months went by I realized it was going to be a slow buildup--just logging more and more miles, more hours, through the warm humid summer. Above everything else, I didn't want to get injured. My training was not aggressive at all, and I wanted to have enough time to rest and recover. It paid off, and today's run was great, and actually more enjoyable than many of my training runs. Those training runs are occasionally long (working up to 20 miles), but the past few weeks have been odd as I've been mostly hiking in Germany, some 20km every day. It's been good to keep up my stamina, and it's been great as the weather in Germany is much the same as it is in Portland. I did complete that 20 mile run on a zero hiking day a few weeks back in Traben-Trabach, and discovered that I could do it--and my biggest issue would oddly enough be keeping the chafing down. For whatever reason that's never been an issue at home in San Diego. I didn't get injured at all in training, and these last few days I've been thinking "is it time to set any expectations", and realizing it's probably best not to have any. I know I should finish in 5 to 6 hours, and my big concerns are avoiding that chafing and getting enough to eat. There's water along the course, and pretzels and gummi bears, so that's covered.
So, last night, I had a wonderful meal at a restaurant just north of Broadway--all vegan--and fell asleep around 9:30. I slept pretty well, but at 4:30 I woke, and just futzed around on my phone until 5:20, when I really wanted to wake up. I certainly don't want to oversleep, and guessed that 7 hoiurs was enough sleep.
The pre-marathon plan is simple: wake up, shower, make coffee in the room, take the 6:15 tram to the start line, get in the portapotty line and recycle the coffee, get in my starting corral, and go. There wasn't much specific race prep, except putting a bit of Body Glide on my inner thighs and nipples, then putting Leukotape on top of that (a fail; the Body Glide caused the Leukotape to slide off), and I wore a snug but not tight pair of 6 inch Underarmour Boxerjocks to prevent the thigh chafing. Also: in my running pouch I stashed my phone and three Clif Shotblox and four Clif gel packets. Gotta eat.
As I made my way to the start, it was cool outside, but not cold, maybe 50F/10C, I just walked around and did a few calve stretches and that's about it. I don't really like stretch before running, but rather just take it slow for the first 15 minutes or so. I chatted up a couple of women next to me; they were very mellow, almost resigned: "Well, this is it. We're ready, let's do it, and we can look forward to that warm shower afterwards." That was my feeling exactly--no suprises, just keep a steady pace, stick to the plan. My plan for running is easy: run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat until done. My watch is set up to vibrate every time I need to start running or start walking so I don't forget. Oh, and also, keep my running pace around 10:15 to 10:45 minutes per mile.
My starting group was the last to cross the start line, just after sunrise, an oddly cloudless sky that had me worried about it getting too hot. As we took off, north along the river, various bands were playing every half mile or so, it was great fun--hey, they were playing the Ghostbusters theme, and then there was a bagpipe group, and a reggae group, and then Ventura Highway, and then a DJ playing trashy Eurodance, and another reggae group, and taiko drummers, and some Native music, just wonderfully distracting. I just cruised those first miles, it was super-easy... though my bladder was sloshing around mile 3, so I waited in a longish line for a portapotty just after the turnaround on Naito Parkway, sigh. Guess it took three or four minutes off of my time, but oh it was so worth it.
That first hour went by so easily and quickly as the course meandered through decrepit old warehouses and shiny new condo-ish blocks north of the 405 bridge, and I really had to pay attention to the pace on my watch, and put on the brakes on--I found myself running an 8:30 min/mile at one point prior to my potty break. Conveniently, though, I had jumped out of the porta-potties right behind a runner with a red-lizard sign above her head that said "5:00"--a pacer!--and that felt like a good pace to me. I slipped in maybe 20 meters behind her gaggle of follwers and ran along until I my watch nagged me to take minute of walking, then caught up with her again, and did that as the course made its way northwest along a wide highway that thankfully wasn't busy. It was dull, there weren't a lot of bands, but I was feeling good just tagging along and following the red lizard runner's ponytail for several miles. The blue skies had been replaced by clouds, thankfully as well, and remained that way for much of the marathon. I stopped and retied my loose left shoe at mile 7--I could feel a hotspot where a blister was forming--and kept on going; I did get a small blister on my arch but it didn't bother me at all during the run.
Just after mile 8 is the one big hill on the course, the approach to the St John Bridge that crosses the Willamette River into North Portland. That's kinda where I decided I could keep up my pace it up the hill (and I ate a Clif Mocha gel with 50mg of caffeine for a little boost as I approached the bridge). The hill was gradual but pretty long (500 meters maybe), though I didn't think it was much of a problem, and I got a bit ahead of the pacer as I turned right onto the bridge. After the bridge crest I thought I'd stride it out on the gentle downhill--free gravity energy--and was feeling really fantastic as I got off the bridge around the 10 mile mark. The course character had changed too, we were on residential streets with house parties and high school cheerleaders cheering us on, yelling "Go Marmot Go!" as they read my handle off my race bib.
About this time, I noticed my knees were starting to feel a bit sore. They weren't painful, just sore... and I was thinking all this running on pavement was annoying them. The roads we were running on were moderately crowned too, and I was running along the right side, maybe that was causing issues? I moved to the center and after awhile my knees felt better, and passed the halfway point of the marathon with some time of 2:34 or so on the board, so I figured I was keeping that 5:00 pace, knowing that I'd crossed the starting line some 10 minutes after the official start. The tape-on-nipples thing wasn't working out, sigh, so I lubed up my nipples with a little stick of Body Glide from my pouch (accidentally flashing more than a few brunchers at a wine-and-cheese-and-bbq house party, sorry) and kept on cruising along, wondering where the mental halfway point was. At mile 15 I gulped a Clif Double Expresso gel (with 100mg of caffeine), I had gone through most of my Shot Blox by this point and thought a boost might help (it did). I was told about this by Jeff Keeny here in San Diego--he said it's around mile 21, and after that point you start playing mental games just to make it on through. I wasn't there yet though, things were going fine.
The course made a U-turn somewhere after the halfway point and turned back, and I was starting to feel a bit worn as I got back onto the bridge at mile 18 and pushed my way up and over. I found courage in another Double Expresso gel pack and its 100mg of caffeine, and I was looking forward to the downhill, though, to Highway 30... and was surprised that the downhill was as tough as it was. By this point my knees were definitely stiffening up, so I decided to stretch my legs a bit by 'prancing' more, raising my heels higher off the ground after I pushed off with my toes, kinda half kicking my butt. Ouch! Bad idea, my knees felt like they were filled with water or something, and my right knee even cracked like cracking a knuckle. Again--no pain--but very weird and I wondered if something was wrong, before realizing that my body would've told me if it was really bad. The 5:00 pacer passed me on the bridge too, and I started to think "aha, this is were the mental part of the marathon kicks in".
By the time I got back on that long boring stretch of highway--mile 19--I was sliding into the 'get it done' mode, and starting to slog along. How about caffeine? Sure. 7 more miles. Maybe 90 minutes left? The sun came out and stayed out on that hot highway, and I was running into the sun, ugh. Yeah, not ideal, but it could be much worse, and I realized that yep, this is the mental halfway point for me, around mile 20. And ugh, I had to pee (caffeine), but there were no lines. I actually felt that during the race I drank a bit too much water and replentishment fluid anyways, I really wasn't sweating much at all, but better to drink too much than too little. Besides, at the water/fluid stations there were pretzels and gummi bears and I made sure I ate my share of those treats.
The miles went by, but I found myself not bothered about them, and though that was a bit odd that I didn't care--was I on mile 22 or 21? All I knew is that I was still on the wrong side of that big freeway bridge, so it didn't matter. The and I walking breaks became longer, 90 seconds or 2 minutes, to give my knees more resting time. Again, the knees weren't painful, just getting to be awfully sore and inflexible. I tried striding it out for a bit, but they just wouldn't bend as far as they should, so I just decided I would shuffle-jog it on in. For awhile I played with running along a line on the pavement--four steps on one side, hop over to the other side and do five steps, hop back and do six steps, counting up and down to 12. It passed the time, and I could definitely feel my thinking getting fuzzier, it reminded me of playing in a rugby match, those last ten minutes of an eighty minute match, just keep going.
The very last miles were better, oddly, miles 24 and 25, as there more people along the course and the pavement was smoother without the oddball holes and bumps in the industrial areas. I spotted Chris just before the finish (suprise!), and I basically jogged across the finish. Yay, somewhere around 5 hours, 5:10:26 officially.
I did it.
So would I do it again? I dunno, it feels like the most physically challenging thing I've ever done (though the 25 mile hike across Hat Creek Rim is real close). But the half-marathon felt really great, seriously, I would do one of those again. And maybe even a 10K, or a 5K. I'm glad to have done it, see what it's all about, but it's a big commitment to put in the hours to train for this, and there's so much else I'd like to do. I'll still keep running--particularly in the winter here, when it's easier to train in the cooler, drier days--and see about something next year.
For now, it's time to take it easy. Yay. Done.