Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Me with my parents at the finish after recovering from my usual post-marathon leg issues.
Year three of the Portland Marathon was finally upon me. The anticipation of taper week is one of my least favorite parts of the marathon training cycle. I love being able to slack off, but the race hanging in front of you is nerve-wracking. I just want to get it over with already. This year, for whatever reason, I felt the most prepared for a marathon to date. Which is kind of odd, considering it was a full year since my last one and my training wasn't as good as before. All week I was confident I could finish and wasn't as nervous as in years past.

That being said, I was still very nervous. It really all hit me after a busy Saturday running around Portland to various sporting events. I finally got home around 10:30pm and realized I had nothing else to do next before the marathon. The next thing was the marathon. So I freaked out a little, calmed myself by rationally thinking, laid out my clothes, and then tried to get some sleep. Sleep was much easier to come by then in marathons past, I probably feel asleep within an hour and a half of going to bed, which was good! I believe I got about 4.5 hours of sleep. Not great, but on par with other marathons.

Early on in the race, sun just rising.
In the morning I was a little sick to my stomach, but again, not as bad as before. I'm never hungry on marathon mornings but I managed to choke down a bagel anyways. Had a Starbucks Iced Coffee thing for some energy and then hopped in my car to drive to Alejandro's to carpool to the race. We picked up Glenn along the way and then headed downtown to park. By now this part of the Portland Marathon seems routine, joining a steady stream of runners in the dark toward the noise of the start line downtown. Definitely not as nervous this year though, the pressure of PRing was off and all I had to do was my best.

The start line was much less formally organized this year compared to before. Nobody was checking bibs or anything, so it was up to you to get to the correct corral. The Portland Marathon has their absurd "no bag check" policy, but I didn't have anything to check. I had my cell phone, car key, and three packs of Shot Bloks in my Flip Belt. Love that thing... was able to carry all of that without really noticing it around my waist. I wandered to the B corral, my home, and stood next to the 3:35 pacer. Glenn was there with me. Pretty soon we were singing the national anthem and then the race was off!

MILES 1-6: STICKING WITH THE PACER (7:59, 8:30, 8:18, 7:40, 7:53, 8:05)

Mile six. Looking better than Bret for sure.
My goal again this year was to stick with the pacer. While last year it felt like trying to hang on with the pace group, this year it was much more comfortable. The adrenaline of race day was definitely in effect though as the 7:59 mile felt pretty easy. If I wasn't committed to sticking with the pacer I certainly would have run faster. I've ran this race enough times that the course is no longer a surprise, which makes this first part of the race feel longer than in years past. I remember that first year getting to mile eight before I even knew it. I was acutely aware of each mile this year, but that doesn't mean I was struggling.

Miles two and three are uphill and this year was the first year I really noticed them. They didn't really bother me at all, I was feeling pretty good, but they were definitely a small challenge early in the race. Sticking with the 3:35 pacers, who were great (at least on the first half), really helped me I think. I wanted to run faster but knew the marathon is a long race and not to shoot off early like last year. We had a couple quicker miles on the downhill two miles, as planned, and then settled into a pace the pacers ran like clockwork. At the end of this section I was still feeling good. Legs and lungs felt great. Whatever cold like symptoms I had earlier in the week were a non-factor.

MILES 7-13: HITTING "ARRR" MARK PERFECTLY (8:04, 8:06, 8:07, 8:06, 8:07, 8:19, 7:59)

This is actually later on the bridge.
This part of the course is the most mind-numbing of the whole race. Basically it is a giant out and back along the ugliest, most industrial part of Portland. One thing it does have going for it is that it is flat. So the silver lining is that you can really settle into your race pace and get comfortable. I can't say enough how great the first-half 3:35 pacers were. There were ticking these miles off like a metronome and staying very consistent. At times I felt good and wanted to dart ahead, other times I started to slack behind and sped up a little to catch up. They were really good keeping me in check and not going with the up and down whims of the moment.

One thing they did not do was slow down during the aid stations, so I always had to catch up a little after those. I was jogging through these until about mile twenty, so it was easy to catch back up pretty quick. Most of the time I was nearly shoulder to shoulder with the pace group leaders. I was very committed and they were pacing me to a great race. I remember feeling kind of hopeless toward the end of this section last year. I was already feeling tired and the race was only half over. This year I was still feeling pretty good and more confident I could finish without too much of an issue.

The pirates were there again this year and it is always the highlight of this section. While this part of the race does suck, they are fun. No cannon shooting off this year, which was a little disappointing. I spotted Alejandro at the turnaround, running with the 3:10 pace group and looking good. He'd eventually speed up and finish in 3:07! He's put in a lot of time to training and it has certainly paid off. I also spotted Glenn about a minute ahead of me. He started with the 3:35 pacers but then darted ahead on the downhill 4th and 5th mile. I wanted to beat him but I wasn't going to chase after him. Had to run my own race! Anyways, the last part of this section has a minor uphill (8:19) and then a little downhill (7:59). Still feeling good. Toward the end our pace group caught up to Glenn, who finished in 3:51, and passed him.

MILES 14-18: SURVIVING IN ST. JOHNS (8:07, 8:07, 8:14, 8:52, 8:11)

High fiving my support squad in St. Johns!
This part of the course isn't quite as ugly but still nothing to write home about. Basically you have to run about three miles along a highway to get to the highlight of the race, the St. John's Bridge. I was still sticking with the pace group but the team switched at the half marathon mark with another group of two pacers. One of those pacers was running much too fast with the sign. The other guy was sticking behind at the correct pace and had to yell at her to cool her jets. I found their pacing a little uneven and eventually dropped off. The final 8:07 mile was ran with them maybe 30 feet in front of me.

Last year I ran up the hill to the bridge in 8:57, this year it was 8:52. In fact, from this point on, I was faster this year than last year. At the top of the hill I wasn't feeling as beat as last year but I still didn't feel great. I was hoping to catch back up to the pacers on the hill but they pulled even more ahead (even though their target pace on this mile was exactly what I had ran). Running over the bridge was cool but nothing compared to the excitement of that first year. I remember feeling like I was floating, it was great. By now I had ran over the bridge multiple times in races and training so the novelty has worn off a little.

That being said, I was SUPER excited to see my parents and my aunt at the bottom of the bridge. The pace group was probably 100 feet ahead of me at this point and while I tried to keep them in contact, any plans of "speeding up" were out the window. While I felt much better this year due to my early race pacing, I was still running a marathon and it was still starting to catch up with me. That was all forgotten briefly though as I high-fived my parents and my aunt, who were making a bunch of noise. Haha, they are great and it is always so fun to see them there.

MILE 19-24: ANNNNND THIS SUCKS NOW (8:16, 8:33, 8:59, 8:42, 8:38, 9:25)

Toward the end... feeling the pain.
Next came the challenge of running along the bluff. This is where the heat got to me last year and it was nearly as hot this year. I think it might have been about two degrees cooler, but there were still no clouds and the sun was right in your face. For a while, when I was feeling pretty good right before the bridge, I thought maybe this was the year when the "twenties" didn't suck. Unfortunately, that dream went out the window pretty quickly. Even before I hit twenty I started to feel the effects of the race. I was still keeping a decent pace, but I could no longer manage the 8:07s of earlier.

I started to walk through the aid stations. Brief five second walks to chug water became twenty second walks to sip water. I didn't walk other than the aid stations though, which was good. I really wanted to, but stopped myself from doing so because even though I was struggling, I was in much better shape at this point than last year. There were even times I was running and I'd feel pretty decent for a second and I'd have a small moment of victory for pain free running during mile 23. Anyways, the good and bad came in waves, with the bad slowly taking over the majority of my time.

Overall, however, I kept a pretty good clip. I knew if I kept all my miles under 9:00/mile that I would get my "A" goal. This hardly qualifies as a marathon blow up, just a slight struggle late in the race. All told it was the second best I've felt at this point of a marathon, behind my first ever, when I was running on magical first marathon fairy dust. This year I was pretty proud of continuing to pull out these sub 9 miles when all I wanted to do was give in and walk. The downhill this year wasn't even painful like the last two years. At one point I looked at my watch and I was running 7:40 down it. I slowed down because I knew what happened at the bottom last year and didn't want a repeat.

Never has a photo captured my
feelings so perfectly.
While it wasn't a repeat, that 9:25 mile (my only above 9, thank you very much) was a struggle. The extra time was three factors. First, the terrain. After the downhill it flattens out and then climbs gradually uphill. The uphill normally wouldn't be an issue, but at mile 24, it's a challenge. Second, the heat. This all takes place in a jungle of on-ramps/off-ramps and a whole lot of concrete. At one point it felt like I was in an oven. It was only 66 degrees, but surrounded by blacktop, with no shade, at mile 24... it was hot. And lastly, I took part in the beer aid station and had a nice forty second stroll though there. Other than liberally enjoying the aid stations, I fought the urge to walk.

MILES 25-26.2: FINISHING STRONG (8:53, 8:37)

The only time I walked other than aid stations was up the hill to the Broadway Bridge. It's only a block and decently steep. I started to run up it but could feel my calves about to explode. Instead of risking it, I switched into a power walk and hoofed it up the hill. As soon as it flattened out I started running again. Up and over the Broadway Bridge. By the end of the bridge on the downhill I was going a sub 8:00/mile pace. My legs hurt some, but for mile 25 of a marathon they felt pretty good. I was pretty confident I could finish without issue.

The last mile always feels long, but it is never too terrible. The finish line is so close and you know in less than ten minutes you will be done. I skipped the last two aid stations because I just wanted it to be over and I knew I could finish without water. Good thing I did too, as I was very close to missing my "A" goal. I looked at my GPS watch at mile 25 and saw I had 11m30s to finish under 3:40. I knew that meant I'd have to keep a solid 9:00/mile pace or quicker to finish below my goal. There was no time to fuck around. I kept very determined and as you can see, my final full mile was 8:37... nothing to sneeze at!

Briefly hiding my pain for a photo.
Again, these last eight miles were done more quickly than last year. Now, I did have a mini-blow up last year, but that is a point of pride for me. I may not be quite as fast, but I held up reasonably well. I was feeling pretty decent in those last few blocks and Libbie, Matt, and Katie came out to cheer so it was fun to see them towards the end. All told it was one of the more triumphant last bits of a marathon. I didn't have a sprint in me this year, but I ran quickly through the finish and stopped my watch, confirming my "A" goal by 26 seconds. Heck yes!


Once I finished I slowed to a walk. During my first three marathons my legs gave out almost instantly after running. This time around they felt okay when I stopped running. I was able to walk around for about thirty seconds feeling worn, but alright. Then, all of a sudden, it hit. The usual feeling. Dammit all. Anyways, I then proceeded the painful limping that I am used to. Had to take a mid-chute break by sitting on the curb, as usual. That thing just goes on and on.

I did see a few people in the chute and that was fun. However, my legs were really starting to hurt. They kept getting worse and worse the longer I was on them. Eventually I found my way out of the chute and met up with my parents and friends. By the time I reached them my legs were in more pain than they had even been before after a marathon. What the hell? It was weird because they felt so much better towards the end of the race than most years (not to say they didn't hurt and weren't screaming at me to walk). Anyways, after a rough couple of minutes I was able to sit down and the pain went away.

With Glenn and Alejandro.
Like usual, after sitting for a little bit, my legs were sore, but fine. The shit show was over. For whatever reason, for about an hour after the marathon, I am pretty much useless. All I want to do is sit down but eventually they come back. I said goodbye to my parents and then went out for burgers and beers with Alejandro, Glenn, Katie, Matt, and Ale's friend (forgot her name). The burger and beer tasted really good. I wasn't necessarily starving, but it was good to get something in my belly anyways. After we were done there we limped back to the car and headed home.

Marathon number four is in the books and number five is less than two weeks away. Ahhh! I'll have some more reflections in another post. Overall though, I am very happy with my race. I paced myself pretty well and avoided some of the rougher late patches I had in my last two marathons. I got my "A" goal by 26 seconds and had some great support along the way.

Official Chip Time: 3:39:33, 8:23/mile. 696/5697 overall, 535/2760 male, 96/365 M25-29.

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