A terrible little run

April 29, 2009

An hour ago, I got back from what was going to be my last run before the marathon on Sunday. It was just awful. Only two and a half miles, and by the end of it I was huffing and puffing and wondering what the hell was wrong with me. This was at marathon pace. Which should feel like a leisurely stroll for that distance.

Theories regarding what happened:

  1.  I’ve lost all uphill endurance. Eugene’s pretty flat, so most of my training has been on pretty flat routes. I felt fine on the downhills; it was the uphills that got me. But, come on, this wasn’t a very hilly couple of miles.
  2. I psyched myself out somehow. Maybe I was thinking too much about it. Worrying too much. Succumbing to negative thoughts. Not as tired as I thought I was.
  3. I’ve lost all my conditioning because of the taper. No, this one is ridiculous. It’s only been a week and a half.
  4. It was just one of those off days. 
  5. I’m getting sick and the first symptom is that I’m running slow. I can’t rule it out, but I have no other evidence for it. 

I guess it’s most likely some combo of 1,2, and 4. I hope it’s not number 5.


2009 Eugene Marathon Course Preview

April 27, 2009

A little course guide for those who are running the Eugene Marathon this year.

Miles 1-10

The first 10 miles are all in neighborhoods around the University of Oregon and in south Eugene. They’re mostly on city streets, though mile eight is on bike paths through Amazon Park. All the hills on the course are in these first ten miles.

Just a few blocks after the start, there’s a noticeable  incline to get up to Fairmount, then shortly after that, one coming down. After that, it’s a very gradual downhill through the first two miles. (Rounding the mile two corner onto Hilyard street, look across the road to see my old Middle School. Oh how I hated it.) Hilyard is pretty flat, as is the first mile of East Amazon. East and West Amazon run on either side of (you guessed it) Amazon Creek; the course takes East Amazon as far south as it goes, then connects over to the end of West Amazon via Center Way and Martin Street. Toward the south end, after milepost 4, you’ll start to notice a bit of a climb. Center Way is the steepest section of the whole course, with a 2% grade. This hill is new this year. Yeah, hills suck, but it also means you get to see the house I grew up in, 965 Martin Street. (The house is still there but the block looks a lot different now.)

Enjoy the downhill coming back north on West Amazon. You can see those poor suckers behind you still struggling their way south. Shake your fist at them! No, no, don’t do that. You can also see, on both sides of the creek, a bark dust trail. You probably wish your home town had more bark dust running paths, don’t you? (I know I do.) 

Shortly before milepost seven, the course takes a dangerous jog to the left — watch the curb! — and goes onto the bike paths in Amazon park. Since it’s only mile seven and the bike path is a lot narrower than the streets, you might expect a little crowding here. But of course, by now everybody around you is probably running about the same pace as you are, so even though you’re all packed closer together, hopefully you’re not slowing down. It’s also around this point that you may start hearing half-marathoners talking about being more than halfway done or “almost there.” Please, try to remember that running a half marathon is a great accomplishment in its own right, and that by no means should you scornfully spit on these pansy-assed so-called “runners.”

The bike path stays flat through the park and past South Eugene High School. There will probably be a big crowd of cheering people around the High School; I guess the race officials designate it as a cheering zone or somesuch. Wave and smile. 

The bike path ends near milepost eight, right by the High School. The course turns east back toward the starting area — and uphill. The last significant hill in the race is during this mile. It’s not a killer, but you’ll notice it. Once you’re over the crest, you might notice you’re back at the same corner where you were at mile one. This time you turn north on Agate, run past Hayward Field, and cross Franklin Boulevard. Just before you get to the river, you head east and reach milepost 10. 

Miles 10-20

This part of the course takes you east on the Willamette into Springfield and west on the north bank into the delta ponds area. It’s mostly on bike path, with some road in Springfield. It’s all really flat, with an unnoticeable net downhill.

Last year, they had us run over the Autzen Footbridge (due north of Agate St) and then make a clockwise loop in Springfield. We then finished over the Autzen footbridge, too. It became a choke point. And the clockwise loop meant that the route crossed itself, which might have been a problem. This year, you’re running along the south bank over to the next footbridge to the east — the Knickerbocker Bridge — then crossing that and looping through Springfield in a counterclockwise manner.

The bike paths on the north side of the Willamette last until mile 12 or so, then you hit the mean streets of Springfield, making a loop of D, Pioneer Parkway, Centennial, and Rainbow. That gets you to mile 14, and after one more short bit on D Street, you’re back on the paths north of the Willamette. You skirt Pre’s Trail (another one of those bark dust running trails those Eugenians are so crazy about) and veer close to Autzen Stadium. Then it’s flat bike paths heading west, through Alton Baker Park, under the Ferry Street Bridge, out past Valley River Center (Eugene’s venerable mall) and along paths threading delicately between the Willamette River and the Delta Ponds wetlands. This portion out here among the ponds is probably the prettiest bit. What a shame it’s between miles 19 and 20, where we’re all starting to fall apart.

Miles 20-26.2 (a.k.a. “the second half of the race”)

One more mile north and you cross the last footbridge of the race, back to the south (or west, since the river’s turned from east-vest to north-south by this point) side of the Willamette. This bridge is called the “Owosso Bridge,” and you should be owosso happy to have only five miles left. (That pun took me two hours to write.) Last year they had a stupid little out and back on the bike path right before we crossed the bridge, but according to the maps, that’s gone now. Which is a good thing. 

Heading back south and west into town along Copping street and bike paths, you might start hearing cheering spectators saying  things like “almost there!” The nice thing about Eugene, though, is that it’s a town that understands running, so there aren’t too many people who shout moronic things like that with four miles left to go. And the ones that do shout things like that don’t seem to mind as much when you punch them in the stomach. I’m only kidding. Please don’t punch them in the stomach.

Scenic bike paths take you along the Willamette now all the way to mile 25.5 or so. They’re all really flat, except for a pair of annoying little rollers near 24.5, as you go under the Ferry Street Bridge and past EWEB. If we’re lucky, it won’t be a windy day, either. If you’re like me, you won’t recall much about this portion of the race anyway, aside from a vague impression of hazy pain. 

The bike path will start taking some wild side-to-side turns (it’s the path, not you) as it approaches the Autzen footbridge, which we’ll turn away from, heading back down toward Agate Street and the finish. Round the corner onto 15th, sprint 500 more feet, and you’re done. Nothin’ to it.

Nine miles through crowds

April 25, 2009

There were a full metric assload of people out walking and running along the Willamette today. The really big group were the walkers doing the March of Dimes March for Babies. They filled the Eastside Esplanade to capacity. It was fun but frustrating to find a way to run through the crowd.

A little farther south on the Springwater-on-the-Willamette, a smaller race was taking place, Sean’s Run from Autism. I hit that section of the trail just in time to see the runners heading by the other way during the first mile or two of their 5 and 10K races. 

There were a lot of other groups of runners out too. Getting across the Sellwood Bridge was a delicate exercise in sharing the narrow path with one big group after another. I’m glad to see all the runners out. The more of us there are, the more pressure there is to build and maintain good places for us to run in Portland.

Anyway. This was my last weekend run before the Eugene Marathon next Sunday. I ran nine miles, the middle seven of them at marathon pace (8:24), with a slower start and finish. Getting a little extra practice at keeping a consistent pace is a good thing. (My method involves looking at my Garmin Forerunner a lot.) I only wanted to run nine miles, but the loop I was doing was a 10-mile loop, so I finished with a mile of fast walking. It’s been a long time since I measured my walking speed. It turns out I can do 13:30/mile now. Which is interesting because I can remember running fourteen minute miles two and a half years ago. Downhill.

In my virtual run across America, I’m in Wyoming, approaching the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National parks. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen fir trees, but today I see some:

Waiting for the taper to kick in

April 23, 2009

The first few days of a marathon taper are kind of silly. I normally run three or four times a week, with weekday runs of six miles or less and then a long run on the weekend. During the first four days of taper… I’m still on the same schedule. I ran five miles on Monday and six on Wednesday. Both were slow, but Monday was a strangely hot day (over 80 degrees) and that was a struggle.  So as far as my legs know, there’s no tapering going on.  Which in no way prevents me from wondering why on earth my quads are still a little tight. Come on guys! I’m in taper! Loosen up!

I’m really excited for Eugene. I’ve revised my goal pace down a smidge, from 8:30 to 8:24/mile, which would get me a 3:40:00 marathon. I suppose that makes 8:30/mile my “B” goal. My “C” goal is (I’m making this up as I type) to PR, i.e. to beat 3:50:28. “D”, “E”, and “F” goals are left as an exercise for the reader.

Last Long Training Run

April 19, 2009

Click to enlarge.

Yesterday was pretty warm and I was doing my last long run before Eugene starting after three in the afternoon, probably the warmest part of the day. I planned to go 22-24 miles, depending on how I felt. I parked near the river in Sellwood and headed out the Springwater path.  I carried just 20 ounces of water in one handheld bottle. I was hoping to come across more water fountains than I did. There was one at mile two… then one at mile fourteen. (In between, I made it a few miles past 205 to the corner of the Powell Butte Nature Park. The trail gets pretty out there. Once you get past the region with all the bums, that is.) On a normal Oregon day in April, 12 miles with 20 ounces of water would not be a problem. But I had not properly reckoned for the heat. It already felt like a long day of running at that point.

I never entirely recovered from the dehydration, but I did keep going. Most of the run was at around a 9:30 pace. My hip didn’t bother me much, and the blister on my toe wasn’t a problem. But my energy was sapped. I got back to my car a bit past mile 17 and gave a little thought to throwing in the towel.

No. I’ve got a marathon in two weeks. I needed to push through it and I wouldn’t have a second chance for a last long training run. I headed north on the Springwater along the Willamette and decided I wasn’t turning around until my Garmin read 20 miles.

Soon after, I ran by a building in Oaks Park. People could be heard cheering inside. A big door was open facing the trail.  Another first: jogging past a roller derby match.

Things were getting painful. The only good news was that I could still run. It wasn’t pleasant, but I could. I think that’s a good sign for the marathon: I’ve gotten better at running even after I shouldn’t be able to. After a long while I got to mile 20, turned back around, and allowed myself to slow down a little.

The problem with slowing down a little is that it takes you longer to finish. It’s a delicate trade-off. I plodded on. With a few blocks left to my car, my Garmin reached 22.5 miles and I stopped and walked. I felt dead. My legs hurt. My body hurt. I was a limp noodle. It was 7:30 in the evening. Driving home was painful. I tried to take an ice bath. I HATE ice baths. They are a stupid idea. Stupid and cruel. I lasted a minute. I barely had the energy to heat up and eat some leftovers. After that, I collapsed into bed. My sore legs wouldn’t let me sleep. After a while I took some ibuprofen. 

I feel much better today. 

Aches and pains

April 16, 2009

Running is the worst of both worlds: it not only causes lots of little aches and pains but also makes you obsessively over-concerned about each and every one of them. Right now I’ve got some pain and tightness in my left hip, which has been lingering for a couple of weeks now.  I think it’s kind of like that behind-the-knee pain I had for a while, and will work itself out eventually.

I’ve also developed, in the last couple of days, a a sensitive blister on the tip of my left index toe. I think it’s a blister, at least, although it’s rather flat and it must be kind of a deep one, because it doesn’t feel all squooshy and blister-like. It’s probably no coincidence that I got a new pair of shoes (same model) on Monday.

My current mindset is all about just getting through this weekend’s long run, then doing a really good job of resting up in the two weeks left before the Eugene Marathon.

Race Report: 2009 Reason to Run Spring 10K

April 11, 2009

This morning’s 10K race was on the paths and trails in and around Cook Park in Tigard. Actually, it’s a three-city race, going through Tualatin Community Park and Durham City Park as well. (And no, I wasn’t sure if Durham was really an incorporated city until I looked it up.) Since I work in Tualatin, I’ve run these paths many times; you may recall such exciting posts as this or this

The race was a fairly low-key affair, with maybe a couple hundred people turning out to run either the 5 or 10K. I jogged a while to warm up then we were off. My goal: 7:15 miles. Doubts ran through my mind during the first mile. After that I was working too hard to spend much time doubting.

Odd phenomenon: A year ago, I would have called 7:15 super-fast. And today it did feel like a lot of work. But looking at the people running around me, they didn’t look like they were going all that fast. They certainly weren’t sprinting. I wonder if that continues to hold true no matter how fast you get. (On the other hand, in my last marathon, I looked at the people around me around mile 20 and I was thinking “Wow! how do we keep running these 8:50s! Look at us go!” So I guess the phenomenon comes and goes, perhaps depending on how tired and/or demented you are at the time.)

I came off the start line way too fast and eased off through the first mile for a 7:06. After that, I just tried to keep up with whoever was in front of me. Mile two: 7:12, mile three: 7:12. That got us back to the finish line for the 5K runners, and I will admit I was hoping that more of the people I had been chasing would take the 5K turn! But no, most of them were in it for the long haul. 

Mile four: 7:09. There were more little hills in this section and I found myself passing a couple of people. One woman in a white shirt with a ponytail was in sight ahead of me the whole race. I’d closed the gap a little, maybe down to 30 yards from 60. But she looked like she was running fairly easily up there.

Mile five: 7:13. You know, this was going pretty well. Fairly even splits, a little ahead of my pace goals. I say this now, sitting here and typing. At the time I felt like a lumbering gasping machine that should be put out of its misery.

Not long after mile five, we passed by the finish line. It was right over there, a few feet to the left. Instead, we were cruelly directed to turn right and run away from it for a while. These 10K races are so anal about actually being a full 10K! 

This was the first race I have ever run where I started to care some about my individual place, instead of just racing against the clock and myself. I was now directly ahead of some guy I had passed near mile 4.5 and directly behind pony-tail woman, with maybe 30 yards separation from each. With 3/4 of a mile to go, I conceded the race to pony-tail woman and glanced back to check my lead on guy-I-passed. It looked like I had it made. All I had to do was not die.

Mile 6: 7:02. Don’t die don’t die don’t die. 10Ks are less fun than half marathons. (5Ks are even worse.) Not until the finish line was about 50 feet away did I feel pretty sure I was really going to make it. But I did, still between pony-tail-woman and guy-I-passed. Yay me!

Total time (unofficial, by my watch): 44:35. That’s a 7:10/mile average pace. New PR by 2:14! 

After, I scarfed down some snacks, then ran a six-mile “cool-down.” The best part of that was when I hobbled past some race volunteers and they gamely cheered me on as a sadly waddling 10K runner. “No, no, I already finished the race!” I told them. I almost added “I’m not really this slow! Except after I nearly kill myself!”


Official results: 44:35. 7/66 finishers. First in my age group! (Out of, ok, yeah, four.) Still my first age group win! :-) Pony-tail woman turns out to be ultrarunner (and Hagg Lake co-organizer) Ronda Sundermeier, who blogs about her 10K here. I’m super proud to have almost kept up with her.