Marathon number five. My best so far was 3:28:55 at Portland seven months ago, but each one I’ve done has been about 10 minutes faster than the one before it. My goal was 3:20:59, which would qualify me for Boston 2011. That’s a 7:40 per mile average pace, give or take a few hundredths of a second. My race plan was to hit 7:38 miles for the first 22 and try to speed up from there. Even though 7:38 sounds awful fast to me, I knew my training should support it and that this was actually a fairly conservative plan, not that different from Eugene 2008 when I broke four hours.
The weather was beautiful. My throw-away jacket and gloves were barely needed, since it was already in the mid-40s at 6am. Sweetie gave me the jacket months ago — an old zip-up hoodie — and I have to admit I barely glanced at it until this weekend, when I finally saw it had “BOSTON” in big letters across the front. She’d gotten it on a trip there years ago. Kismet.
Sweetie and Mom dropped me off near the starting area with plenty of time to spare, and I quickly dropped off my bag (holding little more than an old cell phone) and used a portable toilet. That still left me 40 minutes until the race start, during which time I mostly just stood around. With 15 minutes left to go, I headed to the toilet lines again… but they were crazy long. I think the organizers dropped the ball when it came to securing enough starting-area toilets. They said they had about 8000 people there (most of them doing the half-marathon), up from around 5000 last year. I guess they misjudged.
Anyway, I didn’t have to pee that bad, so I got back into the starting area. Up near the 7:30/mile pace area, things weren’t actually too crowded. A couple of minutes before seven, I got rid of my jacket and gloves. After a pretty good rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the race was off. Being so far up, it only took about 20 seconds to get across the start line. This year we started south, avoiding some silly little curves and hills that the course used to have.
I felt some nerves during the first mile. Would my knee be OK? Could I really keep up the pace 26 miles? Would I regret not getting to pee again? I tried to force the worries aside and focus on running smoothly, easily, and without dodging all over the place through the first-mile masses. I finished mile one in 7:36. (All of the mile splits I’m going to give are off my Garmin’s idea of how far I’d gone, not off the course mile markers — but for the most part they actually agreed pretty closely. For once.)
In my hand I carried a Ziploc bag holding five or six fun-sized Milky Way bars (unwrapped) and one little bag of Clif Shot Bloks. The Shot Bloks were a goodie-bag freebie, and they weren’t caffeinated. Neither was any of the other on-course food (or “food”, or “fuel”, or whatever you want to call sugary race goop) I had along the way. I’m pretty sure this was my first marathon-or-longer race without caffeine, ever.
Miles two and three passed by in 7:36 and 7:37. I passed by my cheering section toward the end of mile three. I was feeling all right, I guess. The pace felt easy enough, but I had no picture of how the day was going to go. I was a little ways back from the 3:20:00 pace group, but I had my Garmin and I knew they were out a few seconds per mile fast, so that didn’t worry me. I needed to run my own race.
Mile four passed by my old elementary school but I was too focused to even remember to glance that way. Or maybe I was just in a fog. Or maybe I got distracted by the guy who just stopped by the side of the road to take a leak, with only a telephone pole to screen him. I’m just not that kind of guy. Some girls sounded a little jealous that guys can do that, though. 7:37 for mile four.
Mile five went up a little hill and past the house I grew up in. 7:34, a little fast. My pace isn’t really as dead-even as these splits make it seem, anyway. I’m always looking at my Garmin’s “Lap Pace” display, which tells me the average pace I’ve run since the start of the last mile. If I’m getting toward the end of a mile and it’s way too fast, I can just slow down for a bit and make it “right.” Of course, I don’t want to do it that way — I want nice even pacing. I don’t think I saw the watch say anything under 7:30 or over 7:50 too often.
I started feeling more settled in during miles six and seven — 7:38, 7:35 on a gentle downhill. It was pretty unclear in this section if we had the whole road or just one lane to run in. I used the whole road to run the tangents, but I was the only one I saw to do that. If we were supposed to have just the one lane, though, they didn’t have anywhere near enough cones or markings. I ran past Sweetie and Mom again near the end of mile seven. They headed off to breakfast and would see me again around mile 18.
Mile eight was through Amazon Park. The path wasn’t too crowded around my pace, but I’m guessing that with 5000 people things got a little tight behind me. Hey, Eugene Marathon: switch to Amazon Parkway next year, OK? 7:36.
The crowd at the mile eight marker by South Eugene High was big, but not as noisy or high-fiving as in years previous. A disappointment, that. During mile nine you climb the most visually obvious hill on the course, though it’s debatable if it’s actually the longest or steepest. Whether or not it is, though, the 3:20 pace-setter slowed waaaay down for it and I slipped past him on the way up. The uphills seemed easy. That’s a good thing, right? 7:37 for mile nine. Mile 10 was back through the start area, in the other direction. Another 7:37.
Miles 11 and 12 had us running out on Franklin Boulevard, headed for Glenwood and Springfield. This was a route change this year; we used to go on paths along the north bank of the river more. The new route is a lot less scenic (Glenwood in particular is a bleakly dreary business district) but I think it is faster, despite having to get over an overpass and a slightly elevated bridge. Then again, I was loving the hills. I’d maintain my pace and pass a bunch of people on every uphill; the same people would pass me on the way back down. The weather had me worried through Glenwood, though: we were getting full sun. Overheating or dehydration could quickly ruin me. I rooted for the clouds to win out. Yet another 7:37, followed by a 7:36.
Miles 13, 14 and 15 were through Springfield. Springfield, if you don’t know, is to Eugene as Vancouver, WA is to Portland OR, or as Sparks, NV is to Reno. I can’t even remember how I was feeling through here. Maybe I was in “the zone.” I grabbed a little cupful of honey at the “Liquid Gold” station and got some of it down my throat and lots of it all over my left hand. The hand would remain sticky for quite a long time after that. At the very end of mile 15 we had to get across an I-5 overpass; the short but steep hill could have been a tester, but I was still finding it easy. 7:37, 7:37, 7:37. Monotonous, isn’t it? That’s the idea.
The weather improved; more cloud cover rolled in. For the rest of the day it was generally cloudy, with the occasional sun-break.
Mile 16: Uh, yeah, 7:37. Mile 17: 7:54.
Don’t panic, it’s just that I finally did something about that missed bathroom opportunity at the start. I think it took me about 40 seconds and I made up about 20 seconds of that over the rest of the mile. The mile 17 mile marker found us in Alton Baker park near the Ferry Street bridge. They had a little course re-reroute in here, winding around the little lake instead of sticking to the straight path by the river. I’m not sure if it was because of bad pavement or just to add a few extra yards.
Mile 18 was along the river: 7:36. Since the bathroom break, I was once again trailing the 3:20 pace group, but slowly gaining on them. I saw Sweetie and Mom shortly into mile 19, in front of the Valley River Inn. For most of the rest of mile 19, I was stuck in the pace group, which took up the whole path in a big clump. I tried to be patient for a while, but when they stayed at 7:42 for too long, I knew I just had to get around. I should have been just a little more patient. I made a passing move in the dirt along the path, and tripped on the edge getting back on. One stumbling step, two, and I was back in balance and none the worse for wear, but it was a close thing and I should have been smarter. Oh well. Mile 19: 7:37.
As we started into mile 20, I found myself starting to pass people. A lot of them were people I remembered from near the beginning of the race. I rubbed my hands together and told them “revenge is a dish best served cold.” OK, no, that last part didn’t happen. But it was kind of nice to see so many people suddenly falling off their pace. At the end of mile 20 they had a timing pad up and a guy overseeing it.
I called to him, “Yeah! Halfway there.”
He said “Yep” then half a beat later said “wait, you’re way more than halfway…”
As I ran past I shouted back “Nope! That was halfway, right there, don’t tell me it isn’t!”
It really does feel that way. I got through mile 20 in 7:33 and had just six point two miles left to go — but those last six point two miles seem like the whole race. I assessed my condition:
- I wasn’t feeling drained, depleted, or bonky. Last year, I’d started feeling that way around mile 16 and had really just hung on the rest of the way
- My quads and my right glute were painful. Well, what do you expect after beating them up for a few miles?
- Knee? No problem at all. Back, shoulders, abs, digestion, hydration? All good!
- Mentally, I felt ready to face the pain and keep going. I could start to picture myself finishing this thing and meeting my goals.
So I decided to push the pace and stop letting my Garmin tell me how fast I could run. Instead, I focused on passing whoever was ahead of me. Slowly, one by one, I reeled them in. It hurt, but it was kind of fun too. Way more fun than other mile 21’s and 22’s have been, anyway. 7:28, 7:30.
I kept it up. Pushing the pace rather than letting the race push me around definitely made the miles seem to go by faster. Pass, pass, pass — I felt like a shark out there. Mile 23: 7:25. I ran by my cheering section one last time. Sweetie was excited that I was ahead of the 3:20 group and I told her that I was feeling strong.
Mostly strong anyway. My legs were really starting to hurt. I hoped they wouldn’t suddenly give out. I’m not a cramper, but maybe this would be my day. But I didn’t really think about backing off the pace. Pick a target runner in front; pass them; repeat. Mr. Ironman Shirt? Pass. Mr. Crazy Running tights? Pass. Ms. I’m-So-Special-I-Have-a-Guy-on-a-Bicycle-Crewing-Me? Pass. I passed a couple of guys I didn’t know in Red Lizard shirts (Team Red Lizard is a local running club I’m technically a member of) and gave them each a big “Go Red Lizard” as I went by. Mile 24: 7:26. Mile 25: 7:29.
As you begin mile 26, the path gets lonely and the crowd support disappears. It’s one of the problems with the Eugene route. It didn’t bother me much this time though. I could taste my Boston Qualifying time. Top of the world, Ma! I kept motoring along, pushing it, pushing it. Soon I was back on the road and finishing up mile 26 in 7:24.
The stadium was in sight. Boston Qualifying was in the bag. I ran fast just for the pleasure of pushing myself. Heading through the gates, I yelled out “lets go!” to someone I was passing, hoping they’d race. (They didn’t.) The soft feel of the Hayward track gave me another gear, and with all of 200 yards left to go I started pumping an arm at the crowd and calling for more noise. I didn’t think Sweetie and Mom were going to have made it to the finish in time to see me, but then there they were, right at the start of the final straightaway. They’d make it with seconds to spare! I had one more gear in me for the last 75 yards, and sprinted all out. Looking up, I could see the clock showing 3:18:58.
Chip time: 3:18:26. 7:35/mile average pace. 278th/2333 total finishers; 236/1252 men; 55/225 men 35-39. See you in Boston in April 2011. :-) :-)