Race Report: 2012 Foot Traffic Flat Half Marathon

July 5, 2012

I’ve been getting back into shape over the last few months, working my way back to 40-mile weeks while focusing on speed instead of distance. (In the past, a 40-mile week was often a 20-mile run on Saturday plus twenty more miles spread across four weekdays; this time around I’m running six or seven days a week without the really long run.) Based on some recent training runs, I thought I might have a shot at a PR at the Foot Traffic Half, the same race where, back in ’09, I set my previous best. That was a 1:31:47, a 7:01/mile average pace.

July 4 was a Wednesday this year, so that’s when the race was. I tried to get up early to beat the traffic out to Sauvie Island, but I failed: even at 5:40 in the morning, there was still a very long line of cars backed up on the road to the start. I was finally parked at 6:15, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to pick up my bib number and use the bathroom before the 6:45 start. The weather was sunny but not hot. There were some unpleasant headwinds on the course.

I ran it hard, focusing on the race and on staying in the moment, rather than on the scenery or on worrying about whether I could finish. Or I tried to, anyway. Once again I was reminded that racing my hardest never feels good. Up against my limits, I always feel out of shape — it doesn’t matter what actual speed I’m running.

Mile splits, according to my GPS: 6:40 6:43 6:46 6:42 6:37 6:43 6:50 6:51 6:53 6:50 6:55 6:48 6:32. The same, in graph form:

So, I guess I came out fast and slowed for miles 2 and 3, then warmed up and got a little faster until mile 6, when I started getting tired. I picked it up nicely for the last three miles, though. Near the end, I knew from my watch that my average pace was going to be near 6:50/mile, but I wasn’t up to trying to do any math to figure out what that meant as far as total finishing time — all I knew was that it would be a PR and be close to an hour thirty. In fact, between my last couple fast miles and my poor math skills, I did better than that.

Official time: 1:28:46. 6:46/mile average pace. Three minutes and one second better than my old PR!

Official results here. It was a strong field. I was 61st place overall, out of 1874 finishers. 50th male out of 610. 8th male aged 40-44 out of 85.


Race Report: 2012 Eugene Marathon

May 1, 2012

My training was compromised for this race. Even before I broke my toe, I had a long bout of Plantar Fasciitis. Then the toe took me totally out of running for six weeks, so I started building up again from scratch in early February. I did manage to do two 20-mile runs, but my weekly mileage was mostly under thirty, and my speed never recovered.
Then I had a heck of a week leading up to the race:

  1. The Sunday before, the toenail on that toe I broke came off. (This would be the one on my left big toe.) I may have wiggled it off a little before it was ready, but I thought that would be better than having it fall off during the marathon. Little did I realize how wounded the nail bed was underneath! Either the original wound under there never healed up (after four months?) or my continued running kept re-injuring the area. I would have some bleeding during most training runs, but I was chalking that up to a loose toenail shifting around and cutting the skin or something. Instead it turned out to be a good-sized moist and inflamed horror of a wound under there. It didn’t hurt much, but would that be true for 26 miles?
  2. The next evening after I laid down in bed I started to feel an all-too familiar feeling in my lower back: I was experiencing a kidney stone. It would be my third such incident in 11 years. Once I was sure what it was, I figured the marathon was not to be — I’d be on painkillers and in no shape for anything physical for several days. This time turned out different though. We headed for the emergency room as the pain was peaking. By the time we got there, it was already starting to subside. Three hours, one I.V. bag, and a CAT scan later, we had a confirmed diagnosis of a three millimeter stone almost out already and no pain or irritation whatsoever left. It didn’t bother me again.
  3. I had some painful sciatica most of the week, leaving me hobbling around in pain and further psychologically demoralized.

For most of the week, then, I was telling people that I might or might not run it, depending on how I felt as race day approached. It wasn’t until Friday that I made up my mind to go. We headed down to Eugene on Saturday and stayed the night with my mom as usual. I had a pretty big pizza dinner, then slept well the night before.

What perfect weather we had! It wasn’t cold at the start and it never got too hot. The sun peeked out a little but it was mostly cloudy.

A friend of mine was running his first marathon and I had offered to pace him. He thought he could run about a 3:40. He didn’t want me pacing him until the bitter end if he started slowing down, but we agreed to run together as long as he was hitting his splits. This was a great plan until I was unable to locate him at the start line. It seems like Eugene is getting more crowded every year… There were a few rounds of fruitless phone- and texting-tag which led me to believe he was still in the bathroom lines as the race was starting, but I couldn’t be sure.

I spent the first two miles of the race kind of sweeping the area between the 3:45 and 3:35 pacers, looking for him. I didn’t have any luck, so when I passed our families on the sidelines around mile two, I stopped and asked if they had seen him. They had not. I waited with them for a while, looking for him to pass. Some seemed shocked by this — what happened to ultra-competitive Scott?  Eventually my friend’s parents spotted him and pointed him out to me. I quickly caught up to him and found that we were a little behind the 3:45 pacer. We slowly inched our way past.

It was fun running through South Eugene with my friend, pointing out the personal landmarks — my elementary school, the house I grew up in, etc. My “pacing” mostly consisted of telling him he was running a little too fast and holding him back, especially down the gentle hills. I think I did a pretty good job of it — we came through the half marathon at almost exactly 1:50. I told him banking time when you’re still feeling good almost never pays off, and that even splits are the best way to go. I still think it’s true.

Near mile 17 my friend’s breathing was getting labored and we were starting to slow down. I was still feeling pretty good. My toe wasn’t a problem. We talked about our plan once more and we parted ways. I sped up to a pace somewhere under eight minutes a mile. Up until then, we’d been doing around 8:24. Even at the faster speed, I was still having fun. Miles 17-20 were all pretty easy feeling. It didn’t hurt that I was passing so many people. I thought I would try to catch up to the 3:35 pace group.

After mile 21, my left thigh stiffened up a lot. I could feel the tight muscles pulling on my kneecap as well. At last my poor training volume was coming into play. I could feel the leg get better when I shortened my stride and slowed down a bit, and worse when I sped up. I had no real motivation to kill myself, so I tried to maintain a speed below the tightness threshold. That turned out to be just a few seconds slower than eight minute miles.

My other problem was that I really hadn’t tied my shoes tight enough, and my right foot (not the one with the nail-free toe) was sliding around too much. I was getting some pain from a couple of the nails. In the end, I think they were just digging into the toe a bit; they hurt a lot after the race but healed almost completely by the next day. It’s a tricky balance, tying the shoe — too loose around the ankle and this happens, too tight and your whole foot gets bruised.

I never did catch that 3:35 pacer.

I had a few sips of PBR from the unofficial beer aid station at mile 24 (briefly chastising them for the poor choice) and carried on toward the finish. As always, that last lonely mile on the inaccessible bike path before you get back to the streets was a test. This year I passed.

Heading into Hayward field for the finish was fun, as always. With twenty yards left, I looked over to my right and saw some guy trying to pass me! This could not stand. I ratcheted up my speed and left him behind. What a jerk. (Him, or me? You decide.) I finished in 3:36. My finishing photo is not too bad if you ignore the weird angle of my trailing foot.

Once done, I found myself relatively mobile — those right-side toenails were the biggest problem. I had a chocolate milk and a banana in the recovery area, then I found my people in the stands just as my friend was finishing. He did great! I was worried that he would really fade, but he pulled out a 3:45.

Our families had a combined victory lunch later at one of our usual spots, Marché in the Fifth Street Market. I had my hamburger and two excellent Bulleit Rye Manhattans. Because I am a dork, I wore my race shirt and finisher’s medal.

I’m quite happy with this race. I had a lot of fun, and feel re-motivated to keep training and run some fast marathons again soon.

Official results: 3:36:37 (8:16/mile avg pace). 570th/2346 finishers. 447th/1281 men, 78th/205 men 40-44.


Race Report: 2011 Silver Falls Half Marathon

November 5, 2011

I have a pretty good streak going: I have finished this race every single year it has been held. (This was its second year.) Here’s my report from last year. You will note that I have reused the same scenic picture. Ah, you’ve seen one giant waterfall with little ant-like people running behind it, you’ve seen them all.

Really, though, it’s a spectacular course. I know someone who runs a half marathon or two every single week, and he ran this one today for the first time, and you should see what nice things he’s saying about it on Facebook. Even if you aren’t a runner, if you live anywhere near here and haven’t been, you should take a trip to Silver Falls State Park and hike around a little — it’s a gem. If you live anywhere near here and are a runner, this is a must-do race. But hurry, because it fills up fast. This year they opened registration on August 1st and it filled up on the 3rd. New next year: they’re going to be doing a full marathon also! If it’s just two loops of the half-marathon course (as seems likely), I’ll probably take a pass on that, though.

I was in mostly decent shape coming into the race. No real aches or pains to speak of; not sick; plantar fasciitis very mild. My biggest problem was that I’d only been putting in 22-26 miles per week for the previous six weeks, to give the aforementioned PF a break. Still, I thought I had a good chance of beating my time here from last year, when I was sick and gimpy.

The course has a lot of uphills and downhills. Here is the elevation profile, as published on the race web page.

As you can see, the race sucks you into going out way too fast during those first four gentle miles. I’m not sure what my pace was but I’d guess it was 7:30 or faster through there. Everybody else seemed to be running fast too. Seriously, this race seemed to have attracted a lot of fast runners this year. The winner posted a time of an hour and eighteen minutes. Look at that elevation profile! Remember that most of it is on wet and/or rocky trails. That’s just insanely fast.

Mile four kind of sucked. I complained about this hill last year, writing “My lungs weren’t giving me enough air and my legs felt heavy.” Well, no duh, that’s actually a pretty steep climb there! I probably got up there faster this time around but it was certainly no easier.

Near mile six, we descended into the gorge via a route that wound behind the North Falls, then we got two miles of mostly-downhill trail, downstream alongside a creek. I was feeling OK and I ran this portion hard. Maybe seven-minute-miles; it’s hard to say since I wasn’t doing manual laps on my Garmin and its accuracy is rubbish in that kind of terrain.

Shortly after mile eight, we started heading upstream along another creek, and then we hit the two big waterfall climbs. The first involved an endless series of stairs; the second only some very steep trails. I knew better this year and just briskly walked these sections, rather than pretending I could run them and then petering out into into a gasping slow trudge.

After that, it was all pretty easy except for (a) the fact that this was my longest run in two months and (b) the sadistic hill they insert just before the finish. At least I was mentally prepared for the hill this time around. I finished in about 1:44:10, which would be a 7:58/mile average pace, and more than six minutes faster than last year. So, mission accomplished there.

Post-race, they had bread, chili, and a roaring fire in the picnic area shelter. They didn’t have finishers medals, if you care about that sort of thing. I don’t, and would much rather have a lower race entry fee. I think it might have been $25 this year? An unbeatable race bargain.

Update: Official Results. 1:44:11, 67th of 454 finishers.


Race Report: 2011 McKenzie River Trail Run 50K

September 12, 2011

(Preliminary) official results

The McKenzie River 50K is usually a pretty easy run, at least as far as thirty-one mile trail races go. Yes, there are a few miles of “technical” rocky trail where you have to pay attention to every footstep. And, yes, there is a bit of climb in the first few miles. But most of the last two-thirds is downhill and you cruise to the finish on miles of soft, gently downhill trail. Usually.

This year, the Shadow Creek forest fire changed all that, closing the upper portions of the route and forcing the organizers to stay away from the ranger station that normally serves as the finish area. The race organizers did a great job coming up with a workable plan at the last moment, and communicating the changes with the runners. The new route was basically an out-and-back, down the river and then back up. There was also a separate 2.5 mile out-and-back at the very start, along the waterfall trail just upstream of Carmen Reservoir.

With the changes, here is what the elevation profile of the course looked like. (Elevation is in feet.)

Hard-core trail runners are looking at this and chuckling a bit — a thousand feet of climb over the last fourteen miles: big deal. Compared to the normal course for this race, though, this was a big change in the “harder” direction. I’d wanted to break five hours but with the new course I knew that would be unlikely.

Now, did I mention that the race turned out to be on the hottest day of the year? And that the whole area was a little smoky from those forest fires? Not that I’m making excuses. At least the bees (or wasps, or whatever they are) along the course decided to ignore me again. A lot of people do get stung every year and 2011 didn’t seem like it was an exception. (So much for my theory that the smoke would calm down the bees :-)

I don’t mean to be negative though. This is a beautiful, gorgeous, incredible trail and it was great just to be out there running it. I love this race.

We had no problems getting to the 7:30 start from our motel room 25 miles away. It wasn’t hot yet — probably in the mid 50s — but it was the first time I can remember not actually getting cold at one of these early-morning race starts. Earlier, I had a cup of coffee in the motel room, and that helped gear up my digestive system to properly do what it was supposed to pre-race, if you get my meaning.

I went a bit faster off the starting line than I usually would, because I didn’t want to get caught too far back when we reached the tight single-track trail a few hundred meters farther along. Of course, this meant I was up with people who were probably in better shape than me, and the first uphill mile proved challenging. I felt like I was having trouble getting enough air, and no doubt I was — probably not because anything was wrong, just because I was running hard to keep my place in line.

Fitness-wise, I was a mixed bag coming into the race. My weekly mileage and long runs had been adequate but nothing spectacular. My taper was too long. I had tweaked my back doing nothing at all on Wednesday, and that still bothered me a bit. My left foot hurt.

After a bit more than a mile of uphills and steps along the spectacular waterfall section of the McKenzie headwaters, we crossed a little bridge to the north/east side of the river and headed back downhill through the first tricky steep section. I had no problem keeping up with the people around me here. I enjoyed all the downhills, including the rocky, volcanic boulder strewn “cheese grater” sections. I got through the race without any falls, and only twisted my ankle once, which is still one time to many, but is a lot better than I did last year.

Soon, we passed a little water-only aid station and could look down the hill through the trees to our left and see where we started. From here on out it was an out-and-back course, and every nice downhill plunge plagued me with thoughts of having to run back up it so many miles later.

Sweetie was going to see me at the aid stations again this year, and this time we decided that as long as she was “crewing” me, she should really crew me. With that in mind, we brought two handheld water bottles, so we could swap out. We also brought a cooler, which we filled with ice that morning at the motel, so that when we did swap out, I’d be getting ice water. Without even having discussed it, Sweetie started putting gels and pretzels into the handle pockets on the water bottles, which cut my aid station stopped time to literally zero seconds. The trickiest part of getting through the aid stations was waving off the official volunteers who wanted to take my bottle to refill it. They were doing exactly what they should — great volunteers.

After five or ten miles, I stopped noticing my aching back, which was good. My foot, though, stayed painful through the entire run. It never became a sharp pain, though, and after a while it stopped getting worse, so it wasn’t a major concern.

Predictably, I ran strongly for about 25 miles, then we hit the technical section below the famous Blue Pool, this time in the uphill direction. Soon, I was sucking wind. My legs felt OK but my heart rate was too high and I was breathing too hard. The heat probably was having some effect on me too, but it was hard to tell while running — I just felt bad.

The aid stations that had seemed so close together on the way down now seemed about three times further apart on the way up. They said it was five miles to the finish after the last one; it took forever. I started walking a lot. I wondered why I did this to myself. Eventually I made it.

Official results: 5:09:48 (Which is an average pace of 9:58/mile, if the course was an accurate 50K). 37th out of 151 finishers.


Race Report: 2011 Vancouver USA Marathon

June 19, 2011

Why are marathons always so early? Who wants to get up at five a.m. for a seven a.m. start time? Well, there’s a good reason for it in the summer months, at least: the later it gets, the hotter it might be. But that wasn’t a problem today — it was fully cloudy with fairly stable temperatures in the upper 50s all morning. Pretty perfect marathon weather. But of course we still had to get up early.

Driving through Portland and across the Columbia to get to downtown Vancouver took less than 25 minutes at that hour (OK, missing traffic is another good thing about the early times) and finding parking wasn’t hard. I had an hour to kill before the start, which I used up by going to the bathroom time and time again.

They said there were about a 1000 runners in the marathon, and 1800 more starting the half-marathon later. One thousand people is a good size for a marathon: low-key, but you won’t have to spend much time running alone. There was plenty of room in the start chute. I lined up between the 3:40 pacers and the 3:20 pacers.

I guess I felt pretty good the first miles. I didn’t have much trouble settling into the run and all my body parts seemed to be cooperating. After maybe three miles, I noticed that I was starting to reel in the 3:20 group, which had been way ahead of me shortly after the start. I decided to catch up to them, not so much because I wanted to run 3:20 (I didn’t think I had it in me) but more to ensure that I’d have a good number of runners around me. Why? I find running in cadence with a crowd somewhat hypnotizing. It makes the time pass quickly and lets you just focus on running smoothly.

I took quite a while to catch them, though. By mile seven I was among the stragglers trailing behind the group; by mile eight I had caught the pacer. I stayed right in the group for the next seven miles.

Now, this was the first running of this marathon, and I think it might be the first time these organizers had put on a marathon at all. So I don’t want to be too negative. Was the course perfect up to this point? No. It had a few issues, mostly to do with unnecessary turns and the general hassles that come along with running on the shoulders of roads with live traffic. Nothing bad, and nothing unexpected. There were also some very nice parts on bike paths along the river. I suppose it’s also a ding against a supposedly “full-service” type of marathon that they didn’t have any split pads at all, not even at 13.1. In fact, 13.1 wasn’t marked. (They did have good mile markers though.) Anyway, I’m trying to say these are minor things.

But what happened as we came back into downtown Vancouver around mile 15 of the race was a major problem. We merged into the half marathoners. The slow trailing end of the half marathoners. Who were about a mile and a half into their race. Which followed, from that point, the same route of the full marathon. It’s interesting to contemplate what happens in this situation: you’ll be continually having to get around people for the next 11 miles, because you can never catch up to the half marathon runners who are going the same pace as you.

In any event, this was a clusterfuck. The pace group quickly splintered up, unable to maintain cohesion while pushing through the walkers and joggers. There were a lot of them. On some narrow paths. This problem was acute for three miles, serious for three more, and then only mildly annoying after that (because the half had an extra out-and-back that the full didn’t at that point, which meant we got to kind of instantly fast-forward past a lot of them.)

There’s no excuse for this. The race organizers should have seen this coming from miles away (so to speak). The best solution is to not have a half, or run it on a different day. Second best, run it on a completely different route. Third best, start it at the same time as the full — the crowding at the start would be bad, but it is dwarfed by the badness of doing it the way they did.

Anyway, back to the race. I had pulled a little ahead of the 3:20 pacer while we all played dodge-em with the half runners. Around mile 20, the crowds were thinning a bit and the course took a fairly steep uphill, so I slowed down and let her catch me. (A guy paced the first half and a girl the second.)  I was pretty much the only one in the “pace group” at this point. My thighs were starting to hurt and the hill took a lot out of me. It leveled off for a bit, then there was a mild downhill. After that, a steep downhill.

“Oh no!” I said to the pacer, referring to the damage that sharp downhill was going to do to me legs.

“Oh no!” responded almost everyone around us, referring to the freight train that was about to cut us off at the bottom of the hill.

Yep, we got stopped by a train. I didn’t let it bother me. One of the good things about the stop was that there was an aid station right next to the tracks (on our side), so I got to have a leisurely drink of Gatorade. It was a very long train, but it was moving very fast. The total time I lost was somewhere between a minute or two.

After that, I kept up with the pace group (which re-formed a little) for another three miles, then let them go ahead. I was surprised and pleased to have held onto them for as long as I had. My legs didn’t have much left in them at this point, and any little uphills were killing me. Miles 25 and 26 were a slow jog, interrupted by the occasional uphill walk. I was still happy.

My finish time was (according to my watch) 3:25:12. My second-fasted marathon. I’ll take it.

Edit: Official results. 3:25:11 (7:50/mile average). 75th of 798 finishers, 63/408 men, 15/78 men 40-44.


Race Report: 2011 Boston Marathon

April 25, 2011

I apologize for how late this is; after the marathon, I was on vacation for a while and only had my phone. Composing a full-blown race report by phone was not going to happen. Plus I was really busy overeating and overdrinking.

Pre-race

Saturday morning we took a fairly early direct flight between Portland and Boston. I was expecting that there would be other marathoners on the plane, but I wasn’t expecting just how many. It was the skinniest plane-load of people I’ve ever seen. Alaska Airlines should have given us all a refund on their fuel costs. Here was a picture one of the flight attendants took; everyone standing or leaning into the aisle is running the marathon. You can just make me out at the farthest back, right side, light blue shirt.

It was after five by the time we checked in at our hotel. (We stayed at the Back Bay Hilton, which was a pretty good location, but I think the perfect hotel would be a little farther east, and thus closer to both the finish area exits and the place where you catch the school buses in the morning.) The rest of Saturday, we had time only to rest up a little, go out for dinner, and get some sleep.

Sunday morning, I got packet pickup out of the way early. Like many large marathons, you went over to one person handing out a certain numeric range of bib numbers. It being so early, most of them had no lines at all in front of them. Mine had five or six people though. Grumble grumble. The volunteers doing this were so nice, congratulating everyone and shaking their hands good luck.

Once I got my bib number, it was a short walk to the t-shirt pickup area. Which had the best idea right next to it:

All races should have this. I started with a small, and it was too tight, so I traded up to a perfectly-fitting medium.

I have heard that the expo at the Boston Marathon is a real zoo, so crowded you can barely move. Shortly after nine on Sunday, though, it was easy enough to look around. I had no interest in buying clothes or anything though, so I kept it pretty quick, just grabbing an impromptu breakfast of free samples (Greek yogurt, and, oddly, saffron-flavored rice) and a few other free goodies.  I did enjoy Brooks’ M*A*S*H-themed tent:

Business done, I strolled back to the hotel then we spent the rest of Saturday having a little fun: cannolis at Mike’s Bakery and enormous lobster rolls at Neptune Oyster (both in the North End), then the Isabella Stewart Gardner art museum. Yes, too much time on my feet. We lounged around in the late afternoon and retired early after a light Italian dinner, though.

Race-day morning

The marathon starts at 10, but I had to get up at 5:30 to go catch one of the school buses that take 20,000 people or so out to the start in Hopkinton. Not that I got much sleep that night, anyway. The buses were lined up on Tremont Street alongside the Boston Commons, more than a mile from my hotel. I took the T (Boston’s subway) to get there. At my station, they were letting marathoners on free, but there had to be an attendant around to do that, so I’m not sure how much it could be relied on. I had bought a seven-day transit pass anyway; it was fairly inexpensive and it was one less thing to worry about. It was just before six and there were only a handful of marathoners in my subway car, so I thought maybe I’d missed the rush, but when we got out at Boylston station, there were already big crowds. The buses board between the Boylston and Park T stations (on the Green Line).  From what I could see, getting out at Park would have been better because the lines were shorter on that end.

Anyway, the buses that were sitting there were already full, but enough walking eventually got me into a short enough line that I was able to board in the second wave. It was a short wait, but it was cold in the wind. The weather was sunny, cool, and quite windy — but it would be a tailwind for the race. Even in several layers of throw-away sweats, I was glad to get out of the cold.

The bus ride was very long. Twenty-six miles is a long way. We seemed to be deep out in the country by the time we were finally let off at Hopkinton High School, whose grounds were transformed into the “Athlete’s Village” for this one day.

Big damp lawns, enormous tents, plenty of portable toilets, and the world’s longest line for free coffee: that was athlete’s village, my home for the next three hours. A lot of that time was spent in that coffee line. If you wanted water, Gatorade, bananas, or bagels, it was easy… but coffee was the A-ticket ride. I talked to one Michigan guy originally from the Ukraine and one Wisconsin gal originally from Bulgaria while waiting. His second Boston, her first. Here’s the picture the race photos guy took of me in line:

I guess I was pretty excited. Like me, everyone carried around the official bag-check bag with their bib number prominently displayed on it. The bib numbers aren’t arbitrary: the faster the qualifying time, the lower the number. My 7604 is squarely in the “mediocre male runner” range. People with numbers under 300 were scary. I got to thinking about how much different regular life would be if we all had to display numbers like this — maybe SAT scores or something.

Eventually the first wave of runners was called down to the start line. From athlete’s village, that’s a 3/4 mile walk. I know, cruel, right? Well, what can you do?

I was in the second-to-last corral of the first wave. Here’s a picture looking backward at the start, toward the front of last corral:

A few more minutes of standing around and we were finally off, for the 115th running of the Boston Marathon.

The actual race thing, itself

I think it may have been too long since the race for me to give any sort of accurate mile-by-mile recaps, so bear with me if this gets kind of stream-of-consciousness.

At the start, I felt good, and I felt confident. I wasn’t sick or injured. I felt well-trained, rested, and ready to go.

The pack wasn’t as crushing at the start as I had feared it might be, and I had no problem running my own pace down the long steep hill out of Hopkinton. As I had planned, I warmed up through that first mile in a super easy eight minutes. Switching to 7:40s for the next four miles was easy too. I liked the crowd in front of the biker bar in Ashland, all in their leathers cheering while “Highway to Hell” blasted out of their speakers. The first half of the race also had plenty of spots where there weren’t roaring crowds. That wasn’t a bad thing — by the end of the race, I’d be feeling some crowd fatigue.

My main impression of the first 12 miles of the race is that it was longer than I expected. I know that sounds dumb. It’s just that it’s so easy to say “Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley” and I just kind of felt surprised by how long it actually took to make it through each of those townships. Between miles five and 15, I was aiming for 7:25 miles. I brought them all in between 7:20 and 7:26, but they definitely got harder as it went on. The Boston course has few extended level sections. Almost every step is a little bit downhill or a little bit uphill. It took its toll on me. The tailwind was great, but the sun blasting down was also a problem. I had sunscreen on, but I didn’t put it on my forehead — having it drip into my eyes is death — and maybe not enough elsewhere. I totally should have worn a cap.

The famous Wellesley college girls around mile 12 were loud but not unbearable. I saw one “kiss me I’m from Oregon” sign, but I wasn’t stopping for kisses. (Actually I don’t think I saw any runners around me do so. We’re all so serious. Well, all except for the guy running in the gorilla suit. Or the guy in the tutu. Or the ones in the crazy wigs. But generally, you know, serious.)

By mile 13, I noticed a little pain in my quads. Isn’t that too early? Isn’t that a bad sign? Yes, and yes, as it will turn out.

Miles 15 through 21 were the Newton hills, a series of four extended uphills culminating in Heartbreak Hill. In between the uphills were some moderately steep downhills as well. This is a lot of hill work at this stage of a “fast” road marathon. My race plan had me dropping back down to 7:40 miles for it.

I came pretty close to that through mile 20. The first hill was easy, the second was a tester, the third was tough, and the last — Heartbreak — was torture. Huffing and puffing hard, the best I could do for mile 21 was 8:06. Far from a disaster. Now all I  had to do was “coast” to the downhill finish. Right? Ha.

There’s a serious downhill after Heartbreak and it hurt my legs to run it. My left knee had also started to bother me as I made my way through the hills, almost certainly because my tightening left quads had been pulling it out of alignment. I did some exaggerated high-kick steps to try to stretch it out, which helped a little. My knee wasn’t really the problem, anyway — it was the pain in my quads that was going to break me.

Somewhere after mile 22 I grabbed a cup of water at an aid station and slowed to a walk to drink it, instead of gulping on the run as usual. It  was an act of psychological capitulation: the race had beat me. I got to running again pretty quickly that time, but I was also thinking this: “if I jog along slower, it will hurt less. I’m not going to meet my goals. I just don’t want to hurt as badly.” My discarded race plan called for 7:25s, but my split for mile 22 was 7:36. Mile 23, 7:54. Mile 24, 8:37. Then it got ugly.

I walked a lot in the last two miles and let me say clearly: that sucks. It sucks tenfold at Boston, where people in the crowd scream at you, picking you out by bib number: “Hey! 7604! IT’S THE BOSTON MARATHON! You Can Do This!” Such pressure works — I would lurch into a jog and get a cheer out of them, while I muttered “bastards” under my breath.

Jog. Walk. Jog. Walk. Sucks. Mile 25: 10:30. Mile 26: 10:42.

Finally we rounded the last two corners and the finish line was in sight, maybe a third of a mile away. With a fixed target to focus on, I was able to jog the rest of the way in. With my goals shot and feeling a little boosted by the crowd, I decided to take my phone out of its armband and snap a few pictures of the crowd and the finish line.

Much later I looked at the pictures and saw shots like this:

I wasn’t mentally there enough to point my phone the right way to take a picture. I remember pointing the screen at what I was photographing, instead of — say — the lens. What I don’t remember is smirking for the official finish-line shot:

After that, I stopped running

Then I was through the finish line, out of hell and into… purgatory. There was a lot of congestion in the finisher’s area. And I wasn’t feeling OK. This surprised me. I had thought that I had more-or-less just psychologically failed this race, or at the most any problems I had were in my legs. But after a few minutes of standing around in the finish area crowds, I was feeling pretty wonky. “Am-I-going-to-pass-out?” wonky. I considered going to the medical tent. But sweetie was waiting for me. I kept moving. I kept conscious. Good enough. I did get lost trying to find the family reunion area, but I still say that wasn’t my fault.

The smirk stuck around a while.

Ah well, all’s well that ends well. My problems were nothing another trip to the North End that evening for some marvelous red-sauce Italian food and plenty of red wine couldn’t fix.

Here’s what was in the mail when we got back to Portland.

3:27:45. A 7:56/mile average pace. You know what, that’s still my second fastest marathon. I’ll stop whining now.

Lessons learned:

  1. If it’s sunny, wear a cap.
  2. 40 miles a week might be enough for me for a flat marathon, but if I’m going for a goal time on a rolling one, I probably need more.
  3. Boston’s fun, but not life-changing. I’m sure your local marathon is awesome too.

Race Report: 2011 Operation Jack NW Run (Half Marathon)

January 13, 2011

This was a six-hour run the day after Christmas. That is, you could run for six hours and see how far you could go. My foot problems meant I wasn’t going to do that… I had decided a week out that I was going to run just a half marathon.

My friend Steve organized this race. It was around a 0.95-mile loop in Summerlake Park, in Tigard. (Short loops are a very common form for timed races. It means they only need one aid station.) The loop was mostly on bike paths, and pretty flat, with only a few gentle ups and downs.

We had hosted a party at our house on Christmas day, and it wasn’t until around seven in the evening that I remembered I had to get up the next morning and run a race! I put down the wine and started guzzling water. Way to hydrate!

The next morning was cold, windy, and rainy. I drove over to the park and got my bib number and race shirt. There was an impressive turnout for the race, especially considering the conditions. Steve did a great job publicizing the race! 70 people ended up running it, and 18 people ran a marathon or more.

Standing around before the race, trying to keep warm, I was miserable. It was just terribly cold. I considered just sneaking back to my car, driving home, and getting back into bed. I stuck it out instead.

We got started and I quickly found myself moving to the very front of the pack. A lot of people were running 10K, but for some reason no fast 10K runners showed up. Or fast half-marathoners, for that matter. There was only one guy ahead of me. I ran with him or a little behind him for the first five laps, talking to him enough to learn that he was doing 10K. After five laps, I passed him and experienced being the lead runner in a race for the first time in my life. Of course, I wouldn’t really be winning this one — the winner was to be determined by how far you ran in six hours, and there were no special prizes for being the fastest to 13.1 miles. Still, it felt a little special.

The rain actually let up during most of my run. The wind was pretty bad along some points of the trail, though. My foot started feeling sore about eight miles in, but I kept going.

I finished my 13.1 miles in 1:39:29, with a 7:35/mile average pace. (Full results.) The winner ran 34.7 miles — too bad I wasn’t in shape; I could have been competitive.