Yesterday, I ran the Portland Marathon. Over 16,000 of my closest friends and I ran around outside in the fall sunshine, sweating and smiling. Okay, mostly sweating.
The day dawned warm – almost 60 degrees. That didn’t sit well with me, but what can you do? We headed downtown, found a free parking spot on the street and joined the hordes of people heading down to the starting corrals. Jonathon pinned my bib on my front, then my back. I hate bibs. A passerby helped us figure out the chip timer that forms a loop I attached to my shoe. Okay. All set.We passed at least 2 Starbucks and they were mobbed. Sunday morning before sunrise? Probably atypical, except on marathon day.
I had given up all my nerves the day before and decided to run my race, slowly and relaxed – thanks, thedancingrunner! Good tips in the last blog she put out.
We found my corral, weaving through hundreds of people. I am not fast, so I was looking for E corral. I found it, then moved to F. I wanted to run with the 5-hour pacer. I didn’t find him until much later. Corral F was filled with mostly normal people like me. And older folks. Nobody looked terribly fast, except for the Middle-Eastern guy, all long legs.
I waited in a line with 50 other people for the 20+ portapotties. I looked around at the beautiful architecture, the hum of everyone’s voices ricocheting off the faces of the buildings, the sky lightening to the east. It felt like the city was alive. I was excited and ready to roll.
Finally, at around 7:20, our corral moved to the starting line. An unseen announcer counted us down. And we were off! Moving at a snail’s pace down 2nd Street, trying not to run into anyone else. I’d never been in a race with so many people before. It felt kinda like a minefield.
We headed onto Naito Parkway to do the small loop. Everything was going swimmingly. Bands appeared like a continually unfolding present, playing songs to encourage us. The sun poured down on a gorgeous fall day. Portland is a great city for natural beauty as well as people-watching. You never know what you might see. And sister, I saw a lot!
The half marathon followed the same course until after the turnaround at mile 8.7. Down that industrial corridor lined with factories and parking lots, our only out-and-back, was a horrible praise band (they played one song I knew), the Gay Freedom band, playing (what else?) Lady Gaga tunes. Down a bit further was a pirate band, complete with cannon. A man with flowing white hair and beard, holding a Jolly Roger flag, offered free high fives. How could I resist?
I should mention water and sports drink stations were regularly along the course. I stopped at just about every one. It was warm, I was not used to running in the heat, and I didn’t want to lose strength. They also had gummy bears and pretzels. The hard thing for me to get used to is all the paper cups strewn on the street. And the gummy bears tossed on the ground were like multicolored casualties of the race.
I didn’t see any mile markers until mile 3, but from then on they were pretty regular. Passed cheerleaders from a couple of different high schools. Passed a high school pep band. Took some Vaseline off a plastic knife around mile 10. Kids: don’t take lubricants from strangers! I rubbed some into my already-chapped lips.
We made another turn to take us into the shady NW neighborhoods leading to the St. Johns Bridge. Slight hills here, but great signs from spectators: “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon” “Sweaty women are sexy”. Had to cheer for that one! And my all-time favorite: “You’ve got stamina. Call me” (in much smaller letters).
Somewhere around mile 12, I knew my legs were done. It was an awful feeling. I walked a bit. I ran some more. I started to feel like maybe I drank too much water. I took on gummy bears around mile 15. I walked some more and ran. The gummy bears hit my system pretty quickly and I felt better. We rounded the corner just past mile 16 and I saw the bridge. Finally! I ran to the steep hill leading up to the picturesque St Johns Bridge and marched up it.
I started to feel yucky. I thought maybe if I kept walking I could feel better. Nope. There was a steel drum band at the top of the hill but no water. The view from the bridge was spectacular. Some of the other racers took photos. I kept moving, willing my legs to cross the bridge. I knew Jonathon was on the other side. He could encourage me or maybe take me home. Yes, it was that bad.
There were two photographers n the bridge. I knew they would be there. I tried to look happy without throwing up. Not an easy task. I crossed the bridge and started looking around for Jonathon. Still no water. And more slight hills. Ugh!
About this time, I started to feel green. I knew I must’ve looked like the walking dead, grim-faced and determined. Spectators called to me, “The aid station is just 3 blocks up!” I kept walking, looking for the next water station and aid station. The sun-dappled streets of St. Johns and the steady breeze from the Gorge couldn’t lift my funk. It sucked and I wanted out.
Finally, at around mile 18.5, I found the aid station. I asked the guy in a reflective vest, holding a walkie-talkie where the medic was. He pointed to a gal helping another runner swathed in space blankets. He looked into my eyes.
“Are you okay?”
I shook my head. He could see I was spent.
He directed me to sit down and offered to call the Sag Wagon for me. I sat down. One of the other gals came over and offered me some water and a banana. The guy, who I later learned was named Brian, kindly offered me his fleece coat, later covered by 2 layers of space blankets. They took good care of me and I felt like an idiot. One gal, R., I learned was a nursing student at Linfield College. She encouraged me by reminding me of how far I’d come and that she could never do it. She also made sure I knew who I was and where I was. My small consolation came in the form of not being a belly dancer, like the troupe just across the street. No end of entertainment there. Women in their 60s in sparkly, revealing costumes, gyrating for all they were worth, music blasting. Good times. They kept the runners pumped.
Then I called Jonathon, who had a difficult time finding me due to all the barricades and an error on the race map. He found me, finally, and was going to push me to continue. He took one look at my white face and white lips and said, “Let’s go”. I was done.
I’m still processing my disappointment and wasted months of training. I know; everybody bonks sometime. Desi Davila, Olympian, had to drop out of the 2012 London Games because of a hip flexor injury. And I know that in the past she had a DNF because she ingested a sports gel that made her ill. So I’m in good company.
What did I learn?
1. Do your long runs outside, not on the treadmill.
2. Eat better. Less pizza pre-race!
3. Get in at least a 20-mile run before you do a marathon.
4. I can run slowly and still do well.
5. Things go wrong, despite our best-laid plans.
Thanks to everyone who encouraged me and believed in me. I appreciate the prayers and good vibrations. You helped make it possible.