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Today I ran one of my favorite races:  Run Like Hell, in Portland, OR.  As a nearly native Portlandian (if there is such a word), I love this town.  And I want to go on the record saying I lived there *before* it was cool.  Art cars, exceptionally talented street buskers and Benson bubblers are part of my heritage.

Anyway.

This Halloween-infused race changes themes every year.  This year’s theme?  Under the Big Top.  Racers came dressed to match it.  I saw a strong man, complete with shiny body suit and handlebar mustache.  I saw a young gal dressed like a lion.  One guy ran the whole way engulfed in a giant box of popcorn.

But truly, Portland – and this race – doesn’t discriminate.  Two men in puffy sumo wrestler suits ran side by side.  A slice of pizza crossed the finish line ahead of me. Wonder Woman and Super Man put in an appearance. Several male fairies, bedecked in sparkly wings and bows, charged down the street.  Let’s not forget the requisite rainbow-wigged guys and gals, and the standard tutus.

But don’t let the goofy costumes and festive atmosphere fool you.  This is a full-on race.  Start time:  7:30. I put on the pants I wore from the You Go, Girl Half and the shirt from that race.  I didn’t realize it until right before the race.  My subconscious dressed me for victory. The sky dawned partly cloudy, with rain later on.  I prayed to outrun the rain.  Running a race this time of year comes right on the cusp of our seasonal weather change from mostly dry to mostly wet.

The first 4 miles took us up Terwilliger Blvd.  And I do mean up.  We reached a great park, stumping along under drifting fall leaves. We had sweeping views of the river and Mt. Hood silhouetted by the sunrise. Can I be honest here and tell you I considered turning back?  I do hills at home, sure, but not 4 miles.  In a row.  But then, we hit a curve and trooped downhill towards Naito Parkway, which runs along the Willamette.  I love running downhill.  I made up some time here, and thought I still might do well provided I stayed strong.

I did alright, for another couple of miles.  Around mile 9, I started to feel tired.  I walked a little, then ran some more.  By mile 10 (which seemed to take a rather long time to appear), as we zigzagged into Northwest Portland, I knew I’d better cut back on my pacing.  My mood plummeting, I decided to manage expectations.  I would run 2 minutes and walk 1 minute.  My calves tightened up. Then my hip started aching.  The joys of aging!  Sigh.

Then I started thinking.  I trained for this entire race while working full-time.  Never done that before.  For me, this meant early morning runs, the majority of those in the dark.  I missed a few on my schedule but did the bulk of them.  I even threw in one extra long run for good measure. Plus, I’ve finally embraced the wisdom of carb loading.  Why, oh why, did I ever doubt this?!  It made a huge difference in my stamina and how I felt when I crossed the finish line.

I drank water at almost every station, since my very first half marathon I ended very dehydrated.  Not pretty.

“Unicorn tears and rainbows in a cup!” said one helper in  sing-song voice, handing out water cups to passing runners.  He wore an oversized sombrero.  I cracked a grin.  How could I resist? Unicorn tears should not be wasted.

We had street buskers for the Naito Parkway stretch, several in a row.  Their steady music helped, as did the brass band at miles 8 and 10.  After the Boston Marathon bombing, races got locked down in  big way.  Very few spectators lined the street.  A few little kids in pajamas stood outside with their dads, marking time until their moms ran by.

Because of this, the race seemed more serious. No goofy signs, or costumes on the race monitors. Not entirely solemn, however, as a mad hatter in an orange felt suit whizzed by me.  But less spontaneous, less ebullient.  I hadn’t run this race in 5 years.  Maybe I’ve changed as well. Only 5 minutes later than the time I’d hoped for, I ran under the finish banner just as the rain fell in earnest. I got discouraged along the way but didn’t let it dissuade me.

Sometimes the successes we really want get superseded by other  ones – like recovering well from a race vs. reaching a time goal. If we keep our minds open to learning and growing, every race can be a win.  I can say, as the race started and finished in front of the 610 building on SW Broadway where I used to work, it felt like a little taste of home-brewed victory.

Run Like Hell medalHeavy medal.

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