Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I'm Not Dead Yet

Well, Portland didn't quite finish me off, so I'll give Vancouver a shot at me. I'm officially registered for May 4th, 2008. Who's with me? Come on!

Monday, October 08, 2007

26.2 Miles

A Foot Tour of Portland
Why couldn't those Greek cities have been closer together? 26.2 miles is far.

The Colleague and I ventured to The Rose City for the 36th Annual Portland Marathon this weekend. Cap'n Ron was there, as was Mrs. Math Dude as a last minute entry (she made the very smart decision to abandon the Bellingham Rainfest Marathon in favor of Portland).

Coming into a marathon with an injured leg wasn't exactly in my plans, but I decided two weeks ago to stop training and rest the torn calf muscle, hoping it would heal enough to get me around the course. Still, I knew it was iffy.

The Expo and packet pick-up are in the basement of the Portland Hilton. This maze-like enterprise is claustrophobic at best, and dangerous at worst. The Colleague and I couldn't get through there fast enough. And? The T-Shirts! Come on guys! You CAN'T give the finishers t-shirts out before the race! Sheesh. This meant that while I was on the course I was thinking about having to throw away my t-shirt if I didn't make it across the line. No pressure there.

Very little sleep the night before the race. I was worried about my leg, the weather, my training. Luckily, The Colleague was in charge of the wake-up call so I didn't have that "clock-anxiety" I usually get when I have to wake early. (Does anyone else have this?) Still, a 7:00 a.m. start time is just mean. That means a 5:00 a.m. wake up if you want to eat anything of substance before the race. I opted for more sleep and less food, hoping my big meal the night before was going to be enough for me.

The starting area and the start itself need work. First, it is still mostly dark out at 6:45 a.m. as we line up with 9,000 of our closest friends. And there is nothing going on. No music, no hype, nothing. Because the start line is on a narrow street between tall buildings, there is no room for spectators to see the start of the race. We knew the race started because the herd in front of us began moving.

Cap'n Ron and I took off and hit our pace early, running right around an 8:00 pace for the first couple of miles. Somewhere in mile 2, before turning up Harrison Street for the first climb of the course, I felt my leg make that awful flesh-tearing sound and knew I had re-fucked my leg. I gave Cap'n Ron a little heads-up on my condition, and seconds later saw The Colleague cheering us on and pointed to my leg. No good.

Still, we kept rolling. The leg hurt but it wasn't killing me, and I figured until I had to stop, I wasn't going to. Dr. Hilarious had given me the all-clear to race, and I knew I couldn't really do any serious damage, so I pressed on. The run down Front Avenue on miles 4 and 5 went great, and when I saw The Colleague again at mile 5, I was feeling strong and ready to go another 21 miles. Seriously. Honest.

The support on this course is awesome. There are drink stations everywhere you need them, and the locals turn out in great numbers to support the racers. At mile 7 was where I saw the first de-motivational sign (which I love): "You're NOT Kenyan"

Miles 6 though 11 suck in the best way. Flat and boring out through the industrial waterfront north of downtown. The pavement is hard concrete and there are railroad crossings and broken sections of pavement. But it's flat. Yeah, but then there is the out-and-back section, which is the worst thing about any race course. On the way out you see people who are faster than you, and on the way back you see people struggling to keep moving. I hate out-and-backs.

Just outside of Old Town, somewhere near mile 13, I caught the unmistakeable form of Biology Man cheering on the runners. What? I spent the next mile wondering what Biology Man was doing there. Was he all the way in Portland to root for Mrs. Math Dude? I dunno.

By mile 14 we were still cruising. Running together, Cap'n Ron and I were running 8:10 per mile and feeling strong. Cap'n marveled that a year prior he hated running his 4 milers, and here he was pulling 8:10 per mile in the middle miles of a marathon. Yep. Awesome.

It was in here that I realized that something was up with my running. Usually the teen miles click by pretty fast. I glide through these miles and they seem to come and go before I realize I've been running for that long. But with all the attention I had to pay to my damn leg, I was forced to stay out of that zone. So every mile was a conscious affair of exertion. Not good. Also, I am sure the energy it was taking to compensate for the pain in my leg was being sapped from the rest of me.

All that said, with the St. Johns Bridge in sight (the highest point of the race) I could still imagine myself cruising through the race.

And then? I stepped on something or came down wrong on my heel and rolled my foot just a little but more than usual...riiiip. Oh, the pain shot up my leg like I had never felt before, and I was sure for a minute that it was my Achilles tendon that had gone. I pulled up and checked to make sure my foot was still attached to my leg.

Cap'n Ron stopped too. I told him to go on. He stayed with me as we started up again. Now I had to slow down to make it work at all. We ran the next mile or so at 8:30. A lot slower than we had been training for, and a lot slower than we had been running so far.

At the base of the climb up the St Johns Bridge, I told Cap'n Ron to go ahead. He sensed, and was probably right, that he wasn't able to help and that the guilt I was feeling for keeping him back was worse than anything. So he went off ahead on his pace.

I kept running, but my race goals had to change. At this point (Mile 17) I was going to finish the race. No question. To get myself over the climb up the bridge, I set finishing the race as my goal. I was going to earn that damn Finisher's T-Shirt!

At the top of the bridge, a 220 foot climb, some asshole behind me asserted that "the view makes it worth that climb". What? Fuck you. The only thing that makes a climb worth it is the descent. Period. Views? Kiss my ass. He didn't like me much and he took off past me as I shuffled down the other side of the bridge.

(Happily, I passed him again at mile 24, as he puked on the side of the Steel Bridge.)

Just after the bridge there is a weird little climb back up to the bluff above the river. I eyeballed that hill and pledged to run up that fucker. And I did. Then I revised my goal: Finish the race no matter what, and RUN EVERY STEP.

Miles 19-23 are just a flat grind through a nice neighborhood by the U of Portland. There were a lot of lawn parties up here, and a lot of human wreckage.

I counted 4 people wrapped in blankets, huddled on the lawns of friendly neighbors. One gentleman just in front of me suffered what looked to me like a heart attack, and the paramedics were with him before I could even think about whether I should stop to help. A young woman to my left lost control of her legs and took a concrete digger, face first, just before one of the support stations. Leg cramps, vomit, and yes even the dreaded loss of bowel control were the highlights of this stretch of the run. Happily, aside from my wounded peg, I wasn't suffering any of the above maladies. In fact, other than being completely wasted and fighting the leg pain, I was doing fine. Slow, but fine. By this stretch my overall average pace had slogged back to about 8:40 per mile.

This is where I revised my goal again: Finish the race no matter what. Run every step. FINISH UNDER 4 HOURS.

At the mile 22 aid station I took in a little of every beverage available: Ultima, Gleukos, water, and beer. I took advantage of the unofficial beer station. Yep. Glad I did, too.

In mile 24 I came up on a group that was running with a coach, obviously with a time goal of 4 hours. One of the group was struggling massively, and, frankly, the coach was a dick. As I passed them going into the Steel Bridge, I muttered something about being a wife-beater, but he either didn't hear me or wasn't going to dispute my claim. Either way, they missed their goal...

I think the most amazing thing about running a marathon is how overwhelming the urge to quit really is. Even at mile 25, my brain wanted to stop. Just stop. What the fuck are you running for? You can stop. Indeed, The Colleague later told me that she saw a couple of dudes in the 3 hour groups just run up to about mile 26 and just stop. Derrr. Keep running! But I get it. The urge to stop, from about mile 23 to the finish, is huge. I'm not really sure what keeps us going.

The finish area is great. The chutes are wide open, the chip-removal stations are out of the way but easy to access, and the volunteers are right there getting you whatever you need. I was in a daze (I didn't know my finish time and forgot to stop my watch when I crossed the line) but a few volunteers guided me to the water and food stations.

The Colleague was waiting for me outside the finish, and when I saw her I pretty much lost it. It was the first time I let myself realize how much pain my leg was in, and my body was shot from trying to shield me from the pain all day. As soon as I quit running the leg tightened up and I couldn't really walk.

It's impossible to describe the emotions of a marathon. You struggle and work to meet a goal, and even if you fall short, you still finish. Running up that last half mile with people cheering your name, seeing the finish chutes and realizing that you are going to complete a marathon, letting your body stop moving forward...everything just lets go. Having The Colleague there when I finished the race was overwhelming. A day later, it still is. Thanks babe.

And thanks and congrats to Cap'n Ron, who despite slowing to try to help me ran an exceptional 3:38. That's 8:20 per mile! And any friend who says the following during a race like this is truly one of the good ones: "You finishing this race is more important to me than my time". It was great to share the experience with you, bro. Here's to the next one!

RPD, thanks for the support and encouragement. Let's run one together!

Now? I am taking at least 3 weeks off from running. I will stick with cycling and swimming to keep from getting fat during the layoff, and am going to start joining The Colleague at yoga classes to increase my flexibility.

Once the leg is back to normal I'll start a training program for the Vancouver BC Marathon in May. If I'm up for it, I'll run the Seattle Half at the end of November, even if it's just for a slow run. And the t-shirt.

Now if it's all the same to you, I'd like to ice my leg and have one of these Mirror Pond Pale Ales in the fridge at the Palace.

Oh, and if you want to see the lap by lap carnage, here's the GPS track: