The following is a guest post by the founder and leader of our running group, The White Rock Running Co-op, Chris Stratton:
Running in the Footsteps of Legends – by Chris Stratton
Eugene is the birthplace of Nike, the glory years of Steve Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar, Mary Decker Slaney, home of Hayward Field, NCAA Track and Field Championships, Olympic Trials, etc. If there is a city in America that has its roots and culture in running, Eugene is it. It’s why it is named Track Town USA. Eugene in May has reliably cool weathe,r and the race got excellent reviews even though this is only the fourth year of the marathon. This was the first year the race was actually going to finish on the track at Hayward field. Combine this with the fact that Eugene is a running mecca and you have all of the workings for a great race. Last year I decided I could keep making excuses as to why I am not running this race or go ahead and sack up and register. I took the plunge late last fall and registered. Somewhere along the way, Stephanie, Meredith, Kristi, Heather, Hari, Naga, Rich, and Mercedes decided to do this race as well so we had a nice little DRC group going up to represent in Eugene.
There were five of us who were traveling together (Kristi, Heather, Steph, and Mer) so we flew into Portland and rented a car. They gave us the ginormous secret service suburban. We put Heather in the far back, cranked up Steph’s marathon mix, and hit I5 south to Eugene. We had been checking the weather incessantly and everything was shaping up to be perfect weekend weather. It was a short and easy trip and we checked into our hotel and headed to the expo. Keep in mind, Eugene is a small town and this race is much smaller than OKC, White Rock, NYC, etc. There were roughly 2800 registered for the full and 4100 registered for the half. Steph and I were doing the full and Mer, Kristi and Heather were doing the half. The expo was pretty small but their finisher shirts were great. They had their cool logo on a grey tech shirt. Nike was born in Eugene so they do all of their race merch. They didn’t have a huge selection, but I got a nice pullover. We were in and out of the expo pretty quickly and headed over to dinner at the Eugene Brewing Company. After a few beers, a lot of food, and failed trivia we were all tired from traveling and called it a night.
On Saturday we had the whole day available so we made a trial walk over to the starting line at Hayward Field to see how long the walk would be. It was less than fifteen minutes and there was a huge national track meet going on. Seeing it in person made me appreciate Hayward Field on a new level. It was a gorgeous track and unusual to see a place that wasn’t shared between a football and soccer field as well. It was solely dedicated to track and field events.
We then walked over to Pre’s rock. Pre’s rock is a place up on the hill where he died in a car wreck. They made a small but nice memorial there, and people visit it and leave race bibs and medals. I suppose it’s a sacrifice to the track gods. It was a really scenic walk up there and neat to see it in person.
After a great lunch at Studio One cafe we headed over to the Saturday Market to peruse the goods. Eugene is one of the crunchiest cities in America and I think Kristi and Steph were not really feeling the hippie vibe. It was definitely hippie overload so we didn’t spend too much time there since they were nervous about the patchouli, dreadlocks, drum circles and public breast feeding. Heather and Mer were going to jump in the drum circle but we talked them out of it (kidding). We planned to meet Rich and Mercedes at an Italian restaurant for our pre-race last supper. I’m usually not a fan of the official race pasta dinner because you don’t get much selection and quantities can be limited. We decided on a restaurant and got there 20 minutes after they opened and the line was insane. Further, they had nobody inside controlling anything so the wait was hours long. This was unacceptable and we were getting cranky because Eugene just doesn’t have a lot of Italian options. We called around to another place and they didn’t have any pasta with red sauce. We walked over to a pub across the street with Rich and Mercedes and there was only one pasta option. We were picky and cranky about out pre-race meal, so we just decided to hightail it to the pasta dinner since that was open for another hour. That actually worked out well and was reasonably tast,y so we all departed there with happy bellies except for Steph, who has an eternally unhappy belly. We checked the weather another 48 times, made our last arrangements, and hit the sack. Race day was slated to be absolutely gorgeous weather, so we were nervously excited.
Ok, enough sideshow shenanigans…on to the running part! I had very simple goals in this race. First, I wanted to have fun. This race had so many cool things surrounding it and was set up to be a flat, fast course with excellent weather, so I absolutely couldn’t go home surly about my run. From a time standpoint, I really just wanted a PR (sub 3:30). In this case, that wasn’t something I was genuinely worried about since I didn’t train as well last fall and I finished that race with too much left in the tank. I had trained much better this spring and was feeling good. Anything sub 3:30 would have been great, but I felt I could do a 3:25. Perfect world scenario would have been a 3:20, but I just don’t like to go out beyond what I think I’m capable of. Most of my training and tempo work was based around running a 3:25. What I mostly wanted was to just run as hard as I could, have even mile splits, and an overall negative split by less than a minute. Whatever the resulting time would be fine, as long as I just went out and executed the race I wanted.
Beyond that, what I wanted more than anything was for everyone else to run well, specifically Steph and Heather. Mer and Kristi had been churning out one PR after another this past year, but Heather had been dealing with some injury setbacks and Steph just hadn’t gone out there and had a killer race. She was carrying around the 4:00 monkey on her back and really wanted a sub 4. Heather wanted a sub 1:50 for her half, but would have been happy with a PR under 1:54. I was really invested in their races because I know they would not have dealt well with not running a good race in these perfect conditions. I wouldn’t have, either. Kristi was shooting for a 1:40-1:42 and Mer just wanted to run well. She had been dealing with some injuries and had missed a lot of speedwork and tempo runs towards the end of the season. Every one of us had realistic and achievable goals, we just needed to go out there and execute.
Kristi and I decided we would pace together since her pace worked out to 7:45 per mile. That would put me on pace for a 3:23 marathon so I decided that would be just right. It hopefully wouldn’t be too aggressive, but would be fast enough to allow me to push for a 3:20 if I felt good. I liked pacing with Kristi because we had paced together several times before and this gave me a sense of obligation and would help me focus. Plus, she doesn’t talk too much or make any weird noises.
We all five got to the starting line and there was a nervous excitement. We didn’t say a whole lot. We had all done a lot of hard work over the last several months and seen all of our friends do well in Boston, OKC, and other races the last few weeks, and know that it’s time for us to go out there and take care of business. The weather was perfect, the course was mostly flat, and we were standing at the gates of Hayward Field with a giant picture of Prefontaine looking over us. The work and planning had been done and this was our victory lap (thanks, Sam!).
The gun went off and Kristi and I were side by side. This was a record field for them but was a perfect sized race for us. There wasn’t much weaving or congestion early on. We hit our first mile split run on pace for a 3:25 and 1:42:30 half. Although the weather was in the upper 40’s with no wind, I ditched my long sleeve and tried to settle in. The first 5 miles were flat and I was just trying to get into a rhythm. We nailed our splits and tangents, and by mile 5 we were on a 7:44 pace and hit our first incline. It was short and steep but we kept on cruising. By mile 6 I ditched my gloves, took my first GU, discarded my mini water bottle, and splashed the first cup of water on my head. I was finally awake and ready and starting to settle in.
Miles 6-8 we cruised along dead on pace. Crowd support was really great through this area and we prepared for the hill on mile 8. Eugene really is a flat race, but there are some hills for good measure. The one from 8-9 is the steepest. We used our arms well and finished off mile 9 still right on pace. I was feeling great except for my left foot. They used the flat long chip timers and I must have put it on too tight because I could feel it press into the top of my foot with every foot strike.
We were still 7:44 overall pace as we cruised back by Hayward Field. At this point the fastest half marathoners were entering the finish line. We hit mile 11 and this was the point where the half and full marathoners split. Kristi was running well and right on pace for a 1:42 half. I yelled at her to kick some ass and make us proud. I was a little sad to see her go since I was staring at a long incline ahead of me with not many people around, but was excited to know that she was going to finish with a good time since she was running so well with only a few miles left.
The next two or three miles were quiet except for running into a few guys from Austin who had run White Rock. We chatted a bit, and he was trying to pace his friend for a 3:30 BQ. His friend had apparently come up short a few times before and this was supposedly his last hurrah. I kept looking at my watch and thinking that although I am perfectly on my pace, they had banked a whole lot of time for a 3:30. Sir Chats-a-Lot was quite the talker, and I wanted to conserve and focus, so I mentioned two or three times that it seemed like they had plenty in the bank. Finally, they backed off and ran their pace and I forged ahead. I was feeling really good still knowing that once I got to the halfway point I had an easy 3 miles down to the river.
The half split mark was too earl,y so I knew that my official half split was going to be incorrect and too fast. I was hitting all of the mile markers perfectly with my watch, so I was able to figure out that I had run the first half in 1:41:25 and a 7:44 pace. I was on pace for a 3:22:50 finish. I had picked up exactly 10 seconds in my first half so I was quite pleased with my effort. I was feeling good and in total control.
The next several miles down to the lake were easy and I had to primarily focus on not using up too much energy and running too fast. I stayed relaxed, remembered to shake out my arms a lot, and just put it on autopilot. These miles were mostly a blur. The only things that crossed my mind were realizing that Kristi, Mer, and Heather should have all crossed the finish line by then, and I really hoped they had run well. I wondered how Mer’s legs felt. I wondered if Heather got the monkey off her back. I wondered how Steph was faring during the hardest parts of the course.
I hit the park and river by mile 16 or 17 and just kept the pace right on target. I was alternating through GU, water, and Gatorade at each water stop and splashing water on my head to try and stay as cold as possible. This was the first section of the race I really started to pass people who were starting to tire. I still felt good, and miles 19 and 20 were very much in control. The course from 16-25 was entirely along the river and just gorgeous.
I knew mile 21 was on the other side of the river, and once I got to that point I could pick it up a hair if I was feeling ok. However, by the time I hit mile 21 I had definitely started to fatigue. I was still holding my pace but I was starting to feel twinges in my hamstrings from mild muscle cramps. The bone near the pace tag on my foot was throbbing. I was having to bear down and focus to stay on pace. I started thinking about all of my DRC friends at home and knowing I needed to represent them well. I came too far to let them down. I started thinking about Heather M and Stacy M telling me to “PR that bitch”. I starting thinking about Angela running Boston and Genevieve getting her full PR. I thought about David Magnus and his run/walk full. Fortunately, I was passing more people, and each one helped me to realize I was still running strong even though I was running out of gas quickly. I worried about Steph and hoped she was feeling better than I was. I wondered how Hari, Naga, Rich, and Mercedes were doing since I never saw any of them.
Mile 23 came and I was dog tired. Somehow, I was still right on a 7:44 pace but I was truly fighting it at this point. Mentally, I reached for anything I could get. I thought about the fact that I was running the Eugene Marathon. I thought about Pre having guts, and that if I was going to get to the finish at this pace I was going to have to reach down for all of the guts that I had left. I knew I had a 5k left and just kept telling myself only 3 to go, only 2.8 to go, only 2.5 to go, etc. I took the last of my 6 GU’s at this point and was just trying to hold on. Barring severe cramps I knew I was going to finish and most likely PR, but I wanted to finish strong and hold my pace. That was the challenge.
By mile 25, I was spent. I started to feel a little lightheaded. Not dangerously so, but I just knew I was completely exhausted and had used up all of my fuel. However, I could hear in the distance the announcer at Hayward Field and knew I only had 8 minutes left. I looked at my watch and I was still on a 7:44 pace overall. I gave all I had left after seeing Agate Street and knowing I was almost in the final stretch.
The crowds had become bigger and louder as I saw the gates of Hayward Field in the distance and the 26 mile flag. I let loose everything I had. When I went through the gates and onto the track at Hayward Field, I knew I had done what I came to Eugene to do. I was ecstatic, humbled, and completely exhausted. I crossed the finish line at 3:22:31 and nearly collapsed. My legs were shot and the medics helped me into a wheelchair, but I knew I had run my butt off and ran my best race.
After a few minutes of resting I left the tent, got my medal, and met up with Kristi, Mer, and Heather. I wanted to know what each had done. Mer got another PR and a 1:43, Kristi smiled with a 1:40 PR, and Heather just glowed and told me she got a 1:49 PR. They all beamed. I hugged them all and was so happy for them and thrilled that I was done. It was a little emotional. I tried to get some clothes on since I was now shivering and had no energy. The girls helped me get recovery food and drink and I just tried to feel better. I was having a hard time feeling ok just from sheer exhaustion.
Soon after, we started wondering how Steph was doing. All eyes were on her since we knew she was carrying the biggest monkey of them all, especially since the our of us had our PR’s. Suddenly, I look up and see someone in pink shorts on the far side of the field entering the gates and moving very well. I look at my watch and ask the others, Is that really Steph? Is she already finishing!? Sure enough, it was! She came in smoking at a 3:51. Not only did she thrash her PR by 17 minutes, but she blew apart her 4 hour barrier by 9 minutes. Unbelievable! We were all so excited for her.
As she made her way into the finishers corral she just lost it. She moved from marathon smile to full blown marathon tears. It was emotional and she just had this huge relief that she accomplished her goal after training so hard and enduring so many frustrating attempts at not being able to break 4. I was just so proud of her and happy for her accomplishment. At this point we were all on cloud nine and just couldn’t believe everything that had happened. The marathon gods truly looked down upon us and gave us all a gift we won’t soon forget.
We looked around for Hari, Rich, Mercedes, and Naga, but I never saw any of them and we were starving. We made our way back to the hotel to try and get some food. On the way we stopped off to buy ourselves some gifts. Kristi bought chocolate milk. I bought $3 flip flops. Steph bought pickle mints. Now you know which one of us is not like the other. Someone came up with the idea to order some pizza from Track Town Pizza and that was the best idea I had ever heard of in my life. It tasted like a small slice of heaven.
Since it was Meredith’s birthday, the girls made her Happy Birthday shirts and got cupcakes delivered to the front desk. Hari came over to the hotel. Although he had a difficult time with severe cramps, he still ran a 4:29 and actually PR’d his half marathon time in the full! Quite strange. It was quite the celebration of PR’s and birthdays, and beer, cupcakes, and pizza was the reward. The rest of the story for the weekend consisted of more of the same: beer, cupcakes, food, chocolate, beer, chips, food, beer, Milanos, coffee, liquor, etc.
All in all, it was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. I may never run faster than a 3:22 for the rest of my life but I can safely say that this race was completely worth it. I have no doubt that someday I will run the Eugene Marathon again, and anyone who loves the sport of running should do this race some day.
More than anything, I was thrilled with how I ran the race. To me, the perfect race is consistent splits with a negative half split and not leaving anything on the course. I can safely say I accomplished that and ran the best race I could have run. 23 of the 26 miles I ran were within 9 seconds of each other. My first half was a 1:41:25, my last half was a 1:41:06, and my last mile was the fastest of the day. The total was a 3:22 and 7:44 pace.
Mile 1 – 7:48
Mile 2 – 7:42
Mile 3 – 7:44
Mile 4 – 7:45
Mile 5 – 7:52
Mile 6 – 7:44
Mile 7 – 7:40
Mile 8 – 7:44
Mile 9 – 7:44
Mile 10 – 7:37
Mile 11 – 7:47
Mile 12 – 7:45
Mile 13 – 7:43
Mile 14 – 7:46
Mile 15 – 7:40
Mile 16 – 7:40
Mile 17 – 7:39
Mile 18 – 7:44
Mile 19 – 7:40
Mile 20 – 7:42
Mile 21 – 7:39
Mile 22 – 7:47
Mile 23 – 7:46
Mile 24 – 7:47
Mile 25 – 7:46
Mile 26 – 7:35
Mile 26.2 – 6:33