Tagged: marathons

And Here I Thought I Was Saving My Life

Last year, after running my sixth marathon — in Death Valley of all places — my doctor gave me a sobering look during my annual physical and asked how many more marathons I planned on running. I told him maybe a few more and he proceeded to tell me about a study he had recently read that was undertaken by a doctor and his son, both marathon runners. They loved running and wanted to study how running a marathon effected runners’ hearts.

They were surprised by their findings. Apparently, at least in the people they studied, in the days following a marathon the runners’ hearts showed just as much damage as if they had suffered a heart attack. Sobering findings indeed. Even worse, people who had run ten or more marathons showed increased blockage and calcification in their arteries. My doctor, who has known me for 22 years, quietly told me he hoped I wasn’t planning on running that many marathons.

I laughed and agreed. I had, after all, just run 26.2 miles in Death Valley! In the back of my mind, however, I was rolling my eyes and thinking there was no way running could be bad for you. Data can be manipulated.

Bold in the Cold 2012

At one of the few races I ran this year, Bold in the Cold, with my friend, Hari.

Today a friend posted a link to an article in The Wall Street Journal about two new studies on the effects of running, especially in older athletes.  The news is, once again, not very good. Here’s the part that stood out the most to me:

What the new research suggests is that the benefits of running may come to a hard stop later in life. In a study involving 52,600 people followed for three decades, the runners in the group had a 19% lower death rate than nonrunners, according to the Heart editorial. But among the running cohort, those who ran a lot—more than 20 to 25 miles a week—lost that mortality advantage.

It’s that last sentence, emphasized by me, that makes me cringe. In my circle of running friends, 20 to 25 miles a week is small potatoes. Especially now that I’m training for a 50 mile race in nine weeks, and regularly hit weekly mileage of 50-60 miles, I often run 20 to 25 miles in one run.

This sentence from the article calmed me down somewhat:

Meanwhile, according to the Heart editorial, another large study found no mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.

It would take about a 7:30 minute pace to run 8 miles per hour, and I’m far from ever achieving that pace for longer than, oh, ten seconds, maybe? I’m a solid middle of the pack runner. I like an occasional good, fast tempo run, or a race where everything comes together and I surprise myself with a faster than expected pace, but I don’t train for speed. If it’s a byproduct of hills and distance, all the better, but it’s just not that important to me anymore. I guess I’m starting to mellow in my old age.

I’m all about distance. Nothing makes me happier than spending a few hours on a Saturday morning running a 20 mile route around the city with my friends. Even better, spending five or six hours on a trail, pushing just hard enough to enjoy the experience and still have enough energy to make it back to the car and the drive home, is what fills me with the deepest sense of accomplishment I’ve ever known. Nothing else in my life has ever made me feel as satisfied with myself as running.

Palo Duro Trail Run 2012

At the Palo Duro 50K Trail Run last month.

I like to think I run intuitively and listen to my body. I’m pretty good about taking rest days and not being a slave to the training plan. I don’t race half as much as others I run with, and I don’t push myself as hard either, especially on long runs.

It seems like common sense that running really hard, day in and day out, over fairly long distances, will eventually wear out your heart faster than if you did nothing but sit on the couch. Moderation is the key. Maybe speed is the culprit, and the studies don’t give us all the variables.

I have a deep down feeling that our bodies were made to run. The only thing more natural than running would be walking, something I plan on doing more of when I get much older. And I don’t intuitively feel that running long distances, at a comfortable, conversational speed, can really be the same — or worse than — doing nothing at all. Someone will need to show me the data on that to make me a believer.

For me, at this point in time, I’m in the best shape of my life. It took me 52 years to get here, and nothing beats the feeling of power and strength I’ve gained from running these past seven years. I love being able to go out for a 10 mile run on a cold autumn morning and have it feel easy. I feel energized the rest of the day, it keeps me in a great mood, and I sleep better and deeper than when I’m not running.

But, honestly, if I had to, I could be happy with 20 to 25 miles a week. If someone could prove to me that I would be able to have an extra five or ten years of running if I cut my current mileage in half, and have the same physical and psychological benefits I garner with 50 mile weeks, I could do it.

Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Being healthy and staying alive, and being able to appreciate the gift of running — even if it’s “only” 25 miles per week.

Besides, we all know that anything done to excess can be bad for you, and that includes something as healthy as running. Just keep it simple, and listen to your heart.

Here’s a great rebuttal published by Runner’s World on the studies mentioned.


Running: Interrupted, or What Happened to My Motivation?

This morning I was feeling lazy. VERY lazy. I generally like to ease into my morning. I am not a morning person, but now that I don’t have to be at work at 7:00AM, and the days are mild, there’s no excuse not to get up and get my run in and get the day going.

Easier said than done.

I have already declared this to be the year of NO EXCUSES, and my friend Hari said he’s going to hold me to it. I generally prefer to run in the late afternoon/early evening. When I was working, running was always a nice way to detox from the day’s stressful events. I love my early morning long runs on Saturdays with the running group, but there’s something in me that resists starting my day with a run any day of the week except Saturday.

It seems tougher to run first thing in the morning than in the evening. I’m sure, like most things, it’s all in my head.

I finally managed to get in that 7 mile run around 10:30am (I know, I know), and it was a good marathon pace run (9:12 pace) with lots of long, gradual inclines. I was disappointed that my pace was exactly the same as last Monday’s MP run, but it did seem easier and I enjoyed it more than last week’s run.

So why do I struggle with motivation? I love running, really, I do. Why is it so hard sometimes to motivate myself to run the morning?

Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (Sound of needle being dragged across an old, broken record)

That post was started almost a month ago, the day before my visit to the ER. It’s been sitting there, staring me in the face every time I sit down to write a new post, and the topic is even more relevant today than it was a month ago. MOTIVATION.

All I can say is, getting started is the hard part. Keeping it going is the icing on the cake.

This past month has been one trial after another. First there was the ER visit, then two weeks of broth, soup, applesauce, and mashed potatoes, and two different antibiotics that made me extremely dizzy. After two weeks of recuperation, when all the medication was gone and I was feeling stronger, I pulled a calf muscle at mile 2 on my first attempt at running. And last week, when the leg felt better, I came down with a nasty stomach flu that kept  me grounded for another few days.

Cue the violins, right?

I spent most of the first part of the month beating myself up for not being able to run. My mind tried to rationalize everything, and somehow made getting sick something I could have prevented (not true) or been tough enough to run through anyway (no way). I was disappointed because my training had been going so well, and I felt like I was starting to get my speed back up to where it used to be.

When I realized it might take longer than I expected to get well again, and I might not be ready to run a marathon, I freaked out first and then got a little depressed. Piriformis syndrome and recurring ankle tendonitis derailed my plans to run the last marathon I signed up for, and I couldn’t believe it was happening again.

Then, when I pulled the calf muscle, I got mad. I hadn’t been pushing the pace at all, and I’ve never, ever had issues with my calves. Upon investigation, I discovered one of the antibiotics I had been taking causes tendon damage during and after use, and I think the medication was a factor in the pull. Argh.

Finally, when the stomach flu hit last week, after enduring two runs on a hotel treadmill after the calf muscle healed, which should have been penance enough, I let it all go and gave in. I surrendered. Out of my control. So done with the pity party.

All of this has pretty much derailed my plans of running the Eugene Marathon at the end of April, but I’m okay with it now. There’s no way I can pick up the pieces and be ready to run 26.2 miles in ten weeks. It looks like, once again, it will be a half marathon instead of the full. It’s okay, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s once again just not meant to be, and I’m looking forward to at least being able to run half the distance.

I’m just happy to be running again.

So this morning I got up and ran 4 miles, and it was good. Part of feeling sorry for myself has been knowing I’ve been missing out on the best weather to run in, which is winter in Texas. It makes up for all the months of summer misery. This morning was perfect, with overcast skies and a temperature of 50 degrees.

I’ve made up a new half marathon training plan for the next 10 weeks and am looking forward to running consistently again. I haven’t seen any of my running friends for a month and I miss running with them.

It feels like I’ve been quarantined from my tribe.

As for motivation, the hardest part about not being able to run for so long has been getting out of the routine. Once you miss so many runs, it’s really, really hard to get back on schedule. It’s easier to look back at everything you didn’t get done and feel defeated, but harder to leave it all behind and start over again. You can be stubborn and feel sorry for yourself for things not working out, and boo hoo about all the time you’ve missed, or you can move on and start where you left off.

That’s why making a new training plan is going to give me the motivation to keep up with my training. I’ve lost some stamina and speed, but I can still get out there and put in the miles. That’s more than a lot of people are able, or willing, to do.

And the best motivation right now: there’s nothing more satisfying than highlighting a completed run green on the training spreadsheet. I’m a real running dork that way.

Real Runners vs Frauds: How We Judge Each Other

Not long ago I wrote about my surprise at how some of the nonrunning public view runners and marathons. Sometimes I think the running community may actually be even worse towards each other. This could be similar to the pregnant hamster I unknowingly purchased for my prekindergarten class one year who ate her babies shortly after the miracle of birth while we all watched in horror. Yeah, something like that.

I just finished reading a book that had nothing to do with running, except that the main character loves to run. I don’t know if the author of the book is a runner, but this is the way the main character describes how she could tell her son’s coach was a real runner:

He was wearing an Orlando Magic T-shirt and baggy running shorts. You can tell a lot by someone’s running clothes. If the colors are bright, the fit fine, the logos designer, it almost always means fraud, someone who likes the idea of running better than the act itself. Mike Riordan’s shorts and shirt looked ancient, one step removed from the rummage sale. The real deal.

Huh? I think she has it backwards. I consider myself and my friends to be “the real deal” as far as running goes, and not one of us would be caught dead running in a t-shirt, especially down here in Texas (and for the record, the story takes place in Florida, and the heat and humidity are mentioned often). Nothing identifies a new runner more than running in a t-shirt. I don’t think any of us feel like “frauds” for wearing Nike and Asics either, if that’s what she considers “designer logos” running apparel. Maybe Christian Dior makes running clothes that I don’t know about?

I am guilty as charged, though, for sometimes liking “the idea of running better than the act itself,” especially at mile 25 of a marathon. I’m dumb enough to keep coming back for more, however.

These are my designer running clothes. Obviously I'm a huge fraud.

This little paragraph makes me think the author probably does run a few miles here and there, and lives in a cold climate where she doesn’t have to worry about sweaty wet cotton weighing her down, but it makes me wonder why she chose to make runners who wear ancient t-shirts better than the 99% of us who don’t. Is she part of the 1% of running? This got me to thinking about how runners judge each other.

We all do it, all the time. When I ran my first Turkey Trot years ago, shortly after I started running, I ran the 5K portion with some friends. For someone who wanted to race, it was a nightmare. There were walkers, shufflers, strollers, dogs, small children, grandparents, and entire families stretched shoulder to shoulder across the width of the street.

Running was like a game of Frogger. I was not happy. I judged.

The next year I ran the eight mile race, which was slightly better, but of course I was missing the point. With 26,500 registered runners, we have the largest Thanksgiving Day race in the country. Everyone has a right to be there, no matter how slow or how many people, animals, or contraptions they decide to run with. To expect to be able to race, and for everyone to get out of my way, was insane. I was acting like a true Dallasite, and I wasn’t even behind the wheel of my car.

The larger point overall: as runners, everyone has a right to be there.

Through my years of running, I’ve heard–and made–a lot of comments about other runners. It’s always amused me to hear the ways we slam each other. I remember being a new runner listening to some faster, more experienced runners complain about Team in Training and how they clogged up the running path at the lake on Saturday mornings. They said some pretty mean things about TNT, the most ridiculous being they weren’t real runners, and from then on I decided to go out of my way to be nice to them. To me there is nothing more real than getting off the couch and running your first marathon for someone who can’t.

The most egregious example of Runner Judgment happened last month in the middle of a half marathon. Two female friends were running together, chatting about a marathon they had run in the past, and they were chastised by an older female runner. She chided them about their “slow” finish times,” and made a comment about how they should be ashamed of themselves, how she was was running 3:20’s when she was their age. As I said, this was right in the middle of running a half marathon race. My two friends were much classier than this lady and showed great restraint in not tackling her into the ditch.

Sometimes I think we don’t know how we really come across to other runners. Some people seem to need to put others down to make themselves look better. Others are just plain rude. Sometimes we’re trying to be funny but it doesn’t always come across that way. And sometimes it’s our own insecurities that make us say dumb things about other runners.

Most of us have been guilty of calling those who run less fast than us the “slow” runners. I used to run in a somewhat fast group, then I switched groups and found myself suddenly in the back of the pack. I was now one of the “slow” runners, a blackbird and no longer a bluebird among runners. The label didn’t bother me, but my own competitive drive sometimes frustrated me because I wasn’t used to being in the back. And I do always hate being the last one to breakfast.

From trail runners snubbing street runners, to those of us saying “only” a half marathon, to those of us thinking you haven’t really run a marathon if you walk any portion of it, to runners thinking you shouldn’t hold conversations during a race, to those who run with music as opposed to those who think you shouldn’t, to ultramarathoners reminding us how far they run for fun, there will always be an us versus them. We see it in sports, politics, religions, races, sexes, schools, jobs, and families. Running is no different.

So the question begs to be asked: What is a real runner? Is it someone who runs in old t-shirts, or someone who wears purple with the picture of someone battling cancer? Is it someone who qualifies for Boston every time they run a marathon, or someone who trains sporadically and barely crosses the finish line under five hours? In my opinion, it’s merely semantics and keeps us separated from the rest of the pack.

If you run, no matter how fast, how slow, how often, how seriously, or what surface you choose to run on, it’s real, all of it. When you run, you are a real runner. There are no frauds.

(The running quote is from the book Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen)

Runners, Don’t Read the Comments!

Last month I got upset. Several times, in fact. The reason: reading the comments sections of online articles.

Ever since I quit teaching I’ve had a lot more time to spend on the computer. In the past, I rarely had time to read articles, blogs, or much of anything. Now that I do have more time, especially since I now have the  iPad, I’ve been pretty shocked at reading the comments sections of just about anything I read.

I had no idea there were so many mean people out there.

Everyone has explained to me that some people go out of their way to write offensive comments just to stir things up. I now go out of my way not to read the comments section of anything political. Scary stuff, indeed, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. Both sides are equally represented by some serious wackos. But sometimes it hits a little close to home and I can’t help myself. It upsets me.

I guess it’s like when people get behind the wheel of their car, and the anonymity and protection of all that steel makes them act, shall we say, not always considerate of other drivers.

But here’s where it really hit home for me. Last month I read two blogs, both of them ragging on runners and marathons. The first one was by someone who writes for a local, free, weekly magazine. He essentially makes his living pissing people off. He’s pugnacious, and goes out of his way to annoy. That’s what you expect from the guy. I rarely read anything he writes, even if I agree with his position, because I don’t like his style. I only read this article because someone shared it on Facebook, and it was just another one of his rants, this time against the city’s largest marathon and what he repeatedly called “positive runners.”

I guess deriding someone for being positive makes sense if negativity is your norm. And he obviously hasn’t run with me in the summer when it’s 105 degrees outside. I’m anything but positive. Just ask my friends.

What really got me going, however, was the degree of animosity from the people commenting, and not towards him, but towards runners and the marathon.

I had no idea.

I can understand being upset at road closures. Before I started running I forgot about the marathon one year and got stuck in traffic. I was irritated at the inconvenience, but mostly at myself for forgetting about the race. But these people commenting didn’t hold back, saying runners felt a “sense of entitlement” and calling the people who cheer them on “assholes.” When someone brought up the point that charities benefit tremendously from races, the consensus was that runners should just send in a check instead–which is kind of missing the point. The overriding sentiment seemed to be: not on my street, not in my city, and quit showing off.

The other incident that got to me was a blog post entitled “Running a Marathon Does Not Make You Mother Teresa.” It was supposed to be a humorous look at so-called self-involved runners. Again, it wasn’t the post that bothered me, it was the comments. Everyone seemed ready to jump on the Bash Runners Bandwagon. Quite a few people made comments about how runners were looking for attention by running marathons. Believe me, I can think of much easier ways to get attention than training for 20 weeks through the hottest summer on record just to put myself through hell for a 26.2 mile race. One commenter on another blog that linked to the article, a trail runner, made snarky comments about people running street races just for the attention it gets them, implying she was better than them because she ran on dirt. Even our own are turning against us!

People also made a lot of comments about those goofy 26.2 stickers people put on their cars after they run their first marathon. (Yes, I have one. Could this be the adult equivalent of the stickers we got in grade school for good work? I did love those shiny gold stars I got for getting 100’s on my spelling tests . . .)

I had no idea that pounding the asphalt ticked off so many people. I didn’t think anyone else really noticed.

Once I ran into a substitute teacher from my school when I went to pick up my race packet for our local Turkey Trot. She was one of the volunteers giving out race t-shirts. When I saw her again a few weeks after that, and asked if she ran, she went on a rant about runners always running down her street, and how she can’t get out of her driveway on Saturday mornings because there are so many of them. I had to really think about that. I’m guessing she has to wait 30 seconds tops to let a large group of runners pass her driveway.

What is this really about? I pondered this all last month, trying to figure out what people had against runners. Finally, I realized, like always, I needed to lighten up. It wasn’t really about me, or runners, or any type of inconvenience.

It’s about anyone who is different from us.

People like to gripe. We all do it. Guilty as charged. How many times have I made disparaging remarks about people who take too long in the checkout line at the grocery store? How many times have I cursed the cyclists who don’t let me know they’re passing on my left when I run at the lake? How many times have we all looked down on someone for doing something we think is stupid?

Maybe the runners I know, myself included, talk about running too much, especially to people who aren’t really interested. Maybe we talk about our races, our training, our nutrition, and it irritates other people. Maybe we tell people who don’t run what they’re missing out on, how running will change their lives, even when they don’t want to hear it. Maybe we put those 26.2 stickers on our back windows as a beacon to other runners, a sign of kinship as we drive around doing nonrunning things. Maybe we’re positive because running makes us feel good. Maybe we just really like running, and forget that not everyone is as interested as we are.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, and it’s not personal if someone writes mean things about what we do for fun. It’s only running. It’s not going to stop us, though, and that’s the bottom line. The human body was made to run. One day a lot of those people complaining about the marathon that inconveniences them so much now may decide they need to make a change in their lives. They may decide to push themselves mentally and physically beyond any limit they’ve ever known. When they do, my running friends and I will be there to encourage them and push them and cheer them on, no questions asked.

I’ll still read articles online, and I’m sure I’ll still get irritated at the rude comments. Oh well. At least I can always go for a run afterwards to cool off. Or to get attention.

The Real Heroes of the Marathon

For the past two years I’ve spectated at our city’s largest race, the Dallas White Rock Marathon. As a marathoner myself, I love cheering on the runners and supporting them at mile 21, which coincides with a significant uphill climb from a long flat stretch around White Rock Lake. I get to see a lot of friends I’ve trained with through the years and help them out with words of encouragement, but most of the faces who run by are strangers who happen to share my love of running. Out of everyone I see on marathon day, the runners who touch my heart the most, and remind me what running is truly all about, are the ones at the very back of the pack. To me, they are the real heroes of the marathon.

I love watching the elites fly by. Their focused intensity and the beauty of their running form always leave me speechless. I know I will never run that fast, and will never know what it feels like to be the first person to break the tape at a race that large. I cheer for them, but they are so completely centered on their running they rarely look over. Seeing them glide by reminds me how beautiful the human body is performing at the apex of conditioning and training.

The faster runners who follow them are no less awe-inspiring. No matter how talented or lucky they are to be born with the right combination of muscles, strength, and mental focus to be as fast as they are, I also know they train a lot harder than I do. Most work full-time jobs, have families and responsibilities, and still manage to train seriously enough to win or place in their age groups.

The four hour pace group is always a great sight, mainly because so many of us want to be in that group, especially the last six miles of the marathon. It’s usually a large group, and a lot of the runners are starting to show the strain of keeping the pace for over twenty miles. For those who had aspirations of a 3:50 or faster finish, the dream is starting to fade, and they know they won’t be able to hold on much longer, especially on the long climb up from the lake. For others, who’ve trained on hills and know the course well, they’ve managed to dig deep enough to know how close they are to realizing their dream of a sub four hour marathon, and that nothing will stop them. I know that look in their eyes, and I cheer them on by yelling that they’re strong, and well-trained, and that they know what to do.

This is from Route 66, mile 24. I didn’t take photos at White Rock because of the weather.

Gradually, there are a few runners who decide to walk up the hill, then more and more appear. These are the runners who’ve given everything they had, and they hit the wall hard. Some smile and shake their heads as they walk past, and I know they’ll probably find that last ounce of strength to get them across the finish line. Others avoid my eyes as they walk past and act as if my words of encouragement are not meant for them, and I know exactly how they feel. If you’ve ever run more than one marathon, chances are you’ve been there, too, beating yourself up and feeling like you’ve let yourself and everyone else down. A few people look me straight in the eye with so much disappointment on their faces, so defeated, all I can say to them is, “I know, I know . . .” and “you can do this.”

This year’s marathon had the worst conditions I can remember in a long time, with temperatures in the low 40’s, wind, and intermittent rain. After training through the hottest summer on record, the weather was the complete opposite of what most Texas runners had to contend with. The faster runners were better able to handle the conditions, mainly because their steady pace kept their body temperatures relatively stable. The less fast runners suffered a lot, but it was the walkers who took the full brunt of the freezing rain.

After the 4:30 pace group passes a lot of runners start to look just plain miserable. The cold rain is unrelenting, and four and a half hours is a long time to be wet and cold. One girl walks past crying and shivering, her pink gloved hands covering her mouth. Her eyes speak volumes. I tell her to just keep moving. Another woman stops and asks me something I can’t understand because her lips are frozen, and she hands me a GU packet with teeth marks, and I open it for her. A man runs past and hands me a soaking wet knit cap, telling me to wash it and take it home.

The runners start to become more appreciative of my cheering. I stand alone on the hill, sometimes sounding like a drill sergeant, telling the runners that they’re FIGHTERS or they wouldn’t be here today, that they trained through the hottest summer on record, when it was 105 degrees, day after day, mile after mile, and they’re STRONG enough to get up that hill. I yell and tell them how they’ve battled all day long through the cold rain, they battled through the summer of hell, and that after this day they’re going to know EXACTLY what they’re made of. I tell them it’s time to dig deep, time to turn off the brain and just keep going. (Yes, I really do say all that stuff. Other spectators walking by look at me like I’m nuts, smiling and wondering who the heck I am.)

The pace gets a little slower and I start to see more runners in Team in Training shirts. My chant of “You’re FIGHTERS or you wouldn’t be here today!” seems to really hit a nerve with certain groups of the less fast women. They raise their arms and cheer and take off up the hill, telling themselves, “Yeah, we’re FIGHTERS!” Some people come over to give me high fives, one man calls me Sunshine, another tells me he’ll never forget me. Some walkers actually start running when they hear me cheering, and I feel like a proud coach, goading everyone on to victory. I feel such a bond with these back of the pack runners, and I realize I may be getting more out of being here today than they are.

So many people thank me for being there, for coming out to support them, and I tell them I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for them. I think about yesterday, how Michael and I got up at 4am to drive to Houston for a touch rugby tournament and decided to drive back the same day just so we could help out at the marathon. I also think about how I almost stayed home, not wanting to brave the elements, but feeling guilty and knowing at the last minute that I needed to give back, to repay all those who’ve ever taken the time to cheer me on in a marathon. I can’t imagine missing any of this.

Another photo from Route 66 at mile 24.

The spectators down on the corner have thinned out, the five hour group has passed, but people are still running. The mood has changed. There are still many runners who are struggling and look completely spent, but many are also upbeat and determined to finish. I have to convince a few of the walkers that it’s okay, all they have to do is just keep going, they’re doing great. It’s as if they need some confirmation that it’s okay not to reach your time goal, that it’s really all about crossing the finish line and not how fast you get there.

The five thirty group passes, and everyone is laughing and happy that someone is still on the course, cheering them on. I tell them how amazing they are, how they are such an inspiration to everyone out here today, and they thank me profusely. I love their spirit, how they seem to revel in the bad weather and the challenges they’ve overcome. I look around and see that I really am the only person still standing on the hill, and think what a shame it is that people don’t hang around for these last heroes of the marathon.

When I run a marathon I almost always want to run it faster than the one before. These people in the back are here to finish. For them, it’s all about the journey that got them there, and the experience of the race itself. They are proving something to themselves and their families. Even though most of them are walking, they are still marathoners, and I call them that as I cheer them on. With frozen fingers and toes, I finally walk down the hill to the mile 20.5 water stop where Michael is helping out to cheer on the very last marathoners. I run into my friend Serena, a triathlete running her first marathon, who is running with another friend, Stacy. They are cold and miserable, and need hugs, but they’re still smiling and determined to finish strong.

And still they come, stragglers in ones and twos, most walking, some shuffling along at a steady running pace. These are the people who bring tears to my eyes. Their resolve to finish is beyond inspiring–it’s life changing, even to those who are only watching. I remember reading a comment by Ryan Hall, that he couldn’t imagine being on his feet for four hours or longer in a marathoner. Being one of those persons myself, I think this is my equivalent, that I can’t imagine walking 26.2 miles, or running it in five and a half or six hours. I remember how sore I was the day I walked six miles down to the lake and back, and shake my head at the thought of walking in the freezing rain through an entire day’s marathon.

The water stop is slowly dismantled, but water and Gatorade are left out for those who need it. One of the walkers asks if he can have some of my orange juice (it’s actually a mimosa), and I wonder if I should tell him there’s something special in the drink. He says it will help him get up the hill, and I agree. A young guy runs up and yells, “I’m glad you guys didn’t forget about me!” smiling and laughing, and I could almost bet he’ll be back next year, with a huge PR.

Another man shuffles up just as Michael is lowering the Start sign. He looks up, confused, and asks me why it says Start. I tell him for most runners the last six miles are the hardest, and some say it’s where the marathon truly begins. I tell him he’s at mile 20.5 and he nods and slowly shuffles off. I’m not sure he really understood anything I was trying to tell him.

Finally, around 2:30pm, the last three marathoners come through, followed by two police cars. Two people walk ahead together, the other is an older woman. Her husband walks beside her in street clothes and a cowboy hat, larger than life and talking nonstop. He’s like General Patton gathering supplies, running over and asking if he can have some orange juice for his wife. I bring over the entire jug and he asks if I can walk with them. He has three cups of Gatorade in his hands, and drains them as we walk and talk. He tells me his wife is from Oklahoma, and this is her first marathon. He jumped out of his car when he saw her pass and decided to walk the last six miles or so with her. He takes a swig of the “orange juice” and asks why it tastes so much better than the Gatorade. I decide to come clean and tell him it’s actually spiked with something, and he turns to his wife to ask if that’s okay. He’s trying to give the other two marathoners some of the orange juice as I pull away with the empty jug. I kind of wish I could keep walking with them, all the way to the finish line. I try to imagine what it must feel like to know you are the very last  person in a marathon. As I watch the woman from Oklahoma and her husband, I think it must be a pretty great feeling indeed.

I loved it when Lance Armstrong, after running his first marathon a few years ago, said that it was the hardest thing he’d ever done. I have to admit it’s somewhat satisfying when one of the world’s best athletes is humbled by your chosen sport. My friend Serena, who swore she would never do a marathon, said afterwards, “I would rather do a half Ironman, a 100K bike race, or a 100 mile bike ride any day. The marathon was twice as hard as any of these.” She’s a super athlete herself–and I doubt it will be her last marathon.

In the past, I’ve heard faster, more competitive runners say disparaging things about the walkers and slowest runners, saying they’re not “real” runners and only clog up the course, but to me they epitomize what the marathon truly stands for. If I keep running into very old age, I know that one day I will be one of those very back of the pack marathoners. I might even be the last one to cross the finish line. Until then, I’ll let the real heroes of the marathon forge the path, in their own way, at their own speed. I’d be honored to run, walk, or shuffle in their footsteps.

When Stepping Back is a Pain in the Butt

Things haven’t been going so well in my training these past three weeks. The Route 66 Marathon is next weekend and I’ve had to make the decision that I can’t run it. Disappointing, especially after running through the Hottest Summer on Record in Texas, but stepping back isn’t necessarily the end of the game. I think I still have enough training under my belt to run the half marathon instead of the full.

The reason for stepping back is the nagging ankle tendonitis, which I’ve had off and on this entire training season. Despite trying everything from RICE to lower mileage, it still comes and goes. In addition, always running on a sore left ankle has probably led me to change my gait, which has resulted in a sore piriformis muscle in my other leg. This new pain in the butt, literally, has been getting progressively worse, and makes any run over six or seven miles very uncomfortable.

I really haven’t had many serious running injuries these past six years. Like most runners at some point, I’ve had both ITBS and plantar fasciitis, but only once and they never reappeared. The ankle tendonitis is another issue altogether. I used to get it all the time before I ran, when all I did was walk and do yoga. It tends to come and go through the years, and this year it’s decided to stick around for awhile. I suspect the sore piriformis will be like the ITBS and plantars and leave on its own, never to return (hopefully).

In the meantime, I’ve been cutting back my mileage (which coincided with the taper), walking, and doing a lot of yoga.

There’s a part of me that wants to go ahead and run the marathon. I know I can do it, I can gut it out and finish, but do I really want to put myself through that when I know I can’t do my best? I used to tell runners I trained with to “respect the distance” of the marathon. Time to take my own advice and accept that there will be other marathons in the future (namely, New York City in 2012 or 2013).

If someone in this same situation asked me what they should do, I would tell them not to run the marathon. If I sound like I’m trying to convince myself I’m doing the right thing by stepping back to the half, you’re right. I am.

It’s been a year since I ran my last half marathon, so I’m looking forward to running a shorter distance. The best part of Route 66 is that the half and full marathon courses don’t split off from each other until just before mile 13, which means I’ll be able to run almost the entire length of my race with the friends I’ve trained with since July. It will be hard not to continue on with them and cross the line at 26.2, but I’ll be waiting for them at the finish line a couple of hours later.

We have one final long run tomorrow of 12 miles, which I’m looking forward to. It will give me an idea of what to expect next weekend and to see how the piriformis holds up, at least over 12 miles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t make it worse.

Have you ever had to step back from your original race plans and either switch to another race or bail completely? Did you ever decide to go ahead and run a marathon, even when you were injured or hadn’t trained well?

The Hardest Part: Running When Everyone Else is Walking

Saturday’s 18 miler reminded me of something I had forgotten, something that, for me, is the hardest part of running a marathon.  Worse than bad weather, worse than being sick, and worse than the blister from hell, is trying to keep running when everyone else is walking.  Saturday’s long run reminded me of how much I continue to struggle with this huge mental obstacle.

Our route took us onto the race course of a new half marathon in town.  We ran four separate segments, three of which put us right in the middle of the back of the pack walkers.  Other than confusing some of the police officers when we veered on and off the course, no one took much notice of us.

There was one segment, however, where I was very much aware of the walkers.

There is a hill around mile 14 of our route that always gets my attention.  On this particular day I was feeling pretty tired by the time I got to the hill, and was dismayed to see that it was part of the race course–and everyone was walking up the hill.  My goal on that hill is always to not stop, to keep going if it kills me, and I knew it would be tough to block out all the people walking if I was going to make it to the top.

And I did.  I put my head down, didn’t look at anyone, and kept going all the way up and beyond to our next water stop.  I have to say, though, it was incredibly hard to dig that deep and make it happen.  And the strange thing was, I wasn’t worried about that hill at all until I saw all the people walking.  There was something about seeing everyone walking that made my brain go into panic mode and doubt that I could make it to the top without walking myself.  Running up that hill on Saturday was definitely the hardest part of those 18 miles.

My first two marathons were both extremely windy, warm, and humid.  There were lots of walkers, especially the last six miles.  I did better in the first marathon than the second one, mainly because I didn’t know any better.  The second marathon was only four months after the first, and I hadn’t had enough time to forget how tough it was.  When the second marathon rolled around with even worse weather conditions than the first, my heart wasn’t in it.  I wasn’t ready for a repeat performance in battling the elements.

Because of the strong headwind and 45 mph wind gusts the entire second half of the race, by mile 21 almost everyone was walking.  A strong headwind takes so much out of you, and it was all everyone could do just to push against the wind and make it to the finish line.  Michael waited around mile 23 to run me to the finish line, and kept telling me that my pace was still good, trying to convince me I had enough energy and strength left to keep running, but I couldn’t swim against the tide of walkers.

I’ve always known that the mental side of running those last six miles is what I most need to work on, and ignoring the walkers is a part of that.  The same thing happened to me in Death Valley.  When I’m tired, and see others walking around me, my legs instantly feel 50 lbs heavier and my brain becomes a whining mess.

The only thing that seems to work is to keep my head down, ignore everyone around me, and just keep going.

Stats: 18 miles @ 9:35 pace

NYC Marathon: Definitely There

The organizers of the NYC Marathon have changed some of the guidelines for entry into the race.  Most people get in by lottery, running for charity, or qualifying with an incredibly fast age-graded marathon or half marathon finish time (the times are significantly faster than those to qualify for the Boston Marathon).  While it’s never been easy to get in through the lottery, now it will be even more difficult.

The biggest change is doing away with the “three strikes” entry plan–which means if you don’t get in after three tries, you’re guaranteed entry the following year.  This is a change that will affect many runner’s dreams of running the largest marathon in the world. And with almost 45,000 finishers last year, it seems everyone wants to run NYC.  With the new changes, it will be even harder to realize their dream.

But guess what?  Since this year’s attempt was my second strike, I’m barely squeaking in.  If I don’t get in by lottery next year, I’m guaranteed an entry for 2013.  I feel very fortunate to know that I definitely have a spot waiting for me.  New York, I won’t let you down!

Two years ago our running friend Danny ran the NYC Marathon and came back a changed man.  He loved it so much, and talked about it so much, that everyone caught the bug and decided to sign up for the next year.  Some were lucky enough to get in through the lottery (I didn’t) and the rest ran for charity (including Danny, again).  I was already running Boston in April, and on a teacher’s salary couldn’t justify another expensive marathon.  I was so jealous and sad to miss all the fun.

So I entered the lottery again this year and still didn’t get in–which I was actually glad about since I had just quit my job.  My heart stopped, though, when I saw the announcement about the changes this morning, until I read that they’re phasing it in over the next two years, and I’ll be grandfathered in.

So why do I want to even run NYC?  I hate crowds, I prefer smaller marathons in smaller cities, and NYC is expensive.  Big crowds of people make me nervous, and after 9/11 I have this fear that terrorists will find a way to blow up a bridge during the race, or terrorist runners will strap bombs to themselves or something during the marathon.

Here’s why I really want to run the NYC Marathon:  because it was my first recognition as a child that people can accomplish things that seem insurmountable.  I remember watching scenes from the NYC marathon on the TV when I was a kid in the 70’s, and being amazed at the number of people crossing over a bridge.  I couldn’t imagine doing something like that. I didn’t want to do something like that, and couldn’t understand why someone else would.  But I still knew it was something big, something life-changing, and it intrigued me.  It inspired me.

Now I’ll get the chance to run in the shadows of those first marathoners I watched on TV when I was just a kid.  I feel so honored.

And, come on, it is New York. I mean, who wouldn’t want to run there?

Running a Marathon: The Hero’s Journey

Why do we run marathons?  It’s a question I’ve asked myself often.

There comes a point in every marathon I’ve run, usually around mile 19 or 20, when I start to ask myself why I’m here, doing this to myself.  At mile 23 or 24 I start promising myself that I’ll never do this again, it sucks, it’s hard work, it’s not fun, why would anyone do this to themselves, and no way, not ever again, will I do another one of these.

So far I’m at six marathons, training for number seven.

Are we just gluttons for punishment?  Are we masochists?  Or are we just plain crazy?  People who don’t run, or have never run the 26.2 monster,  don’t get it.  Before I ran one myself, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t get it, it was more that I didn’t think I would ever be able to run that far.  I didn’t think I was physically strong enough.  At the time, I didn’t understand that physically it’s simply a matter of training and building up to a certain endurance level.

But I also know that it’s much, much more than that.  In fact, I would say that running a marathon is actually more mental than physical.  For me personally, it’s about 99% mental.

It takes a certain type of person to run marathons.  In general, my friends and I tend to be overachievers who set goals for ourselves that we eventually want to exceed.  We read everything we can about running and improving, and we’re tough.  We run through bad weather, high and low temperatures, and usually get our runs in before the sun peeks over the horizon.  We make schedules, track our progress, analyze our data, and set new goals based on our data.  While we are competitive, the only thing we’re truly competing against is ourselves and our previous PR.  Most of us say we’re going to run the next race “just for fun,” but that rarely happens.  We do what it takes, and not crossing the finish line is never an option.

Years ago I read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth.  For me, an English Lit/History geek, it was a book that held deep meaning, and I felt like a different person for reading it.  Strangely, I had the same experience after running my third marathon and qualifying for Boston.  I had never pushed myself physically or mentally as hard as I did that day, and I wasn’t the same afterwards.  A few weeks ago I was reading Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth and was reminded of the parallels of the hero’s journey and running a marathon.  The mythology of the hero most probably began in the paleolithic age, and was part of the rituals that took place under the resplendent cave paintings in France and Spain.

The hunter, the shaman and the neophyte all had to turn their backs on the familiar, and endure fearsome trials.  They all had to face the prospect of violent death before returning with gifts to nourish the community.  All cultures have developed a similar mythology about the heroic quest.  The hero feels that there is something missing in his own life or in his society.  The old ideas that have nourished his community for generations no longer speak to him.  So he leaves home and endures death-defying adventures.  He fights monsters, climbs inaccessible mountains, traverses dark forests and, in the process, dies to his old self, and gains a new insight or skill, which he brings back to his people.

When people told these stories about the heroes of their tribe, they were not simply hoping to entertain their listeners.  The myth tells us what we have to do if we want to become a fully human person.  Every single one of us has to be a hero at some time in our lives.

You cannot be a hero unless you are prepared to give up everything; there is no ascent to the heights without a prior descent into darkness, no new life without some form of death.  Throughout our lives, we all find ourselves in situations in which we come face to face with the unknown, and the myth of the hero shows us how we should behave. 

This is where the entire idea of running a marathon as a hero’s journey comes together for me.  Even when we train for 16 weeks and do a couple of 20 mile long runs, we don’t really know what lies ahead when we stand at the start line of our first marathon.  We’re embarking on a road we’ve never traveled before.  There’s a reason people say “the race begins at mile 20.”  For most runners, going beyond your previous longest distance is uncharted territory, your very own personal “descent into darkness.”  Even if you’re running your 20th marathon, something happens to body and mind around the 20 mile mark that pushes you into a place you don’t often visit.

But when you persevere, when you go beyond the parameters of your old expectations and abilities, when you cross that finish line, you truly do die to your old self.  The person who wears the medal at the finish line is not the same person who stood nervously at the start line.  Sure, afterwards, life goes on, you go back to work in a few days, you still have to pay the bills and wash the laundry, but you’ve changed.  You’ve learned something about yourself that can only be experienced by going farther than you’ve ever gone before.

Joseph Campbell, himself a runner in his college days, says it this way: This, I believe, is the great Western truth: that each of us is a completely unique creature and that, if we are ever to give any gift to the world, it will have to come out of our own experience and fulfillment of our own potentialities, not someone else’s.

This journey, Campbell reminds us, is nothing less than the adventure of the hero–the adventure of being alive.

It’s a journey of your own making, and the only person you can trust to reach the end is yourself .  You have to trust that everything you’ve taught yourself up to that point is going to work, and that everything you rely on will do its job successfully:  your legs, your mind, your strength, your endurance, your focus, your spirit, and your belief in yourself.  When it all comes together, when you finish the race, no matter what metaphorical monsters, inaccessible mountains, or dark forests you had to travel through, or all the years of being overweight, nonathletic, depressed, abused, unmotivated, alcoholic, lazy, financially unstable, or whatever shadow chases you, no matter how long it took you to get there, you become a hero to yourself. 

Eugene Marathon – 5/2/10

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.

The numbers..

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

Eugene Marathon Website