This past weekend I had a true “how on earth did I do that” moment when I crossed the finish line at the Eugene Half Marathon. I was able to do the two things I had set out to accomplish when racing in my first half marathon postpartum: maintain a consistent pace throughout the race, and PR.
Justin, Axel, and I packed up and headed to Eugene late Saturday morning, making sure to time our departure so it would coincide with Axel’s nap. Little man was a trooper and slept the entire 2 ½ hour drive before waking up as we entered Eugene. It was our first out of town overnighter with him since he has been born and he traveled like a champ. I guess wanderlust must be in his blood.
Upon arrival to Eugene, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Steelhead Brewery, then headed to the expo for packet pickup. I love how the atmosphere around pickup really gets me fired up and shifts my mind into race mode. Maybe it’s all the nervous tension in the air. I did the obligatory find your name among the list of runners and then picked up my bib number and race shirt.
Unlike many packet pickups that are in exhibition halls, hotels, or even a local running store, this one took place in a big tent adjacent to Hayward Field. It was a pretty casual packet pickup with a jazz band playing on a stage they had set up for the weekend, and people out and about taking pictures and relaxing in the sunshine. Justin and I decided to check out the finish area on the Hayward Field track and figure out a strategy for meeting up after the race. I still can’t believe Steve Prefontaine ran on this very track. I was standing on and soon to be running on a little piece of history.
We checked into our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, after leaving the expo area. It was the perfect place to stay for the race because it was located half a mile away from the start/finish area and the course passed directly in front of the hotel at mile 10. The mile 10 aid station was literally in the hotel parking lot. This was nice for Justin and Axel because they would have a place to hang out while I was running the first half of the race.
After unloading a massive amount of stuff – seriously, traveling with an 8-month old requires more gear than traveling with six adults – I went on a quick 1.5-mile shakeout run while Justin walked with Axel to Market of Choice to grab a few essentials (i.e., bananas, Gatorade, water). Later that evening we ordered takeout from Placido’s Italian restaurant, and had a nice family dinner of spaghetti and meatballs in the hotel room. We didn’t want to deal with all the crowds at all the restaurants on race-eve, especially with Axel being so unpredictable. I felt rested and relaxed all evening and we went to bed early.
Axel woke us up nice and early at 5am, just before the alarm went off. He’s been an early bird lately, but I guess that’s better than waking us up throughout the night. He actually didn’t make a peep all night despite the unfamiliar surroundings, and he slept soundly for almost 10 hours straight in the Pack-n-Play. We got up and went through the typical race morning routine → coffee (there was a Dutch Bros. in the hotel parking lot), figure out what to wear, banana + peanut butter, bathroom, relax, look at course, gather gear, leave. Justin also gave me a really sweet card that read, “Today is your day.” It came with a temporary tattoo that I felt needed to be worn. Maybe this needs to become permanent after the day I had. ☺
I studied an email I had received from my coach with his thoughts and strategy for my race. It contained information about some of my previous races, along with a predicted time for this race based on my recent 10k pace. He anticipated that I would run the race in a time of 1:36 (7:20 min/mile). He provided me a visual profile of the course, along with advice on how to pace properly at every mile. The goal was to not go out too hard, which I am notorious for doing, and to pace smart.
At 6:30am we left the hotel and walked to the start area, giving me enough time to use the porta potty and kiss my two guys goodbye before the race. It was 48 degrees and there was not a cloud in the sky. Perfect running conditions, in my opinion. I ventured up to Corral A and gathered with all of the runners as the National Anthem started. And then, just like that, we were off!
I must have repeated “not too fast, not too fast” in my mind a hundred times during the first two miles. Nice and easy. I settled into a comfortable pace, found a good rhythm in my breathing, and hit cruise control. Honestly, I had no idea if I was running too hard or not, but I was relaxed and felt good in the moment.
In addition to the fact that they take place in Track Town USA and finish on Hayward Field, the Eugene Marathon and Half Marathon are popular because the courses are extremely fast and flat, with the exception of a few minor “hills” (I use “hills“ because these are nothing like the hills I have to tolerate in Bend). Spectators pretty much lined the entire course and it was an eclectic gathering of people. I came across bands, toga parties, cheerleaders, kids wanting high fives, grannies wearing tutus and a woman offering me a joint. Don’t worry; no marijuana was directly inhaled during this run (indirect contact is another story). I swear spectators alone make me a 10% faster runner.
After 6 miles I glanced at my Garmin and saw my pace. Wow. I had been holding a consistent 7:07 average pace and still felt like I was on cruise control, not slowing at all. When I came up on a hill at mile 9 I slowed a little, but found my groove again once I was up and over. This is also where I ate my GU Roctane. I guess it was time to rock!
I knew Justin and Axel would be waiting for me at mile 10, where the course routes in front of the hotel, so I kept envisioning seeing them and used that as my motivation to push a little harder. I was so happy to finally see them as I zipped on by. This is my waving while running look.
It wasn’t until mile 11 that I started to grasp the reality of how I was running. Still on cruise control, my pace hadn’t slowed at all and I came to the realization that I was going to finish this run strong. I wish I could have pushed a little harder at mile 12, but my shin started cramping and toes started to curl every time I wanted to speed up. It’s amazing how our bodies can sense that we are almost finished. The mind-body connection is fascinating. I tried to ignore the pain and pushed as hard as my body would let me, until I passed through the entrance to Hayward Field and onto the track, just as I had envisioned. As I came to the straightaway and saw the finish, a 1:34 was brightly staring my way. I teared up and charged forward those last 400m before stopping in complete awe and accepting my medal from a volunteer.
My official race time was 1:34:11, almost a 4 minute PR from my best time of 1:38:04 back in 2014. All I could think was, how did that just happen? No. Really. How did I just do that? I couldn’t wait to find Justin and Axel and tell them the good news. I finally tracked them down (they had some issues getting through the road closures) and, gave them a quick and elated race report. It was barely 8:30am when I finished so we made our way back to the hotel, packed everything up and loaded it into the car, and began to make our way back to Bend…just in time for Axel’s late morning nap. ☺
My running has come so far over the years. When I started this journey in Houston during grad school my half marathon pace was somewhere around 9:30 min/mile, which I was proud of at the time and rightfully so. Over the years that time has steadily decreased, and I never could have imagined then that I would be able to maintain a 7:10 min/mile pace for 5k, let alone for an entire half marathon or longer.
Heck, even when Axel was born eight months ago a performance like this seemed so distant and unattainable. The female body is an amazing thing, and is capable of so much. I’m excited to see what I can accomplish going forward – especially when it comes to running off the bike during the last leg of my half- and full Ironman races this summer.
Have a vision. Set goals. Do the work. The rest will fall into place.
Thank you, Eugene <3