The marathon. What a powerful beast. I was reminded yet again this weekend when I ran the Portland Marathon why this distance is a test of mental and physical strength unlike any other. I love that no other event can take me to that place of struggle and personal growth. You can learn a lot about yourself during a marathon, particularly in those last few miles.
To say that the Portland Marathon was one of my favorite races ever would be an understatement. Perhaps it was the blue sky and nearly perfect weather, or the number of spectators that lined the course for miles upon miles cheering me by name. All I know is that I accomplished almost every goal that I had going into the race, finishing in a time of 3:29:43 and qualifying for Boston. If all goes as planned, I will be heading there in 2016! Kristin, I can’t wait to run with you!!!
I picked up my friends Rainie and Michelle on Saturday morning and we chatted up a storm during the 3-hour drive over to Portland. Michelle was attending a Bachelorette party that evening, but would be spectating on the course the next day. Rainie was running her first marathon, so it was fun to be there with her for this experience.
The expo was a little unusual and reminded me of the line for Space Mountain at Disneyland. They were marching us in one way, down two escalators and a few ramps, and into a massive basement area where we picked up our bibs and were able to do a little shopping at various booths. After walking around and mingling with Rainie and another friend of ours, Amy, we hopped back in line and exited out. It was time to do a little shakeout run along the waterfront before having dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.
That night I slept really light and had ongoing dreams about running and missing the marathon. I woke up a few times, at one point in a panic thinking I had overslept. Nope. It’s a good thing that a good night’s sleep is not as important the night before a race as it is two nights before the race. As soon as the alarm went off, we were up and ready for the 26.2 miles ahead!
It was dark at the starting line. They had us grouped in corrals by letters and predicted time, so Rainie and I parted, and I immediately made my way to the porta potty line. I made it in enough time to position myself next to my friend Karly (I knew a lot of people at this race), sing the national anthem, and walk toward the starting line. We were off!
The first six miles went by in an instant, as they always do in a marathon. I kept telling myself to pace pace pace, and I did to an extent, but I still ended up going out a little too fast. I blame it on my antsy legs, the adrenaline, and the near sea level elevation. We weaved through the city and then along the waterfront, up a gradual hill that I didn’t even notice, and then back down to the waterfront. The streets were lined with spectators and various bands playing music. It was pretty awesome. I saw my friend Nicole at mile 5ish which made me super happy, as evident in the below picture (she gets the photo credit).
The next several miles led us to and through an industrial area of town, down a long, flat out and back. It was pretty uneventful, but not my least favorite part of the race. Once again I enjoyed the various bands that were playing, as well as one particular group of spectators dressed up as pirates and playing the role to a tee. I liked running by all of the runners going in the opposite direction because I got to see and cheer for a couple of my friends.
Once I reached the half marathon point, I checked my watch and saw 1:39. Oops. I really needed to slow down, which was easier to do at that point. Miles 13-16 were my least favorite, as this was one of the only stretches along the course that did not have spectators and seemed to drag on forever. These miles were also on a very gradual but long incline, which at that point I could feel. Once the bridge was in sight, I was actually looking forward to the hills ahead.
The difficulty of the course was comparable to many other marathons I have done, including Houston, San Antonio, and Eugene. It was far easier than the Seattle Marathon, but that may have been a reflection on my training and attitude as well. The hills were minor and did not bother me a bit. In fact, at one point I thought to myself “I wish I could have trained on more flat” as I am used to running hills living in Bend. The “big” hill at mile 16-17 that I heard so much about didn’t really faze me. I slowed a little but that was likely due to my breath being taken away by the stunning views of St. John’s Bridge. That was a magical moment.
Once I was off the bridge, there was a quick steep downhill and then another small uphill before landing on a plateau that would stretch for miles along the Willamette River back to downtown. This is where I started to struggle a bit with cramps and odd muscle pains. The sun was out and blazing, and I could feel the salt gathering on my face and neck, as though I had just had a run-in with an angry saltshaker.
The cramping in my legs was pretty bad between miles 18-24, but I kept moving forward without remorse for my body. This was about satisfying my mind. My body would just have to keep up. The mental part of a marathon is a thing of beauty. How the mind can convince the body to keep pushing forward regardless of pain is beyond me. There were several times when my body just wanted to stop and rest. Several times when I could have walked, but never did. Even passing through the aid stations, I grabbed my water and was on my way without slowing my pace.
I was worried about using the Ultima Replenisher because I had never trained with it before so I stuck strictly to water, which in hindsight was not a good idea. Just drinking water on the course for 26.2 miles without replenishing with an endurance drink flushed out what sodium and potassium I did have and likely played into my cramping. I will be more mindful of this in future races and feel as though I could have improved significantly if I had nailed my nutrition.
I saw several familiar faces throughout this portion of the course. My stepsister Whitney found me at mile 20 and ran with me for a good minute or so, which completely revitalized me, and my friend Michelle was cheering me on around that same point. The crowds of spectators that lined the streets were simply amazing. So many people cheered for me by name (thank you personalized bib) and by the time I had finished running the gauntlet I felt as though I had made 100 new friends. This marathon would not have been the same without those voices cheering.
I started to feel alive again once I reached mile 24 and picked up the pace ever so slightly to move ahead and seek out the finish line. The course guided runners up and over another bridge (this one fairly flat) before winding through downtown and along the waterfront. Thousands of people lined the streets, distracting me from the pain. The sounds of cowbells broadcasted through the air and I glanced around hoping to see Will Ferrell reenacting his SNL skit. You never know.
After turning a corner, it was the home stretch to the finish. I ran through almost as though my body wanted to stay on autopilot and keep going. Once I stopped, it really hit me that I had not only PRed, but I had qualified for Boston as well. I weaved my way through the finish chute area, collecting a jacket, rose, food, drinks, goodie bags, and a finisher shirt. I immediately ran (yes, you read that correctly) back to the hotel so I could change and grab my phone to take pictures. I knew several of my friends would be finishing after me, so I wanted to go back and wait for them at the finish.
I feel so fortunate that we had a picturesque day in Portland. Although it was a little warmer than I would have liked, it did not rain, which is a risk you take when signing up for Portland in October. I’ll take sunny and hot over rain any day.
My favorite thing about the course, aside from its ease, was the spectators and volunteers. Everyone brought their “A” game. There were more bands along the course than you would find at a Rock N Roll marathon. Everyone was supportive and the volunteers not only passed out water and food, but cheered and encouraged while doing so. Bravo Portland!
I wish there would have been more nutritional options out on the course. I took two GU Roctane gels, a Salted Caramel gel, and a Powerbar gel along the course, but nothing else. The aid stations offered gummy bears and pretzels, but both of these options were difficult to consume. Try chewing a gummy bear at mile 18 or inhaling a dry pretzel – it’s not pretty. I would have liked to have seen more options out on the course, and salt tabs would have been nice, but I’m selfish like that.
What a great way to end the 2014 season! If you ever have an opportunity to run the Portland Marathon or are looking for a great race to travel to, add this one to your list. It will not disappoint!
Thank you all for the supportive comments, texts, tweets, and phone calls! I felt the love and used it as fuel out on the course.