Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Race For the Roses

Participating in the Shamrock run got me all fired up to do another race.  I decided that racing a half marathon about a month before my full marathon might be a good test of my training.  So after I'd finished the Shamrock Run, that very afternoon I signed up to run the Race for the Roses.

My good luck "badass" shirt and race swag

I'd never run the Race for the Roses before, but had heard good things about it.  On race morning I discovered things I liked about this race right away.  The beginning and ending was at the Oregon Convention Center.  The race organizers rented an exhibit hall for the bag check, pre-race stretching and post-race refreshments.  It was nice to be indoors prior to the start of the race (especially if I'd been a rainy day, which thankfully it was not).  But the best part for me?  Getting to use the restrooms in the convention center.  No cold, stinky, icky port-a-potties to contend with.  We had warm, clean bathrooms, sinks with hot water, and real flushing toilets!

Starting line crowd

I stayed indoors as long as I could, but with about 10 minutes until start time, I hustled out into the cold spring morning.  After a super-wet March, race day dawned clear and cold.  Yahoo, no rain!  I can put up with a little cold weather - as long as it isn't raining!

Me in the mob waiting for the race to begin

Upbeat music blared from speakers.  The announcer tried to fire up the crowd by shouting the usual cliches.  And then, the mob of people began to shuffle towards the starting line.  It all happened so fast, before I knew it, I was off and running!

Running across the Broadway Bridge

The first mile took us immediatly across the Broadway Bridge.  At first, the crowd of runners was shoe-horned into one traffic lane (I think due to the streetcar construction zone).  I got behind a bunch of slowpokes, and there wasn't much I could do but shuffle behind them.  So I took the opportunity whip out my camera (yes, I carried my camera with me on the run...I know, what a geek!) and take a couple of photos.

But halfway across the bridge, the lanes opened up and spread out the clump of people.  Woo-hoo, free at last!  I put the hammer down and streaked across the rest of the bridge and down the other side.

Blue skies over the NW industrial area

I didn't really have a definite goal for this race, and instead planned to treat it as a training run.  I tend to run the first few miles of my races slow, and then finish strong with energy left over.  This time, I decided to try and push it in the early stages of the race, and see how it affected my performance in the last couple miles.  However, it was in the back of my mind to try and run another sub-2 hour half.  My first, and only, sub-2 hour half marathon was at last year's Hippie Chick.  Since then, I'd run a marathon, and was in the midst of training for another, so my fitness level was improved from the previous year. 

I tried to tell myself that there was no pressure, to just run the race.  But when I got out on the street, my competitive side kicked in!  After flying down the Broadway Bridge, I decided then and there to go for the sub-2 hour time.

Before the Naito turnaround - runners coming and going

But I also decided I was going to have fun.  I love the people I've met at running events, but when it comes to race time, runners are a serious bunch.  Many of them are either plugged into their ipods or too focused to talk, interact with others, or cheer other racers and volunteers.  Yes, I've preached about this before, and I still maintain that when it comes to recreation, skiers are more enthusiastic (see my Feb '10 blog post "Skiers Say Woo-hoo!").  So I decided this skier was going to shake things up a bit.

I started with doing "the wave" at each mile marker.  Most people looked at me as if I was strange, but I got a few runners to wave and "woo-hoo."  Then I began thanking all the volunteers and cops stationed at each intersection.  The volunteers really loved it, and most of the cops at least acknowledged me.  There were a couple of bands, and some DJs spread out on the course, and when I passed the music, I boogied to the beat.  I yelled "woo-hoos" left and right.  Yeah, I probably made a fool of myself, but it was fun!  It made the miles pass quickly, and I got a lot of positive energy from people when they smiled, waved, and cheered back at me.

Check out the pants on the man to the left!

So down Natio Parkway I ran.  Between miles 2 and 3 I noticed a familiar purple hat in the crowd up ahead.  It was Sarah Bowen Shea (aka SBS), co-author of "Run Like a Mother," my favorite running book.  Sarah posted on the book's blog that she was running this race to help a friend reach her goal of a sub-2 hour half.  She and her friend Molly were dressed alike, in matching shirts, running skirts and purple knee-high socks.  Their cute outfits stood out in the crowd.  I upped my pace to try and catch them.

The cherry trees were in bloom

I ran way faster than I should've, but managed to catch up with SBS and Molly.  I gasped out a quick "hello" and exchanged some small talk.  But we were starting up an incline, and my sprint to catch up took its toll.  I had to slow my pace, and dropped back away from the ladies.

I remembered the gals were trying for a sub-2 hour half.  I figured if I could hang close to SBS and Molly, I could reach my "unofficial" goal.  So even though I lagged behind, I kept Sarah's purple hat in  my sights.  The ladies didn't know it, but they became my pacers.

Finish line celebration with SBS and Molly

At the top of the "incline" I lost my pacers.  I figured they had sprinted out ahead.  Oh well.  But - yipee - the route started downhill.  (Being a skier, I love going downhill!)  So I followed the pack of runners as they wound through the streets of downtown Portland.  I continued my woo-hooing and mile marker celebrations.  I boogied to a band at Pioneer Courthouse Square.  About mile 6, I heard a familiar voice.  I looked to the side, and there were SBS and Molly.  They'd been behind me the whole time and I didn't even know it!  So I leapfrogged with the ladies for awhile, until about mile 8.  That's where I saw the gals pull over to the side of road.  I kept on going.

I'd lost my pacers again.  But I continued on, cheering all the way.  The miles seemed to pass quickly, and I found I wasn't looking at my Garmin much.  I followed the route through the NW industrial area.  Not a lot of spectators here, but there was a of couple enthusiastic volunteers ringing cowbells that really lifted my spirits.  And, yes, I let them know they were appreciated!

Being a goofball at the end of the race!
I ended up back on Naito Parkway.  The runners headed north for a ways, then turned around and ran south.  This was the most boring stretch of the race, and as I hit mile 11, my enthusiasm started to flag.  It was then I got passed by a man wearing the most obnoxious running tights I'd ever seen.  The tights were colored with a mix of several bright neon hues.  I love it when people wear crazy stuff at races, and as he passed me, I gave the guy a big "woo-hoo."  That and a couple of really loud TNT volunteers got my mojo back. As I passed the mile 12 marker, it hit me.  There was only one mile left.  Even though I ran a fast first half, I was surprised to find there was still gas in the tank.  Time to kick it in gear and finish strong!  Looking at my Garmin, I realized if I held a good pace, a sub-2 hour finish was mine.  I put the pedal to the metal and headed towards the Steel Bridge.

The finish line
I had to climb a short, steep ramp to the top of the bridge.  That almost whupped me, but I held on.  Once things flattened out, I gave it all I had.  I came flying down the other side of that bridge, through an intersection lined with a crowd of cheering people shaking pom-poms.  I saw "neon tights man" up ahead, and tried to catch him.  But the finish line came too soon, and I finished just behind Mr. Fancypants.

After catching my breath, I looked back and there were SBS and Molly.  They'd been right on my tail, and had finished within a minute of me.  I looked at my Garmin and it said 1:56:10.  Woo-hoo!  Not only a sub-2 hour half, but a new PR for me!  Molly had also reached her goal of a sub-2 hour half.  Yahoo!!  All three of us celebrated at the finish line, and SBS was gracious enough to include me in a couple of photographs.

My finisher photo -courtesy of Evan Pilchik Photography

So what did I learn from this race?

Number 1:  I'm capable of running a much quicker pace in the early stages of a race. My fear of blowing up at the end didn't happen.  My accidental experiment showed me I need to go out faster and not worry so much about the finish.

Number 2:  Don't forget to have fun!  Never take a race too seriously.  Cheering, smiling, and laughing put me at ease and I got lots of energy from the positive reactions people had to my silliness. I had so much fun, and the miles seemed to slip by quickly.  This was by far the easiest PR I've ever done.

So all you runners, take a cue from this skier - and have some fun in your races!  Who knows, you just might get yourself a PR.


P.S.  SBS gave me a nice shout-out in her race recap (Thanks so much!  I'm blushing!)  You can read it here:


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