Friday, May 6, 2011

The Eugene Marathon

Eugene, Oregon....Hayward Field....."Track Town USA"..... In high school I was totally into running, and competed on my school's track and cross country teams.  An avid fan of Runner's World magazine, I read many articles about Eugene - the fabled city that was considered the capital of the US running world.  Hayward Field, the most famous of all American track and field venues, was located there.  Steve Prefontaine, Bill Bowerman, Mary Decker Slaney (my running hero in the late 1970s) and many more champion runners all had their roots in Eugene.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine someday I'd end up living near this famous running mecca.

The finisher medal

Fast forward 30 years.  I now live in Oregon.  I've taken up running again, have run my first marathon, and am looking to run another.  I hear from other runners that Eugene has a great marathon - and it finishes on the track at Hayward Field.  How can I pass up a chance to run on a venue that has hosted 10 NCAA championships and four Olympic Trials?  Set my feet on the same surface that so many legendary runners have trod?  I was totally in!

Historic Hayward Field

Of course, there was one tiny issue.  Eugene is home to the University of Oregon Ducks.  My daughter attends Oregon State, the rival college.  When Denise enrolled at OSU, I became a Beaver fan.  So I was conflicted between my old devotion to all things track and field, and the new allegiance to my daughter's college.  Was it a bad thing to want to run a race that begins and ends on the campus of OSU's sworn enemy?

In the end, my fascination with track and field history won out.  Denise, true to form, gave me a hard time for choosing to run a race at her rival school.  She finally conceded I could run the race but couldn't wear the t-shirt.  When I told her nowhere on the shirt did it say the word "Ducks,"  Denise just rolled her eyes and replied:  "It says Eugene!"

Eugene is "Track Town USA"

My running buddy Cami and I had always talked about running a marathon together.  I mentioned that I was thinking of trying the Eugene marathon and would she like to join me?  Cami thought it was a great idea.  We both signed up.  This winter, Cami and I spent many months running in the rain, dark, and cold to prepare.  Most of our Saturdays were spent taking long runs around our neighborhoods.

Then a week before the race, Cami had a death in her family (see previous post).  I was sure she wouldn't be able to join me on race day.  But on the way to Eugene Saturday night I got a phone call.  It was Cami telling me she was planning to run the race after all.  Poor Cami had been suffering from a cold all week, had just come home from a funeral, was tired and stressed out, but said she'd trained too hard for this day and wasn't going to miss it.

Checking out the starting line

Race day dawned clear and sunny.  But it was COLD!  The temps were hovering in the high 30s - not what I'd expect for the first day of May.  I took a shuttle bus to the U of O campus and found Hayward Field - that start of the race.  It was super cool to finally see the famous track live and in person.  The University was a scenic place with its stately brick buildings, blooming bushes, and tree-lined roads.  Yes, this Beaver mom will admit that Oregon has a very lovely campus. 

Beautiful tree-lined U of O campus

The runners lined up along the main road through the middle of campus.  I left my jacket at the clothing check way too soon, and was quickly shivering in the early morning chill.  I scanned the crowd for Cami, who had decided to get up at 4 am and brave the 2-hour drive to Eugene that morning.  I was hoping we wouldn't miss each other!  After all our hard work, I really wanted to run this race with my friend.

I'm ready to go!

I was standing on the side of the main road talking to Roger, when Cami walked right up to us!  She made it!  And we'd found each other!  I was so very happy she was here.  This was the race we'd trained for and talked about for months.  Now finally here we were, together, ready to run.

Running buddies reunited

Cami and I found our assigned starting corral, and wormed our way into the crowd.  By now, I'd been standing out in the cold for almost 45 minutes, and my toes were getting numb, and two of my fingertips were starting to tingle and turn blue!  Not good - I needed to get moving.

The crowd suddenly quieted. Over the PA came the voices of two young girls singing the National Anthem. Then the mob of runners began to shuffle slowly towards the starting line. It took a few minutes, but soon Cami and I were crossing the blue timing mats and on our way.

Shuffling towards the starting line

The first loop of the race took us south of the campus, alternating between commercial areas and neighborhoods. Spectators lined the course, shouting encouragement, holding signs, and clanging cowbells. There was one guy banging on a cowbell who was totally rocking out.  He made me laugh and I loved his enthusiasm!  Another man was holding a sign that read  "I'm proud of you, complete stranger."  How sweet!  It was absolutely wonderful to see so many people taking time out of their morning to applaud the runners. I loved the noise and positive energy. Cami and I cheered right back.

Clif shot arch at Mile 13

Cami got a lesson on how to run a race Linda-style. At the first mile marker, I showed her how to do "the wave." Cami caught on to my mile marker celebrations right away, and after the first, each mile was properly acknowledged. It is so much more fun to do this with a partner!

About mile four, we passed a young girl standing at the side of the road holding a large sheet of aluminum foil. She seemed to be offering something to the runners. As we passed by, we got a whiff of the foil's contents. Bacon! Cami and I didn't partake, but it smelled so good we were tempted!

Autzen Stadium

Cami set a good pace. That's what I like about running with her. Cami runs just a little bit faster than my usual pace, and this works well with my desire to go out faster earlier. I tend to be too conservative in the early stages of a race and don't push myself.  My main goal was just to finish the marathon, but I secretly hoped I could beat my previous time of 4:31:47.

Girls on the go

Cami and I zipped through the streets of Eugene.  It felt good to be back running with my friend.  We hadn't run together for two weeks, so there was lots of catching up to do.  With good company and conversation, the first eight miles flew by.

At mile 8 we hit the first and only real hill on this course.  It really wasn't that bad of a hill, and we powered up it no problem.  We caught the 4:30 pace group and passed them in the middle of the climb.  That really stoked our confidence.  Cami and I were feeling pretty cocky about passing the 4:30'ers and started thinking we could kick some serious butt on this course.

A couple of badass mother runners!

Mile 9 brought us back by the U of O campus.  The streets were lined with cheering, cowbell-ringing people.  I saw Roger in the crowd and stopped to leave him my arm warmers.  After a quick Gu and water break, Cami and I were back on the course, chasing the 4:30 pace group (who'd passed us while we were stopped).

Beautiful view of the Willamette River

The course wound through a couple of streets and finally led us onto the bike path paralleling the Willamette River.  We crossed over the river, and the half-marathoners split from the group.  This eased the congestion considerably. It was really nice to have some breathing room between myself and the other racers. 

Cami and I passed a man named Steve whose shirt read that he'd run 50 marathons in 50 states.  We chatted briefly with Steve about his amazing accomplishment.  Steve hung with us for a little while, telling one of his friends he'd picked up a couple of "hot chicks."  But Cami and I were a little bit faster and we ended up leaving him behind.

Self portrait on the run 

Miles 11 through 16 looped through the adjacent town of Springfield.  We were mostly on neighborhood streets, and I was heartened to see many residents standing by the curb, cheering the runners.  One man had a boom box hooked up by the sidewalk, blasting out music.  I really appreciated all the support.  The people of Springfield rock!

Mile 16 brought us by Autzen Stadium. Roger had walked over from the campus and we stopped briefly to say hi. But with 10 miles still to go, we didn't linger long. The course from this point on followed the bike path along the Willamette River. It headed west until about mile 20 when we crossed the river and headed back east towards Hayward Field. This portion of the course was by far the most scenic, but had the fewest number of spectators. And about mile 19 I needed all the encouragement I could get!

The final push on the track

Considering all she'd been through, Cami was doing awesome.  But about mile 20, everything caught up with her, and the wheels began to come off.  Cami's feet started to blister and hurt.  Her energy level sunk.  She asked for more frequent walk breaks. I lent her some of my ibuprofen and water, but it didn't seem to help.  Suddenly I became the coach/cheerleader.  I kept telling her "each step is getting you closer to the finish."  Our pace slowed considerably and we were passed by the 4:30 pace group and 50-state Steve.

The final two miles were a real struggle.  I was racking my brain for the right words to motivate Cami.  There was no way I was finishing without her.  We settled into a run/walk pattern, me trying to encourage Cami to run and "finish this thing."  The only good thing about my role as the coach was that it took my mind off my own discomfort.  I didn't really start feeling thrashed until there was about a mile and a half left.

Almost to the finish line!

Finally we crossed under a bridge and there before us was the road leading onto the UO campus.  I could see the gates of Hayward Field up ahead.  Telling Cami we were "almost there" seemed to get her moving faster.  I suddenly found that my gas tank was empty, and my legs didn't want to respond.  We turned a corner into the stadium and there 200 yards ahead was the finish line!  At that point, I was too tired to really appreciate the fact that I was setting foot on the Hayward Field track, and instead just wanted to be done.

Cami asked me what our time was.  I looked at my watch and it read "4:29:57."  Cami got excited and said "C'mon!  We can still make 4:30!"  She took off like there were jets on her feet.  I don't know where she got the energy, because at that point, mine was gone.  I struggled to keep up with her.

We did it!

The arched "finish" sign loomed ahead. There wasn't a more wonderful sight. I gave it all that I had, and caught Cami as she stepped on the timing mats. We crossed the finish line side by side, our goal of running a marathon together accomplished!

After finishing, I was so excited that I forgot to turn off my watch, and didn't notice until several minutes later.  So I had no idea what our official time was.  We didn't find out until half an hour later.  We ran our race in 4:30:31 - more than a minute faster than my first marathon!  This was a PR for both of us.  Even with the slowdown in the final five miles we'd still managed to run a respectable time.

We earned these medals!

Cami recovered quickly and was elated about our marathon finish.  I was also riding high - there is nothing like that feeling of euphoria after you've accomplished a goal.  Especially a goal you've worked long and hard for.

What can I say?  I had a wonderful experience.  This race had a great course, incredible spectator support, and I got to share the entire event with my best running buddy.  But most of all I got to finish on the famous Hayward Field track!  What a thrill!

First a runner, then a marathoner, now I feel like a real champion.


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