In 2012, I ran the Portland Marathon with my friend Cami. (Read about it here) Cami had a tough time, and I ended up slowing down and staying with her (totally my choice, and a decision I don't regret). But I felt good that day, and since then I've always wondered what could have been.
Fast forward to 2013. My son and I spectated at that year's Portland marathon, cheering his old college roommate (who proposed to his girlfriend at mile 26). Seeing all those runners streaming by rekindled previous year's memories. The marathon bug bit hard. A month later, I was clicking "register" for Portland 2014.
|Roger and I in the wee hours prior to start time|
What seemed like a good idea at registration time, by late summer became a huge time-sucking obligation. At first, I had high hopes of taking care of 2012's unfinished business. I wanted to break my previous fastest marathon time of 4 hours and 30 minutes. However, by September, I was so tired of running, my training started to flag. I missed hiking, and began to substitute hikes for training runs. By the time race day rolled around, I was ready to get this thing over with.
|Mill Ends Park - Smallest park in Portland|
Early the morning of October 5th, Roger accompanied me into downtown Portland. I found my designated corral, and began a long wait until the 7 am start. To pass time, I took advantage of closed streets to investigate Mill Ends Park, Portland's smallest City park, located in a tiny median island in the middle of a normally busy road.
|Sunrise over Mt. Hood and Willamette River|
And I witnessed a lovely sunrise silhouetting Mt. Hood in stunning shades of orange. (Too bad I had only my point and shoot camera to capture the moment).
|Ready to run a marathon!|
Anticipating cold early morning temps, I'd brought a jacket and arm warmers. But the air was so warm, I was comfortable in short sleeves. This wasn't a good sign - I was afraid by mid morning things would heat up. It's no fun to run in hot weather - especially for 26.2 miles.
|Inching towards the starting line|
My corral started to shuffle towards the starting line, so I bid Roger goodbye, and plunged into the crowd. It was a high-spirited bunch of people, whooping and cheering. I got caught up in the revelry. Crossing under the start banner, I never felt more ready. When the crowd began to spread out, I let 'er rip.
|Marimba band on an overhead pedestrian bridge|
The early morning air was still cool and fresh. My body, rested for most of the past week, was ready to go. The pack of runners headed south of downtown Portland, then circled back after three miles. Early on, there was lots of entertainment. Bands, cheerleaders, singers, and a wonderful marimba band stationed on an overhead pedestrian bridge.
|Golden morning light bathes runners|
Heading back into downtown, the sun rose above the hills, bathing runners in a lovely golden light. I tried to capture a few photos on the run, but only a few actually turned out.
|Liked this guy's shirt|
From the very beginning, I got caught up in the crowd's energy. Looking at my watch, I ran the first few miles at sub 10-minute mile pace, which is fast for me. My plan had been to start slow, and then gradually increase my speed. But at the starting line, all that went out the window. I was feeling good, and started having visions of beating my previous personal best. I also knew it was going to get hot later, and wanted to bank some time against a slowdown in the later stages of the race.
Mile 4, I passed back through downtown, and I was surprised to see Roger in the crowd. He'd come down with a nasty cold the night before, and was feeling lousy when he dropped me off at the start line. I didn't expect him to hang around! It was nice to see him one more time before I headed out of downtown, not to return until mile 26.
|One of many funny signs|
Miles 4 through 11 passed quickly. There was lots of entertainment along the course, complete with more bands, cheerleaders, and my personal favorites - the pirates. Miles 11 through 13 routed runners through mixed residential and commercial areas. Lots of spectators lined the streets, holding funny signs. One neighborhood group had erected a tent, and offered cups of PBR to runners (uhhh......no thanks!)
|We ran through some of the more "interesting" parts of town|
I passed the half marathon mark with a time of 2:08, which in a marathon, is a fast time for me. Although I was still feeling good and running well, tiny alarm bells were sounding in my head. A little voice kept nagging "you'll pay for this fast pace later!" And the bright morning sun was beginning to heat up the course. I made the decision to slow down.
|Wonderful aid station volunteers|
About the time I decided to back off, I noticed a very enthusiastic lady, cheering and smiling. I love running with upbeat people, and sidled over to her. We began a conversation. The woman's name was Leigh, she was from Seattle, and was running her very first marathon. I began to chat with her about my past experience with this race. Mile 14, 15, and 16 quickly slipped by, and before we both knew it the St. Johns Bridge came into view.
|Military men and women cheering for the runners|
The St. Johns Bridge is a very lovely span that crosses the Willamette River. Running over this bridge was the highlight of my 2012 Portland marathon experience. But first runners have to climb up a steep on-ramp, the only significant hill of the entire course.
|Crossing the St. Johns Bridge|
But Leigh and I chatted away the entire climb and we reached the top of that ramp in no time. Easiest hill I've ever run! And then it was time to soak in the sights from the bridge deck. Leigh grabbed my camera and got this great shot of me running towards the St. Johns' Gothic towers.
I tried to reciprocate and get Leigh's photo, but it didn't turn out quite as well. She's the one in the Seahawk green hat and t-shirt (a diehard fan!)
|My buddy Leigh on the St. Johns Bridge|
Mile 17 occurred mid-span of our bridge crossing. As I hit the ground on the opposite side, my quad muscles began to complain. Hmmm......this wasn't a good sign. I still had a long ways yet to go. Somewhere between miles 18 and 19, my legs began to hurt. My pace, which up until then had been holding steady, slowly began to decrease. Instead of running, I felt as if I was now shuffling.
|Leigh and her brother|
Passing by the University of Portland campus, I got an unexpected boost. My neighbor and morning running partner Penny, materialized out of the crowd, and ran with me a short distance. It was great to see her and I appreciated the encouragement. After Penny left, Leigh's brother jumped into the street, and kept us entertained for another mile.
|Almost at the finish - and I'm dying!|
Leigh and I wound through the neighborhoods surrounding the U of P campus. The people who live here are great marathon supporters, and they were out in force! Lots of cheering, more funny signs, and some folks even offered food, drink or aimed their sprinklers at the road. At this stage of the race, very much appreciated by this tired, hurting runner.
|Finish line celebration with my new friend Leigh|
By now the temps were downright toasty. The combination of heat, my fast start, and undertraining had caught up to me. I was dying. My legs felt like there was no energy left. I wanted to walk so badly, but Leigh kept egging me on, saying "C'mon! We are not walking!" I continued on, shuffling alongside my new friend. Leigh, although not feeling good either, kept up her positive banter. It helped so much - by then I was starting to feel tired and grumpy (I'm afraid I wasn't great company, it's a wonder Leigh stuck with me!) As we crossed over the Broadway Bridge, en route to downtown Portland and Mile 25, a fellow runner commented to us: "All this suffering for a lousy t-shirt!"
|My son Cody came to watch|
Back into downtown Portland again, the crowds began to thicken. Spectators cheered loudly. But I was overheated and beyond tired. My legs kept shuffling along, but it felt like I was barely moving. Leigh, on the verge of completing her first marathon, was getting excited. A half mile from the finish, she began to pull ahead. I kept her in sight and willed my legs to follow. The last few blocks were pure agony. But, finally, the finish line came into view. With a final burst, I propelled my tired feet over the timing mats. I was never so happy to be done.
|Boy did I earn these!|
Leigh and I celebrated with a high five and sweaty hug. I thanked my new friend for her help, and then we headed towards the crowd to find our families. Roger and Cody were waiting, and I was so very happy to see them. I headed home for a well-deserved beer, and a huge slice of cheesecake Cody had made especially for me.
Although I didn't beat my personal best time, I came awfully close. Despite the dramatic slowdown over the final seven miles, I finished with a time of 4:32:30. Not too shabby for a fast start, hot day, and slack training. I owe a lot of this to my new buddy Leigh. If not for her encouragement in the final miles, I'm sure this time would've been lots slower. Thanks friend!
Am I ready to run another marathon? No....I'm quite done for now.
Time for some fall hikes!