Sunday, November 27, 2011

Portland Marathon: the slog

jolly green giant shoes

The first seven miles of the Portland Marathon went by pretty quickly.  We got caught up in the atmosphere (complete with musical groups around almost every corner) despite the unwelcome chainsaw in charrow's stomach.  But eventually Charrow got pastier and had to walk more often than planned.  I tried to get her to eat something a few times, but she took a microscopic bites and immediately handed the snacks back to me.  Around mile ten, she finally made the decision to stop.

The next 16 miles were long and lonely.  I felt mixed about leaving Charrow in the hands of volunteers,  but I knew as soon as she said she was quitting that I really wanted to finish the race.  She dropped out a little ways before the half marathoners split off towards their finish, so I had about a mile with a moderate crowd, but at the split things thinned out considerably.  Part of what makes a marathon manageable is distraction, be it through a running partner, music (live or otherwise), podcasts, whatever.  When you're running alone, you have everyone around you to act a surrogate partner, but when the field consists of a speed-walker and a distant trickle of other runners, you get bored quickly.  Boredom equals time to focus on other things, like how much you hurt.  Thankfully it took a long time for that feeling to settle in (mile 22 to be exact), but I was definitely sad to be out there doing this huge thing on my own (oh, co-dependency, how you thwart me).  Granted, I was not nearly as sad as Charrow, but hey, this is my blog so I can cry if I want to.

Miles 13-18 were pretty dismal in terms of scenery.  The musicians scattered along this part of the route were obviously getting bored and the roadside attractions included cement mixing factories and storage facilities.  The weather was holding steady at a 100% chance of gray and a 20% chance of drizzle.  I plugged along, care of my 8 song playlist that I whipped up just in case I decided not to listen to podcasts.  That's right, 8 songs, over and over and over.  Hey, when they're all your favorites, it's okay to hear them 20 times while you wonder what in the world you got yourself into.

As required by all sadistic marathon course planners, mile 18 marked the beginning of a very long, very steep hill heading up to the St. Johns Bridge.  I do love me some bridges, but after 18 miles, I would have been happy to stick with something a little less dramatic (I know, I just complained about being bored, but bridges don't slake boredom when they come with hills).  I suppose it was worth the effort because this was the view from the top.

the prize

After crossing the bridge, it was literally all down hill from there, which was good and bad.  The purple spot on my big toe nail says it was bad.  The rest of my legs were happy for the break.  The neighborhood on the other side of the water was quirky and way more interesting than pretty much the rest of the course.  Sad, but true.  A smattering of fans were sticking it out to cheer us on, and by "us" I mean me and the walkers and the old guy about 100 yards ahead of me that I pegged as my running beacon.  People were handing out homemade baked goods (thank you for the banana bread, it was just what I needed) and holding signs that said "dear complete stranger, you're doing great."  Everyone cheered me on using my full name because that what was listed on my racing bib, so I pretended that everyone was my mother because she's one of the few people that still uses my given name.  It was actually pretty comforting.  Every so often my run/walk ratio had me approaching a group of spectators at the walk phase.  It always seemed to coincide with the cheerleaders (as in uniform wearing, pom-pom toting) and not the silver-haired smilers.  I couldn't bear to stroll by gaggles of teenagers so I would start my run right before I got to them and then resume walking after I covered a respectable distance (i.e. 30 feet past the echoes of my name)

Somewhere around mile 22 the pain kicked in.  My knees started to feel like they were being squeezed by rose stems and my feet were under the impression that I had filled my socks with Nerds.  But I followed my old guy and put "Dog Days Are Over" on repeat to keep me going.  It's a fantastically motivational song, but if you listen too closely to the words when you're feeling swamped by exhaustion, it may cause you to cry, which I almost did like 5 times between mile 22 and the finish.

mile 24

Eventually I passed my beacon, which was both triumphant and kind of sad because he was really keeping me good company.  I picked another secret friend and followed her to the end because that's what you do -- you just keep going.  It didn't really occur to me stop.  I managed a feeble kick as I rounded the last corner and made it across the finish line without falling on my face.

Stay tuned for the Aftermath.

Fair warning to other runners planning to do Portland:

- If you run slowly, you will miss most of the music acts in the second half of the course.  Race planners should consider hiring 2 sets of music acts so that the people at the back of the "pack" have some entertainment.  Bring a friend, your nerves of steel, or an ipod to keep you company!

- The Portland course was significantly drearier than the Philadelphia course, regardless of the weather.  It was very friendly in terms of walkers and slower runners (hugs!), but don't do it for the scenery unless industrial is the cream in your wheat.

- There are some amazing post-race snacks.  All I have to say is white pizza.

- There are tons of water stations and a decent number of bathroom stops.  I brought water with me, but I barely made a dent in it.

water and hugs

- There may be awesome older men playing accordions under the tents that probably housed other musicians at the beginning of the race.  Smile at them and they will nod their head while they get their groove on.

- Same goes for the bluegrass band that was still going full steam when I passed them around mile 21.  Those guys were awesome, and it took some willpower to run away from them.

*all pictures from the race were taken with a plastic fisheye camera (thanks steve & liala).  I should have considered my destination a little more carefully because I used 100 speed film for a city that is notoriously gray.  oh well.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

you have now entered Crazytown. Population: 1

just in case i forget

I think marathons may cause brain damage.  That's the only logical explanation for running two of them in a span of 6 weeks.  The first one must have knocked some important decision making cells ajar.  Perhaps the jostling screwed up their inhibitory and excitatory reactions so that instead of saying, "maybe running another marathon so soon isn't the smartest idea," my brain said "do it!  run another one!  you're made of cogs and wheels, and it won't hurt."

Let's step back for a second and paint a clearer picture of the crazy.  It's been awhile since I've written anything so maybe you're confused.  Or maybe you're new to this little splotch of awkward in the internet abyss.

On October 9th, Charrow and I were slated to run the Portland Marathon together.  The day before the race, Charrow wasn't feeling great, but it didn't seem worthy of too much concern.  We figured an early bedtime and lots of water should do the trick.  Sometime in the middle of the night, she morphed into a squirming, stomach-burning, vomiting, explosive mess.  When I woke up at 5:30 to get ready for the insanity, she was doubled over on the bed and couldn't stand straight.  After two panicked phone calls (one to each of our respective mothers) and a botched attempt to eat, we decided that she would just give it a shot.  If she had to drop out, at least she would know that she tried.  And she gave it a valiant effort.  She went from walking with a noticeable lurch to running 10 miles before she called it quits. Her inability to eat and drink water are what finally made it unsafe.  If you can't eat, you can't run.  Too much water on an empty stomach while incinerating calories equals major disaster.  So we stopped at an aid station that had medical staff and explained the problem.  I asked her about 17 times if it was okay for me to leave her there and she said yes every time, so I took her at face value and walked away.  It felt incredibly wrong, and I'm still torn about whether it was the right decision.

The rest of the run deserves its own post, but long story short, I finished the marathon at glacial speed without causing bodily harm to myself or anyone else.  Considering my inability to walk straight after it was over, the second half of that sentence counts as a feat.

Charrow was absolutely miserable when I got back to the hotel (for multiple reasons, some of which will be explained in the "how I survived my first marathon" post).  At some point during the day, she heard from her sister that the Philadelphia Marathon was still open.  Charrow was determined to have her mulligan, and the minute she said she was running Phillie, I firmly said "Well you're running it alone because I can't do that again."

Apparently the neurological injuries don't present until several weeks after the incident.

About a week before Charrow's race (November 20th) we were out for a routine run in Prospect Park, when I felt this surge of optimism (first sign of serious injury). I said to Charrow, "what if instead of running a section of the race with you, I just run the whole thing??"  She didn't talk me out of it.  And she repeatedly said that I wasn't going to steal her thunder if I ran with her, so when we got home from our run I did a little craigslist search and found someone to buy a race bib from.  We agreed to keep it under wraps so everyone would be excited for Charrow and not get distracted by my decision to be psychotically supportive and somewhat selfish (because I partially just wanted to see if I could do it).

And that is how I ended up next to the Schuykill River this past Sunday with Charrow and about 25,000 other people who decided to traipse through Philadelphia for several hours.  Pictures and details to follow after a short and sweet Thanksgiving visit with the Charrow clan.