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.  

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