For pretty much the entire duration of my training cycle leading up to the Portland Marathon, I let self-doubt rule. Slow training runs plagued with discomfort, a random knee ailment that forced me to miss several days, lack of training supplemental to my long runs (ie: hill repeats, track work, etc.), and not feeling as fit as I could have been in general lead me to feel that I wasn’t up for a rockstar race performance or that I deserved to line up in the B coral.
In the days leading up to the race, I shared my wish list of what I hoped could happen if for some reason, and I quote “magical unicorn rainbow stardust shit” shows up the morning of the event. Given the mounting insecurity, especially with the travel, on-the-go eating, time on my feet at the expo, and cramming in as much time as I could with family and friends while I was in Portland, I really was just hoping I’d be able to run the whole damn thing without a DNF (did not finish).
On Saturday afternoon I pretty much thought I was screwed. I was exhausted while I worked a few hours in the Portland Marathon information booth at the packet pickup and expo. I bailed a little bit early because my legs were tired from standing and I was getting hungry. I found a bite and browsed a few stores to kill some time and take my mind off the marathon. Mr. Wasn’t Just the Wine Talking was working just a few blocks away so I was planning to make my way to his location but wasn’t in a huge hurry because I’d be basically just waiting around until he finished his day.
I finally made my way there but was feeling a little cranky and was getting hungry again so I toured the set and watched some of the filming before I went out in search of food again. When I returned, I found a distant corner in a hallway and set up camp. I napped for about an hour before someone woke me up apparently concerned whether or not I was okay. Not long after filming wrapped for the day, Mr. WJTWT and I walked around the corner to a bar. I was so groggy, and exhausted, and emotional that I was literally crying into my wine glass with worry about the race. (Yes, I drank a little wine the evening before.) Mr. WJTWT proceeded to give me a pep talk which helped and promised me a chill evening and early bedtime.
We picked up Thai food as we made our way to where we’d be staying for the night. (I had Thai for dinner the night before I ran the Boston Marathon so I was hoping for some good juju.) Another glass of wine was consumed with dinner and then I started getting ready for bed.
Originally, the weather was forecasted to be perfect! Around 55° at the start with a high of 77° for the day and dry and sunny! Reports Saturday starting indicating a turn and sure enough, I woke on Sunday to pouring rain. Considering I’ve probably run the majority of my runs over the course of my life in some sort of precipitation, the rain itself wasn’t too much of concern. However, for the past four months, I’ve been training in a warmer, dryer climate so of course, this was cause for added anxiety about how things would unfold.
Mr. WJTWT drove me to downtown Portland and dropped me off just a few blocks from where I needed to enter the coral holding area. I immediately jumped in the porta potty line and then found shelter in a doorway where I waited right up until they moved the coral toward the starting line. My relentless and optimistic ambition had me join the 3:30 pace group. I wasn’t cold but I should have probably made some effort to warm up… which I didn’t. Fortunately, the rain had become more of a light mist and restored hope that maybe we’d have a dry morning.
Soon we were off in a congested glob of sogginess. I immediately was several yards behind the pace group and then found myself among the 3:35 group. That was fine with me. I hung with them for a little while but they pulled ahead and again I was separated by a mass of bodies rhythmically prodding forward.
It took me a couple of miles until I caught back up to the 3:35 group, somewhere between mile four and five. The pace felt too easy so I sped up and set my sights on catching up with the 3:30 group. I believe it was around mile 7 that I settled in with the 3:30 pacers. That lasted until about mile 12 when my pace dropped back and I once again found myself among the 3:35 pack.
Somewhere along the way the rain returned. And then the wind picked up. I started to get chilled and aware of the increasing numbness is my legs and fingers along with psoas discomfort on my right side. Good times. I had a few mantras on rotation that I kept running through my head which I believe was ultimately what got me to the finish line.
Similar to the first year I ran Portland, the approach to the St. Johns Bridge proved to be a setback. The elevation at the peak of the bridge is about 150 feet. My strategy was to take it easy but stick close to the pace group. As I started to ascend, I struck up a conversation with a runner who commented that it was steeper than he thought. We used each other as a distraction from the hill, up and over the bridge, and into the residential neighborhood of St. Johns. While the distraction was nice, my pace slowed more than I wanted it to and now I was further from the 3:35 pace group. I started to fear that the 3:40’s would be hot on my heels soon.
I never really got back to the low 8:00 pace I desired. I settled into a roughly 8:25 pace and decided that from mile 19 to 23 I’d hang there and then pick it up for the last 5k. I could no longer feel anything from my hips down and marveled at how I could still actually be moving with no feeling. But despite that, I didn’t feel like I was completely falling apart. I kept repeating my mantras over and over. I smiled at the spectators that braved the rain to cheer for us and loved hearing people yell out at me, by name since it was printed on my bib, that I looked strong, had a great stride, etc. (That made a huge difference.) I talked with a few runners as we briefly paced side by side. I just kept moving forward.
Those last few miles were tough. They always are. But I was able to pick up my pace slightly. The 3:35 pace group was long gone but the 3:40’s hadn’t caught up yet so I found some hope that I still might make it to the finish line in under 3:40. I gave it everything I had left the last mile and when I rounded the final corner and saw the time, I knew I’d have a Boston qualifying time, even if a squeaker.
I finished in 3:37:40.
It wasn’t a PR but I walked (slowly and painfully) away completely satisfied with my performance. Given the conditions and how I felt leading up to race day, staying mentally strong was a HUGE win for me!
You just never really know what you’re going to get on race day. Months of preparation can be affected by so many variables… whether or not you’re in a good mental state, the weather, how rested you are, what you consumed in the days leading up to the event… a lot of it is truly chance. And maybe some magical unicorn rainbow stardust shit.