[Disclaimer: I’m doing things a little differently this time around with my RR. I usually and obnoxiously separate my recaps into before-race/actual race/post-race categories, but it simply didn’t make sense to do it for Newport for the basic fact that my weekend in OR largely, kinda sorta, kinda didn’t focus so much on the actual 26.2 footrace but instead, on a lot of other stuff. In other words, lots of culminating aspects to my time in OR helped make my race, and my experience, what it was, and divorcing these aspects from each other will unduly and unnecessarily undermine the whole “experience,” if you will, and the race is just one bit of the “experience.” That said, this will surely be lengthy, so employ your best “search and discover” scanning skills if you’re not in it for the long haul–no offense taken. If you want a nitty-gritty low-down about the Newport (OR) Marathon, devoid of a lot of the personal stuff that, for me, made the race what it was, check out my review at BibRave. Since the race was more than a race for me–as my marathons usually are these days–I’ve gotta ensure that my recap adequately conveys all that “other stuff” that made the race, nay, the experience, what it was. That said…]
The truncated, post-Oakland training cycle for the Newport Marathon at the Oregon coast in late May was interesting, as I’d written in the weeks preceding the race, in a way that made it seem entirely different than the previous 22 marathons I had run and trained for. I felt like there was a lot more “funning” than there was “work,” though the training was much the same as Oakland, just ten weeks prior, and even in the days, and hours, and mere minutes before the gun on race day morning, Saturday, May 31, any sort of the usual pre-race anxiety I typically experience was virtually non-existent. I knew I had put in the work, I knew I was fit and ready to go, but I was strangely… zen, I guess, about the race. Obviously, I had no way of knowing how my zen-like feeling going into the race would affect or interfere with my performance, but I knew that the weekend would be amazing because of the company I’d be keeping in OR. Nothing is ever–ever–guaranteed in a marathon, regardless of any amount (or lack thereof) of eustress or distress preceding the footrace, so I simply chose not to dwell on this too much and just enjoy the weekend as it unfolded. That which I could control, I would, and that which I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. Yin and yang, folks. Yin and yang.
Race weekend was yet another rundezvous adventure with Austin, number three in the past year for us, in fact, and fortunately, much like Eugene ’13, Kelly, my gal from undergrad, and one of the first friends I made in college, partook in the festivities again over the course of the weekend (and to whom I am enormously grateful for all that she did as the world’s best spectator and runner schlepper and hostess–more on that later). Equally awesome, and an added bonus to our OR springtime rundezvous this year, was that Traci, another dear gal from undergrad, and to whom I attribute much of my seemingly-never-ending marathoning pursuits, also partook in the festivities when we were in Portland both before and after the marathon. And finally, in true “everyone who is a runner belongs to one great big runner family, regardless if you’ve never met the person before” fashion, Austin’s cadre of Portland Frontrunners friends who also came down to Newport to run the full or half–Daniel, Flaco, Erick, Jose, Steve, Steve, and Steve–-or to support those who were, added incredible energy (and a veritable shit ton of laughs) to the weekend and quickly became fast friends.
The wonderful company, of both amigos old and new, virtually promised me from the moments after I landed in PDX on early Friday morning that the weekend would be fuckin’ fantaaaaaaastico. If I raced well in addition, well, that’d just be vegan gravy; if I didn’t, well shoot, that’d suck, but it’d be ok…and fortunately, there is no shortage of races. I said as much to Traci, Kel, and Austin. Understand this, though; I wasn’t giving myself an out, since I very much wanted to race well and do whatever it took to finally um, gently and lovingly fuckin’ throoooooooooow that 3:20 monkey off my back. That said, I knew early on, like, weeks before race day, that long-term, my heart and mind would remember and value my straight-up Newport race less so than it would the rare, uninterrupted, and unadulterated quality time with some close friends; the race was a part of it, no doubt, but it wasn’t the end-all, be-all of my time in OR. It’s a difference in value and judgement, and this time around, I far, far, faaaaaaaar more valued the Newport experience than I did the Newport race, the process more so than the product.
The quick and early morning flight from SJC-PDX landed me in the great, beautiful, and lusciously green state of OR squarely in the middle of Friday morning rush hour, which only meant that Traci and I had even more time to catch-up IRL for the first time since May ’13 and of course, more time for me to just reiterate repeatedly how enormously impressed and proud I am of her and all that madness that is her life as a soon-to-be fourth-year medical school student and on the heels of what has been a really taxing past 12 months. Soon enough, we met Kel at a breakfast place in Traci’s hood for some delish and simple-and-white-carb-heavy veganish breakfast before delivering a Voodoo Donuts personalized and decorated cocknballs donut to Kel’s husband at work for his birthday. If there’s one thing that stayed with me about OR, and about Portland, since I was there a year ago, it’s that it’s weird as hell–vegan options everywhere (swoon), a donut place where asking for the cocknballs donut, uh, creation (?), is NBD because it’s straight off the menu–and damn, being
a bit unflichingly proudly bizarre just rocks.
Shortly post cocknballs drop-off, Kel, Traci, and I fetched Austin from work and did a grocery run for some race weekend provisions in advance of making the ~2.5 drive down to the Newport coast. Grocery stores (among my fav establishments of all time, right up there with bookstores and libraries), time with friends whom I haven’t seen in a while… folks, my weekend was already made. My face had been sore from smiling since breakfast with my gals; it was a feeling that’d only intensify over the weekend.
Begrudgingly, we left Traci behind, whose whole “I have to work trauma at the hospital for 6 12-hour days, including on Saturday and Sunday” commitment precluded her from participating in the Newport festivities. Austin coordinated our weekend accommodations through VRBO, and we were delighted when we entered our quarters: a beachfront, nautical and OR coast-themed condo with a beautiful view of the ocean and some hilarious OR coast propaganda. Daniel, a PDX Frontrunner pal of Austin’s, one of our three other house-mates, had beaten us to the property, and soon after we arrived, the four of us made our way to the host hotel, about 1.5 miles away (and very near the course finish line), for packet pick-up.
Packet pick-up was just that, a place where, in thirty seconds, you could enter the room, get your race bib with an affixed timing chip and a handful of safety pins, and peace out. Newport is a small marathon, capped at 1,000 runners, and for the first time this year, they also featured a half, capped at 250 runners, so the “expo” was more or less what I was expecting: a room in the basement of a hotel. I typically try to enter and exit expos as quickly as possible, so the simplicity of packet pick-up, and the complete lack of pre-race OMG YOU’RE RUNNING 26.2 MILES TOMORROW?! OMG OMG OMG fanfare that usually laces major marathons’ (or hell, even some shorter races’) expos was… refreshing. I dig the big races, but it is nice to have a low-key experience, too.
Maybe three minutes after we arrived, Daniel, Austin, Kelly, and I were finished at packet pick-up, so we headed over to the adjacent hotel, where we’d be meeting the rest of the PDX Frontrunners gaggle for dinner. Some of the guys had gotten caught in shitty Friday afternoon/evening traffic coming out of Portland, but once everyone had arrived, it was non-stop banter, ridiculously hilarious story-telling, and just a little bit of race logistics chatter thrown in for good measure. Before we knew it, the beauty of a bunch of runners, communing over a simple dinner of (more) simple carbs, in advance of a 13.1, 26.2, or cover-as-much-ground-as-you-can-while-spectating footrace concluded, and Austin, Kel, Daniel, Flaco, Erick, and I retired to the Beachcomber, our digs, for bed. The homecooked dinner with friends perfectly aligned with the uncomplicated vibe that was already my Newport Marathon experience, what I had already felt from the town atmosphere on race eve, in general, and at packet pick-up, just a few hours earlier, and again, it was just… refreshing. No larger-than-life fanfare, no logistical nightmares to negotiate, just a bunch of runners coming to race in the Pacific Northwest on the last Saturday in May.
Saturday, race day
One of the nice things about routinely predawning is that, come race day, a 3:45 a.m. wake-up isn’t all that bad (though I’d advise biting your lip some and not excitedly professing that you get to sleep in 45 minutes, so as to avoid being unintentionally douchebaggy). Being in a condo full of other runners, and our supporters, brought a fun, communal energy that has usually been absent in the vampire hours on marathon morning, and fortunately for me, my usual schedule of the pre-race eating, drinking, and shitting traditions, went over without any hitches.
With a 7 a.m. start, around 6:15/6:30, Erick drove Austin, Daniel, Flaco, and me over to the starting area, about 1.5 miles away, while Kel began her long run and would later find us on the course. We soon realized that our property abutted the course, since we saw many walkers who had gotten an early start to the race, and seemingly seconds after we left the Beachcomber, we were parking in someone’s front yard area and walking to the starting line, atop a small hill and wedged between some green forestry and the Pacific Ocean.
With about 12 minutes before the gun, I had finally decided that I’d try one final time for any last-minute PRP business. I wasn’t at all interested or patient enough to stand in line at a bathroom, with roughly a million (eh, probably 20ish) women in front of me, since I hadn’t found the usual cluster of porta-potties at the race’s starting line, but remember that forestry I just mentioned? Yea. I cannot recall ever peeing in the woods, in the general vicinity of other men and women doing the same, immediately before a mary, but alas. I value efficiency and tried to avoid direct eye contact.
Just a few minutes later, Austin and I exchanged our final fistbumps in the corral, where we had haphazardly self-seeded in the absence of structured corrals–again, folks, super small race, and the only pacers were for 3:05, 3:35, and 4:xx+, well outside of what both of us wanted to do–and suddenly, somewhat abruptly, in the absence of a national anthem, we were off and quickly beginning our Newport jaunt.
Miles 1-5: 7:46, 48, 49, 53, 8:05
You can probably glean this a bit from the Google Maps shots above, but most of the course is one big out-and-back along the Yaquina Bay. The first ~4ish miles, however, and especially the first mile or two, seemed to have roughly 1209745 turns to negotiate. With the halfers and full marathoners running together, and me running in the thick of the first 10, 20% of the group, things were a bit crowded until around mile 2/3ish. I was delighted to run by our digs around mile 2 (and thus, have a beautiful ocean view), to see Kelly twice within the first couple miles (I can recall thinking, ‘she said 10k! This isn’t even 5k yet!’), and to see Erick, all before we ascended the same little mini-hill we descended at the start.
Kel’s colleague, Mark, whom I had met mid-run (literally– she saw him, said ‘hey! that’s my friend! right next to you!’ and introduced us to each other), threw his 13 years of Newport Marathon running my way for a few minutes, so I had a pretty good idea of when the little rollers would arrive–helpful for all the obvious reasons, including the small detail that the race didn’t post any elevation map (that I saw) on the website or at packet pick-up. He warned me that the biggest hill on the course would be between miles 4-5 (and later, between miles 25-26), and that miles 26-26.2 would be straight and steeply down.
My race plan from the get-go was to get that 3:20 monkey off my back and go for a small PR, a 3:19:59, which I felt confident I could realize if I paced intelligently. More specifically, I wanted a ~1:41/2ish at 13.1–and nothing faster than that–and promised myself to not even begin to think about picking up any speed until our turn-around around mile 15.8. I learned from Oakland that, uh, not surprisingly, it helps to look at your watch periodically, so I checked in on things with each beep and repeatedly saw 7:4x, right around where I wanted to be.
At the risk of sounding douchey, but also in the interests of transparency and, because, hey, it’s my blog, I wanted the first 13.1, and really, until the turn-around at 15.2, to feel pedestrian, even slightly uncomfortably slow. I usually structure my runs to be progressions, and particularly my long runs, so I felt confident that I could slowly hammer down on the final 10-15k; I just could not, could not, could not make a move before then. I attributed falling apart late in the game in Oakland to being just a wee bit aggressive on the front half (and through the hills, no less), so I was determined to be super patient this time around. In Chicago ’13, I kicked too early; in New York ’13, I kicked too late; at Newport, I just needed (and wanted) to find the sweet spot, the coveted Goldilocks locale of the 26.2 Newport jaunt that marked the “juuuuuuuuuust right” beginning of some fast marathon running. Until then, nothing. Absolutely, positively, nothing.
Miles 6-10: 7:49, 45, 44, 47, 37
And here we began the long out and back. Somewhere in the mix, I think between miles 4-7, we ran along a boardwalk area that featured lots of local shops, barking sea lions hangin’ on some rocks in the water, some sort of fish place on the water that smelled remarkably pungent, like gallons-of-the-smell-of-fish-being-shoved-down-your-throat pungent, but once we were over the hill that we wouldn’t see again until miles 26-26.2, as we were flying down it, we simply ran along Bay Blvd (which later became Yaquina Bay Rd), adjacent to the bay and nestled at the foot of some otherworldly green trees and backcountry. (Remember, CA is in a nasty drought right now, so I’m used to seeing hills so dry that they look like giant piles of sand. The green that was Newport, OR, during this race was like the green of the freshest bunch of cooked broccoli you could imagine. Crayola should take notice. You heard it here first).
For nearly the entirety of the course from here on out, I was running sola. I saw groups of runners ahead of me, and I’d focus on blonde ponytail in the red singlet–do not lose sight of blond ponytail in the red singlet (who I told myself looked a whole lot like BRC gal Lee Ann)–but I was in self-induced speed timeout and told myself, promised myself, that I’d pass every single person, with particular emphasis on the women, who passed me early on. This was incredibly challenging to do for several reasons, including a) running with a pack is (usually) significantly easier than running by yourself, so therefore, it’d seem in my best interests to try to catch-up early; b) letting others fly away, ahead of you, and trusting in your training and BELIEVING IN YOURSELF (obnoxiously all-caps here, I know, but seriously, this is fuckin’ huge) and your plan to run down all these other runners later requires not only an ample amount of confidence but also, to a degree, cockiness, which can be a weird juxtaposition to negotiate; and c) it’s just hard to wait. Being patient can suck sometimes.
The marathoners and halfers stuck together until around mile 8, 8.5, so for a while, I just concentrated on watching all the people in front of me and ensured that they stayed squarely in front of me for as long as possible. We seemed to be running in and out of a headwind, which, while annoying, I thought boded well because if it’s a headwind going out, then surely that’d guarantee a tailwind on the return. (Why I thought this was guaranteed is beyond me, especially after living in Chicago for over a decade, where it seemed that you always ran into a headwind, regardless of your direction of travel). At any rate, things were moving right along, and I was just enjoying the ride… while eagerly awaiting my turn to GO.
Miles 11-15: 7:34, 31, 36, 33, 38
Marathon training gives me a lot of time to think, particularly on the long runs, and my mind is usually all over the place. It’s an odd feeling because I’m “in” my run–if you’ve ever run with me, you know–yet I also simultaneously wonder about other things, often about other people in my life. Perhaps because I was running by myself for a lot of this run, and I was focusing on maintaining a conservative pace for much of the first 70% of the race, I felt like my mind was equally stuck on slow. slow. slow. and thinking about a flurry of my friends and family across the country. My memory gets stupidly (and strangely) encyclopedic with marathons, so I won’t tell you who or what I thought of along each mile, but chances are, if you’re reading this, I thought of you (and if you ask me, I could tell you where! or what I thought! again, stupidly encyclopedic).
Because of the way the course was set-up, it wasn’t super spectator-friendly, but the few who had camped out along the course were incredibly gracious and supportive. Seriously, how many times have you ever run by a handful of spectators and you get a sincere standing ovation, cheers, and remarks of gratitude for coming to run in their hometown? That’s what I’m talking about. I recall running past a guy and his dad who both stood up to clap for me as I ran by and excitedly said that they’d look for me on the other side, on my way back into town, once I got past the turn-around… and on my way back in, these guys were on their feet again for me. Seriously.
The spectators and aid station volunteers, many of the latter being Newport and Toledo HS students, made it clear for the entirety of the race that they were as, if not more, grateful to have the runners there runnin’ their roads as the runners were there to chase down their unicorns. This marathon was a fundraiser for the schools and their student clubs and athletics, so I have no doubt that many of the students who would eventually benefit from this race were lining the course, making those “good job, thank you for coming to run here!” remarks damn near chilling and even more meaningful. A hasty count on my part indicated that something like over 20 Newport and Toledo HS groups benefitted from this marathon fundraiser, so knowing that–and seeing these students on the course–made me feel like my silly footrace and unicorn pursuit actually did, for once, make some sort of societal difference. Again: refreshing.
As my race unfolded, I was right around where I wanted to be, I was feeling fresh, and I was just waiting… patiently… to go. I didn’t see any runners ahead of me take the oyster shots at mile 11 (!), and the same runners whose backs I had been staring at for miles at this point were still there. I didn’t fight the headwind when it showed up, and I felt like I was running at a pace that, if given the option, I could run all day long, something I would never imagine being able to say for a sub-8. I was running happy, happily running along, and before long, we’d hit our turn-around and it was time to start thinking about that which I had abstained from contemplating all marathon long: speed.
Miles 16-20: 7:29, 25, 26, 28, 30
As we got closer to the turn-around near 15.2, the lead runners began running against us (in a somewhat convoluted logistical fashion, worthy of the race’s reconsideration for next year’s run), and I began to scan for Austin and to count how many women were ahead of me. Austin flew by, cat-calling to me before I could barely acknowledge him. I counted at least 7 or 8 women ahead of me, running against me, before I stopped counting and thought that it’d probably be unlikely that I could run down any of them to realize my lofty goals for this race, a high AG and OA women’s placing. The turn-around was really abrupt and throw-down-the-brakes-worthy–in fact, the volunteer holding things down actually stood there, arms extended, crucifix-style, so runners wouldn’t blow through the turn. Much to my surprise, though, the closer I got to the volunteer and the more I slowed down so I wouldn’t trip over myself (because, like Zoolander, I can’t turn worth shit mid-run), the more I began to hear shouts of ERIN!!! ERIN!!!!! ERIN!!!!! and sure enough, Kel had somehow managed to get to that wildly inaccessible point of the course to cheer for us. Marathon spectating, and doing so on a course that’s not exactly spectator-friendly (or spectator-easy): that’s love, folks.
Finally, I had reached mile 16, about 90 seconds off pace from a 3:19:59, but right where I wanted to be, and all that remained was less than a 15k, a distance my training wouldn’t even consider a MLR. I could finally begin to think about speed and how to close this out, but I knew I needed to be mindful of kicking too fast, too early, lest I repeat Chicago ’13. Aside from the slight logistical clusterfuck of having inbound and outbound runners sharing one lane of a country road, in the absence of cones demarcating where the outbound and inbound runners should be (see above bootay pic), it was cool to see all the runners who had been behind me and to cheer for them all. Somewhat unbeknownst to me, or rather, perhaps at a magnitude that I didn’t quite realize at the time, I began to pick things up a bit much in this section, and I passed many of the people whose backsides I had been staring down for the previous miles. Of course, it was fuckin exhiiiiiiiilarating to pass people so late in the game, and I felt fairly confident that I could slowly and surely continue to kick it in for the final 15k. Oh, hubris…
As the miles clicked by, I continued the top-to-bottom assessment I had been doing all marathon long and decided that I still felt great, that all systems were go, and that getting back down to a 3:19:59 would definitely be work at this point but that it’d be doable because this is how I’ve trained… and in the self pep-talk department, I told myself that if I could throw down a double-digit negative split in Eugene a year ago, and a 6? or 4? minute negative split on the challenging NYC course, that I could handily make up at least 90 seconds. (Again, oh, hubris…). The headwind that I ran through earlier, the one I thought would assuredly be a tailwind, alas, was still a headwind, and between that and some unexpected (and beautiful) sunshine beginning to peek out, I knew I’d have to work my ass off for that 90 seconds, but that it was still in the cards. I just had a 15k to cover, “mere” single digit mileage.
Retrospectively, I think I missed a big cue from my body somewhere in this section. Even though the faster paces felt great–and remember, I had been waiting for the entire race to finally get some faster miles under me–I felt like things were tougher than they should have been. I attributed it at the time to the headwind and the warming weather, which surely makes sense, but I think I didn’t realize that I was slowly beginning to dehydrate right around here. I had been executing my fueling strategy like clockwork, as well as taking the on-course electrolyte and water at regular intervals, but I think that I had underestimated exactly how much (or how little, I guess) I had been drinking. Between the small cups and just the logistics of mid-run drinking, while I probably thought I was ingesting 4-6 oz, I’m guessing it was closer to 2-3. In the throes of the race, between miles 16-20, and particularly during the latter part of this section, I began to fantasize–strong word, I know, but yes, fantasize–about really big glasses of water. Hell, when we passed by the oyster shots table again, I momentarily considered taking some ice cubes that the oysters had been resting on (!!!!), and I wondered what the water in the bay would taste like. In the throes of marathons, though, I think crazy shit, so I didn’t think twice about what the not-so-subtle ramifications of daydreaming about fluids signified.
Miles 20-26.2: 7:51, 46, 8:04, 8:00, 12, 32
I excitedly approached the final 10k of the marathon still feeling pretty strong, although a bit weird, and when the wind intermittently made itself known, I didn’t fight it. I’d check-in with each beep of my watch to see how likely the 3:19:59 would still be, and I was determined to fight for it as long as I could. I was still passing tons of people, including some women who were significantly ahead of me at the turn-around, and having been there before in previous marathons, with dreams for the day dashed, my heart just fuckin’ ached for the runners I saw on the side of the road, with their hands on their heads, collecting themselves and willing themselves to just keep making forward progress.
This is both the beauty and the heartbreak of the marathon distance; you can witness firsthand, if not also experience, the swath of the human condition, from profound joy to incredible sadness (or suffering), and a host of other emotions and realities in between. Witnessing it and experiencing it can be nearly equally damning. It totally, absolutely, 100% blows to see other runners on the sidelines having to will themselves to go on, when the race that they want, the race they worked for over the past X number of months, suddenly is no longer feasible, and the best we can do, the only thing I could think to do in Newport, as I was running by them, was to throw some encouraging words at them. We’ve all been there; I sure as hell have, anyway.
Eventually, I found myself in pretty close quarters with a couple men, presumably triathletes and IM from their get-up, as well as one master’s woman, and I vowed just to hang with them for as long as possible–my first real opportunity at running with a pack in this race. Again, with the benefit of retrospection and hindsight, I’m thinking that it wasn’t until nearly miles 23+ that my long and slow accidental dehydration caught up to me, as well as the realization that beginning to hammer with 15k to go was probably too ambitious. Once I hit mile 24, I knew with certainty that unless something drastic happened, the 3:19:59 wasn’t mine for the taking that day. As long as I didn’t fuck things up too much, though, I could still score a low-3:2x and a massive BQ, so I shifted my thoughts from fuckin’ a, how did I screw this up again, to let no one be able to see that you’re disappointed…and at least try to make this a faster time than Oakland because Oakland’s a considerably harder course.
In fact, here is where my own words began to haunt me, stuff that I had written in an earlier post in the weeks leading up to Newport, about in-the-throes-of-the-race-attitude and how I gauge much of my “success” on race day according to those terms. The fight was on, with both my words resonating in my own head as well as several conversations I’ve had with friends this year who have trained like hell for their goal races, only to come up short on race day. Again, if you’re reading this, and you didn’t have the marathon you wanted earlier this year, at Boston, here in CA, on the other side of the world, or anywhere in between, I can almost guarantee that everything you and I talked about, I talked about with myself over the final 20 minutes of my Newport race. At any rate, I seriously considered the merits of taking walk breaks, simply for the hell of it, but I instead focused on trying to beat the master’s woman just a handful of paces in front of me. We were neck-and-neck for a while, but ultimately, she had a fifth gear that eluded me and beat me by about 10-15 seconds. More power to her; I want to kick as much ass as she does when I’m 40+.
Strangely, for as many marathons as I’ve done, this one had a couple firsts: as I wrote earlier, that pre-race piss in the woods, and around mile 25.1, a very late-in-the-race calf cramp so fuckin’ intense that, no exaggeration, my leg buckled, and I nearly tripped over… myself. Right as we were beginning to ascend the slow and long hill from mile 25-26, I felt a sensation in my left calf unlike anything I’ve ever felt before and so sufficiently drastic that I feared that I could have fallen over or seriously injured myself because it took me by such an enormous surprise, to the degree that I think it took my breath away. I finally began to connect the dots by now–thinking about the earlier fantasies about huge glasses of water, random teeny tiny side stitches, and now, a cramp, pretty sure my first muscular cramp ever–and I realized that I had surely dehydrated myself and just hoped that I could keep shit together for a little bit longer. Fortunately, the cramp was short-lived, but I remained hugely fuckin’ hypersensitive for the final mile of the race, out of fear more than anything else.
Just as Mark had said, atop the hill, right at the beginning of the mile 26 marker, a steep descent began into the finisher’s chute, and much to my surprise, I again heard calls of ERIN!! ERIN!! ERIN!! Kel, again, had managed to get from the turn-around to the finish in time to see me, and right as I began to pick it up again, as I was descending the hill and trying to finish in a low 3:2x, my right calf threw a similar SOS, though fortunately less magnified, and I just said fuck it. My biggest fear was that the cramp would intensify, make me buckle like the one in my left calf just a few minutes earlier, and that I’d fall on the course, with less than .1 to go, and somehow disqualify myself. I knew my impressively pedestrian finish would cost me around 10-15 seconds, but by this point, I felt like I was flirting with a potentially dangerous situation, and besides, the PR was gone. The BQ -a lot was in the bag, and it would still be my 4th fastest marathon to date. I just had to cross the line and hope that my calf–or calves, I guess–would play nicely for mere seconds longer.
Soon enough, I crossed the finish line, immediately felt like I wanted to spew–yet another first for me, post-marathon–and after meeting up with Austin, learned of his amazing PR (!!!!!!), further cementing his BQ (!!!!!!!!!) and chance at Boston ’15 (!!!!!!). A quick receipt print-out informed me that while I didn’t attain my A goal, all the lofty stuff that I wanted–a good AG and OA women’s placing–I did, again, much like how I fared at hilly Oakland (whose time I bettered in Newport by not very many seconds). Funny how the universe works sometimes.
Post-race, after pounding a ton of water and wiping the cakes of salt off my face (another first), I felt remarkably better, and solidified my assumption that my slow tanking over the final couple miles of the race, as well as the seemingly random calf cramps, were rooted in dehydration. While I was initially irked that I made such novice mistakes yet again during a mary, feelings of genuine joy for both Austin and Daniel’s races–pretty PRs for both–supplanted any negative feelings about my own performance. I was really happy with what I did, what I tried to do, and took a ton of mental notes to carry with me to my training for later marathons this year on my quest to rid myself of that damn 3:20 monkey. Seriously, you think this RR is long? I’ve got 8 handwritten pages of notes.
The thing about marathons, or really, about any race, is that if you’re racing 100% of the time to PR, you’ll be disappointed 99% of the time. I’ve raced enough to know this, and while I definitely give myself permission to immediately “feel,” for lack of a better word, after a marathon–to feel disappointment, anger, frustration, or whatever spectrum of feelings–I’m smart enough, or I guess “experienced” enough of a runner, to know that dwelling on whatever short-lived disappointment I have about not hitting an arbitrary time goal is just… foolish. And really, truth be told, I think it’s kinda douchey.
A year ago, if you would have told me that from January ’13-April ’13, I’d knock off 11 minutes from my marathon PR, knock off another ~40 seconds from April-October ’13, and then run consistently strong races on pretty tough courses from November ’13-May ’14, all in the in the 3:20-3:23 range, and some with hearty negative splits, I would have called your BS. Never, ever, ever in a million years would I have thought that I could churn out these times, and the fact that I did, the fact that on Newport race day, when I made some stupid mistakes, I still posted a 3:23, a BQ -12, just fuckin’ blows me away. This isn’t at all to profess that I’m blessed with speed or that Kara or Shalane should feel threatened; I’m merely imploring you, myself, all of us to think about shit like this when we finish endurance events.
In fact, come close for this one, dear friend. Let me let you in on a little secret, just between you and me. Tip your screen a little to ensure that this will stay between the two of us.
Are you ready?
The time on the clock matters, kinda, but in the long-term, it doesn’t: at all.
The experience–the steps you’ve taken to get there, the work you put in during the weeks and months of training preceding the race, the love and support you’ve enlisted and that which you’ve doled out from/to your friends and family, the folks who equally enable and empower you to go after crazy shit like marathons, and chasing down unicorns and rainbows, for no other reason than because you can, and because you want to–that shit matters. A time on a clock, not so much.
I say this not to undermine your or my or anyone else’s race times or PRs or BQs or PWs; they’re great and totally worthy of your, our, my pride. I guess you could say that this diatribe I’m on now is only my way of forcing myself, of forcing all of us, to remember to simply maintain perspective when it comes to this stuff. Perspective can be hard, but it can also be… refreshing.
In a way, I think not posting that PR time that I wanted is what helped to make the actual race part of my Newport Marathon experience refreshing. I didn’t perform how I wanted to, no doubt, but this race reminded me of why I keep coming back for more, and more, and more, at this distance. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to know that, even after 7 years of marathoning, and having run 22, now 23, of these guys, I still want ’em as much as they want me. There is always something to learn from them, be it about yourself, your training, your dreams, your character, whatever, stuff that a time on a clock doesn’t really reflect.
Again: process, not product.
Anyway, after a few hours and some much-needed showers, and following an AMAZING cross-country video-chat with Kel and my gaggle of DePaul women plus their kids and spouses in Chicago–Madison, Julie, Jackson, Paul, Stephanie, Amelia, Teri, and Molly (if you think my face hurt before, HOLY WOW did it after that)–Daniel, Austin, Kel, Flaco, Erick, and I returned to the finish line festival for the awards ceremony so Austin and I could collect our 2nd place AG awards. Following that, Kel and I headed back to Portland for some more galpal QT with Traci over delish vegan food, Cab Sauv and desserts at Kel’s. Our original plans of a parade and a vegan strip club (hey, when in Portland) were short-lived. (Thank you, marathon).
With just a handful of hours in Portland on Sunday before my flight, Kel, David, and I didn’t have a ton of time to meander around the city, but those two were excellent tour guides and helped close out my time in the Pacific NW doing stuff they apparently knew I’d dig: more vegan food; checking out the greenery and the view of Portland from high atop the hill where the Pittock Mansion lies; Powell’s Books, where I could easily lose myself and my life savings (as well as thousands upon thousands of dollars that I do not have); a dog park with their four-legged BFF, and yes, another grocery store.
The ol’ bod felt pretty great for the day after a marathon, even with 2.5 hours in the car immediately after the race, and similar to the immediate hours following the race, any sense of disappointment or discouragement I felt for not hitting my arbitrary goal time was completely and utterly usurped by feelings of genuine, heartfelt joy for the opportunity, yet again, to experience that which I so profoundly enjoy: rare QT with friends, more amazing vegan food, grocery stores, and bookstores. 😉
As I found myself at the PDX airport, devouring more vegan food (I’m telling you, I’m enamored), while waiting to return to my family and to share the details with them about my race weekend, I wondered where I’d begin or what I’d say. Surely I’d tell them that I didn’t hit my goal time, but really, did it matter? They’d want to know more about what our mutual friends were up to, how Traci was doing, how Kelly was liking her job, when they’d get to meet Austin (in August at Santa Rosa! Come run with us in wine country!), than about my mile-by-mile breakdown of a race, or where or how things fell apart, in a place that they’d probably never see for themselves.
Sometimes it takes having a moment outside of myself, a moment where I put myself in the other person’s shoes, that helps me gain a better and bigger, more profound, appreciation and perspective on my marathoning endeavors.
Earlier in my life, earlier in my marathoning pursuits, the time on the clock mattered the most, and without a certain magical arrangement of numbers in a way that conveyed the mystical time that somehow reflected my worth as a runner that day, I had nothing to say for myself, nothing to show for myself. That magical and mystical arrangement of numbers was what held the marathoning puzzle together, the glue that took a bunch of kinda disparate pieces and made them all flow together, fitting as one big unit, and in the absence of that magical and mystical number arrangement on the clock, that particular marathon race and marathoning experience and training of mine were worthless.
Now, however, that shit’s ancient history.
The glue that holds together the disparate pieces of the marathon training and racing puzzle isn’t the actual 26.2 jaunt itself, in whatever city or state I probably arbitrarily selected to run, but instead, the glue is those punctuations in time, the process I’ve taken over the past 7 years of marathoning, my fuckin’ amazing and inspiring family, the friends I have made from running and the friends who have been with me for forever, since before I began marathoning, yet who continue to support and empower and enable me to do this crazy shit–this is the glue.
That magical and mystical arrangement of numbers on a clockface make up just one piece of the puzzle, and one of those kinda inconsequential pieces at that–or, in the case of the Newport Marathon, one of those small, freshly-steamed-broccoli, refreshingly beautiful, Crayola green pieces, a miniscule image of just a teeny, tiny vein on a single leaf in the forest of a thousand luscious Oregon trees.
Thank you for all of your support throughout my training, over race weekend, and on race day.
All my love, and see you in Napa. –e