|And so it begins|
I was running at a 5 mile per hour pace—slow by most marathoner’s standards—but good for me. I knew I was slow and I knew I needed to kick up my speed in my training. But I was also fearful about injuring my left foot again, an odd injury where one of the bones around my ankle (what would be the equivalent of wrist bones in the arm) was swollen. Not broken—swollen. Let me tell you, a swollen bone hurts just as much as a hairline fracture (I’ve had one of those , too).
So I was slow. And getting slower.
At 1 hour, I’d covered about 5.5 miles. At 2 hours, a little over 10 miles. But at mile 15, I was about a half mile behind schedule. Looking back, I realize I started out too fast, for me at least (one of a few strategic and tactical errors for me). The Portland Marathon had started at 7:00, but my wave didn’t cross the starting line until about 7:19AM. The early morning was windy and cold—perfect weather for running. At 10:15AM, 3 hours later, at mile 15 the day was getting warm. When I hit mile 16, 3 hours and 18 minutes into the race, still running north on NW St. Helens Rd., with the St. John’s Bridge that marked mile 17 far in the distance, me low on water, my legs burning and my head filled with doubt, experiencing that spongy warm/cold feeling that suggests overheating—I stopped running.
I made the decision to walk for the next mile. I thought that would refresh my legs. However, what is between mile marker 16 and 17 is a hill that takes you 150 feet up to the entrance of St. John’s Bridge. That may not seem like a lot, but stretched over a very short distance, it’s actually quite steep. Now, I live on a very hilly island, so I train on hills all the time. But not usually after running 16 miles.
This is my big, shameful admission. Before running the Portland Marathon—my first marathon—I’d never run farther than 13 miles. It’s a mental barrier I’ve struggled with. I love to run, but get bored with the longer runs. They take up too much time. I’m too slow. And I get all wrapped up with my own doubts during the run and resistance to starting the run. This is why I keep running: to overcome these doubts and to master my mind and overcome my limitations.
Between mile markers 16 and 17, I had a few things working against me: I’d never run this far before and then charge up a long steep hill on a warm, cloudless day.
|Approaching mile marker 17 on St. John's Bridge|
|Tower on the St. John's Bridge|
|View from St. John's Bridge||Another view from St. John's Bridge|
Let this be a lesson to you, kids! You’re less likely to push through something so physically challenging if you’ve never given yourself the opportunity to experience it before, to know what to expect, to develop coping strategies for it. Not to say it can’t be done, but speaking honestly and with a deep sense of disappointment, I was unable to do this in my case.
That said, I did finish the marathon. By the time I came off the bridge, I knew my 5 hour finishing goal was blown. I was already a mile behind where I should have been. The rest of my run was punctuated by periods of uncomfortable power walking and painful running. When I ran, every muscle in my legs and feet screamed. My running buddy, Bob, had suggested that there would be plenty of food on the course and that I didn’t need to carry all my gear. But I’d read the running program and I knew all we’d find along the run was gummy bears and pretzels. I ran with two waste packs: one with my water bottle, a handful of easily accessible gels, and my inhaler; and the other smaller pack with replenishment gels as I ran out of them in the first pack. This worked well until mile 17 when I started feeling hungry for more than just fuel gels.
For those who don’t know what fuel gels are, they are highly concentrated, very sweet packets of jelly-like liquid, packed with simple and complex sugars, caffeine, electrolytes and other fun stuff. They come in all sorts of fruit, coffee, peanut butter, and chocolate flavors. There are also chewable gels, which make for a nice change in variety. What I realized midway through the run was I needed something more substantial, like actual nuts, or bread, or something. I’ll have to figure that out for my next marathons in November.
In the last 8 miles of the run, eating became an unpleasant chore. I grabbed gummy bears and pretzels with wanton abandonment and filled my water bottle as I passed aid stations. Every step became painful. I would shuffle past people, then start walking, and be passed by the people who I’d just passed. Then I’d start running again—shuffling is a better word in this case—and pass them again.
In marathon and relay circuits, when you pass someone, it’s considered a ‘kill’. If I run a race and pass 20 people on my way to the finish, I’ve made 20 kills. If you’re passed, on the other hand, then you’ve been killed. Needless to say, between miles 18 and 24, the whole lot of us were mutually assassinating each other over and over again.
|Broadway Bridge from N Interstate Ave|
|Portland Marathon Mix|
After the bridge, we ran down SW Broadway Ave., turned left on NW Couch St, then right (south) on NW Naito Pkwy. I knew I was close to the end, but it still seemed so far away. I wanted to stop moving desperately. NW Naito is along the river. That morning, we’d run north on Naito, hitting mile marker 5 at about this point. I walked quickly, trying to run a little as I could tolerate it. I turned right on SW Salmon St. I had been running and walking now for just over 6 hours and I was spent. I walked quickly up the 3 blocks on Salmon, running in the last block as I realized the end was around the corner. I turned left on SW 3rd Ave and ran as best I could the 1 or so blocks to the finish line.
Finally I could stop running, stop moving. I felt like an old man, hobbled, bent over slightly, my shoulders, back, hips, legs and feet all destroyed. A woman offered me a mylar blanket to keep me warm. I’ve come to love these things. I collect them now. I don’t know what I intend to do with them—some as yet unimagined art project perhaps. Maybe I’ll turn them into coasters (yes, you can actually turn your running bibs into coasters; kind of awesome, actually). Another woman placed a finishers medal around my neck.
Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. What had pushed me over the edge and forced me to commit to this marathon was my friend, Bob. I’d harassed him at some point about me being able to run faster then he any time because I was younger than he was (I’m 46, 9 years younger than he is). Never mind that he ran marathons all the time. The wager: loser buys the winner their choice of a bottle of scotch. I knew I’d be buying him his 15 year old Laphroaig. We joked about this the whole drive down from Seattle.
Bob greeted me as I walked away from the medal woman. He’d been there a while. All sorts of food was waiting for me. I suggested to Bob that I was going to sit down and he urged me not to, telling me I needed to keep moving, that sitting down would only lead to cramps. So I reluctantly did as he suggested, walking over to a table, grabbing two pints of chocolate milk and chugging them down. We wandered through the corral, grabbing more food. We picked up our finishers shirts and other little trinkets the Portland Marathon gives to the finishers—a memorial coin, a pendant in the shape of the finishers medal, and a rose. Portland is the Rose City.
|Marathon swag||Shirt swag|
Bob started driving back to Seattle. After about 30 minutes, we stopped for gas. I went inside to find the bathroom, then returned. As I got in the car and we started driving away, I turned to Bob and said, “Is it normal to have blood in your urine?” “No,” he laughed, “I don’t think it is.” (Runners are weird. We laugh as the most inappropriate things. “Hey, I think I have shin splints.” “Ha ha, so you do, that’s hilarious.”) So I pulled out my iPhone and went to the Internets. Turns out this is not an uncommon condition and comes from all the running and bouncing causing bruising to the bladder, making it bleed a little. From what I could read, the blood should all disappear by the next day or so. And it did.
I would do this all again. And I plan to next month. In November, I run the US Half Marathon in San Francisco on the 4th, the Nashville Ragnar Relay (a 12-person, 200 mile relay race) from Chattanooga to Nashville on the 9th and 10th, the Route 66 Marathon on the 18th, and the Seattle Marathon on the 25th. I also plan to run the 2013 Portland Marathon, this time under 5 hours.
It sounds insane and it is, but as someone once said, “Life is short. Running makes it feel longer.”
(c) 2012, St. John (Sinjin) A. Maloney