Second of all...as always, bless running.
And living among mountains.
This past weekend was a wonderful respite from the "real world", as Alan and I made an Oregon road trip out of the weekend and spent our time taking my little Passat for a grand adventure through mountain passes, by lakes, along babbling rivers, into the woods, and through a few new towns. The whole weekend was all in the name of the Eugene Marathon, about which I wrote a story for Outdoors NW last spring and was registered to run in 2010 until I injured myself about a month out. Bummer.
This year, however, my body has held up to the training I've put it through. Maybe it's the new shoes (running in lightweight, neutral shoes for the first time, after a lifetime in stability shoes), maybe it's all the trail running and hills around Seattle strengthening my muscles, maybe it's just getting smarter about my training over the years...but in comparison with my last marathon, this one was a blazing success.
We began the weekend by driving down to Eugene - Tracktown USA, and home to many running greats throughout history including the late and great Steve Prefontaine - for the Expo. We stopped in Portland for lunch that day, finding (as we did for the entirety of the weekend) little hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop restaurants along on our way on Yelp. Family-owned Lebanese restaurant? Heck yes; 5 stars for the Nicholas Restaurant.
Guided again by editorial I've done for the magazine, I was really interested in checking out Bend (there will be a little mini-story of mine in the upcoming Outdoors NW about trail running in Bend!), so Friday afternoon, we started driving east in Oregon on the beautiful McKenzie Scenic Highway. The Forest Service campgrounds, sadly, were still closed for the season - the mountain pass along that highway peaks at about 5,000 feet, and the snow was still quite ample up there - so we wound up pitching a tent in an RV Park in the woods.
RV parks...never my first choice, but it was a surprisingly beautiful one, and I felt sufficiently tucked away in the forest in our cozy little REI Half Dome.
The following morning, we slept until the sunshine woke us up, and then made the rest of the drive east to Bend. Bend was a blast. The weather was incredible, and we spent an entire relaxing Saturday exploring town.
Our afternoon included: getting brunch at the lovely CHOW (thank you again, Yelp), strolling along the Deschutes River that winds through town, checking out Bend's REI, stopping by Fleet Feet to meet and chat with the Patagonia-sponsored runner that I interviewed for my story on Bend, and polishing off the afternoon with a couple microbrews on an outdoor terrace downtown. And I have to say, I think Oregon kicks Washington's butt in microbrew-land. Alan's 10 Barrel Brewing Co. S1nist0r Black Ale (Bend) and my Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar (Eugene) rocked both of our worlds.
Anyway. We drove back to our campground that night, stopping in Sisters for dinner at an old hotel renovated into a sweet saloon-type restaurant called Bronco Billy's for my official pre-marathon meal (grilled salmon, rice pilaf, and a skewer of grilled veggies = yum!) before cruising through the mountain pass at sunset to return to our campsite. Beautiful drive.
Us with the Sisters mountains in the background.
Sunday morning, the alarm clock went off at 4:30 a.m. By the light of my car headlights, we took down camp in record time (it was freeeezing cold out), hopped in the car and hit the road for Eugene. The weather, again, couldn't have been more ideal - perfect sunshine, and temperatures ranging from 42-55 degrees in the morning (68 later in the day...).
The starting line, outside of historic Hayward Field.
The marathon itself was incredible - beautiful course along rivers and trails and through beautiful wooded areas as well as quaint residential areas, full of energetic spectators, great musicians along the sidelines, and pretty flat and fast overall. And yes, I ran the whole thing with my camera (in a pocket of my hydration pack, but easily accessible while running.) I am that devoted to you all, my blog readers. :)
It was the opposite, in many (good) ways, of my first marathon in Seattle in 2009. I obviously went into this one with a great deal more long distance running experience under my belt; when I ran Seattle, 26.2 miles was the longest I'd ever run before. At mile 20 of Eugene yesterday, I thought, woohoo, only a 10K left; thank goodness I don't have to run 31 miles today!
I fueled much better this time around, taking in gels or shot blocks or squeezable packs of almond butter at 30-40 minute intervals. I stopped at every single aid station for a cup of Gatorade, and sucked down water from my pack on the run. I'm pretty sure I remember only stopping at a couple aid stations in Seattle for water or Gatorade, and only eating one (maybe two?) gels. Whoops. Live and learn.
I also ran the first half much slower. With Seattle, in my excitement, I accidentally clocked a 7:02 mile early on, and crashed and burned with 10:00+ miles and a lot of walking at the end. This time, my slowest mile (9:02) was my first, and my fastest (8:12) was, of all things, the 21st...and my overall pace got faster and faster as the race went on, with the final six miles, despite my muscles starting to burn, my fastest pace of the entire marathon.
I blame (a word I use in jest) my unexpected 3:45:16 clock time on the 3:50 official pacer. I started out the race way behind him and the pack that ran with him, beginning conservatively and really enjoying the first half of the race at a leisurely pace. I honestly had no ambitions with this marathon, except wanting to do the whole thing without walking (like I did during the last 6 miles of Seattle) and secretly hoping I'd beat my time...but not feeling very confident about it. But at some point, I caught the 3:50 pacing group, somewhat to my surprise, and was still feeling very strong; I ran with them for awhile before feeling confident enough to push ahead.
And push ahead I did! I lost the 3:50 pacing group for a few miles, and felt like I was maintaining a good, strong pace. I indulged in the glimmer of hope that I might, in fact, catch the 3:40 pacer - when all of the sudden, there was that darned 3:50 pacer again, right on my heels, and pushing what suddenly felt like a VERY hard pace. This was about mile 19, when my legs were just beginning to really feel it. Seven miles away from the finishing line seemed too soon for me to start really racing (vs. cruising comfortably), but I was determined not to let that darned pacer pass me - and there he was, chasing me down.
That sense of competition pushed me to my max. I felt unsure my legs were going to make it, but I kept reminding myself that I'd trained for this, I'd fueled everything perfectly, and there was no logical reason for me to not be able to finish the race strong - despite my body protesting and trying to convince me otherwise. Fortunately, the scenery along the river for the final 7-mile stretch was beautiful, the crowd support amazing, and before I knew it, there was historic Hayward Field and the finish line, and an unexpected miracle time on the clock before me. I finished strong, at a 7:44 pace for the home stretch into the stadium, but with next to nothing left in the tank: just the way you want to finish a race.
Best quote from my blog entry about my Seattle marathon: "3:45 would have been great, but that's what next time's for, right?"
Next up: qualify for Boston! I was 4 minutes and 17 seconds away from a 2011 Boston qualifying time...but they've just made the standards even more rigorous, so my goal for my next marathon, whenever that may be, is to run a 3:34:59. It's going to be hard to top this experience, though. Eugene for the win.