Portland Marathon 2014 ~ Part the First
Well, this was the big one. I had promised myself I would attempt a full marathon in 2014, just two and a half years after I had taken up running seriously (taken up running at all).
My promise to myself in 2013 was to run a half marathon, and I did. (See here and then here.) I’ve since run three more of those (with another on the schedule for next month). But a full marathon, well, that’s a much bigger challenge. Those half marathons were not easy, and this would be double that distance, that effort, that pain, that endurance and doubt and self talk. And the training. I don’t feel as though I had trained well enuf for a full marathon. I kept meaning to do better, go farther, train harder, but something else always seemed to get in the way. That’s not acceptable, of course, and the consequence might show up on the course. (And really, it’s more than double the effort to go double the distance.)
And so it came time to deliver on my full marathon promise. I had actually registered for the Portland Marathon last fall, on the day the registration window opened. That explains why my bib number, in a field of around 13,000 runners, was 322. I picked Portland for two reasons. My son lives there, and he has become a runner in the last year. He and I ran the Vancouver USA Half Marathon together on Father’s Day this year. So I had a running partner already lined up for this full marathon (and I had free lodging in his spacious and nicely appointed townhouse). The second reason was because the Portland Marathon has been voted one of the top three marathons to run as your first. Portland is a runner-friendly town. During this marathon, there is plenty of entertainment (alas, wasted on me as I plod doggedly on), and frequent aid stations (about every two miles) including several with Gummi Bears. (Not my first choice for on-course energy replacement since I’m a mouth breather when I run, and chewing anything can interfere with that.)
In the week before the run I was resting and carb loading (pasta for dinner!) and slamming bottles of Gatorade (to goose my electrolyte levels — at least in theory). I’d also been accepting many words of encouragement from my running friends, which I’ve learned really can make a difference. I had taken an extra day off of work before we left just so I could have a whole day to myself, to pack and repack and check and recheck and pace and fret. I got my hair cut (to be streamlined and to lighten the load) and trimmed my toenails (realizing that it’s possible I will lose one or two regardless). I checked the Portland weather almost hourly (and it looked ideal). I weighed whether I should bring my white running cap or my black one. (I brought both.) Debated how many back-up pairs of shorts and shirts I needed to pack (one extra pair of shorts, two extra shirts). Checked (and then supplemented) my supply of GU. Doubled down on my supply of safety pins (to affix the GU to the waistband of my running shorts). I did all of the obsessive things I could to feel prepared and keep my mind busy.
At the end of the day on Thursday I tried to fall asleep but mostly tossed and turned and then woke on Friday before the 3:00 a.m alarm. We had a 6:00 a.m. flight to catch, and with nearly an hour’s drive to the airport, we were on the road shortly after 4:00. And then, I felt, the part of all of this that was still in my control was over.
We arrived in Portland just before noon of Friday. My son, Adam, was waiting for us at the airport. We were whisked from there to his place where he left us to attend a meeting at work. I trudged our bags up the 32 steps from his garage to our bedroom, and then waited. Adam was home soon enuf, and with an afternoon to fill, we decided to head over to the race expo rather than wait until Saturday to do so.
The expo was held at a downtown hotel and for some reason it was held on two different floors (I guess because it was so big). I’ve seen both extremes at expos. Generally they are packed with vendors and displays and even lectures. But occasionally they are little more than a few card tables set up in a corner of some random venue. (I even went to one in a bar.) The Portland Marathon expo was one of the former. We picked up our bibs and timing chips in the deep basement of the hotel and then proceeded to the upper level where there were vendors of all sorts (beer and wine and college recruiters and Army recruiters and physical therapy and massage therapy and socks and shoes and gear) with everyone offering some kind of freebie to drop in our goodie bags. I took the chance to talk to the rep for the shoes I run in. (I’m having a little problem with the insoles not staying in place as I run. I was a little alarmed that he’d seen this problem with these shoes before. His suggested solution: double-faced tape. I’m not too keen on trying this for the first time on a full marathon, but I also don’t want to get blisters from wayward insoles.)
With that little worry behind us, we returned to Adam’s house to spend a quiet evening. Plans changed, though, and we went out for pizza and beer and conversation with some of his friends who were also running on Sunday. That was cathartic, and when we got home later, I was ready to go to bed. That left only the entire day of Saturday to fill before the main event.
Saturday was low-grade terror for me. We rose early and decided to drive the course just to get a mental map of our trek and to begin our calculus about where we would meet our demons. It happens that the early part of the course (within the first four miles) runs only about two blocks from Adam’s townhouse, so my wife and his wife and assorted friends and camp followers would be able to walk to the course and cheer us as we come blistering past. It took us an hour and a half to drive the course (which included a couple of wrong turns and a stop at a grocery store for some dinner fixings). It happened that we saw several other cars matching our twists and turns and tentative stops at intersections. Driving the course does two things for me. It helps me get familiar and comfortable with the challenge before me. And it terrifies me because I see the enormity of what lies ahead.
During the day we managed to snag some double-faced tape and I tried affixing it to the insoles of my retired running shoes (same brand and model). The solution seemed to work, so with much hesitation I then doctored my dedicated running shoes the same way and crossed my fingers. The insole (only on my right foot for some reason) slides back and then up behind my heel. That part isn’t really a problem, but it leaves my toes touching the edge of the front of the insole, and I expect that to lead to blisters. I can feel this when it happens, so I intended to be mindful of it during the race (as long as I still had a mind, that is) and stop as necessary to make adjustments.
Saturday ended with a tasty Persian dinner (a little more than I intended and a little later than I intended) and then early to bed. All that was left was to try to sleep before the main event.