Race Report: Portland Marathon

Portland Marathon, Portland, OR – 10/9/2011

A couple months ago I noticed the Portland marathon was happening the day after my birthday. I decided that, instead of my usual birthday plan of getting hammered and staggering home around dawn, I would run a marathon. This would be only my second marathon, but I was far better prepared and in much better shape than last year. This would also be my first race as a (mostly) vegan. So, lots going on!

The race was Sunday, and on the preceding Friday I let myself go out after work with friends, intending to just have a couple of beers. Of course, it being my birthday, my friends also bought me a few shots. Of course, being me, I accepted, and what was supposed to be a quiet night at home, packing and getting a solid night’s sleep, ended up being one HELL of roving, rowdy party. Oops.

Michelle and I ended up leaving Seattle a couple hours later than intended, on far too little sleep and far more dehydrated than one would consider ideal in the 24 hours before a marathon. Ugh. I started chugging Nuun water, though, and hoped for the best.

We got to Portland about 3pm and had a late lunch at veggie joint called Bay Leaf. It was cheap, super delicious, with friendly staff and a very pleasant interior. I want one in Seattle!!

We then headed to the Silver Cloud hotel, which I’d got a great, last minute deal on via Priceline. After checking in, I left to get my bib at the downtown Hilton while Michelle explored the town. The expo was way far down in the basement, so far down that, in my sleep deprived state, I started to wonder if I’d fallen into a horror movie and there was something evil in wait on the bottom level. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and I got my bib unscathed.

I made it back to the hotel just in time to decide I was done driving for the day, as my brain was really starting to fade. We had a delicious, very affordable dinner at Pastini Pastaria. I allowed myself a glass of wine as I was worried that, having been awake for too long on too little sleep, I would cross the border from being fatigued to being wired. That one glass did the job just fine, though, and when I finally laid down after prepping my gear, I was promptly fast asleep.

In the morning I had my pre-race meal (brought from home) of quinoa and tomatoes with pepper and herbs, plus some Yerba Mate. I also had a glass of water with Maca and Chlorella mixed in (mmm… earthy… and green!). My diet’s certainly got plenty of variety these days.

I prepped a bottle of Nuun water to sip on in the hours before the race started, and a second bottle of plain water to be used with my recovery drink immediately after the race. My nutrition during the race was just going to be the gels I’d brought, and I knew the aid stations were stocked with Ultima, which is similar to Nuun (though I hadn’t had it before, which was a bit of a concern).

We drove downtown and parked near the restaurant I’d picked out for my post-race feast, then walked the half mile or so to the race start. Along the way we chatted with a nice, older marathoner who was doing his 12th or something, and swapped stories about big crowds, intense temperatures, future race plans and such.

We reached the start and hung around for a while, then found a Starbucks so Michelle could get some coffee. It was still only 6am by then, after all. She asked me what motivated me to enter these events, or what I get out of it. I replied with something along the lines of this: From one side, I get the goal of finishing that keeps me motivated to train and eat right. From the other, when I do finish, I get the tremendous sense of accomplishment that makes all that training worth it. Betwixt and between those ends, I get the weight loss and confidence boost as a side effect of all the training, and I’m just naturally happy, all the time, which was absolutely not the case before I found endurance sports in general, and triathlon in particular.


Around 6:30 my intrepid parents showed up, having arisen insanely early to make the three hour drive down. We talked about my goal times and the race route and their potential vantage points, and soon enough it was time to start!!! Except not quite. I had chosen a goal finish time of 4:30 (four and a half hours), which put me in the nearly-dead-last starting pool. We had to wait a good 10 minutes before our group was allowed to walk the remaining 4 block to the actual start line. Then it was finally time to start! Woohoo!!

The run course was festooned with a wide variety of bands, and I thought it was just because it was this marathon’s 40th anniversary. But no! They do this every year. Nice work Portland. You put Seattle’s marathon to shame. Shame I say!

Last year, I’d had only 2.5 months to go from 8 miles to 26, and then on race day I pushed myself and hurt my knee around mile 13… then kept going. It took months to get it back to something close to normal, and it still bugs me a little. It’s just left over scar tissue in the upper calf that’s slowly sorting itself out, but it’s annoying.

With last year weighing heavy on my mind, I tried to start off nice and slow. I kept reminding myself to have small, quick, light, happy feet. As long as I didn’t let my stride get away from me, I felt I should be OK.

The first six miles flew by, and when I looked at my watch I was shocked to find I’d been averaging close to 9 minutes per mile, which is faster than I usually run in training, and far faster than I’d run in any of my triathlons (which makes sense). This was the first opportunity I’d had to run on rested legs all year without swimming and biking just before it, and it felt great! I realized that if I kept it up I might even beat the 4 hour mark, which had seemed ludicrous to even contemplate. “small quick light happy small quick light happy…”

I hit the halfway point at almost exactly 2 hours. I was elated, but I also knew there was a massive hill ahead, and I doubted I could maintain my pace for another 13 miles. I stuck to my mantra, drank a cup of Ultima at every aid station and ate a gel every 30 minutes, and let my legs worry about the rest.

I saw my parents and Michelle here and there throughout the race. If you have the opportunity to go cheer a friend or family member on, please do so. It means a lot to us. We get a boost from the cheer itself, but also, keeping an eye out for your cheering section is a fun way to pass the time when you’re trying not to think about how EVERYTHING HURTS OH GOD OH GOD I WANT TO STOP and such.

I made it to the massive hill that takes you up to St. John’s Bridge, and actually managed to run the whole thing. Not very quickly, mind you, but I made it. Here’s a few shots of me after the bridge, which is after the hill, about 17.5 miles in:


My shorts look all billowy because they’re XLs that I’ve had for about a decade. I’m far below an XL now but they still work fine… I just didn’t realize how goofy they looked. I think I’ll have to make a change there.

They say that mile 20 is where most people hit the wall, but that hasn’t been the case for me as long as I’m eating my gels. Indeed, I still felt like I had enough energy to finish, I just didn’t know if I had the strength to finish in less than 4 hours. It really became a mental game at that point to keep my feet moving at a pace that would get me to the finish in time without burning too quickly through whatever I had left.

Around mile 22 I came up on another aid station, grabbed a cup, and was about to down the contents when I heard the guy I’d just taken it from call out “Last chance for beer before the finish!” Sure enough, there was beer inside, and it smelled so damn good I very nearly downed it. But I resisted, barely, and chucked it aside. That sub-4 time would be mine!

I increased my pace little by little as I went through the last few miles, grabbing at every last little reserve of strength, determination, and downright stubbornness I had in me. I had a full body glow of hurt going on, but in just a few minutes more it would be over and I could stop.

I rounded the second to last corner and checked my watch. I had 10 seconds to go, and more than 10 seconds left of road. I kept pouring on the gas and watching the seconds tick by and gave a nice audible swear as I hit 4 hours with one turn and a block to go. No matter. I dumped the last of the fuel on the fire and sprinted for the finish, coming in at 4:01.


 As soon as I crossed the finish line my left hamstring cramped up so much I could barely walk. I limped a few yards from the finish line, got my medal, and then stood there waiting for it to relax. A very nice medic walked even walked over and offered me a shoulder to lean on, but I knew I’d be alright in a minute. I don’t cramp up often, and when I do they go away pretty easily. Sure enough, I was soon able to limp more normally.

As I made my way through the finisher’s area, collecting my shirt, rose, seedling, medallion and charm (nice loot!), I was nearly overcome by the mix emotions I had going. On the one had, I had missed a sub-4 hour marathon by a damn block. On the other, I had beaten my goal time by 29 minutes, and shattered my first marathon’s time but over an hour. And in any case, I had absolutely given it everything I had. This was the first race in which I knew for certain I hadn’t held anything back, and doing so had left me feeling like an exposed nerve, happy, manic, distraught, and overjoyed all at once.

My slow limp gave me plenty of time to reign in the emotional maelstrom before I found my cheerleaders. We then made our way to my parents’ car, and then headed north to the restaurant, Santeria.

I’d picked Santeria as it had some vegetarian/vegan menu items, and excellent yelp reviews. Holy crap. We were all totally blown away by the quality, and quantity of the food. My dad was feasting on leftover chimichungas for days. I managed to finish almost all of my food, which was a vegan tinga, I think…

The traditional piña colada didn’t happen, though, as the bar was out of coconut, so I had to settle for a fruity rum drink. It was so strong I actually had to ask for it to be split into another glass and weakened, which may have been a first.

As we were settling the bill and getting ready to go, my mom returned from the restroom and promptly told us we all had to make sure we went as well before leaving. She paused, then elaborated in a scandalous whisper, “it’s in a strip club”. Oops.

I’d read on yelp that the restaurant was next to Mary’s, but I didn’t realize they were actually connected. Sure enough, I went back and there was a dancer up on stage, dancing for an empty bar. She saw my medal from the race and gave me a little applause, so of course I had to go over and give her a tip. We chatted for a bit and the bartender came over and joined us. It turned out they were both going to do their first race in another week or so (10k, I think), and were very excited at the prospect of getting medals. They were very nice.

Now it’s back to the training. My next race is the Seattle marathon, and, considering all the hills, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to match Portland. But hey, maybe if I don’t go out and get hammered 36 hours before the race… hmm…

(click the link for really neat stats!)

total: 4:01:00

placed: 280/607 in my division, 1528/3991 of men, 2197/8403 overall.

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