Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Portland Marathon 2009 Race Report

Garmin overall course map

Garmin chart (green is elevation and blue is pace)

I am a slacker when it comes to reporting on my races, no? Well, I’ve finally gotten the chance to sit down so here it goes…


This is my second marathon. My first was October 2007 in Chicago, the infamous hot/humid race that was cancelled midway due to people dropping left and right. I never did a report on this race because I was so pissed and sick of thinking about running. I did the Hal Higdon training plan and I vaguely remember only loosely following it. I slacked off on a bunch of runs because I had done an 18 week program that just seemed to drag on. I decided to really focus on the long runs toward the end and I did. I think I was conditioned pretty well and my goal in Chitown was to break 4:00. I think I would have easily done it. However, due to the awful conditions I finished in 4:55 – I walked half the race.

I stopped running for about a year after this. I got so burned out and I’m kind of an all or nothing girl, so I just stopped. I think I got in a few runs but nothing consistent. Then last summer I moved to Portland and something kicked in. I watched my husband finish last year’s Portland marathon and walked away inspired. I needed to redeem myself for Chicago so I signed up for Portland 2009 on the day of the 2008 race.

Then I started running. I went to the Niketown group runs and really struggled through any type of 8:xx pace for 3 or 5 miles. I couldn’t believe how hard it was getting back into it. I met some really fantastic running-minded folks that made training seem more alluring. I started using the blog again. I met Shawn and brought him on to help me train for a half in January. We started with a two mile time trial on Duniway track the day after my birthday. It was hard but I’m so glad I have that benchmark to show me how far I’ve come.

Fast forward through a bunch of races over the winter, spring and summer. In July I finished an Oly triathlon, then took two weeks off before starting to focus on the marathon again. This ended my coaching with Shawn, who had since moved to Austin. I decided I was ready to do this on my own, but still having great support from a ton of experienced and encouraging friends. I used Jen’s Pfitzinger book to create a training plan. I only had about 10 weeks to work with so had to re-formulate the plan to fit to my situation. I created a marathon mantra too. Dork!

My consistent running for about a year really helped my training this time around. I had some off days but for the most part feel like I rocked it. I had a couple of really good long runs that gave me huge confidence boosts. I had initially given myself a goal of 3:30 for the race, but knew deep down that would be nearly impossible. I wanted to shoot big so I could have no worries in finishing under 3:40:59 (Boston-qualifying). When I was doing the happy birthday half with Jen I told her that no matter what happened in the actual race I felt like I accomplished my goal. I really truly was feeling great about life and running at this point.

The week before the marathon I had a bunch of family and friends in town, then got married at a remote location outside of Portland. This took up a lot of time, emotion and energy and was luckily happening during my taper, but I definitely didn’t get in all runs as planned. Oh well. It was an awesome time of my life and I couldn’t be happier. I really think that the marathon training helped the wedding planning and vice versa.

After the wedding we spent a few days in Bend, OR just decompressing and relaxing. My parents came back for a night before heading back to MI and they went to pick up the race packets with me, which I thought would be fun for them. It was fun, they are pretty cute and I think it is funny that I still get slightly embarrassed at their “I’m-from-Wisconsin-Emily’s-Mother” schtick. (My sister lives in Boston and told me she was spreading the word to all of her friends that I was trying to BQ – I was pissed at the potential jinx!) Anyway…Friday at the expo was good, it wasn’t as crowded and went quickly. I still did get a little shaky, with the realization of the race settling in. This is probably where I started to get nervous… I ended up purchasing arm warmers (Asics) from Fit Right NW. Weather forecast was high 40s at the start and I just wasn’t sure. I’m really glad I bought them.

My mom and I went to Salvation Army to get throwaway clothes for the start. I opted for some snazzy side-snap basketball pants and a hoody (half off!). I spent Friday night at home getting my entire package together. I’d been waffling on my fuel belt and ultimately decided to ditch it. I’d have Josh meet up with me at various points with my Gatorade mix and I’d just jam the shot blox within my two sports bras. Another good decision. I put together my mix then poured them all into disposable mini-sized bottles that had a spout at the top. It was actually kind of difficult to find the right bottles but I’m also glad that I did. I get obsessed about this kind of crap so I’m glad I had it all taken care of two nights before the race.

Speaking of crap, I also put together a marathon diaper bag. In drumming up my worst-case scenario I imagined crapping myself, so to leap that hurdle I bought Wet Ones and put them in a large Ziploc bag along w/a second pair of shorts. I instructed Josh to carry this with him in the case that I’d need to change along the course. I was 75% joking, but also 100% serious. What is wrong with me?

I also decided to ditch the HRM as I don’t really use that during racing or ever afterwards, only for novelty. I wasn’t going to chafe myself up over 26.2 miles for nothing.

The day before the race I literally sat on the couch with my feet up all day. Our friend who lives in Denver, but stayed in Hood River for a month over the wedding, came out to our house. He’s a great runner and was happy to help be part of my support crew for the day. It was great to have him come to occupy Josh’s time the day and night before the race. They went out that night and I got into bed around 9:00 with a book. I surprisingly fell asleep and slept well until my alarm went off. Crazy - I am usually a horrible sleeper!

Race Morning:

I decided to wake up at 3:45 to simulate my usual long run days, running many hours after I’ve woken up. I’m just not a morning person and I found this was the most comfortable way for me to get my runs done. What can I say, I am lazy? So I figured I’d suffer this one morning, plus I knew I’d have no problem getting up and fired up right away.

I woke up right on time and fixed myself some coffee as well as a bagel.

Race Strategy:

My initial goal was 3:30 but as I got closer to the race I knew this would be a stretch goal. 3:30 is an 8:00 pace so I figured that’d be easy to go by and calculate throughout the race. I printed out a pace band for 8:00 miles. My plan was to not go too much faster than 8:00 miles during the first half, then at the half analyze how I was feeling and either kick it up or slow it down. Just run my own race. No headphones, nothing but me myself and Irene. I knew no matter what I would be in pain in the last 6 miles and I had mentally prepared to push through that physically, emotionally, etc. I felt confident.

Start Line:

Josh and Aaron dropped me off in the dark morning streets buzzing with people running around here and there. I wiggled my way toward the starting area and decided I need to pee one last time, so got in line for a portajohn. The lines weren’t that long but it was slow slow slow going. After about 10 minutes I really started to get annoyed. I was like 15 feet from the front and no one was moving! I was also about 5:00 or less before the start so I knew any chance of getting near the front was gone. I finally got in and out and headed a little ways over to the start. Sure enough, crowds just absolutely crammed in together into a tight fenced off area. I found the entrance to the fence on the side and again wormed my way as close in as I could. I decided there to take off my throwaway stuff and start w/my shorts, shirt and arm warmers. I was nervous but super excited to get started.

And They’re Off!

I was in the 2nd or 3rd start wave…I crossed the start line about 2:00 behind the real start. Surprisingly I didn’t have to weave too much. It wasn’t like Chicago where there were literally mobs of people just shuffling through the start. I did my usual sneak around the sides on the curbs and cursed those spectators with their cameras right in my grill. Was I encroaching on them or vice versa? Regardless, the first mile or so was kind of interesting with all of the dodging.

I kept trying to repeat to myself to take it easy and not start off too fast. I promised myself and others I wouldn’t do this.

I got a photo from Kristen whose husband was quick firing random shots at the start and captured one of me! Crazy since we don’t know each other and her husband especially doesn’t know me! She left me a comment after the race and said she knew right away it was me when she saw the pic. Isn’t that awesome? I love it! This is the only pic with my arm warmers up, as I ended up rolling them down into badass wrist bands a few miles in.

The first 6 miles are so are a loop South from downtown, then back up. I was just focusing on finding my pace during these miles and trying to enjoy everything going on around me. People weren’t very packed in but I was definitely surrounded by people – noticing that some were chatting with their running partners and some were already wheezing. I wanted to just keep it slow and go my pace. There was somewhat of an uphill on Mile 3 that slowed me down but for the most part I had to hold myself back. Running felt sooo easy but I knew if I let myself go I would pay for it later in spades. So I just tried to slow down. I took these moments to shake out my arms and keep my upper body limber since I knew everything would feel bad later on.

Somewhere around Mile 5 Zach appeared on his bike next to me with his camera in tow. He took some pics and I felt like I was in really good spirits at that point, just again trying to keep my pace right on. I thought I lost him for a while then he re-appeared, this time taking a video from his phone. Crazy guy! I apparently should not be recorded during a race as my profanity reaches a fun level. Sorry children!

Mile 1 = 7:40

Mile 2 = 7:57

Mile 3 = 8:15

Mile 4 = 7:35

Mile 5 = 7:40

Mile 6 = 8:00

Taken by Zach around Mile 5

Another one by Zach at Mile 5

More from Zach at Mile 5

Zach's video from Mile 5 ish (click to view)

Somewhere around Mile 7 - Josh's 1st handoff of fluids to me.

Miles 7-11 are a narrow, kind of annoying out and back along an industrial area. This was where my first meet up with my hubs and friend was to be. The friend was the designated photographer and Josh was the bottle-handler. I was so excited to see them but didn’t slow down much as I was in my groove. At this point I caught up to the 3:30 group. This was odd to me considering I was 2:00 behind the start (the pace groups started in the 1st wave). According to my watch I was ahead of a 3:30 pace and given the extra 2:00 I knew these people were going pretty fast. I sort of didn’t want to catch them because that meant I was going too fast. And there was a huge pack of runners. After running just behind them for a couple of miles (miles 9 and 10) I realized that they were not running an 8:00 pace, but more like 7:45. Not for me suckers! I stopped paying attention to them and just settled back into my own thing.

I got to see Josh again at around Mile 10 (?), which was cool.

Mile 7 = 8:03

Mile 8 = 7:50

Mile 9 = 7:46

Mile 10 = 7:45

Mile 11 = 7:54

The next couple of miles go through the NW 23rd area which is a lot of retail and residential so there were quite a few spectators out. I was sort of zoned out and it took me a while to realize where I actually was. After this you’re put on another busy road that goes for a few miles until the St. John’s Bridge. I remember seeing Zach somewhere in here, but not sure when or where. Maybe it was at Mile 13? Who knows, but it was really awesome to have my own personal cheering squad in the middle of nowhere like that. I am grateful for the support and so happy he was able to come out and help me. Thanks Zach!

At about the halfway mark there begins the gradual ascent to the bridge, peaking out at the middle of the bridge at about mile 17.2. Miles 12-16 were interesting…the crowds of runners had thinned out and I was realizing how f’ing fit all of the people around me were looking. I made sure not to get intimidated by this. This whole part is on the gravely shoulder of the busy road and not very exciting. I heard coaches running w/their students talking about the challenge of the bridge ahead. I’d heard a lot about this bridge but strangely wasn’t too nervous about it. It is a bridge, so what, its not frigging Mount Vesuvius, right? I figured I’d put my head down and shuffle uphill for a mile or so then just get back at it. But the talk around me and fear of the hill didn’t help so I just tuned them all out. I was still feeling pretty damn good. The weather was perfect, it actually started to feel cooler so I untucked my sleeves from my shoulders and felt very comfortable. At this point I’d gotten a few Gatorade throw aways from Josh and chugged every last drop before making them litter. I think I’d started to consume Gu Chomps at some point – taking half the bag around Mile 10 and the other half around here? I really don’t know actually.

Mile 12 = 8:02

Mile 13 = 7:41

Mile 14 = 7:57

Mile 15 = 7:55

Mile 16 = 8:06

Mile 17 = 8:33 (the bridge)

The bridge ended up being okay, not as bad as I’d expected. I definitely slowed down but I really think my training runs across the I-205 bridge (huge gradual hill) helped me here. Once I brought my head up I recognized that I was on the other side of the river and had less than 10 miles to go. Whee!

Somewhere around NW 23rd

Halfway mark?

This is around Mile 11...

The next few miles were uneventful. People were starting to stop and walk a little. I could see the city in the distance to the right and got a little discouraged with how far away it looked. My legs didn’t feel great but what can you expect? Lots of people out on the street having house parties and I wished I could stop and hang out with them for a while. Weather seemed a little sketchy but held without any rain so that was good. I saw Josh twice I think in here and he handed me another Gatorade. I stopped at basically every water stop during the race so was doing okay on fluids. I think I ate some more of the stuff I had crammed on my person and didn’t need the extra nutrition that Josh had for me.

Mile 18 = 7:52

Mile 19 = 8:08

Mile 20 = 8:22

Mile 21 = 8:28

Mile 22 = 8:11

As you can see I was starting to slow down on those miles. My plan the whole time had been to re-assess at mile 20 and figure out what I needed in order to finish in BQ time. I was about 2:31 into the race at mile 20, so had roughly 1:09 to finish 6.2 miles, which I figured to be a pretty slow pace and I knew I could do that. I still wanted to finish strong but was happy I didn’t need to bust my ass harder. In this stretch of 5 miles I definitely was drifting mentally but wasn’t too far gone. I was really zoned out and just focused on putting one foot in front of the next.

Miles 23 and 24 were the last stretch on the East side and kind of in no man’s land. I decided to walk through water stations here, but forced myself not to stop completely. At this point many people were stopping to stretch. I needed it but knew I could go without it, plus didn’t want to risk cramping up. I was happy here that I hadn’t gone out faster at the beginning.

I had expected to see Josh at Mile 22 but found out later he couldn’t make it there in time. It was fine for drink/food cause I had plenty and I don’t even think seeing him would have helped any mentally. My friend Steve jumped out of nowhere and ran next to me for about a half mile before going over the bridge. It was cool, I totally wasn’t expecting it. He told me I looked great and I was glad for that but I remember telling him I’d never taken my body to this point before.

During these miles I was foreseeing myself in the future wondering if I could have run any faster. My current self response was NO! Trust me future Emily, this is fast as you can go right now!

Mile 23 = 8:00

Mile 24 = 8:49 (uphill of the bridge)

Crossing back over I knew I was in the final stretch. I was amused that there were so many water stations in the last 2 miles. WTF, you’re almost there. I skipped all of those and just tried to relish the last moments of my race. I was so happy that I was about to be done and proud of my training and everything I’d put into the race. I was thinking seriously about those beers I was going to have after the race along with hot steamy piles of food. I couldn’t wait to just stop. And LIE DOWN. But I had a few miles to go so kept trucking along.

In the last half/quarter mile you have your usual fanfare – people screaming, etc. I saw Jen just as I was coming in the 2nd to last turn toward the chute. She was hooting for me and I could tell she was pumped. I think I smiled? It was awesome to see people I know on the course. The last turn is deceiving, you think you’ll be right at the finish but there is another good 200 yds. I rolled my eyes and was like COME ON! I had no kick left in me but kept on through to the timing mat and then STOPPED RUNNING.

Mile 25 = 8:08

Mile 26 = 8:26

(the last bit registered at .43 in 3:47/8:47 pace)

TOTAL TIME = 3:33:04 (official)

Handoff around Mile 18

The end looks pretty far around Mile 18

Going for broke! Or rather, is broke.


I staggered through the line to get my medal, rose, silver blankie, etc. All I really wanted to do was just lie down. I wasn’t feeling sick or awful or anything I just needed to lie down so I found a bare patch of sidewalk and did it. I was alone and just lying there. It felt awesome, but my legs were very tired. Race volunteers don’t like it when their participants look like they’re dead so I was quickly asked to get up and keep walking. I think that 20 seconds on the ground helped me survive the rest of the day. I continued to walk through the endless finishers area – took an “official pic” on the podium, then found my people.

We took a bunch of post race pics and reveled in how awesome I was. Jen was so excited that I qualified for Boston and I was secretly thinking “Wait, I have to do this AGAIN?” Then we spent the rest of the day drinking all over town, then came home, made a fire and drank some more! I had a fantastic day, so much fun, so much support and good vibes.

Follow Up:

It has been over two weeks now since the race. Aside from a .5 mile treadmill jog then a 13 mile hike on Mt. Adams I had done nothing until yesterday’s 7.2 mile run then yoga. I must admit that I lost my soreness pretty quickly after the race so was sure the recovery would be easy. However, after today’s easy run that I attempted I’m not so sure. More on that later.

I am really excited that I did the race and qualified to run Boston. The race is obviously a huge one, but also meaningful to me because my sister lives in Boston, in fact only a few blocks from the course. I am pumped to bring Josh out and make a trip out of it. I’ve been to Boston a million times and never witnessed the race. It is going to be awesome. Josh and I are talking about possibly going to Europe from there…who knows? I really need to start traveling more so this would be perfect. I’m just excited that I’ll have my family and people all there (as well as a million other people) cheering me on. I plan to start training in late January or early February.

Now that the Big Events are done I’m feeling itchy to start something new. My job isn’t fulfilling me much right now so I am going to start thinking about how to cure that. In the meantime I’m focusing on recovering, relaxing and enjoying my home, friends and married life!


Amy - the gazelle said...

awesome race report! Although I wouldn't trade my marathon for anything, I am a bit jealous of the hometown support you had!

You did such a fantastic job! I am so proud!

jen said...

Yaaay! Great race report. I'm so amazed at your performance, it was perfect. You're awesome. It was great to see your achievement and celebrate with you after. :)

kristen said...

Fantastic race report!! It's great how everything fell into place for you. I'm majorly impressed. It was cool to read this and know exactly what part of the course you were talking about. I'm also so excited to hear about your boston training.

p.s I watched the video and bonus - I got to see the wedding montage! Very cool.

Alisa said...

This is a great race report. You ran such a smart race. I love that you were telling your future self things along the way.

Did you really run the race without music????!!!! Are you crazy!?!?!

I lived at mile 22 of the Boston marathon course when I lived there, you'll have a blast. The whole city shuts down to spectate!

Alisa said...

P.S. Wish I could have been there to spectate!

Zach said...

Nice report and congrats again on Boston!

"Hot Steamy Piles of Food" - words that were not meant to go together.

Aaron Cunningham said...

Congrats on your BQ, and fantastic race report!

Petraruns said...

Fantastic report - well done on such a well executed race plan I clearly have something to learn from you! I'm impressed with your strategy and your ability to stick to it - really good stuff.

Can't wait to meet up with you in Boston - and then maybe in Europe?

KK said...

Fantastic race and congrats on the BQ!

Aron said...

wow i loved every word of this race report... CONGRATS emily!! you did SO amazing and sounds like it was just an incredible day, or i should say incredible couple of weeks!!! what amazing support you had out there and you ran such a great race :) i am soooo happy for you!!

Marathon Maritza said...

Great report! It merits another CONGRATULATIONS!!!! WHOO!!!!!

Also for goodness sakes, stop putting pics of your enviable gams right smack in the middle of the report, I kept getting distracted!

Happy Bday and Honeymoon today!