Thursday, October 9, 2008

Portland Marathon race report

I'm back after hobbling around the Oregon Coast the last few days so it's time to write this epic. Simply saying "I completed a marathon in 4:29:00" doesn't do justice to how things really unfolded.

Course map
Course elevation
The day started out well. I had a good night's sleep for the first time in days and the weather looked good. It was cloudy but dry.

We got lost on the drive to the start area and arrived later than planned. The lineups for the porta potties were incredible and I worried that I wouldn't make it to the start line in time.

In fact, I didn't make it to the starting corral before the gun went off but because it was a wave start I reached the 4:15 group just before we were ready to go.

I guess I was a bit flustered since I forgot to start my stopwatch and I didn't put on my knee strap which was still around my ankle. I noticed both about 2 minutes into the race.

I had decided that my goal time was going to be 4:15 and that I would stick with the 4:15 pace bunny. That plan lasted 4 miles. The 4th and 5th miles are downhill and I found the pace too slow. I felt that I was expending energy to slow down on the hill so I decided to break away from the pack and run at a comfortable pace (for me).

I thereby broke Marathons for Dummies rule #1: don't go out too fast (can you sense the foreshadowing?).

Anyway, I felt good as I ran past my wife as she cheered and took photos around the 5 mile mark. By this time I was feeling quite warm and, looking at the skies, it didn't look like it was going to rain (there's that foreshadowing thing again) so I gave her my hat as I passed her.

I soon decided to turn on my iPod. The course entertainment was fine (some really good) but I decided to take advantage of any edge I could.

Miles 7 through 11 are an out and back so on miles 7 to 9 you can see the leaders as they come back from the turnaround. I saw the 4:00 pace group coming back and I was about 8 minutes behind them. That surprised me a bit. I had had brief fantasies about catching up to them. I missed seeing the 4:15 group as I ran back so I had no idea how far ahead of them I was.

I took my first gel at 7 miles. Up until that point I had taken Ultima, Gleukos and water from the aid stations. Portland is a bit funny in that they serve an electrolyte replenisher (Ultima) which is distinct from their carb drink (Gleukos). Gleukos wasn't available at every aid station.

They also distributed gummy bears on course and I grabbed some. They were sticky so I stuffed all 5 into my mouth. It didn't take long for me to decide that this wasn't a great idea while trying to breathe normally. I decided I didn't like sucking on them and since I had just taken the gel I figured I had enough carbs for the moment so I started spitting them out. At the next aid station, I used more water to wash my hands than I drank.

Around this time it started to sprinkle. My decision to toss my hat was going to come back to haunt me. The rain progressively got worse over the next few miles but it wasn't too, too bad, perhaps even refreshing.

I passed the half marathon mark at 2:04:37. I was slightly ahead of a 4:15 pace and feeling good. Half way to the finish is a significant milestone in the mental game.

I planned to take my second gel at 14 miles. I ripped open the package just shy of 14 since I thought there was an aid station coming up (you have to drink water with a gel to avoid stomach problems). I ended up carrying the gel pack for almost 2 miles before I encountered the next water station.

Miles 16 and 17 are uphill leading to the peak of the St. Johns Bridge. That's a cruel place to put the steepest part of the course.

After mile 17, most of the rest of the course is downhill. I tried to think of this to keep my spirits up but I could feel myself noticeably slowing down.

Shortly past the 19 mile mark I was passed by the 4:15 pacer and his group. They didn't just pass me; they blew by me. This was very discouraging to say the least.

I reached the 20 mile mark and told myself that there was only 10K to go. However, I was feeling drained and rather than feeling good about that, I felt discouraged. Up until then, I had only taken short walk breaks at aid stations as I drank fluids. But, shortly after 20 miles, I took what turned into an extended walk. I tried a couple of times to start running again but I only lasted a few seconds.

I decided that I was done and figured I would walk the rest of the race. I even thought about the emergency money in my pocket and briefly considered finding a taxi ;-)

I took my last gel at mile 21 and also drank more Ultima to try and get in more electrolytes to ease the cramping. By this time my calves were killing me and I stopped to stretch them a couple of times.

The course goes more steeply downhill after mile 22 so I sucked it up and decided to try running again. I figured the downhill run would stress different muscles. I felt better and decided that running was less painful than walking. For the rest of the race, I only stopped at one more aid station before deciding I was done with walking.

With 5K to go I decided that 4:30 was still possible so I kicked it up a notch (as much of a surge as possible at that stage) and started passing people.

As we crossed the Broadway Bridge back into downtown Portland I continued to press forward. I was passing runners with many reduced to walking (much like me just a couple miles back) despite knowing that my running form must have been pretty bad.

I finished relatively strongly with the last mile being my fastest mile split of the last 10. I waved as my wife cheered me as I turned the corner down the finishing chute. I heard my name announced (amused as he struggled to pronounce my last name) as I crossed the finish line.

26.2 miles. 42.2 km. 4 hours and 29 minutes.

It wasn't pretty but I finished. I am a marathoner.


  1. What a great report! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Congratulations on a job well done! You are now one of the statistics! It goes something like this...only .1% of 1% of the worlds population have ever run a marathon!

  2. If you care to play along, I have tagged you! Check out my blog for details!

  3. This way, indeed, a great report! Congratulations and welcome to the world of marathoners Have you stared thinking about your next race yet???

  4. lol. I'm still in the "never again" stage of things.

  5. Congrats!! Finishing a marathon is a very big accomplishment =) It always get ugly at the end, especially if you start too fast... LOL This is something that is really hard to learn anyway!