The 41st Running of the Boston, no, the Portland Marathon

There’s something you may not know about our great city of Portland, OR.  You see, when it was claimed by the fine folks from the East Coast in 1842, they decided it needed a name in 1845.  One guy was from Portland, Maine and the other was from Boston, Mass.  They each wanted to name it after their hometown, and only a coin toss decided that the city would be called Portland, OR and not Boston, OR.  That’s what wikipedia told me today anyway.  So you can surely understand how I might’ve gotten confused and fancied myself running the Boston Marathon for a while today during the beautiful course in Portland, OR.  As a matter of fact, if I would have kept up my grueling pace that I set for myself the first half of the race, then I surely would have qualified for the Boston Marathon.  But then, “the wheels fell off” at around mile 14 or 15.

The marathon experience always begins with the Expo the day before the race where you can get your race number and lots of necessary loot.  I say “always” as if I’m an old pro at this these days, but this was afterall, only my second marathon!  I found myself wandering downstairs to pick up my number and timing chip.  The timing chip was a “D tag” with a video demo of how to fasten it securely to your laces.  Disaster.  I DON’T HAVE laces.  To the volunteer running the D tag demo: “Excuse me, what if I don’t have laces?”

“Who doesn’t have laces on their running shoes?”  she asked, honestly confused.

“Well, these are similar to the shoes I run in,” I said, pointing down at my VFF classics that don’t have any kind of a strap.  In my excitement, I couldn’t remember what the straps were like on my See Yas to determine whether or not the D tag would work on them!

“Oh honey, I don’t know, go ask one of the guys in the yellow vests.”

Yellow vest number one looked at me wide eyed, shrugged, and sent me to yellow vest number two.  Yellow vest number two delivered me some matter of fact news:  “You might as well give up now.  If you don’t have laces, you won’t get timed.  Do you really need to get timed?”  What?  Of course I need to get timed!  I’m racing, dude! 

I then found a booth called Register Solutions, which seemed like they should know the answer.  After waiting in line for a while, I got more wide eyed stares and finally pointed to a woman who was the head honcho of registration.  She wasn’t the biggest sweetheart you’ve ever met, but did have some facts for me.  I learned that the D tag had to be kept low around your ankle or laces to be timed accurately, which foiled my plan of just keeping it attached to my race number.  She then asked, “What corral are you in?  I mean, are you planning on getting some really fast time or setting a record so that you absolutely need to be timed?”  I didn’t know what corral I was in, so I held up my race number which determined I was in Corral D because I had put down a finishing time of around 4 hours just so I wouldn’t set the bar too high for myself. “Oh.  So maybe it won’t matter if you’re accurately timed or not.”   Ouch!  Just because I’m not an elite (yet hehe) doesn’t mean that I don’t care about my time!  I’m proud of my fellow D Corralers, we were hype!   

When I got home though, it turned out the D tag went on my shoes without any problem at all.  Check it out!

The morning of the race I woke up at 3:58 AM with a plan to be eating breakfast by 4:00 AM so that I would be mostly digested by the 7:00 AM start.  Breakfast included oatmeal with brown sugar, honey, 1/2 a banana, and 1 tbsp of coconut peanut butter from Earth Balance mixed in, a slice of Ezekiel bread (my hero Scott Jurek’s favorite) with the Earth Balance peanut butter and honey spread on it, a cup of coffee (my staple before races even though I never usually drink it) and 20 oz of Hammer Heed sports drink.  Good lord, I was full. But I knew that was a perfect mix of carbs and protein to get me through the 26.2 miles I was about to devour.  Not to mention the kick in the pants from the caffeine in the coffee.

When Mike and I arrived downtown, we quickly found Corral D and I warmed up for the race by running around a little bit.  I was also trying to (unsuccessfully) shake off the pre-race jitters.  About 30 minutes prior to the race I ate a Clif Shot chocolate flavor gel.  I like the Clif shots because they don’t seem to upset my GI tract and they’re mostly organic; clean eatin baby!  About 20 minutes prior to the race, I decided I had paraded around in my Boston Marathon sweatshirt long enough (a gift from marathon mommy before the Eugene Marathon) and stripped down to my racing gear.  Boy was I neon!!  It was supposed to be 38 degrees at the start, so I decided that my racing tank wasn’t going to be warm enough.  Obviously, I had to buy some matching neon yellow arm warmers at the expo because I NEEDED them for the race.

Can you see me??

I made a few friends in the Corral before the start of the race.  “Are you seriously going to run the whole marathon in those shoes??” asked a sweet group of girls running the half marathon.

“Yes!” I replied.  “If I tried to wear your shoes, I’d make it to mile 5 and have to be carried away by the medical team!”

Energy was high, and so was the moon.  It was really neat to start at dawn, with both the moon’s descent and the sunrise in the opposite corners of the sky.  Corral D got off to a fast start and we paraded our way through the cheering crowd and the otherwise quiet Sunday morning downtown area.  Before I realized it, there I was doing nearly 8 minute miles for a while.  I convinced myself to slow down because that was delusional, but I really wanted to catch the pacer guy doing the 3:55 pace so I sped up again.  I forgot, in all my excitement, that the 3:55 pace group had started in Corral C, so they actually started a couple of minutes before me.  What would’ve been 3:55 for that pace group would’ve been a few minutes faster for me, since I started in Corral D.  But I wanted to pass them anyway, so I gritted my teeth and passed them easily!  This is when I started getting nutty ideas about the Boston Marathon qualifying time which would have been 3:40, which I found out from my ultra running friend, Christy.

Christy and Brian are my new, cherished friends who also happen to be some of the biggest badasses I know.  They are both physical therapists, smart, soft spoken and some of the sweetest Tennesseans I’ve met.  They are for sure a power couple, who in their quiet demeanor will casually tell you that they run ultra marathons back to back for fun in some of the toughest terrain in the country.  Just two short weeks ago, Brian ran the Flagline 50K in Bend, OR and then turned around and ran the Portland Marathon today, destroying his goal time of under 4 hours.  He came in at 3:50:52 and looked like he’d just been for a walk in the park.  He was certainly a stark contrast to the corpse that I was, splayed out at the finish line with my legs straight up in the air!  Christy is also an incredible runner, but she pulled a stunt walking down a boat ramp a few weeks ago resulting in a broken foot and a temporary halt in her racing schedule.  I should note that despite the broken foot, she’s been aqua jogging for hours on end and still plans to run the exclusive Northface Challenge 50 Miler in December.  Geez, and Mike and I thought we were active people!  Much more to come about how these two inspire me to be a better, stronger runner.

At some point, I’m not sure of the mileage, I caught up to Brian who was running a smart race.  I, on the other hand, was not.  But I was having a blast!  There were pirates on the course for heaven’s sake, and those “Arrrgh!!!”  and “Aye matey!!!” shrieks were giving me more energy than I’ve ever felt in my life!    Brian and I ran together for some time and then I powered ahead, keeping up my ambitious pace.  It was probably around this time when I heard more and more people talking about the St. John’s Bridge.  This is known to be the pace killer and the solid wall that stands between a racer and the finish line due to the hill going up to the bridge.  It hits at about mile 16-17 when racers are weak and susceptible to the demons that whisper “You’re not going to make it up this hill, muahahaha…”

A particularly loud guy who was obviously a Portland Marathon Expert and pacing an elderly gentleman was telling anyone who would listen that the bridge was going to be your demise.  “Oh just wait, this part is flat as a pancake, but that bridge is going to kill you!  It’s straight up!  Get ready!” he was saying, while doing spin moves and random Air Jordan dunks at mile 14.  This must have been to show everyone just how fresh he felt and this was the easiest thing he’d done since putting on his Nike’s this morning.  The poor man next to him seemed to be annoyed as he shuffled along, trying to dig deep.  I’m willing to bet he was questioning his decision to have Mr. Air Jordan pace him.

I don’t know if it was the Air Jordan guy or my stupidity (likely the latter) that was the beginning of the end, but that “flat as a pancake road” leading up to the bridge was most certainly my demise.  We were in an industrial area with very little cheering and one abandoned set of speakers blaring something that sounded like it could’ve been music.  I felt myself slowing down, so I ate my Clif Gel earlier than I planned at around mile 15.  I planned to eat a gel at mile 8, 16, and 22 to properly fuel myself to the finish.  As far as I know, they only had Gummy Bears and pretzels on the course, which were far from appetizing.  The gel gave me a kick for a few minutes, but soon I found myself shuffling along, unsure if my legs were still moving or not. 

Finally, the hill going up to the bridge appeared.  Contrary to Mr. Air Jordan’s hypothesis, that bridge saved my life today.  I don’t know if it was a break in the monotony of the pancake road or the views that I knew were waiting for me, but I felt like a new person when I got to the top of the bridge.  I might’ve even been able to do a spin move; Mr. Air Jordan would’ve been impressed.  The views were breathtaking, and I think I got a little emotional looking at the surrounding mountains and the river flowing beneath us.  As good as I was feeling though, I looked down at my watch and realized I was still going slow and I was rendered incapable of moving my legs any faster.  I tried to make peace with this, and kept in mind that even if I did 10 minute miles at this point in the race, I could still easily make my goal time of 3:55.

I was trying to let gravity pull me down the hill when all of the sudden, Brian flew by me looking “fresh as a daisy!”  The lady from the Eugene Marathon flashed through my mind with her peppy sign that said, “Smile, you’re fresh as a daisy!”  That was the second time I got emotional today, because I knew that Brian was going to smash his goal time.  He was probably what pushed me to get through the rest of the race, because he was inspiring me to dig deep and get the thing done.  Afterall, he’d just hurled himself up and down mountains at the Flagline 50K two weeks prior, and he was looking like a beast.  Fitting, since the name he picked for his race bib was “MONSTER.”  Brian “Monster” May, it would appear I have a lot to learn from you sir, well done!

The last miles ticked by slowly and I tried to convince myself that I would finish the race.  Mile 25 was the toughest as before, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.  Then I saw Mike!  Mike was the person who got me to the finish, because I saw him about two blocks to go. I again gritted my teeth and my feet appeared to be moving.  I ended up finishing in 3:50:57, a chip time of 5 seconds slower than Brian.  What are the chances?!  When I crossed the finish, I must’ve looked pretty wrecked because a medical tent lady asked me if I needed assistance.  I looked at her, and I honestly wasn’t sure.  I needed something, but I wasn’t sure how they were going to make me feel any more alive.  I think I mumbled something like, “No, I’m fresh as a daisy,” and kept stumbling along.  I grabbed an electrolyte cup and a water, a couple oranges and a banana, but didn’t feel like eating.  I wandered around for a while and then decided (out of sheer necessity) to lie down in the middle of the street on my space blanket.  I guess others liked that idea because I was soon surrounded by a small group of similar looking corpses lying on our space blankets, feet straight up in the air like dead bugs.  We were a funny bunch though, and easily talked among ourselves sharing stories about our journey.

Finally, I slogged down to the reunion area and easily found Mike as well as Christy, Brian, and Brian’s sweet mother, who came all the way from Tennessee to watch him race.  I resumed my dead bug position for a while and was able to get up long enough to get some great post race pictures with our new friends.

Modified dead bug pose

  When I got home I dead bugged it for a while longer and then ate a delicious post-race meal.  I decided to go for a couple of Hammer Electrolyte tablets, more Hammer Heed drink, a banana, a black bean/mushroom/lentil/corn burger made by my wonderful husband on Ezekiel bread with vegannaise, roasted red pepper hummus, spinach and a generous heap of avocado.  Heaven!  For dessert, the vegan anniversary cake I got Mike and I for our one year tomorrow.

So would I do it again?   If you asked me around mile 14, I’d have had some choice words for you.  But now that the race has come and gone, I would absolutely do it again. Running brings people together doing something so human, so basic, and so raw that we not only race together, but we journey together.  Running a long race parallels our lives like nothing else I’ve found.  There’s hills, annoyances, and pain, but there’s also the sublime relationship you have with yourself and with others who are fighting the same fight.  For these few hours together, we are all connected on that race course and to the people cheering us on.  So when it comes down to it, the yellow vests were probably right.  The time itself doesn’t really matter, and whether you’re running the Boston Marathon or the Portland Marathon, you still get to take a 26.2 mile trip with some crazy good folks.

How to Recover From Your Running Disease(s)

I haven’t always been this way.  I haven’t always been vegetarian, and although I grew up as a pseudo on-again-off-again runner, I didn’t always stick with it.  What I can tell you is that I grew up with two active parents who have always quietly inspired me.  I say quietly because they never asked me to be a runner and they never asked me to be more active.  They simply lived by example, they walked the walk. 

When I was eight years old, my mother ran the Boston marathon.  It was April 18, which also happens to be my birthday, and I also happened to be a stinky, miserable mess because I had some unknown GI tract disease that I was sure was going to be my demise.  I have never been so pissed at my mom for not being with me at that very moment in all my misery.  I remember speaking with her on the phone, and she said to me, “Leigh, I want you to remember this day because you’re going to be proud of your mom one day for running the Boston marathon.”  I had no idea at the time precisely what that meant, but now that I’m adult, of course, she was right.  I’m not sure if it was that day, but somewhere along the way, my mom and dad must have planted a seed, because I now have a new disease:  The Running Disease.  It’s very serious.

Growing up, I ran a few 5k road races here and there, sporting some traditional, supportive, motion control running shoes.  Even at a young age I was told by running shoe gurus, docs, and the orthotist that I had another type of disease:  I was an Overpronator.  It turns out that this is also a very serious disease, because my shoes got more expensive and I had to wear something called custom orthotics, even in my soccer cleats!

Let’s jump ahead to my college years. I always owned a pair of running shoes, but they were quickly gathering dust in the corner.  The orthotics were moldy, I’m sure of it. I’d forgotten about running for a while and was known as the girl who brought a 6-pack of Bud heavy tallboys to the party along with a BBQ chicken calzone from Oscar’s in Knoxville, TN.  In case you were wondering, I finished all that.  By myself.  Also, in case you were wondering, a calzone consisted of a large pizza crust folded on top of itself to create the calzone.  More or less, (probably more) I was basically eating a large pizza to myself on any average Tuesday evening.  Real talk:  I was overweight.  I still remember the day that I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I was walking across my room in baggy gray sweatpants and bra.  My skin looked old, my hair was stringy looking, but most importantly, the face looked unhappy and swollen.  WHO THE HELL WAS THAT??  I suddenly saw myself going down a bad road.  Why didn’t I see it before? 

That day, I decided I was going to make a change.  I hadn’t been on a scale in years, so I hopped on my roommate’s scale to get an idea of the damage.  This was bad.  Really bad.  The next day, my beautiful roommate, Katie,  took me to the local Bally’s where she belonged and we did 25 minutes of running followed by 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer.  THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE.  After the workout, I was shaking like a leaf and starving, so I rewarded myself with a cheese pizza.  Afterall, I deserved it right?  I’d burned off all the calories, right?

Over the next 5 years after the gray sweatpants incident, I would lose a significant amount of weight through diet and exercise, but usually gained it back because I was doing the Lean Cuisine deal, the Lean Pockets (diet cheeseburger Hot Pocket anyone? Check out the sodium in those!!) Slim Fast, you name it and I probably tried it. 

I also attempted running again and was pretty decent at the shorter distances, so I began running 5k races again.  One day, when I was 21, I decided I was going to try to run a marathon.  I had some aches and pains, but I figured that comes with running.  Everyone gets hurt running right?  I went for my first 10 mile run without too much excitement except for some mean chafing between my thighs. Otherwise I thought I’d escaped unscathed.  The next day, THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE.  I had a new disease, the My Hip is Going to Fall Off Disease.  More about this in future posts. 

To make a long story short, I spent the next 5 years fighting different ailments that I associated with running such as Runner’s Knee, ITB syndrome, Leg Length Discrepancy, Possible Torn Labrum of the Hip, Iliopsoas Tendonitis, Tendonosis, Rectus Femoris Tendonitis, Lateral Ankle Sprain, SI Joint Pain, Low Back Pain, just to name a few.  Sound familiar to anyone?  :)  So what was the treatment?  There were many suggestions:

  1. Surgery to fix the torn labrum in the hip and torn ligaments in the ankle
  2. More expensive, supportive running shoes
  3. Custom orthotics because you are an Overpronator (which by the way, when combined with the most expensive stability shoes on the market may directly contribute to a lateral ankle sprain)
  4. Grow your left leg to be as long as your right (I still haven’t figured that one out yet)
  5. Stop Running

I gave number 2 and 3 a valiant attempt, leading to more and more injuries.

Then, there was one suggestion I had not considered before.  Steve Vighetti, a physical therapist at the University of St. Augustine, was assisting in my treatment for my lateral ankle sprain.  He was someone that I greatly respected, as he was a FAST runner, and the go to guy for running injuries.  In fact, I was calling out splits at our school’s 5k sporting my sweet boot for my sprained ankle when he ran by.  Or at least I think he ran by.  All I know is, someone flew by with a cute little boy in jog stroller, his hair blown back, cheeks flapping in the wind, giggling uncontollably.  I’m pretty sure the guy pushing the stroller was in first place at that point.   My sweet friend, Melissa said, “that little boy probably thinks he’s in a wind tunnel!”

Anyway, Steve kidnapped my expensive running shoes one day and pulled out my custom orthotics, my medial wedge for my Overpronation, and my heel lift, and threw them on the floor like abandoned children.  “What are you doing?” I asked him, terrified. “I NEED THOSE!” 

“Do you ever think that all this junk may in fact be your problem?”  He asked me matter of factly.  I’d never thought about that before.  However, that day, Steve successfully planted another seed.  Fast forward another 3 years, and I now have another disease: The Barefoot Running Disease.  This is by far, the best disease of all…

So you see, I haven’t always been a barefoot runner, and I certainly haven’t always been vegetarian.  What I know now is that my lifestyle choices today allow me to feel more alive and more excited about running and eating than ever before.  The journey to today has not been an easy one, and this is why I need to share my story.  I’ve had as many or more running injuries as the average runner, and I’ve struggled with eating for most of my life.  Today I feel like my body is strong and lean, and ready for the upcoming Portland Marathon with the support of plant foods, my Vibram Five Finger See Yas http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/products/Five-Fingers-Seeya-Womans.htm, and my loving husband, Mike.  This will be my second full marathon and I hope to follow it with a 50 miler next year.  So here we go, come along with me.  Happy Reading!