Sunday, October 04, 2015

Portland Marathon -- A Fun Race to Pace

I had a great time pacing my friend Dana in the Portland Marathon, in her attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Her qualifying time requirement is 3 hours 45 minutes, but because the Boston Marathon is so popular and because the fastest runners have priority (within each age group), she really needed around a 3 hour 42 minute finishing time in order to get into Boston in 2017. (The 2016 race already sold out.)

I'm grateful to be in good enough shape that I could confidently run with her as a long training run, since I'm training for Javelina Jundred, a 100 mile race in a desert in Arizona, just four weeks later. And pacing a friend is a great way to experience a race without beating yourself up too much and risking injury.

The weather was nice and cool and all systems were "go" for having a good race. There were 5,710 finishers in the full marathon and 2,145 finishers in the half-marathon, so there were plenty of people around, but it wasn't a massive crowd like the biggest marathons. The starting area was very well organized and there were plenty of porta-potties. There were no drop-bags allowed, but Dana's mom took our warm clothes as we got ready to run. (Note for next time: spectators are allowed in the corals and so Dana's mom could have gotten our clothes from us at the last moment.)

The National Anthem was sweet in that we were started off with a professional, but then the whole crowd sang the majority of the song to ourselves without help.

Promptly at 7am, we were off! The crowds were well spaced out and we could run right from the start line. (We started in the second coral.) We quickly ran through China Town. When I bought lunch later that day, the woman who served me said she was one of the drummers at this arch! Cool! The city was very supportive of the race.

I loved the fall colors of all the trees. Portland is a beautiful city.

Dana was running well and we were just a bit slower than the conservative pacing plan we had. I carried my compact camera and a laminated strip of paper that had the mile splits for two plans -- the "Dana" plan, to finish in 3:37:33, and a more conservative plan, to have slower miles in the beginning and to finish in 3:41:08.

I felt good, although I felt the urge to pee early on; I didn't say anything to Dana about it and eventually the urge faded.

There was plenty of music along the way. Nice!

The only part of the course that was merely ordinary was this industrial section where we went out-and-back. Still, the hills in the background were very pretty. Somewhere along the way, Dana reported that her legs felt heavy and sluggish. Still, we were keeping on track, and we were gradually increasing our speed.

This turn-around near mile 9 was fun -- bubbles and cheerleaders!

After the turn-around, we started slipping in our schedule, and the 8:30 miles were creeping up to 9 minute miles. Dana requested walking or stopping briefly at the aid stations to try to recover. I gave her updates about our progress and asked her to be mentally ready to push harder in the second half. As the miles ticked by and as we were falling further behind schedule, my sense of urgency and alarm went up. I tried to use some tricks that have helped me in races, like focusing on someone ahead and just catching up to them and then pausing to catch your breath. I tried running in front of her, to both motivate her and to try to block the headwind. I encouraged her to run the shortest possible route between curves in the road. Somewhere around mile 11, her Garmin GPS watch battery died. When we got to the big hill at mile 17 that ascends to the St. Johns Bridge, I told her to run every step of the steep uphill. She did and we passed plenty of runners.

St Johns Bridge
She was holding steady but just could not speed up to the required goal pace. I encouraged her to eat an extra energy gel, 20 minutes earlier than planned. I refrained from eating my own remaining energy gels, just in case she needed them. (The race offered gummi bears and pretzels as food sources.)

She ran hard all the way to the finish. I'm proud of you, Dana! We finished in 3:55:05.

My Garmin data: