Marathon #2 is in the books.
84 hours ago I was closing in on the finish line at the Newport Marathon, on my way to an unofficial time of 4 hours and 12 minutes (official race times aren’t available yet). If the 4:12 stands, that’s a 24 minute PR compared to my first marathon last October. More importantly (yes, really), it’s 17 minutes faster than Oprah’s finishing time when she ran the Chicago Marathon in 1994. I had designs on beating her 4:29:15 in Portland, so it was hugely satisfying to crush it in Newport. And no, Oprah doesn’t know that we’re in a fight. Now I’m gunning for Sarah Palin’s 3:59:36 when I take to the streets of Portland again on October 7. The goal after that? Well, I’m not really ready to talk about it in specifics yet, but it’s a city some miles east of here that is home to a little ball club that I am the tiniest bit fond of… But like I said, let’s put a pin in that for now.
There are some things you need to understand if you want to fully grasp what it meant to me to run in Newport on Saturday. Like I mentioned briefly last time, I spent a lot of time in Newport when I was a kid. The whole of the Oregon coast has a special place in my heart, but Newport is hands down my favorite spot. Our family trips there were full of traditions that remain some of my best memories to this day. One of these traditions popped into my head on Friday morning during my last pre-marathon yoga class and I was suddenly as sure as I’ve ever been about anything in MY ENTIRE LIFE that not only would revisiting it be extremely good luck for the race, but if I didn’t do it, it would surely ruin the race. So, it was with fingers crossed that I uttered the following words to my dear friend and traveling marathon supporter Caitlin when she picked me up Friday afternoon to head to the coast, “Um… So… I know where I want to eat tonight for dinner and I’m pretty sure if we don’t go there it’s going to ruin the marathon for me. I… uh… wanttoeatatSizzler.”
Blank look, followed by look of horror, followed by something along the lines of, “OH. MY. GOD. DISGUSTING!”
Sizzler. Are y’all familiar? So here’s the deal. When I was a kid, we’d roll into Newport for the weekend on Friday evening. We’d drop our stuff at the timeshare my parents were part owners of, then head to Sizzler for dinner, followed by a trip to Safeway to pick up some groceries for the weekend. During the Safeway trip, my brothers and I would be allowed to pick out one candy item each. I got Red Vines, Jeff got Reese’s Pieces and David got Hot Tamales. EVERY TIME. This was tradition, people. Is anyone who knows me well still questioning how I ended up being such a GD sappy, nostalgic slave to routine? Anyway, the Sizzler trip was far and away the most important step in the process in my mind. I LOVED Sizzler. More specifically, I loved Sizzler’s Malibu Chicken. Like, head over heels, want to marry it and have ten thousand of its ham and Swiss cheese covered babies love. The problem was that I also loved Sizzler’s all-you-can-eat salad bar. There was a menu option that allowed for one piece of Malibu Chicken, baked potato and all-you-can-eat salad bar. Awesome, right? Wrong. I wanted the Double Malibu. So, okay, fine. Double Malibu Chicken with one trip through the salad bar was also a menu option. Nope, wrong again. My 5 foot tall, 72 pound self wanted Double Malibu AND unlimited salad bar (which also came with dessert). This led to – and I’m not exaggerating here – years of epic battle royales with my mother. She would remind me of the last time she’d caved and let me get the mega meal and how I hadn’t finished all the chicken. I would promise that I’d eat it all this time and that last time I wasn’t as hungry as I was now and really really really I was totally STARVING this time! I would even start the negotiations/manipulation before we’d pulled out of the driveway at home by saying things like, “Oh my gosh. I’m SO hungry right now. I can’t wait for dinner!” I think eventually I just wore her down so much that she stopped fighting it and let me order the damn meal every time.
Anyway, back to present day. By the way, does anyone even remember that the point of this is supposed to be recapping a marathon? So, Caitlin grudgingly agrees to go to Sizzler on Friday night. She did ask the very reasonable question, “Uh, is this really the best meal for you to be eating before a marathon?” OBVIOUSLY. Didn’t I tell you that the race would be ruined without it? It’s not about the nutritional value, it’s about the tradition! So we went, I ordered my beloved Double Malibu Chicken dinner WITH all-you-can-eat salad bar and high-fived my ten-year-old self on yet another Sizzler victory.
Before we left the restaurant I made a quick trip to the bathroom to wash the chocolate syrup from an overzealous visit to the dessert bar (also reminiscent of my childhood behavior) off my hands. When I walked into the bathroom that looked pretty much the same as it did twentysome years ago, I did the thing that had been just below the surface all night. I totally started crying. Normally I’d offer that if you find yourself at 33 years old crying in the bathroom of a Sizzler on a Friday night, you might want to examine where in your life you went off track. However, these were happy tears. Despite the fact that most of my memories of that bathroom are of being hauled in there by my mother to be told that if I didn’t pull myself together, not only would I not be eating Double Malibu that night, I wouldn’t be eating SINGLE Malibu that night or ever again, they really were happy tears. It was all just too much. It was Friday night in Newport and I was eating at Sizzler and I was going to run a marathon the next day and my God, guys, it was like… Man, dreams really DO come true.
Bless your little heart if you’re still with me at this point, by the way.
So who wants to hear about how the actual marathon went?
After a few hours of Christmas Eve-like non-sleep, I got up at 4:30 Saturday morning in order to give myself plenty of time to get ready and not be a stressed out freak show. Some coffee, oatmeal, banana and quick shower later and I was out the door. There was a race shuttle to the start, where I had a leisurely 25 or so minutes to check my bag, visit the porta and take some pictures of one of the best pre-race views I’ve ever seen.
This race was capped at 1000 people, which meant that the start was not ridiculously crowded (Portland’s nearly 8,500 at the start was not something I was prepared for) and I was relaxed and happy going into the race. Also, the weather. WHOA. It was perfection. Cool but not cold and misty but not pouring. The rain was actually awesome and felt great the entire time. It dried up by the end, but running in rain for at least 13 or so of the 26.2 was heavenly. The course was almost entirely flat, which surely helped my time and also – combined with the glorious lack of altitude – made the whole thing positively dreamy. It just felt so damn good to run. The first four miles of the course headed north along the coast for a bit and then wound through town before dropping down under the bridge and along the bayfront. But to leave it at that last sentence would be a huge disservice to how great those four miles were. First of all, crossing the start, looking to my left and seeing the ocean? What?! Even though I have known for months that this race was in Newport, a coastal town obviously, there was something about seeing the beach Saturday morning while running that filled me with intense joy. AND, no more than two or three minutes into the race, I looked up and saw not only the ocean and then… directly in front of the ocean, so that I was looking at both of these things AT THE SAME TIME, a Golden Retriever. And for the second time in less than 12 hours, it felt like all my dreams were coming true. Also for the second time in 12 hours, I got teary. Because once I got past the dog and the ocean, I still had the rest of the miles through town to deal with. I ran by Nye Beach (home of much Robinson family agate hunting) and down to the bayfront past the Wood Gallery and Mo’s and Aunt Belinda’s Candies and so many other places that, if you disassembled me into all my parts, would make up a large chunk of who I am. I think it was as I ran down toward the Nye Beach parking lot that I had the very clear thought, “It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I saw some weird, parallel universe, ghostly version of my family circa 1989 walking on the beach right now.” It was just… too much… and just enough and strikingly perfect all at the same time.
Thankfully, once we hit the hill at mile 4 and headed out along the Yaquina Bay and River estuary for the bulk of the race, I was able to rein it in. I don’t have any great and emotional memories of the road to Toledo. And then I got serious about running. Save a brief episode around mile 7 where a tiny goblin took up residence in my left IT band and spent some time traveling up and down it, alternately carving at my hip and delivering sharp stabs to my knee, things were great! That bit of unpleasantness was (I’m pretty sure) the result of a slight grade in the road that threw my hips off. I spent 7-8 fighting off a tiny panic attack, then pulled it together, slowed down a bit and when the grade disappeared, so did the goblin. There wasn’t a whole lot of thinking happening for the first ten miles or so. I decided to forgo water and a bathroom stop until after the halfway point because I wanted to see if I could run 13.1 in under 1:55 (my previous half PR). I had this silly notion that if I could do that, a sub-4 hour marathon might be in the cards. The first half felt great and at 13 I stopped for water and a quick trip to the porta and was back on the road right at 2:00. Frankly, I entertained the sub-4 idea for far longer than it was ever actually a possibility. It was a fun game to play with myself for a while and also fairly mind boggling that there was even a moment when I thought it might happen. After my first full in October, I figured sub-4 was a goal for a couple years from now maybe, but after Saturday, I’m ready for it.
Caitlin and Nora, my gorgeous and wonderful traveling race supporters were waiting for me at the turnaround at mile 15 and man, was I ready to see them. They were cheering and smiling and taking pictures and just generally being awesome. After Portland last year, I finally understood the importance of race support. I can’t even call this a complaint because of how much I loved Saturday, but smaller races beget smaller crowds. Don’t misunderstand, there were still LOTS of people out cheering like maniacs, but the numbers were obviously fewer than Portland and it made me appreciate even more how much energy I drew that day from the crowd. It also made Caitlin and Nora’s presence at miles 15, 19, 22 and the finish that much more important to me. Girls, THANK YOU so veryveryvery much for being there. Caitlin also managed to capture, at mile 15, the best race photo of me that will ever be taken. And no, that is not a challenge to myself to have a better photo taken someday. It just won’t happen.
Once I gave up the sub-4 dream, I started negotiating with myself. “Okay, so if I finish in 4:08, that’s a 28 minute PR and since your birthday is November 28th, that would be nice.” Nonsensical, I know, but it gave me something to think about during that 17-24ish period where the miles stretch both behind and in front of you in a way that is simultaneously exhilarating and daunting. One of the Newport Marathon’s charms (?) is that they offer oyster shooters at mile 11 and then again when you come back by at 19. The course record for oysters eaten during the marathon is 80. EIGHTY. 80 oysters eaten by a human being who was in the middle of running 26.2 miles. As far as I can recall, I have never eaten an oyster. Most people cautioned me against trying my first one during a marathon. I was all on board with that until Friday morning, shortly after my mid-yoga Malibu Chicken epiphany. Suddenly, eating an oyster at mile 19 seemed like just the thing. Praise the gods of good sense that I cast that idea aside about the time I passed the oyster stand the first time at 11.
Once I hit mile 24 or so, I was getting mighty slow, but then I’d get an unexpected burst of energy and be able to kick it up for a bit. At that point, I was offering grateful smiles and thank yous to every single person I passed who was cheering. And yeah, there were some more tears. I passed a really sweet guy who was out with his young son watching and cheering on wife/mom and they offered some of that encouragement to me in the most genuine and heartfelt way. Shortly after I passed them, there was a woman who was gesturing toward the road like a crazy person. I ripped my headphones out of my ears in time to hear her say, “Four-tenths of a mile! From this spot on, it’s only four-tenths to go!” And then she just kept talking and shouting and telling me how awesome I was and how I could do it and how it was so close and I just wanted to grab her and drag her with me and listen to her for the next four-tenths because I loved her SO DAMN MUCH.
This is what you need to understand, people. If you go out and are a marathon spectator, strangers are going to fall in love with you. Lots of them. I got home on Sunday and read a race recap from a woman who ran the Pittsburgh Marathon the same day I ran in Newport. What she wrote is EXACTLY how I feel. “I recognized the strange irony. I run to get away from people. But in the end, I’m not sure I could have finished without them.” I run alone. I prefer it that way and likely always will. I run to get away from people, namely myself, but I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much if I didn’t have support. The support of strangers on race day, for sure, but also the support of all of you who ask how training is going, come out to watch me race, text me the night before and the morning of, call and email after, offer encouragement and advice and say the thing that means the most to me (and which I feel a little weird admitting to here), “I’m proud of you.” So many of you have said those words to me over these last days and if I haven’t expressed enough how grateful I am for that sentiment, shame on me. Thank you. Thank you so much for caring and for knowing how important this running thing has become to me even as you might not understand it yourself. Cheer strangers on if you find yourself spectating a marathon and please, please, please, keep coming out and cheering for me.
So how did it end on Saturday? So well. At 26 there was a downhill that had me flying into the finish in a hugely satisfying way to the sound of Caitlin and Nora cheering. Finisher’s shirt, water, food (every race from here to eternity should have watermelon at the finish – it was heaven) and then I met up with my girls and we headed to Mo’s for some celebratory clam chowder. Followed by ice cream. Followed by a crab melt and beer later. Followed by crepes the next morning. I love the post-race food frenzy that I will somehow manage to justify stretching into next week.
It’s now three days post-race and I pretty much feel normal. I am not (and really have not been) sore, which both amazes and frightens me the tiniest bit. Like, am I going to fall apart tomorrow? Or did I suddenly turn bionic? Or did I maybe do this right? I think that might be the one. I think I trained well for this and the proof is in both the PR and the fact that I’m tempted to go knock out ten miles right now just because it sounds like it would feel good. I don’t know what the years hold for me and my legs. I hope I have thousands of miles and PRs that might currently seem like delusions of grandeur left in me. I hope that I continue to deserve and receive the support of the people I am lucky enough to have in my life and that I pick up a few more along the way. I hope that when my running days are done, I can look back at that picture taken on Saturday and all those pictures that are hopefully yet to be taken and remember what it felt like and know that my life was better for it.