I celebrated Independence Day this year by running the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon on Sauvie Island Oregon, just west of Portland. I chose this event for several reasons. First – I wanted to complete my sixth marathon over the past three months. Second – I’d thought about doing this one last year, but a nasty bike accident intervened. What better way to mark Independence Day than to celebrate recovery by running 26.2 miles ?
The weeks leading up to this race were full for our family. I’d run two marathons in early June (Green River and Light at the End of the Tunnel). We’d spent about a week and a half traversing parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, celebrating my in-laws 50th anniversary and visiting friends and family. Along the way, my legs started to feel tired. While in the midwest, I was running 5-7 miles per day, and mixing in some tempo and speed work. It started to wear on me a bit. In mid June, I’d feel better speeding up a bit. After a while though, it became clear that my body was telling me that it might want to take things down a notch. Did I listen ? Not really.
I’d more or less decided to go to Oregon to run the FTF because I wouldn’t have another easy shot at doing a marathon in July. I was able to find a room a short drive away from the 6:45 am start, and was in business. My father decided to join me for the race as well, meaning he’d see all six of my comeback races. I think that’s amazing. He’d braved the estimable traffic down to Portland, turned in and gotten up early, just to see a sum total of about 30 seconds of running from me (start and finish). Of course that 30 seconds was interspersed with four hours of standing around, since the traffic on the island was so restricted.
Race morning came early. I woke up, and ate a quick breakfast of a Clif Bar (for protein) and a bagel (because I was still hungry). Then my father and I headed out to Sauvie Island. We were surprised at the heavy traffic heading out on US 30 towards the island, but even more surprised when the traffic stopped as we turned to go over the Sauvie Island Bridge. Then it was about twenty minutes of stop and go as we drove to the start. It was very good that we headed over as early as we did. I thought we’d end up idling at the start for about 45 minutes, but in the end, I had about fifteen to hit the restroom, and find the start. There were a lot of people there – it was hard weaving through the crowd to find my way around.
The siren went off just after 6:45. We headed back on the access road, passing the motorists still streaming in for the race. I imagine some of those folks missed their start by quite a bit (good thing there was chip timing). The layer of cool fog lifted a bit, and by the time we headed up the out and back spur, it was getting warm fast. The long stretch to the turnaround was nice : lines of houseboats along the river, lots of birds, and lots of quiet. I was surprised that my splits were as fast as they were. The first two averaged about 8:22, and the first four were all under 8:30. That should have alerted me to the notion that I might have been going faster than I should, but instead I decided to trust my legs. Bad idea! I was feeling tired when I got to mile seven and eight, and my splits were slowing down appreciably.
I saw the leaders coming back around the eight or nine mile mark, recognizing Annie Thiessen and Christopher Warren among them. A few miles further on, I saw my friend "Little Leslie" Miller, who’d gone out with the early group. All of them looked strong and happy. Turning around around mile 11, I was still clicking the miles off at a sub-9 pace, but was dubious about being able to maintain it. By now, the sun was up and bright. The temperature wasn’t too high yet, but the road along the river was fully exposed and felt pretty warm.
By the time I hit mile 17 and 18, I was doubting I’d be able to hold the necessary pace to get under four hours. I tried gearing back, but it was too late. Even introducing minute-per-mile walk breaks didn’t help much. I’d simply gone out faster than my body wanted, and was paying for it. By mile 23 I was walking. If I’d continued trying to run, I might DNF (never had, never want to). So I walked steady, trying to hold to 15-16 minute miles and hoping for the best. I’ve had several races like this (Whidbey in 2003, Deadwood in 2006, and to some degree Yakima River Canyon earlier this year). The key is simply to Keep Going, no matter how slowly. Well – I can do that.
By the time I reached mile 25, I’d started alternating two minutes of running with a minute of walking. I crossed the finish in about 4:08:31, happy to be done.
Not the best of race efforts for me, but there’s a lot to be happy about. A year ago on July 4th, I was in the Harborview Neuro ICU, in an induced coma. It was unclear whether I’d wake up at all, let alone run marathons. And I’ve only been running again for just over six months, but have managed to click off six marathons since April. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what’s important to me and why I love running. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very thankful for all of the help and support along the way. In particular, my brother Matthew is very much in my heart – he devoted lots of time and energy to helping me heal, including spending the better part of last summer up here.
From here on out, I’ll focus more on the road ahead rather than focusing on running as a means of healing.
I’ve run better marathons, but yesterday marked a nice milestone.
photos included courtesy of hal david
Charts and Graphs for Running Geeks
The mile splits tell the story here. I went out too fast, and ran a pretty foolish race. The chart shows that the per-mile trend was up from the beginning to the end. So notable was the per-mile pace dropoff, that I needed to extend the y-axis to accommodate the min and max times. In a perfect world, I would have finished my six-in-three months run with a better effort. But I’ll definitely take it, and will learn from it too.