Eugene Marathon Recap: Queer Girl Running Chapter 8
Disclaimer: This is a race report, meaning it contains a lot of talk about running specifics. It's not quite my normal blog post, and also appears on my facebook page.
The feeling of arriving at a day that you've been preparing for for 6 months (or as one friend reminded me last week, since Obama was president) is really surreal. When you work toward something that feels very big and maybe impossible, and that work becomes part of your routine, it's easy to forget that someday the test will arrive for real. That's how I felt going into the weekend. Like I couldn't quite believe I was actually going to do this thing that had existed like a shadow in the corner of my brain while the training became a really major part of my life.
On Friday afternoon, I was talking to my employers, who asked me what my goal time was for the race. Those of you who run with me on a regular basis know that my time goal morphed a lot during training; I started out with no time goal, moved to sub-4:00, then to 3:45, then 3:35 and somewhere in there was a little gold star of 3:32 which I knew would get me into Boston.
Here's the thing about Boston. I never even thought about it as something to try and strive for until a few months ago. But then I was welcomed into the Boston-training SGLRG family, following their plan (more or less) and bonding over the shared miles, and when they raced three weeks ago and I tracked them, saw their photos, and heard the stories of the magical atmosphere of that race, I wanted into the party. Running the most iconic marathon ever with so many people I love? Yes please! But there's a lot that goes into getting there, and I knew I was right on that edge. I consistently surprised myself with my progression through training, which gave me a glimmer of hope that Eugene could be my ticket in. That said, I also knew it wasn't a sure thing. Especially given that I'd never run a marathon before, I did not want to feel disappointed if and when I didn't make that cutoff. I knew that if I fixated too much on that time, I would beat myself up if I didn't get it. So instead, I kept all of my goals, from 3:32 to 4:00-plus. I wanted to be happy with whatever happened and to enjoy the actual race as much as possible. Unfortunately that makes it a little hard to plan on a solid strategy.
I told my employers that I would be elated with a 3:35 and they balked at me. "That's really fast," one of them said. And that put everything into perspective for me: To even entertain the idea of a sub-4:00 marathon, let alone to run one at all, is a privilege and it's something to be incredibly proud of in itself. It's easy in training- especially with experienced marathoners whose goals get sharpened over time- to forget that in the wider world, what we're doing is out of the ordinary, and to be healthy and able-bodied enough to make it to the start line is something I shouldn't take for granted.
So! Saturday morning I woke up and did a 2-mile shakeout in my neighborhood; I'll be honest, I was antsy as hell after tapering and despite clinging to the perspective I just talked about, I ran at marathon pace to test it out. It felt super easy so that calmed my nerves a bit. Then one of my runbuds picked me up and we drove to the airport to fly down to Eugene. (I could not face a 5-hour drive on either end of a race). The flight down was beautiful, the sun and mountains were out and I felt calm. When we got to Eugene, we dropped our stuff off and went to the expo, which was smaller than I was expecting. This is a good thing; those Rock n Roll expos are nuts. We got our bib numbers and I switched corrals from 3:45 to 3:35 (C to B). I was feeling confident that I could pull off at least a 3:40; my body felt good (other than butterflies) and I didn't want to be weaving around a lot of people at the start.
We met up with another runbud for a sushi lunch, which was delicious, and then she and I walked around the Saturday market in downtown and had some coffee. It was a really nice afternoon, and later we had a pretty delicious dinner with lots of carbs and, yes, veggies (I for one am a veggie fiend so sorry, can't do without them despite what the carb-loading gurus say). Then I went back to my Airbnb and looked through all of the beautiful messages people had sent me wishing me luck. They made my heart grow 10 sizes and I went to sleep thankful. I woke up a couple of times because of a combo of having to pee and nerves, but I didn't feel very tired when I got up at 4:15 to do my usual PT exercises, eat breakfast and get my stuff together (including my pride singlet) before runbud 1 picked me up to drive to runbud 2's hotel. We took a shuttle to the start. It was FREEZING and I was very happy that I had bought an enormous LL Bean sweatshirt from Goodwill a few days before for throwaway clothes.
The start area (which was also the finish area, at Hayward Field) was well-organized and there were loads of porta potties at the start line, so we barely had to wait at all. I saw another runbud at the porta potties and he looked so happy and excited; we hugged and wished each other luck and I headed over the the 3:35 pacer, where runbud 1 was already standing. I had sort of decided on the strategy of sticking with that pacer (who, btw, was one lone guy pacing the entire thing- impressive as hell) until somewhere around halfway, at which point I would speed up if I felt good. Surprise! I didn't do that at all. Runbud 1 and I got ahead of the pacer about a mile in and I didn't see him for the rest of the race.
The first few miles felt really good. We were running ~8:00mm, the sun was up but still low enough to not be annoying, the temperature was perfect, the light green leaves of spring sent dappled shadows over us. I was simultaneously appreciating these details and unable to let go of that "moment of truth" feeling, the anxiety of not knowing what would happen and how I would feel about it. Turns out I had to do a lot of self-talk for the entire race because of this. I think it's probably normal for anyone doing something like this for the first time to have constant butterflies. But even though it was hard at times to pull myself into the moment, I didn't give up on that front, and was able to enjoy a lot of the scenery (it was especially beautiful on the shady riverside path) and the energetic spectators with great signs. A lot of people shouted "Go rainbow shirt!" and "Go Chief!" That last one made me tear up every time because it made me think of my farming fam and everything that has happened in our lives since we were all in the fields together. Nostlagia is powerful, you know?
Right before Mile 8 we charged up High Five Hill, and I was actually grateful for the terrain change. I think I struggle more than most with straight-up flat courses; for me it gets painful when I don't have the variation to switch up the muscles a little. I still felt good but I didn't feel settled. Normally on a long run I'm settled into a pace, or at least a mindset, by mile 8, but I was still nervous about whether I was going the "right" pace- to BQ and/or to not bonk at the end. I stayed in this state of mind (interspersed with reminders of how lucky I am and how great a day this was) until about mile 21.
Up until this point I was hitting low 8's and high 7's almost every mile. There were a few other things I should mention. First, the sun was very bright and some parts of the course were in direct sunlight. I was wearing a hat and had put sunscreen on but I'm sensitive to sun to begin with, and I haven't run in direct sun since last summer. It wasn't hot but it felt draining. The other thing is nutrition. I did exactly what I had done on my 20-mile training runs: around mile 10 and again at 17 I ate one of my UCan bars. I carried a sports drink that I sipped periodically and drank water at almost every rest stop. I didn't walk through the rest stops but slowed down enough to drink. By the time I finished my second bar (took me the entire 18th mile), I knew I would not eat anything else. I didn't feel sick, but I knew that if I put one more nasty flavored thing in my mouth I would puke. I managed to sip sports drink a few times for the rest of the race, and drink water, but there was no more eating that was going to happen. I figured this would be fine since there were only 8 miles to go.
At the rest stop after mile 20, I actually walked through it, and getting started again proved a lot harder than I expected. I somehow eeked out another low-8 mm until mile 22. Suddenly everything other marathoners warn you about happened. It started with a slight cramp in my right quad; nothing I couldn't handle if I just stayed steady. Then my left hamstring. Then my legs turned into bricks. I've never felt anything like it before. It was right around then that I saw runbud 2. He cheered me on and that gave me a boost for like 30 seconds. After that, I can't even say what happened. I was able to keep running and by some crazy miracle I stayed under 9:00 mm for those last few miles. I didn't know how much time I could afford to lose and still get that BQ and I didn't care. I got tunnel vision and ignored everything around me except putting one foot in front of the other, step, step, step, and clawing way deep down inside me to get to all of those lovely words of support from all of my friends, family, and runbuds; I dug my fingernails into every scrap of those positive vibes and held on for dear life, hoping hard that they would be what I needed to get to the end. Those last 3 miles felt like 100 miles. I had no control over my body and was running only with my mind.
Finally, the track: Hayward Field. I heard myself say "Oh my god" and ran that last half-loop with every last ounce of everything I had left. I heard the announcer call my name. I saw my feet go over the line. I staggered to the people who were handing out medals and managed to smile at them, limped around the corner for the water bottles, and even got my official photo taken (how dead I look is as yet unknown, watch this space). I felt completely emptied out, and also in a lot of pain. But I knew it wasn't injury pain so I wasn't scared of having seriously hurt myself. But I did not feel good. So I went over the the medical tent where some very lovely med staff took good care of me. They checked my vitals, had me lie down on a cot, brought me gatorade (which I didn't want but took a few sips of anyway) and iced my legs. They said nice things to me. And then suddenly, lying on my back, tears started streaming into my ears. I started to feel all the things. I was proud, happy, sad, relieved, and generally overwhelmed. I must've looked like a broken mess. But I'm sure they see that all the time at marathon finish lines.
After a while, I sat up and eventually stood up (this is still a struggle, ha) and slowly walked over to check my results. 3:33:51. I was actually pretty shocked that I came in under 3:35 after those disastrous last few miles, and technically BQ'd. I really don't care that it's not by enough to get me in. I put everything I had into that race and I am SO proud that I not only ran such a great time on my very first try, but that I had such an amazing training cycle with some of the best people on the planet; that I had so much support from so many people, including people for whom running a marathon is a foreign concept that I'm sure is very annoying to hear about so much; that I made it to the start line and over the finish line; and that so many friends were there in person or in spirit to share the journey. I'm so proud of everyone else from SGLRG who ran this race, and everyone I trained with who did or didn't run it. We've been through a lot together and I'm really, really grateful for all of it.
After checking the results, I found my runbuds and we sat in the sunshine eating pancakes. It was as great as it sounds. FYI, pancakes never taste so good as when you've just run your hardest run ever. (I gave veganism a pass for the day and also had some cheddar crackers later).
Next time I try to BQ I am going to do a few things differently. I'm not going to get so hung up on the sugar content of nutrition and experiment with a lot more kinds; I'm going to try gels, as much as I think they're gross, during training to get a better idea of what works for me. The UCan bars worked during training but their chalky consistency ended up being more than I could handle in the final miles of the race. I now understand why people use gels: they're easier to get down quickly. I'm also going to try not to carry a water bottle next time. This was also a thing that worked during training, but the backpack felt like a much bigger burden during that last stretch. Instead I'm going to train with whatever sports drink they're offering on the course to make sure it sits ok with me, and then just do the aid stations. And lastly, I'm going to focus more on speedwork in order to get more solidly locked into the right pace. My tempo runs got pretty consistently faster during this training cycle and I think that made it harder to feel comfortable with one consistent pace. But despite the fact that those last miles were hell, the overall experience was something very special and life-changing. One year ago I couldn't run more than 10 miles without serious IT band pain. When I think about the fact that I ran an entire marathon, I am amazed at how much can change in that time.
Thank you to everyone who sent me messages of support and congratulations, and for everyone who has shared this journey with me and let me share in yours. You all mean the world to me.
Boston 2019! But first, rest. All the rest.