When I started this blog last year, I thought I would have all kinds of travels and races and excitement and setbacks to write about for 2020. But as everyone knows, 2020 has not turned out to be what anyone imagined. So I decided to resurrect the blog by writing about past races that I never shared about. A chance to relish some old memories until we race again!
I am starting with the 2016 Portland Marathon, held in October 2016, because there are so many classic Stephanie moments in this one. I had missed qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials at the 20km race walk by a numbers of seconds and was looking for something else to aim for. A friend suggested that I train for the 50km National Race Walk Championship that was scheduled for January 2017. The longest distance I had ever completed at that point was a marathon (42.2km, 26.2 miles), I had run one marathon and race walked three. But the last time that I had walked a marathon was 2008, when I was newly pregnant with my first child (yes, I did a marathon when I was pregnant…maybe a future blog post there!). I enjoy a challenge though, so as absurd as the idea seemed I stepped up my training to start preparing for a 50km race. My husband, on the other hand, was very uncertain. We had a baby and two older kiddos, I was working full-time, I was getting up at 4:30 am to go for 20km walks before work, he thought there was no way I should be doing this.
Somewhere in this chaos I had the brilliant idea that entering the Portland Marathon would be a good training session and get me on-track for the 50km race in January. I had been doing up to 40km sessions on the weekend but I hadn’t made it a full marathon distance yet. My husband, who was still trying to talk me out of things, finally conceded that if I could finish the marathon in under 4 hours then I could keep training and race the 50km National Championship. That would prove to him that I was fit enough to make it worth the effort of continuing to train. So I had a goal and I was up for the challenge.
We went as a family up to Portland for the race. Traveling with kids to a race is always somewhat of a logistical nightmare, but I wasn’t driving at the time and needed someone to give me a ride to Portland. The race started early in the morning, I remember the sun just starting to rise at the start line. So the plan was that I would take the bus from our hotel to the start of the race and let Patrick and the kids get some rest. Then they would come out mid-way through to cheer me on and pick me up at the finish. My alarm went off at some point in the middle of the night, I got dressed in the dark and quietly made some oats in the microwave, trying not to disturb the four sleeping people in the hotel room. I was breastfeeding the baby and I realized that I needed her to drink her milk if I was going to make it through the marathon, so I woke her up just enough for her to sleepily have a snack, tucked her back in, and snuck out into the night. First goal accomplished, I had made it out the door with everyone still asleep, hadn’t even woken my husband enough to say goodbye.
I looked at my watch and realized I was running late (anyone who knows me will not be surprised by that at all) so I ran the few blocks to the bus stop. The streets were so empty and quiet, and unfortunately the bus was nowhere to be seen. I waited long enough to make sure I had missed it, then pondered my options. I was only about 4km (roughly 2.5 miles) from the start, I figured if I ran I could make it to the start line in time. So I took off running, what is an extra few kilometers before a marathon? I had a bottle of electrolyte drink that I was going to drink on the bus, so I chugged that as I ran and made it the my starting corral with a few minutes to spare before the mob started to inch their way to the start line.
The Portland Marathon had about 8000 participants, so instead of starting everyone at once, people were started in large groupings based on their projected finish time. My group eventually got to the start and my 4-hour clock started ticking down. My go-to training and racing strategy (although much hated by my coach) is to start out too fast and just endure the misery at the end. But not this time, the mob was so thick that there was no way to get around people and we were going at least a minute per kilometer too slow for the pace that I wanted. Probably a really good thing to start slow and build into the race, but I didn’t think so at the time. I was so frustrated and trying to find any way I could to move up in this massive field. It didn’t start thinning out enough to be able to get around people until about 5km in. When we got to the 5km mark on the course I checked my watch, expecting to be about 5 to 7 minutes over what I had been aiming for because of the forcibly slow start. Instead I was over 11 minutes behind where I thought I should have been. I was so confused. We hadn’t been going that slow, had we? How was I going to make up that much time and finish this in 4 hours? I just picked up the pace and kept on walking, knowing that there was nothing I could do to change the kilometers that had already gone by.
I knocked out another 5 kilometers much faster than the first, then another, and another. Around the halfway point I was feeling good about things, chatting with some runners and enjoying all of the entertainment that the Portland Marathon puts on. I hadn’t made up the time I lost from the first 5km, but I was going my planned pace and hadn’t lost anymore. I think it was somewhere around the halfway point that it started raining. And raining. And raining. Like sheets of water falling from the sky, small rivers running down the road, shoes so sloppy and wet that I couldn’t even feel my feet. I knew I lost time between 20kms and 30kms, but at that point it was too wet to see my watch and I didn’t really want to know anyway. I was getting quite miserable and I had lost all hope of getting to the finish in under 4 hours. But I also figured that I didn’t have anything to loose by trying, so I pushed myself as hard as I could for the last 10km. I was flying by runners at a crazy rate, and I don’t remember getting passed at all in those last 10 kilometers. I pushed with everything I had, even after I hit the 4 hour mark and still had over a mile to go. I figured maybe if I came close I could talk Patrick into still letting me race at the 50k.
I finished in 4 hours and 12 minutes, absolutely exhausted and sopping wet. Because of the rain, Patrick and the kids had not come out to cheer me on, and I was just hoping I would find them at the finish. Someone wrapped me in a foil blanket and I wound my way through the post-race chute to the family meet-up area. It didn’t take me long to see Patrick and my three kids there waiting for me, standing on a curb to avoid the currents of water still flowing down the road. I remember thinking at that time that this was the first marathon that I had raced since I became a mom, and here I was with three children to greet me at the finish. I told Patrick that I hadn’t made the 4 hour mark but I was too cold to say anything more.
I had to walk another 6 blocks or so to catch the street car back to our hotel, and they hadn’t brought me any dry clothes. I shivered in my foil blanket all the way back, I could barely move to get off the street car and into the hotel. A shower and dry clothes had never felt so good. I think it still took another half hour before I stopped shivering enough to talk. Patrick, seemingly impressed with my determination if nothing else, said that I could still train for the 50km National Championship. We also found out later that day that the course had been mis-routed in the first couple of kilometers, adding 0.8 kilometers to the overall distance. So I had actually done an “ultra-marathon” of 43 kilometers, plus my 4 km warm-up to the start. It finally made sense why my time was so far off at the 5km mark, because I had actually gone almost 6km by that time. The added distance was not enough to make up for my finish time being 12 minutes slower than I wanted, but it probably contributed to at least 5 minutes of that.
So all in all, with the missed bus and run to the start, bonus 800m added to the course, and torrential downpour that flooded the streets for half of the race, it was a memorable experience that I hope I never get to repeat again. I have yet to complete another marathon to break my 4 hour mark, but I have completed 5 50-kilometer races so I am grateful that Patrick relaxed his restrictions and let me go for it! It is all about the journey!! Please share any fun racing memories that you have, keep the dream alive until we race again!