26.2 miles in rain? check.

Monday, October 11, 2010

At first, I attempted to stay dry. I wore a trash bag. As we walked from the hotel to the start, I dodged puddles.

But within minutes of getting to my corral, I stepped in a small lake (a.k.a. pothole) and completely soaked my left shoe. Seconds after our wave crossed the starting line, I splashed through another large puddle and soaked the other shoe. After about half a mile, I got rid of the trash bag and surrendered: You can't run from rain; you can only run in it.

Neveia and I tried to stay together. Our goal was to stick with the 4:45 pace group because they were wearing pink tutus and knee socks with black cats, and you know how much we love tutus and cats. But when we got to the first aid station -- just barely past the first mile marker -- she veered off for water and we lost each other. And then at the next aid station -- right before Mile 3 -- I ended up losing the pace group.

So I ran most of the race alone. (OK, maybe not totally alone, since there were thousands of people there. But it's not like I knew any of them.) I kept the pace slow and even. My plan was to run conservatively until I was well over Mile 18 -- which was where I hit the wall at CIM last year -- and then start picking it up and turning it on. I wanted to keep my mind in the moment -- not think about the next mile or a PR or what was at the finish line. My goal was to stay alert and present.

So I watched people: The woman with the weird arm swing like a windshield wiper across her body (did this keep the rain out?), a man in a huge poncho that made him look like a bat, race walkers and their swaying asses and short-shorts. I also eavesdropped: Lots of "Go, team!" from the Team in Training people. Two guys making fun of the Liquid Gold name -- I guess the more accurate "Gooey Poo" doesn't quite sell product. And a daughter seeing her mother on the out-and-back section of the course -- they ran toward each other and hugged.

Still, the doldrums got me. That out-and-back section -- Miles 7 through 11 -- was torture. My feet made squishing sounds. I visualized a blister forming on my right big toe and wondered if rain could cause athlete's foot. Meanwhile, water ran off the brim of my hat like someone had turned a faucet on above my head. And my surroundings were flat and depressing, with warehouses on one side and train tracks on the other. And there was a religious band playing Christian music that made me very uncomfortable. And I was looking for Neveia and couldn't find her.

I got so low at Mile 10 that I thought about stopping. (Apparently, it's completely possible to hit the wall that early mentally.)

Thankfully, I didn't give in, and the only stopping I did was to use the port-a-potty at Mile 11. (Bravo to the race organizers for using port-a-potties with hand sanitizer dispensers.) Miles 12 and 13 wove through the Northwest District, and I let the neighborhood -- with its bike shops and trees changing color and cozy, bungalow-type homes -- distract me: If I lived here, would this be my local cafe? Would this be my regular running route? Would these people be my neighbors? Dear Portland, please adopt me! I still love you even in this weather!

This daydream was interrupted by a runner on the side of the road yelling at her husband as he tried to help her change into dry shoes: "The timing chip! You're forgetting the timing chip!" Then I caught up to another woman who had totally given up on shoes and was attempting to run barefoot. Meanwhile, water was still pouring off of my hat. And I began to wonder: What if my forehead chafes and I end up with a huge red line above my eyebrows? Thankfully, I saw a billboard with a cat and a little girl on it that said: "End petlessness! Help Oregonians find their furry best friend!" And then I felt better.

I reached the climb to St. John's Bridge, which started just before Mile 16. I was prepared for this hill. I had read about it. I had studied the elevation. I knew this was where people often injured themselves mid-race. So I walked it. I ate a Honey Stinger and chatted with a runner from Japan. He said: "Nice pace!" as we power-walked up the incline.

What a treat when we got to the top: The bridge, with its pale green Gothic towers, was gorgeous and the view of the Willamette was incredible. I felt energized and grateful. Even better: I realized I was very close to Mile 18 and wasn't bonking! I began to pick up the pace. I stayed strong through Miles 19 and 20, weaving through a neighborhood with lots of cheering families and more music.

Then the emotions hit. Seeing the spectators with their signs for other runners suddenly made me feel like I was really far away from home. I began to focus on my family and friends and how much I care about them. I was so overcome that I started to cry. Crying while running is not easy. In fact, apparently, crying makes it really hard to breathe and almost causes an asthma attack. I forced myself to gain control and calm down.

At Mile 21, I saw Neveia. She had run up the hill to St. John's Bridge and burned out her legs, so she was struggling. It soon became clear that her brain was a little, shall we say, "off" as well. She started screeching in a nails-on-chalkboard voice at every mile marker: "Miiiiiiiooooooooole twenty-tooooooo! Miiiiioooooole twenteeeee-threeee!" People stared at us. And when any spectators said, "Keep going! You're there! You've got this!" Neveia yowled back: "We're not there until we cross the finish line!" I didn't quite know what to do at this point. What do you say when your running buddy starts to lose her mind? I wanted to support her, but I didn't want to absorb her crazy energy.

I pulled her a little, which I think helped her. We managed to pick up the pace, but unfortunately, this didn't last long. Even though my lungs felt fine, my mind was solid and I could accelerate easily, my left knee started acting up on a descent. (Damn you, Runner's Knee! You always screw up my final kick!) I ended up doing some sprint-walking in the final miles. Not ideal, but at least I didn't aggravate the injury. (I passed another runner who wasn't so lucky. She was limping, and when I asked if she was OK, she said: "I blew out my knee.")

As we hit the final 600 meters, Neveia and I began to run all out. We pounded down the finish chute as she yelled: "Where the fuck is it?! Where is the fucking finish line?!" I had never heard her use that word before in my life. It was awesome.

We finished three seconds apart -- she did 4:50:33, and I did 4:50:36. Believe it or not, with the rain and the injuries and only doing an 18-miler as my longest training run, I somehow set a new PR by 22 seconds. And I felt great after. I drank some orange juice and some Muscle Milk (granted, I had to ask someone to open it for me because I couldn't figure out how to open it myself) and ate some string cheese. And as a finisher, I got a finisher's tee, a medal, a rose (for the Rose City) and a Douglas Fir seedling (which I love so much).

And then we celebrated. There was a room service lunch of steaming hot heirloom tomato soup from Nel Centro, which we consumed while wearing plush bathrobes (so incredible after running in the rain). And then we went to DragonTree for 90-minute Muscle Melt massages. I believe I actually fell asleep on the table.

And then there was the dinner. Oh, I shiver with joy just remembering it! We went to Clyde Common and feasted on all of my favorite things: Truffled popcorn, beet salad with pistachios, housemade cavatelli with chanterelles and corn, beer ice cream. And washed it all down with the gin-based White Lady cocktail.

Dear Portland: Thank you. That was one sloppy wet kiss, but I'll take it.


Amber (Girl with the red hair) said...

AWESOME race report!

Weirdly enough the out-and-back were the best part of the race for me! I was so distracted watching the oncoming runners and looking for my 2 girlfriends that were also running that that part of the race flew by. It was after the out-and-back that it became torturous!

I did a "run 3 poles, walk 1 pole" up the massive hill thing. Gosh was it ever a big hill!

Michaela said...

Thanks! :) What a wild ride, huh?

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