running a marathon

That Time I Signed up for the Portland Marathon

Well guys, it’s a big day here in “mostly just dreaming about running rather than actually running” land.

I finally handed over the cash for the Portland Marathon and am pretty darn excited.  [Sidebar: Can we just all take a minute and acknowledge how expensive races are getting?  I’m having mixed feelings about the ROI on this particular $140 investment.  Also, don’t get me started on their website, or their registration form.  It made my web-working head want to explode a little bit, and I swear a part of me died every time I had to resubmit said lengthy form due to internal errors. ANYWAYS.   Moving on.]

Is that the right word? Am I excited?*

It’s a very loaded excitement, bound in all the baggage from my last marathon, simultaneously carrying probably too much hope that the process will be dramatically better than it was before.  There’s still an abiding sense that I don’t know how to do this.

An amazing amount of things have been done by people who didn’t know how. Don’t  let that stop you. The danger is more in doing nothing than in not “knowing how.”

– anon.

So I’m doing it, and this time, I’ve got what feels like a pretty solid strength training routine.  I’m committed to pool work outs and time in the bike saddle for my first triathlon, and I also have physical therapists on speed dial (Thanks so much to my sister and the great crew at Acceleration PT for years and years of moral and biomechanical support ) a best friend for a training buddy, and the experience of having done it once before.  That’s got to count for something? Right?

Let’s do this thing.

Motivation courtesy of The Features:

Unexpected Consequences

This is embarrassing for me to admit, but there are two holes in the drywall in the bathroom. What does this have to do with running? Laughably enough, they too are scars from my first marathon, and it went down a little like this:

Post marathon, I fell asleep on the couch  having chugged a scary amount of liquids to replenish. I expected extreme fatigue and dehydration, yes.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: not being able to stand up off the john. In what seemed like an out-of-body experience,  I made it about halfway up before my legs simply stopped.  Refusing to support my weight, even a little, they buckled beneath me. Bastards. As my brain started to connect the dots that a crash was imminent, it sent my arms out to the nearest supports. As it turns out, the toilet paper holder isn’t quite enough to support my weight. (weird, right?) The small bar gave way as I pulled the entire device, molly bolts and all, out of the wall and landed with a resounding and unceremonious “thunk” on the toilet.

A First Marathon’s Lingering Side Effects

sequoia sempervirens

Cultivating gratitude.

I sat there for a few minutes, still piecing together what had happened, staring at the toilet paper holder in my hands, and wondering how I would make it out of the loo. Giving the second attempt more forethought, I leveraged the doorknob instead, and sort of shuffled my way off the throne and into a semi-upright position. Sheepishly holding the toilet paper holder, I straggled out into the living room to uproarious laughter from various family members  who had, very quickly, put two and two together.

My good-natured Dad later patched up the holes and remounted the holder, but you can still see, without too much effort, exactly where the original one lived.  Every time I think of that day, the extreme fatigue and the joyous satisfaction of marathon tested legs comes back to me, and its hard to deny the gratitude that comes with it. I lived through it and learned every bit of what a first marathon had to teach me.

Thanks to this, and other marathon side effects, I’m continually reminded of whatever it is that drives us to burn through the pain, the drudgery, the discomfort.  Sometimes nasty tendons will decide it’s not going to happen for me, other times the cold December air burns a frosty path straight down to my stomach and I’m positive I want to quit, but there is no escaping all the little reminders of everything the marathon has given me.

That keeps me going, and I run with exceptional thankfulness this time of year for that, and so much more.

Marathon Post Mortem

I once read a quote, maybe you’ve seen it, about how life is short, and running makes it seem longer.

You might think a marathon would feel like an eternity (at my agonizingly slow pace especially). Brace yourselves, but I’m not kidding when I say it was over too quickly (if you can call 5 hrs and 10 minutes “quickly”).  It’s hard to describe the sensation of having done it, and it’s not often I find myself lost for ways to explain things. (I’ll do my best and start at the beginning)

Running My First Marathon:

Nerves reached an all time high as the day before the race rolled around.  Without being able to take refuge in a run to quell my bouncy knees, I settled in to the prospect of hitting the long, unbroken stretch of highway towards my hometown Friday afternoon. With good weather and anxious spirits, we passed the time mulling over how the next morning would go, what I’d need to eat in the next several hours (and what options were readily adjacent to the interstate ), and remembering, in a panic, the crucial race-day items left behind.  A steak sandwich in the Tri-Cities passed for dinner, and a pit stop for a tick collar  and various sundries meant we’d be able to relax once we arrived.  In theory at least.  In short order, my OCD alter-ego arrived on the scene, and I’d laid out everything I’d need to prep for the next morning:

  • running pants: check
  • running jacket: check
  • sports bra: check
  • running shirt: check
  • toe socks: check
  • blister tape: check
  • sunblock: check
  • body glide: check
  • headband: check

I moved on to setting out supplies to take with me:

  • race number
  • iPod
  • running shoes
  • 2 packs of Sharkies sport chews (crucial)
  • 4 packs of Sport Beans
  • 2 emergency packs of goo
  • water belt
  • sport fuel powder
  • water bottle
  • extra body glide
  • 2 bananas
  • Advil
  • squishy flip-flops (also crucial; I like the Teva ones)

Once I was satisfied I had everything I’d need, it was time to start winding down for an early to bed evening. Under the covers by 10:15ish, I tried to feel sleepy reading the latest issue of National Geographic. With a 4:15 AM alarm to look forward to, I thumbed through pages restlessly.  While I don’t remember falling asleep that night, I do distinctly remember being awake before my alarm went off the next morning.  An unexpectedly calm awakening in the still-quiet house, barely visible in pre-dawn grey, I got up to push the button on the coffee and  made my oatmeal on tiptoe. With eating and caffeinating out of the way I’d be free to, somewhat leisurely, gear up and stretch a bit before  heading to the 7am start line.

The evenness of the calm I had woken to was fully dispelled by the time we reached the parking lot.  Race volunteers directed traffic, runners warmed up along crowded sidewalks, and the floodgates of adrenaline opened. After the requisite wait in line for the port-o-lets, the count down to start had already begun.  I filled my pockets with Sharkies and Sport Beans, and was off, plugging headphones in as I hurried to the pack of runners gathered behind the timing mat. Cheers erupted as the gun report echoed across the street and feet surged across the line. The enchantment of race-day energy permeated the pack of us: we were off! The first steps in a marathon had been logged.

With sun still low on the horizon, Selkirks misty in the distance, and the dewy, hallmark aromas of morning, the promise of nice weather was easy to anticipate. Mile 3 settled us into our route along the river, and gradually, as paces shook out and rhythms took hold, I found myself mostly alone on the Centennial Trail, near what I hoped was close to the middle of the pack. Knowing there would be water and aid stations every two miles didn’t do much, initially, to persuade me that I wouldn’t somehow get lost (an inexplicable phobia I harbored going into the race…what if I took a wrong turn out here alone in the middle-of-nowhere North Idaho? I’ve seen that movie, and it doesn’t end well for me!)

I slowed down to water at the second aid station, feeling the welcome rush of limbs awakening and lungs ecstatic with crisp mountain air.  I met some friends along the way, close to me in age and pace, we back-and-forthed for a while, until bathroom breaks and aid stations landed me once again, alone on the trail.  In the quiet out there, the river white capping peacefully and the metronomic patter of my soles were the only sounds.  I made a promise to myself to ration my use of iPod.  I didn’t need it yet, but didn’t doubt I would in later miles.

Around mile 9 or 10 I watched an eagle snatch its breakfast from the river, right in front of me.  I congratulated myself on an excellent choice in courses, and, reminded of food, snacked down a few more Sharkies.   Footstep by methodical footstep, the miles ticked past, blurring into each other, I fully lost count.  Coming around a bend closer into town, I was elated to see friendly faces (and one furry one) who had come to cheer me on, it was only then I realized the end was achievable.  I had already managed to make it to mile 20.  My sister was among the support crew, “you’re not even sweating! push it!” With only 6.2 miles left, I thought, this was advice I could take.  My approach had been to maintain a good pace, but to keep something in the tank as much as I could, not knowing how much the course would punish out of me.

The Wall 

Having been content to ride it easy, meditate on the landscape, zone out, knowing the finish was almost in sight changed things.  It was time to remember this was a race. I felt good.  My feet felt decent, my legs were fatigued, sure, but warmed up and ready, my lungs were poised to punch it,  and punch it I did.  My competitive side peaked with a strange conundrum: I wanted to speed up, but I didn’t want it to be over, I was having fun, there was something big happening.  The competitive side won, and I stepped on the gas. With a somewhat self-satisfied grin, I roadkilled runners who had smoked me early on. (tortoise > hare, bitches!) All the time still wary of the wall.  I thought I should have hit it already.  I volunteered at the Portland Marathon and saw runners at this very point in the race, witnessed, and unconsciously memorized, the look of sheer, blood-crusted defeat in their eyes at this obstacle. It was coming for me, even as I pushed up a hill around mile 22, I knew it.  It had to.  My only hope was making it to the finish line before it could get to me.  Mile 23 came and went and as I entered 24, I knew my blistered toes were taking a brutal beating.  Through stinging, burning, blistering, I wasn’t done, my toes screamed for me to stop, but I was so close.

Things got a little blurry from that point.  Hearing after that my support crew had shown up again, somewhere before the finish, I wasn’t convinced, I don’t remember it.  The final test was entering Riverfront Park. Less than a mile to the finish,  and whether because my body knew I was close, or because I just couldn’t hack it one more step, I had to walk.  Instantly, the surge of pain to my toes became agonizing.  Caked in salty white sweat and starting to chafe, I felt done.  I wanted so badly to be. It was, without doubt, the longest, most arduous 3/4 of a mile I’ve ever run.

My amazing sister jogged across a grassy knoll in her Chacos, cheering me on, jogging beside me.  I was so close.  More friendly faces appeared along the race route, and I was so grateful to see them. I ran on what seemed like shards of glass until the finish line appeared. It was still over too quickly.  The buzzer beeped loudly as I, bedraggled in total exhaustion, crossed the mat.  My feet stalled out, I heard my name over the load speaker. Someone put a hulking medal around my neck.  Just like that, it was all over.  Five hours of running had passed and I’d hardly noticed until the last 45 minutes.  A little bit like life, eh?

Here’s what I learned: It’s the journey.  You hear this all the time, at least I seem to, and so maybe it gets diluted. Don’t let it. It’s the crazy, amazing ride. And it will be over before you know it. Where did it all go? You’ll wonder.  Let it go to 26 mile runs (that yes, somehow, make it seem longer, sometimes), to loving like crazy because you can, to cartwheeling, to writing things down, to telling people how much they mean the ever-loving world to you, to seeing new things, and seeing old things from new perspectives, to smiling, to midnight sandcastle building beach trips, to listening hard to what people say, and as much to what they don’t, and to spring skiing when you should be at work, to acknowledging the moments, big and small, happy and sad. It’s the ride, friends.  And thank you all, for making mine so incredibly awesome so far.

The Aftermath

(If you are still reading, I should give you a medal.  I guess since it was a marathon, here’s my proportionally mammoth post 🙂 )

There are a few things I know will never feel as good as they did that day.  Taking off my shoes, for a start.  Putting my mangled up feet in the cool grass.  Sitting down. Drinking Alaskan Amber.

With the initial damage assessment done on my feet, and the determination made that I could make it to the beer garden, I still needed a minute.  I leaned against a table and just let my feet rest in the grass a moment after the horror of peeling off my socks had passed. Slipping gingerly into my flip-flops, I realized I was absolutely famished.  Sitting in the cool grass, stretching in the shade of a tree with my beer, life was surreal, blurry, blissful.  I finished.

Before I knew it, I was in a long-anticipated shower and realized  instantly why I shouldn’t have been looking forward to it.  Everything that had hurt, mildly, was exacerbated by the hot water which I had hoped would feel so relaxing.  I ended up with a pretty fierce set of cuts and scrapes from bands and chaffing (street cred, right?)  I carry them proudly, if painfully.  At the end, feeling so ecstatic to have achieved it, I relinquished my eyes to well-earned nap punctuated by dreams of running, and maybe, one day, another marathon. It felt good.  It still feels good, even in the wobble of my knees and the weariness in my legs.

It was worth every step.


Today is a monumental day, friends.

The decision is final, I will run a mm… m… marathon.  I’ve run a handful of half-marathons, and this decision does not come without a whole heap of reservations based on those experiences.  Vividly recalling the sensation at the finish lines, I can hardly imagine what would happen to me were I to keep running, it seems painful.  Intense, inescapably, crazy painful.  The fact remains however, that it’s a question I am compelled to answer.  Can I run 26.2 miles (in what I’m hoping will be less than 6-ish hours)?  Over the next 14 or so weeks of training I’m hoping to make sure the answer is yes, and get out of my head about it a little bit more.  It’s no big deal.  Right?

The M Word

I’m fighting the urge to get very nervous and back out.  Just take the farthest distance I’ve yet managed to scramble over this earth, and double it. No big deal.  The only reason I presume to have any business attempting this is my amazing sisters.  I owe whatever moxie it takes to start this process to them.   I want to thank them, my best running companions and biggest supporters.  With them I ran my first half-marathon, something I thought could very likely be impossible.  It wasn’t.  Not only was it possible, it was damn fun.  Together the Sweigert sisters went out and conquered the trails and the sense of accomplishment and delight was incredible when we staggered across the finish line.

The current strategy is to follow a Hal Higdon-ish training plan and on day two so far, I’m feeling pretty optimistic.  Check back in a few weeks and we’ll see…

“The equipment and desire come factory installed; all you have to do is let ‘er rip and hang on for the ride.” – Born to Run