Marathon #3: Portland Marathon 2008

Aside from months of training, the results of your marathon start from days before the marathon. So, to start, let me tell you a bit about the days/week leading up to Marathon #3.

It had been difficult week. I was stressed out about planning a trip for not just me and NPY but extending the plans to two of his friends. The friends are easy-going guys so I was putting undue stress on myself. In general, I felt stretched too thin by training, work… and other stuff… that was culminating for several weeks by the time we took off for Portland.

After work on Friday, we had picked up the rental car and head out of the city/province/country. NPY might credit our smooth border crossing with our dinner-time departure but I think people were saving their States-side shopping for the long weekend coming up this weekend! I slept quite soundly in the car before and after our pit-stop at McDonald’s and woke up at 1 a.m. in Portland. We proceeded to not be able to get to our hotel for another hour despite being just one kilometer away and I was artificially giddy from having arrived that I didn’t sleep until 3 a.m. That is not advisable.

Throughout Saturday, I was on edge. Could it really be that my marathon was less than 24 hours away? How should I be feeling? I went for a short run on the treadmill in the hotel’s fitness room and felt like a runner. When we were walking around downtown and I was tired, I did not feel like a runner. We went to the expo to pick up my race package and amidst the hundreds of runners – some similar to myself, some not so much – I guess I’m a runner. We went to the mall and I got increasingly tired – this is not advisable pre-marathon – and I did not feel like a runner. For pasta dinner, I picked an Italian restaurant downtown and it was positively hopping with tables and parties of runners and I felt like a runner again.

Finally, padding around the hotel room(s) doing the dozen of little things to prepare for the race (putting on the timing chip tag, pinning on my deliberately crumpled bib, laying out my clothes, uploading music to my MP3 player, setting several alarm clocks, coordinating with NPY and his friends for the beginning part of the day that centers around me, and sleeping at 10 p.m.), I felt like a runner.

On race morning, I woke up at 5:08 a.m. I was a little reluctant but knew that the 7 hours of sleep would have to tide me through. As per “tradition”, NPY accompanied me to the start line and he was not a happy camper. The Portland Marathon has a early start time of 7 a.m. compared to the other years when I have started at 8 or later. You could say that worrying about his displeasure distracted me from my own uneasiness.

With nearly 8,000 participants in the marathon alone, the race started in waves and I started in the second wave, about 5 minutes after 7 a.m. I was anxious that NPY wouldn’t see me because I marked off my estimated times on the course map +/- 5 minutes. The looping around downtown for the first 5 miles looks aggravating on paper but enables the runners to run through a great amount of fanfare and I saw NPY two or three times before we took off to less accessible parts of the city. I’m proud of him for navigating the city with the map and being at the spots at the right time! :D

Within the first mile, I saw a marching band with flag bearers performing tricks. I thought of my sister who loves marching bands and choked up and nearly cried. I thought I would sob for several minutes. What a way to start a 4-hour race, huh? But soon I was distracted. Like by the Lulu Lemon sign that read, “Do something today that scares you.”

My running buddy, TLT, was late arriving to our pre-race meeting point and it’s just as well. I was able to conduct my first mile as intended, at a conservative pace of 9:24/mile or some such. Usually, I get swept up by everyone’s adrenaline, including my own, I can go as fast as 7:15/mile and burn out.

TLT caught up with me after Mile 1. From Mile 2 to 16, we went from being 2 minutes ahead of the 4:15 (finishing time) group to being 6 minutes ahead. It was wild. I kept glancing at my watch and seeing between 5:27 and 5:37/kilometer when my original goal pace, for a 4:15 finish, was 5:45-5:47/kilometer.

This year, I heard of the 10-10-10 Principle: The first 10 miles is considered your warm-up, the next ten miles is where you push the envelope, and the last 10 kilometers is touted as when the marathon begins.

After 10 miles, I still felt refreshed. Perhaps my knees were feeling worked and thereby softening. And immediately after we crossed the Mile 10 marker, the next 10 felt difficult. :P

As warned, a large part of the marathon route was “industrial” but I learned that it was a far cry from the dusty industrial and farmland scenery of last year’s marathon in Kelowna. The industrial areas were rather nice for they were not clear-cut and devoid of trees. For example, along the train track stretch, the other side of the road was densely packed with dewy trees. When we ran around the rounded cliff overlooking an industrial park, it had a breathtaking for view of the river and we ran on a street line with houses that daily enjoyed the view.

When we approached St. John’s Bridge around Mile 16, TLT took off up the hill and I never saw her afterwards. It represented a mental crossroads for me: Last year, I completely fell apart once I was alone (after TLT peeled off around 25K). I made it my goal to keep the “lead” I had on the 4:15 group and watched my lead stay at 5 minutes until Mile 23 when it narrowed to 4 minutes. Amongst all my other goals, I wanted to be able to e-mail an interviewer and tell him that I had attained a personal best on my marathon!

During the first 10 miles, a thought would float to me: “Really? I don’t feel like a runner and this morning, I wake up and do 26 miles out of the blue?” At times during the run, it felt ludicrous because I feel as if my fitness leaves after two days of not running. (I know it’s not true.) Fortunately, by 30K into the race, it didn’t seem so ridiculous because I was going to finish, and finish strong, perhaps.

In the middle of the Miles 18-20, I was bargaining with myself, considering possible strategies for the last 10 kilometers, what to do when I finally got there. If I conducted the last 10K at 5:45/kilometer, it was an “easy” 10K and I can do it. I told myself that seeing 5:52 on my watch was essentially the same as 5:47. In fact, I start ten-minute intervals of running at 5:55/kilometer and eventually speed up to 5:45/kilometer.

At 32K, and still at 38K, I felt alarmingly strong. I wasn’t quite strong enough to go faster (I think) but I didn’t feel the usual pains of running for 3 hours, like smooshy ankles, pain in the knee, or weird kinking of my neck. I barely blistered on my feet, much thanks to pre-emptively taping my feet. Suppose I was in such good shape because I had saved it all for the race? Could it be that I was fueling well?

Initially, I was taking a yummy Gu gel every 5 intervals (54 minutes) but I took my last Gu gel (super-fueling ROCTANE Gu) at the 19th interval instead of waiting for the 20th and not having the kick until the race ended.

Could it be – I narrowly missed having to stop for a train. The warning bells were ringing and the barrier was lowering, yet I ran through it. I did not look back but heard the train chugging and screeching on the track, presumably cutting off the runners behind me.

It’s not to say that I was pain-free but it was rather amazing. I tweaked my knee a little during a walking break at 30K – me and my stupid hyperextending knees. My hip and right glut twinged around Mile 24. Then I experienced my running-too-fast/breathing-too-little cramp at Mile 25. I was grimacing and fancied myself having to double over and use a catcher at the finish line, if indeed I could run towards the end. I thought I would have to walk. The last mile was extraordinarily painful because of a lousy cramp.

As I was rounding the last corner, I saw JZ on a platform above the other supporters and knew NPY was close-by and saw him as I finished. And then as soon as I stopped running everything in my legs started to hurt. Wandering through the chute was an ordeal – it felt like it was another mile long.

I was done. I knew I had achieved a personal best and kept my “lead” on the 4:15 group by 4 minutes. I was blissful… except for the niggling thought that I didn’t hurt enough during most of the race.

Looking back, were it not for TLT, I would not have pushed and gained 5 minutes on the 4:15 pace group. You see, finishing in 4:15 was my A goal once I assessed my summer of training. My B goal was to simply beat my best time so far (4:20) if only by 1 second. The C goal was to not take extra breaks than scheduled one-minute walking breaks every 10 minutes.

There was great crowd support in Portland, the best I have encountered so far and it is tremendously important. Where there was no vehicle access between Miles 10 and 16, we were still a dense group of runners. There were, afterall, nearly 8,000 runners while there were less than 2,000 in Victoria (2 years ago). After the solitude stretch where there was no vehicle access, we crossed St. John’s Bridge and encountered huge crowds. With 10K to go, a man just a foot away from me was concerned and told me to release the tension in my shoulders and back. It saved me and I would recall what he said several more times with a smile before the finish.

What really saved me was my MP3 player. Inevitably, I spent more time concentrating and enjoying music than on each step, each mile, each split time.

Finally, I want to acknowledge all the support I had such that even though I knew just one other person in the race, I did not feel alone. NPY was uncertain because I was uncertain, but he supported me anyhow. His friends, Ran and JZ, were physically in Portland and curious about the whole event. My running buddies, TJ and CM made a point of wishing us well, and people were inordinately congratulatory after the fact. :D

In conclusion, … huh. Perhaps I was/have been overextended, but why does the marathon just feel like a blip on the landscape that is my life? Did I not try hard enough on the race course? How much differently will I feel if/when my next marathon is a steady improvement and takes less than 4 hours? Am I bored with vanilla marathons – especially the small ones – and my next challenges have to stir things up? The 30K Quebec City race preceded by the 12K Staircase Challenge in ’09? The DisneyWorld Goofy Challenge (half-marathon followed by a marathon within 2 days) in 2010? So, in conclusion, it was 98% satisfactory result for the summer of effort. It’s the 2% that keeps me coming back, methinks.

All the stats… and then some.
Chip time 4:11:21
2,634 out of 7,488 Overall
820 out of 3,901 Women
168 out of 608 F30-34
Age/Grade: 53.90% place 2748 (What does this mean?)

Split times
10K 58:43
8.9 mi: 1:23:36 (14.24K)
Half: 2:03:49 (21.1K)
17.5 mi: 2:45:29
20 mi: 3:09:55 (32K)
21.1 mi: 3:20:58 (33.76K)

On this day..


  1. Jennifer says:

    WOW! What a great result, Wynne! I’m so happy for you. :) After Sunday I might be wishing I had trained with you. ;)

    You ran a really smart race and I’m really glad it went so well for you.

    I like the 10-10-10 thinking. I use the 5-5-5 version for half-marathons and it works really well.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good Job Wynne.
    You should have a good shot in cracking a 2hr half-marathon now.


  3. teahouse says:

    Awesome! I love the photo, too.

  4. wyn says:

    Thank you, everyone. :)
    It will be most fascinating to use 5-5-5 to my next half-marathon. I look forward to it!

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