Four-word summary: Years-long goal achieved.
One-sentence summary: After three failed attempts in the last few years, I finally qualified for the Marathon Maniacs club by running three marathons within 90 days (77 days, in my case).
Paragraph of stats: The Operation Jack Northwest Run marked my 10th marathon since my first one in December 2008, but five of them were run this year alone. I had an average pace of 9:21 per mile through 22 miles, putting me on track for a faster-than-expected 4:05, until a coughing fit had me stopped for five minutes. But I’m quite happy with the 4:14:22 finish, especially since it came 20 days after a marathon.
Race history: This race is the “satellite” version of a Southern California race, now in its third year. All proceeds go to Operation Jack, a non-profit named for an autistic boy named Jack. The Portland version is a six-hour run, though the marathon and half-marathon distances are marked, too. Entrants are capped at 100, and the race director, Steve Walters, has a full spread of running food, along with volunteers that include his very nice family members.
My involvement in the race dates back to December 2010, when I volunteered at the race in freezing temperatures, blowing wind and painfully sharp raindrops. I ran a 10k (6.2 miles), which marked my longest run in four months, due to a stress fracture in my leg.
This year, I set out to run the full Operation Jack marathon. I’d run St. George in October, California International in December, and if I could get through this race, I’d finally qualify for the Maniacs club. I had failed twice before, including a heartbreaking first-ever DNF (did not finish) on my birthday weekend, just 16 miles from finishing. I desperately wanted to cross this goal off my list, though I didn’t talk it up too much because I couldn’t quite handle the idea of having so many people know how much this race meant. Many people didn’t even know I was running another marathon so soon after my last one.
Pre-race days: I arrived in Portland on Wednesday and wandered around downtown (food carts and Powell’s Books – check and check).
I went to dinner with the always lovely Christine and Ruben, then went to my friend Ryan’s house. The next day I went to the gym and did some strength/stretching, ran five miles on the treadmill, and foam rolled. We were lazy that afternoon, and it was awesome. That night I went to dinner with my longtime good friend Becky and her girls (who just keep growing up), then had drinks with my friend Heather.
Friday involved driving out to Tillamook Forest with Ryan, and about an hour of hiking through snow that was sometimes knee deep. In other words, it was awesome.
Top it off with a visit to McMenamin’s for beer milkshakes (fantastic) and Cajun tater tots. That night we went to an “end of the world” party, since the Mayan calendar stopped that day. If the world did end, I wouldn’t have to run 26 miles the next morning! To be on the safe side, I was designated driver and only had a small glass of wine. Oh, and half a shot of cinnamon whiskey, because, you know, why say no to something new and different hours before a race? Add pizza and salad, and you’ve got Layla’s perfect pre-race meal. That party gave my abs a workout due to So Much Laughing. I can’t begin to explain all the hilarity that ensued. The game Catch Phrase, combined with hug-judging and “bacon and porn,” made for great fun. And a late night. No regrets, though.
Race morning: Staying at a house about a mile from the start of a small race is the best thing ever. I showed up at 7:15 and had plenty of time to say hi to people, get my race bib, meet new people, and go back to my car that was parked steps away. Breakfast was my standard bagel, peanut/almond butter and banana. We all gathered at the start line in Summerlake Park, and then the race began.
Mile 1 – 9:28. Mile 2 – 9:14. Mile 3 – 9:10. Mile 4 – 9:12.
(Quick note about the photographer, though more will be mentioned later: If you live near Portland and need photos, consider Leyla Duechle Photography. She’s very nice — and she spent hours at the race just because she’s cool.)
The course is a 0.95-mile loop through the park. Yes, that sounds dreadful. But it’s actually much better than you’d think. It winds through a park, goes over a couple bridges, circles around a pond, and passes nice homes.
Mile 5 – 9:07. Mile 6 – 9:09. Mile 7 – 9:14. Mile 8 – 9:14.
Portland is known for rain. California is known for sun. Well, every time I visit Portland, I seem to bring good weather. At my California marathon three weeks earlier, I said “bring it on” to the weather, and we were treated to pouring rain and 35mph headwinds. This time, I was in a rainy city but there was blue sky. And the sun came out.
Mile 9 – 9:10. Mile 10 – 9:17. Mile 11 – 9:06. Mile 12 – 9:03. Mile 13 – 10:12.
I reached the halfway point at 2:02 and knew this was faster than expected. That mile was slower because I stopped to fill up my pocket with more shot bloks (one every two miles), a gel (I’d taken one at mile nine and would take another at mile 17), and get a new bottle of Nuun. It was nice to have an aid station there every mile so that I didn’t have to carry everything I’d need for 26.2 miles.
Mile 14 – 9:29. Mile 15 – 9:12. Mile 16 – 9:31.
I was now officially further than I’d gotten in my last attempt at Marathon Maniacs. That was a nice thing to note. I passed my friend Sarah a couple times, and she was always cheery and always on the same pace (she ran 32 miles that day!). Other runners were strangers but if/when we passed each other, we had that sense of camaraderie that makes the running world so amazing.
Mile 17 – 9:18. Mile 18 – 9:17. Mile 19 – 10:52.
At mile 18, I felt a blister near my arch. That’s not normal. But I had also performed the idiot move of wearing old shoes. They had 305 miles on them when I started the race, and that’s normally when my shoes are done. (They’re black, and I figured I could wear them around on vacation, thereby cutting down on the number of shoes I needed to bring. Priorities…) I stopped at mile 19 to refill bloks and get another gel, which I never ate.
Mile 20 – 11:07.
Bathroom stop. I rarely stop in a marathon, and I probably didn’t really need to this time. But I was starting to feel tired and my lungs were hurting, so I thought it might help if I kept drinking more water.
Various neighbors were out watching dogs, and at mile 20 I saw a corgi. Hooray for corgis! And there was the guy with hemmed jean shorts that were folded up once — classy Portland fashion statement right there.
Mile 21 – 9:22. Mile 22 – 9:26. Mile 23 – 14:09.
I’d started taking 20-second walk breaks every once in a while, and the interesting thing is that it didn’t actually slow my pace. My legs liked the mild hills on the course and just really wanted to go fast, though my lungs said otherwise. After 22 miles, my lungs won. I was bent over to get the blood flowing back to my brain so I could see (that happens every race), and then as I pulled into the aid station, I started coughing. Nothing derails my running more than coughing, so I just stood there trying to stop coughing, while telling the volunteers that I was OK and was not quitting.
The aforementioned photographer was named Leyla, and I saw her every lap as she walked the course in reverse. We’d seen each other’s names on Facebook for a while and wanted to meet, due to our names. It was great to say and hear “Hi Layla/Leyla” regularly on the course. She was at the aid station while I was coughing, and she took my bottle and refilled it with water. Then she talked to me for a couple minutes, and that really helped to calm me down and distract me. I can’t thank her enough.
Mile 24 – 10:15. Mile 25 – 10:07.
I kept running, but walked up the hills that were now seeming steeper. A large herd of geese (nope, I’m not calling them a flock) appeared on the back of the course, apparently as a reminder of the evil ones that chase and hiss at me at home. Portland geese are apparently more polite. Also, I kept playing leapfrog with a guy who was wearing a bright green body suit. That was pretty funny, and I’m sure all the nearby residents were wondering what that was all about. I have no idea, actually.
Mile 26 – 9:42. Mile 26.21 – 1:57 (9:25 pace).
To run a full marathon, I ran 27 loops on the course (honestly, the repetitive loops weren’t awful at all), then a short out-and-back to a marked spot. On my way back from the turn-around, fellow runners cheered, knowing I was about to finish the marathon. The aid station people also knew I was about to finish, so they started cheering, too.
Finish: I reached the finish line, which was a white line on the concrete. I stopped and hopped over it, landed decisively with both feet and shouted, “Maniacs!” Everyone cheered, and race director Steve was there to give me a medal.
Then I looked at my watch and saw that it read 26.12 miles – 0.08 miles short. So, to make sure I was official, I went and ran another tenth of a mile. I think my official time says 4:13, though.
Stats: A total of 63 people participated in Saturday’s run, with distances ranging from four to 45 miles (since it was a six-hour run with various options). So the stats are skewed, since it was more of an ultra event. But anyway:
- Of 11 who ran 26.2 or 26.6 miles, I was 2nd overall and first female (of six).
- The race director split the ultra-runners’ times to estimate marathon finishes. Of 28 who ran 26.2 or more miles, I was 6th overall and first female.
- My first half was finished in 2:02, and the second half in 2:12. That’s a pretty big difference, and is due in part to my five-minute coughing stop and an extra minute for the bathroom. Oh well.
Conclusion: And so I reached another goal. In my 10th marathon, I had finally qualified for Marathon Maniacs. I got the idea in my head not long after my first marathon four years ago, when I knew that qualifying for the Boston Marathon wouldn’t be realistic for a long time, due to the fast time requirements. I think I wanted to break the four-hour barrier more than I wanted to qualify for Maniacs, but now I’ve met both of those goals in the same year.
In October 2006, when I ran my first 5k (3.1 miles) race, I never imagined I would run 10 full marathons. I didn’t say “I can’t do that,” because the idea never even entered my head. Now, I really wonder what will happen in the next six years.
And, for those wondering, my Marathon Maniacs number (which I got on Christmas Day) is 6398. I’m officially insane.