This past Sunday, October 6, I ran the Portland Half Marathon, exactly four years after I ran the “old course,” which happened to be the same weekend we moved to Boulder full-time. Since then, my running has been hot and cold. I am always striving to do this activity that is vital to my health and well-being, though injuries (broken arm, chronic hamstring issues, 15 stitches in my right arm from weird cut, and surgery for ruptured tendon in right thumb), travel, weather, and other obligations often get in the way of truly enjoying it.
In June, I ran the 10k at the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, NM. While I placed well, I wasn’t pleased with my race execution (cross-country air travel a day and a half before the way, poor nutrition the days before the race, stopping too often during the short race). I was determined to find a race where I could redeem myself—I wanted to break through the mental barriers that plague me during races. It doesn’t matter to anyone but me and my crazy self-imposed benchmarks, but guess it’s in my DNA.
I registered for two different 10k races here in Colorado as possible “redemption contenders”; I had to cancel both due to unexpected travel and unruly weather. I hadn’t run a half marathon since March 2018 (the NYC Half Marathon on a very cold day) and realized that was also a race that needed redemption. I kept getting advertisements about the Portland Marathon and Half Marathon, touting new race sponsors, director, and courses after the directors of the old race were accused of nefarious things. Portland is lovely in the fall. My sister lives in the area. Maybe this could be my race. I registered, even though I know deep within my bones that I don’t like to race; my anxiety level rises; my self-confidence plummets; and my body rebels (and it hurts!). I needed to do it, though, to test myself against these intangible things.
My training program over the summer generally went well except for long runs (10-11 miles). I could NOT run consistently, instead stopping every mile or two for water or to stretch my hamstrings or to catch my breath. One of my execution errors at the Senior Games was stopping too frequently when physically I could have kept going. I needed to break this pattern if I were to succeed in a 13.1-mile race with any chance of finding redemption—and clocking a decent race time.
My sister was excited to see us, reservations were made, and Doug kept telling the boys that running was going well for me. I couldn’t back out even though I hadn’t run enough long runs at decent paces to hit my targets. My family believes I can do better than I believe I can, which is good but also annoying for a self-doubter! I needed to incorporate their positivity into my training, especially on race day.
Fast forward to this past Sunday: Doug walked with me to the race start on the Portland Waterfront from our Pearl District hotel. Dark at 6:00 a.m., the place was alive with volunteers, music, runners, spectators, the pre-race excitement and jitters palpable. The morning air was chilly with coastal-like fog hanging above the city, definitely, for me, a vest, long sleeve shirt, and gloves type of day. I had several time goals, plan A, plan B and plan C (to finish without injury). I lined up in one of the waves with pacers, with the mile-splits in my head. We started slowly, the crowd and initial hill dictating our pace. I checked my watch at mile one, ugh, too slow. Then, I settled into a “pace by effort,” deciding that mentally I needed to push myself but also remembering the redemption: do not stop unless absolutely necessary. I decided that the pace wasn’t as important as feeling that I would be able to run the entire 13.1 miles, a distance that I hadn’t reached since that NYC half marathon 18 months ago The mind game is tough: I passed a sign along the course: “Run the first third of the race with your legs, the second third with your mind, and the last third with heart.” True words! My mantra became “I am doing the best I can,” which, at my age and at this point in my running career, is all I can do.
The course crossed over the Sellwood Bridge, wound around old Portland neighborhoods along the bluff above the river, traversed the Eastside Esplanade along the Willamette River, then turned back over the Burnside Bridge with a final push through Old Town and a finish at the Waterfront.
My legs felt good and I felt strong (a change in nutrition the days before the race helped, adding calories so that I wouldn’t bonk—but oh, it is hard to eat the right amount). Mentally the mantra kept me going, step by step, up the hilly neighborhood streets and over the bridges, keeping sight of a few runners ahead of me who were running at about my pace. If this was to be my last half marathon, I didn’t want regrets for things I could prevent. I stopped once (it almost felt like I had to do it) at the cobbled on-ramp to Burnside Bridge, before tackling the final mile or so to the finish.
When I saw the finish sign up ahead, my heart soared. I didn’t know my time but knew my race execution was the best I could have done on that day at that particular place. Doug was at the sidelines cheering as I ran past. Once I crossed the finish line, another runner complemented me on my mechanics, commenting I must be well-seasoned. If she only knew!
Walking through the crowds I gasped for air, taking deep breaths, not fully appreciating what I’d made my body do. The race was over. The directors had accomplished their goal of a good experience, a beautiful run through the four quadrants of Portland, lots of volunteers, people lining parts of the course shouting words of encouragement, not a PR-type course, but doable. A volunteer placed a huge medal around my neck, congratulating me and all the runners around. Doug found me, lent me his jacket as I shivered in the chill air, then we found the booth where I got a printed card with my race statistics (a nice touch). For my runner friends, the details:
Time: 1:52:30, exactly half way between my plan A and B goals, but a few minutes shy of the 2015 race (which was a flatter, faster course)
Average pace: 8:35 minutes/mile (with huge negative split from the uphill 9:21 first mile to the downhill 8:02 last mile, with fairly evenly paced +/-8:30 middle ten miles)
Age Place: 1st place out of 68 women (65-59), top 10% of all women running. Isn’t it wonderful that so many women in our sixties are continuing to push ourselves?
In retrospect, after more second-guessing, I was pleased with my performance. I got the monkey off my back. I wasn’t hobbling at the end of the 13.1 miles. My family was proud of me. I enjoyed the run.It was a good day.