Saturday, May 05, 2007

04/29/07 Eugene Marathon

Eugene, aka "Tracktown USA", has a storied running history, but it hasn't had a road marathon in a very long time. This year's Eugene Marathon was an inaugural event... and I, along with many other Marathon Maniacs, had to be there for it. Although Eugene is close to Seattle and logistically "easy", I had never been there before, so I decided to spend an extra day. After a simple Amtrak ride (totally WORTH IT compared to driving or flying) and a comfortable Friday night, I got the nice tour of the town and some of the University's athletic facilities thanks to a well-placed friend.

So, thank you, well-placed friend. Stuff like this is why I travel around the country to run marathons. I can run a lot in and near Seattle. But I never would have seen an indoor practice facility big enough for smacking golf balls, a cool osprey nest on a light stand at the top of the stadium, a nifty model of a new basketball arena, and a great tour of the course. Plus stuff that I've sworn to secrecy. It was great.

The race. At the highest level, the course is a point-to-point that starts outside of hallowed Hayward Field and finishes outside of the University's football stadium. But really? It's a pretzel course... three loops that bring you in shouting distance of the finish line four times. Uh oh.

Race morning had great weather and huge crowds at the portapotties. I took a lap around Hayward Field with my Maniac friend Leslie, greeted a couple other Maniacs, and then... with 45 minutes of cushion... went to wait in line. And I waited. Tick tick tick. More waiting. The race was supposed to start at 7a, and I finally opened the door of my special room at 6:59a. Business concluded, I ran out to the sea of humanity at the start. I tried to find the 3:50 pace group to seed myself properly in the sea, but the pacers didn't have signs. And it didn't matter because BOOM off we went.

It turned out that I was right between the 3:50 group and the 3:45 pacer lady, who didn't seem to have a group. I thought about running with her, but then I remembered last week's 50 miler. My goal for this race was simple... "somewhere around 4, and don't die". So I tried to let the 3:45 lady go.

The first loop moseyed around the south part of Eugene from the start up to the river and over to the football field around M6.3 (hello #1 to the finish area). I had been worried that the start would be super packed, especially because of a scary looking right turn not 5 blocks from the start. However, it never felt crazy crowded and the turn was fine. I worked my way into the pace I wanted and took on the course's hills... all of them were in the first six miles, and only one of them was semi-challenging. That done, I pondered that the rest of the race would be basically flat. This would turn out to be true, although the course was not pancake flat. Lots of little tiny rollers throughout. And a whole lotta concrete in the final loop. But we're not there yet.

The second loop took us over some bike trails near the river and dumped us into neighborhoods in... I think... Springfield. The Simpsons! Now, it is true that the running joke is that "Springfield" in The Simpsons is specifically in a nonspecific state. However, Matt Groening is from Oregon, and this Springfield is the only one that I know for sure is near a nuclear power plant. Aside from the fact that the fish I got for lunch did not have three eyes, I'd like to consider this the real Simpsons' Springfield. Besides, we ran by Moe's Tavern at M8.

Ok. Not really.

There were some missing mile markers throughout this loop (and ONLY this loop) which was kind of a drag, but it wasn't awful. More importantly, the aid stations in this loop and the rest of the race were plentiful. Too bad they went with a sportsdrink, Gleukos, that has two big downsides: 1) it looks exactly like water and 2) it is close to Ultima on the barf-inducement scale. Which is to say, I wasn't a fan, so I stuck with mostly water. Except for when I grabbed a cup that I thought was water and ooops, well, it was not.

The 3:45 lady passed me at M8. How did I get in front of her? Uh oh. Not 10 seconds later, the 3:50 guy zoomed past me. By M8, there should be a pretty fair gap between these two groups... but it turned out that 3:50 was just sprinting to get to the potty and do what needed to be done before his group caught him :-). I really shouldn't have been in front of him either.

Right before M10, the half marathoners cut off. We kept going out, then looped back around and rejoined the half marathoners on their way back. Unfortunately, this now meant that the half marathoners (on M10ish) were at a different mile than the rest of us (almost M12ish). This caused a lot of confusion with the halfers, when they saw our sign for M12. Some of them thought they were about done. Nope. Sorry, Charlie.

I hit the halfway point at 1:53ish. This would turn out to be a little too fast, but I wasn't feeling badly at all. I knew there wasn't going to be a negative or even split in my future, but I also didn't want to spontaneously combust trying to even out my splits. M14 (hello #2 to the finish area) sent us into the third loop.

The third loop was the most challenging for me. I generally have the most difficulty mentally in the middle 1/4th of a race, basically M14-M20, anyway. This loop followed the river, crossed a bridge, zigzagged weirdly through a neighborhood, and then returned next to the river (on the other side), before recrossing at the same bridge around M24.8 we had utilized previously at M6.2. See? A pretzel. Most of this was ouchy concrete, and the wind started picking up a bit. The course itself undulated, but was mostly flat. My feet started hurting terribly around M16. Might have had something to do with the previous week's 50 miler. And the concrete. On the other side of the river, I saw the faster folks chugging back to the finish. By the time we crossed over at M19, I was kind of out of it. The zigzag through the neighborhood almost did me in, except for a couple interesting things.

The first was Nacho Libre Mexican Wrestler dude at an aid station. He screamed at the poor woman who was slogging next to me. I think he was being encouraging, and at any other point in time I would have found it funny, but at that moment I wanted to be somewhere else. He did wake me up, though.

The second thing was the bandit kids running fartlek intervals. What? Well, somewhere around M18, two teenagers dressed in tight triathlon shirts jumped in from the spectator crowd and started running. They'd sprint for awhile and then stop. About the time I'd catch up with them, they'd sprint again. I have no idea why they chose marathon morning to jump in and do this... and I *really* don't know why they chose to do this when the midpackers were roaring through. But there they were. By the zigzaggy neighborhood, I'd pretty much had enough of them rushing me from behind, stopping a few blocks in front of me, and repeating the whole thing. I think it made me run faster. By M22, I never saw them again.

I was still on pace to be "about 4" at M22, but my feet were very unhappy. This continued at M23. At M24, a funny thing happened. It was as if I'd popped open a can of Popeye's spinach. I felt renewed and was able to get a good pace going again. And more importantly, I didn't really hurt anymore. I have no idea why. It wasn't like I ate anything magic... no gel, no sports beans, and no spinach... and it wasn't like the course changed. I didn't question it; I just enjoyed it.

We crossed the river near the football stadium (hello #3 to the finish area). Some of my faster friends were standing here, so I quickly said hi and asked how they did. A gust of wind almost knocked me down, and made me remember that I still had more than a mile to go. M25, and in an interesting twist, the course would take us all the way around the stadium before heading back to the finish. From behind me, and quite loudly, I heard a guy scream "STEVIE RAY LOPEZ". I whipped around to find the source. I did not find it, but I did disorient myself and almost fell on my ass again. And the wind blew harder. Time to focus. Time to run a little faster.

M26 was my fastest mile of the last sixteen. Finish line announcer announced me and I was done. 3:56. I made my goal, albeit a conservative goal. I felt great. I found my well-placed friend and learned that yes, he was also the screamer. Heh. He had had a wonderful PR day. Go well-placed friend, go!

In retrospect, they did a very good job for an inaugural event. And there were tons of spectators. This has good potential for a go-fast course, and I'll definitely come back. Perhaps I will even go fast :-).

I just hope they lose the Gleukos.

Next up: tomorrow's Flying Pig. I had some potty issues at last year's Pig, so there's a bit of a score to settle. Unfortunately, the weather outside my window does not look terribly conducive to settling scores. I'll see you there in any case. And at The Pig? I won't be the only one in pink.

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