Time to run fast. Well, originally it was supposed to be. I wrote in my 2008 goals that Eugene would be my "plan B" attempt for 3:30 if I didn't get it at the National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer in February. I didn't (3:46), so it was.
Except that I've only had so-so training between February and May. Several sicknesses and some lower mileage weeks, and that's so-so. Two things had been going well: 1) I had been able to keep 1-2 weekly speed sessions in my schedule even during lower mileage weeks and 2) I had actually pulled 3 consecutive 70 mpw weeks heading into this race weekend. So not everything was going poorly and overall, my training was getting better.
Not good enough to push it at Eugene, though. So I traded it in as the go-fast attempt for a race in June (North Olympic Discovery). I'd use Eugene to run a 3:45ish race, which would still be faster than last year. I just wanted to get in the miles.
Actually, I surely treated it that way... especially in terms of nutrition. Good race nutrition for me has always been a bit like winning the lottery. Or, some weekends, losing the lottery. I have run good races on Taco Bell. My current PR happened after a pizza-and-beer lunch and a pizza-and-beer dinner. Meanwhile, I've spent generous time in portpotties and behind bushes after eating the typical pasta, fruit, etc. And vice versa. Taco Bell is not always my friend :-). Basically, youneverknow. And so I took it easy on myself for Eugene. Lunch was sushi and a ton of beer. I stayed busy during the afternoon and evening. By the time I realized I needed to eat some dinner, it was kind of late. So I ate at the closest place. Owned by some red headed chick named Wendy. I just wanted to get in the miles, so it didn't much matter.
Race morning came a lot quicker than I expected, but I got up in plenty of time. It would be sunny and cool. I had decided to go back to the pink for this race, and I decided to try some of those funky arm warmers. They are kind of like wearing spandex tube socks on your arms. The arm version of 80s leg warmers.
I had forgotten to bring a running cap. In fact, this is part of what I had spent Saturday afternoon doing - the odyssey for a reasonable running cap. Eugene is "Track Town USA". Should have been easy. And Eugene's expo, while small, had enough vendors. Should have been easy. Eugene was the birthplace of Nike, and there's a Niketown next to the hotel where the expo was held. Should have been easy. How many hat candidates did I find in Eugene? Exactly three: one didn't fit, the Niketown hat was too spendy (and they only had ONE in the whole store. A running store with ONE HAT?!?), and the 50-stater booth was too busy. So on race morning, I pulled on my ski cap/skull cap thing. Coupled with my arm warmers, I was quite toasty. I looked like a pink turtle.
It was ok. I was just here to get in the miles.
I walked down to the start area by Hayward Field early. Last year I didn't do this... and the lines were so long that I was physically IN the portapotty when the race started. I missed Jerrod from Subway! I didn't want to miss the start (sans Jerrod) this year. Plus, I wanted to take a lap around Hayward Field. On the way to the start, I had a brief chat with a local man who was walking his dog. It was a nice, peaceful morning. The weather was nice, and I was just here to get in the miles.
Hayward Field was locked up. Boo. It made sense... this will be the location for the Olympic Trials in a month, and so they were doing construction. No lap for me this year. More time to spend in the portapotty!
Time to race. Or... just get in the miles. Right?
They had changed the course a bit from the previous year. Overall, it was the same basic feel... a loop around Eugene neighborhoods and the University of Oregon (start-M9), across a bridge and a loop on bike paths (M9-M15.5), and then a loop along the river(M15.5-M25), across the bridge again to the finish at Autzen Stadium. They eliminated the death-march last mile around the stadium as well as some neighborhood zigzags around M20 this year by adding more time in Amazon park during the first loop. There were no macaws nor feisty large women in this park. The course was flattish, but had a few roly polies, especially during the first loop. Lots of concrete.
And tons of runners. Last year, 4000 people completed the full, half, and 5k. This year, 6000 were signed up. The start of the full was packed. Off we went. As noted above, my race goal was "about 3:45". I wanted to go out a little slow and speed up. No problem. It was crowded.
I was quite social during the first mile... lots of talking. M1 showed up at 8:23. Huh. Not bad for "about 3:45", but I guess I hadn't gone out slow. And I noticed that I managed that while talking. I felt great. I sped up.
M2 was 7:28. M3 was 7:19. Huh. A couple of notes about M3: 1) it was downhill and 2) it was marked short - which is why M4 was 7:58. I think I was really averaging about 7:40s.
I felt really good. M5 was 7:44. M6 was 7:35. Potty stop during M7... 8:23. I ran M7 at the same pace as M1 even though I stopped for a bit. And I was still talking.
At M9, we crossed the bridge and hit what I call the crazy trails. This section of the course... M9-M15.5 for the full... utilizes bike trails that are mostly wooded. There are lots of different bike trails and intersections. The race org did a great job of marking the course and posting volunteers to ensure we stayed on the right path. However, each race (full, half, 5k)utilized slightly different sections of trail... and different trails were utilized for runners coming back. It was like experiencing a busy time at an airport with runners coming and going in all kinds of directions. Some on the same trail, some on different trails that appeared and disappeared randomly. Like a highway stack interchange.
Onward. Last year, this section is where I slowed down and my day got reallllly long. Not this year. My 7:40s became 7:50s, but I held.
I hit the half at 1:43. I was just getting in the miles!
It was time to make some decisions. I held no hope of running a 3:26. I could try for my 3:30. I could try to beat my 3:34 PR. I could go for "beat 3:40". I decided... not to decide yet. I wanted to see if I could hold this pace through M16.
M13 had been 7:53. M14 was 7:50. M15 was 7:39. Ah, I figured out what was going on. As we started the crazy trails from M9 through M13, we must have been going up a gentle hill... and now we were coming back down.
At M15.5 we came within earshot of the finish line and I heard all the hoopla for the half marathoners. It was time for the river loop. Lots of concrete on the river loop. I hit M16 at 7:51; 2:05 on the clock. On a good day, I'm usually at 15 at 2:05. I was a mile in front of myself. New territory. I still didn't feel like setting a new race goal; I wanted to do one mile at a time.
Let's see how long I can hold this. But first, I needed to potty again - and I didn't want to hold that. I read all the time about the fast folks and elites... when they are running a fast race, they have very interesting strategies regarding potty. Some stop. Some hold it. Some, uh, get creative. I'm not that fast and I'm certainly not elite. So I stop. Which I did at M17.
M18 was 7:50. M19 was 7:54; 2:30 on the clock. Oh my.
The inevitable slowdown hit me at M20. Now, on a bad day, the slowdown is immediate. My miles will suddenly slow by 45-90 seconds. On this day, my 7:54 at M19 went all the way to 8:05 at M20. I crossed the "8" border, but it was still 11 seconds. Not 90.
Heh. There was NO WAY I was going to bum myself out for running an 8:05 at M20. I hit M20 at 2:38. A couple years ago, my magic time for M20 was 3:05. If I hit M20 before 3:05, I felt pretty positive about hitting the four hour mark. Here I was at 2:38.
M20 was where the course did a very short out-and-back (to ensure an exact 26 mile, 385 yard full) before crossing to the other side of the river for the trip to the finish. On the out-and-back, I realized for the first time that I was still in front of the 3:30 pace group. Heck, I hadn't even noticed pace groups at all before now.
Hmmm. During the last half of most marathons, my brain entertains itself by playing little math games. Some of the common ones include "if I walk the rest of this race, I will finish at x" and "if I run 10 minute miles, I will finish at x". I usually don't do either of those things... but they are leftovers from years past when it was somewhat common. My brain still goes through the exercise.
I decided to try to keep the rest of my miles at 8:05 or below. I hit M21 at 8:03; 2:46 on the clock. Recently, I've gotten used to hitting M21 right around 3 hours... that would generally lead to my 3:45ish finish. And I was 14 minutes in front of that.
I still didn't want to think about 3:30. But holy crap, if I could hold this, I'd PR. Let's do it.
At the aid station in this section, I grabbed a clif shot from a volunteer. According to the volunteer, it was called "double shot". Ah, clif's Espresso flavor. Not exactly what I wanted, but I ate it anyway. Big mistake. It didn't kill my race, but as a point of reference - the aftertaste of the espresso gel flavors is "vomit". And it lasts a long, long time. Kind of like vegemite. Great. Even if I PRed this race, I probably wouldn't throw up. But it sure tasted like I did.
Somewhere during the next mile, my legs went south. My right quad started knotting up. My left calf and ankle felt frozen. Runners have all kinds of ways to deal with (and work through) aches and pains. For me, these are usually transitory and go away. But I didn't want this now.
Odd things go through your mind during the late miles of marathons. I will never forget the Moab Marathon in 2006. I spent most of that race trying to get Coolio's Fantastic Voyage out of my head. GAH.
I was hurting. The geek portion of my brain... the portion I keep hidden with all the knowledge of Monty Python and Unix... the geek portion woke up. And thought about Star Wars. I always thought it was weird that the fighter craft had a little R2 robot along for the ride. Of course, in the first movie, R2 comes in handy because a piece of Luke's X-wing starts to break away. Luke asks R2 to deal with it, and so R2 extends an arm/antenna thingy and stuffs the piece back down.
I needed an R2 to deal with my legs. R2, I'm losing a stabilizer. Can you do something about it?
Tweet, doodle dee doot. Wooo.
M22 at 8:17; 2:54 on the clock. I was losing it. I was three minutes in front of my M22 time at my last PR race , but my legs were unhappy.
Let go. Use the force, McLovin.
Oh man. Sometimes I hate the geek part of my brain. At least it wasn't Coolio.
M23 at 8:12; 3:02 on the clock. And those brain math games? Well, I could walk from here and hit my 3:45. And if I cranked it down to 10 minute miles, I could still get close to my PR.
Nah. I wanted to see if I could get back to 8:05 or better.
M24 at 8:03.
M25 at 7:54. Over the bridge, and Autzen Stadium came into view. I've got the PR. And unless my legs blow up like the Death Star, I'm going to beat 3:30.
M26 at 8:05. I have you now. Shut up, brain.
I'm going to break 3:30.
No, wait. I'm going to break 3:29.
The finish area was packed with spectators. Because my name is written on the front of the pink uniform, I can usually count on people calling out "Robert!" Someone in the crowd called out my first and last name... which isn't on the shirt. I tried to spot the person, but I couldn't.
And from Seattle, Robert Lopez.
I was tired, but aside from the freaky leg pains, it had been one of those great days where most everything went correctly "just because". Had it been a potty-free day, I think I would have run about 3:26. But I beat 3:30, and I beat my old PR by six minutes. I didn't mind the potty. Not at all.
Here I am now. The time you see is gun time.
Turtle! Turtle! Turtle!
I guess I should drink beer and eat at Wendys for more races. I am quite sure that putting no pressure at all on myself had a big part to play here. And yes, 70 mpw is better than 40.
Next up: already happened. The Tacoma City Marathon. Not a PR course and I didn't have a PR day. Still though, it was fun. A big city marathon organized and sponsored by the Marathon Maniacs. I even worked at packet pickup. They did not make me clean the bathrooms, luckily.
I'll have that story RealSoonNow.
As for goals, I have now achieved my marathon time goal for this year. I've already been asked if I'm going to press for a BQ (3:20). Nope. If I run a few more sub-3:30s, ask me again.