First off, thank you all so, so much for your super kind and encouraging comments, Tweets, and emails before and after the race! Your support just floods my heart with happiness.
If you are considering doing a race in the Pacific Northwest (which you should, because it’s beautiful and temperate out here), the Portland Marathon is the race for you.
Yes, I missed my goal and endured some rough miles during the race, but overall, I had an incredible first marathon experience. The Portland Marathon was beautiful, flat (with a couple decent hills to keep things interesting), a smaller race with a big city feel, and very well organized. I would run it again in a heartbeat, especially because there’s a brewfest after next year.
As soon as we arrived in Portland on Saturday afternoon, we stopped by the expo to pick up my bib. The Hilton in downtown Portland, which was the official hotel of the race, hosted the well-organized expo. We got my bib and pre-race goodies (which included a cloth gym bag and a poster), browsed through the vendors, and were out of there within 30 minutes.
Before checking into our Airbnb, we each enjoyed a delicious IPAs at Hopworks Urban Brewpub and then headed to mass at a nearby Jesuit church.
The Airbnb ended up being a bit of a disappointment, especially when we had booked it so that we could have a kitchen. It was a clean apartment in a safe neighborhood just ten minutes from downtown, but it did not have a kitchen like we anticipated. Rather, it was supplied with a microwave, a toaster oven, and a hot plate. So, instead of cooking up chicken and baked potatoes, we ended up grabbing food at the Whole Foods hot bar.
The bed at our Airbnb was stiff, uncomfortable, and not conducive to a good night’s sleep. After tossing and turning for a while, I finally got 5 hours of sleep. Ryan and I both woke up at my 4 AM alarm feeling stiff, at which point we decided to next time just book a hotel near the start line, even if it costs more. I tend to be overly-frugal, even when it’s not at all necessary, and this was a time where spending just $50 more would have been very much worth it. It would have also been nice to stay closer to downtown Portland to experience the city even more.
I fueled with coffee, water, a bowl of Chex and a banana shortly after waking up. The weather was cool and pleasant, so much that I didn’t even need a warm-up layer or throwaway for the corral. We arrived downtown around 6AM and were easily able to find parking close to the starting line. Portland is very walkable and easy to navigate, so we found the starting line without any hassle. The lines for the porta-pots were long but thankfully moved quickly, and by 6:40 I was lined up in my corral. I found the 3:35 pacer (my plan was to start slightly under goal pace and break ahead somewhere around 16-20) and started chatting with a group of women all aiming for the same goal. Everyone was so friendly at the race! I took my first GU while waiting in the corral, to top off my energy before the race. My nerves calmed and I felt confident, despite feeling bloated and a bit off from some GI problems I had been experiencing over the past week.
The Portland Marathon does have tight security, so Ryan couldn’t stand near the corrals or right at the finish line. Spectators were allowed within about a quarter-mile of the start and finish lines, so I got to see Ryan both those times. I didn’t see him for the rest of the race, since many sections of the course were closed off to spectators.The course didn’t lack crowd support, however; many of the closed areas were through residential neighborhoods and the residents came out to cheer on runners.
The first few miles flew by. The Portland Marathon features instrumental bands along the course, which provides a significant amount of entertainment during the race. I ran without headphones or any of my own music for the entire race, which I’m really glad I did. I barely noticed the gradual 140 foot elevation gain over miles 2 and 3. The effort felt easy and conversational as I settled into 8:05 min/miles after the course flattened out.
The Portland Marathon offered exceptional pacers. They were experienced (the 3:35 pacers had each paced this marathon about 5 times before), chipper without being cheerleader-y, and steady. They started us out slow, and once we got past the first hill, they settled us into goal pace.
I was chatting with another runner during the early miles and found out she reads my blog! It always makes my day when I find out someone reads, and I really enjoyed talking to her. It’s the little things like that that make blogging definitely worthwhile.
I made sure to grab water and drink along the run at a few water stops and took my GU at miles 5-8. Somewhere between miles 10 and 11, my stomach started cramping up. Not just a little cramp, but my entire stomach area, from my ribs to below my navel.
Around mile 11, I dropped my pace a tiny bit to try to relieve the cramping. By the half marathon mark, my stomach started getting worse, even as I tried to take another gel. My pace dropped significantly from about mile 14-19. I actually pulled over and stopped for a few seconds, convinced that I was going to throw up. I retrieved my phone from my SPIBelt and texted Ryan that I felt sick and wasn’t sure I could make it. He told me to keep on pushing, which were the exact words I needed to hear. Runners were passing my constantly during these miles, which was a bit discouraging, but I just kept moving forward. I wanted to stop, walk, even quit, but I wasn’t about to let my stomach get the best of me.
The major hill of the course appears at mile 16, as you ascend a steep hill to then go up and over the scenic St. John’s Bridge. I ended up taking a couple walk breaks around here, as I felt genuinely awful. There were a few medical people running along the course to provide aid to runners, so I asked one of them for some advice. Since I was taking in carbs and water, he recommended getting extra electrolytes. The course supplied Ultima, which is a no-carb, no-sugar (stevia-sweetened) electrolyte drink. Since my stomach cramps couldn’t get much worse, I decided to give it a try and started drinking a cup of Ultima and a cup of water at every water stop.
Admittedly, I walked through the water stops through the rest of the race to make sure I got enough fluids. The electrolytes and extra fluids helped my stomach, so I wasn’t about to stop doing this. I took my final GU at mile 18 and could just barely stomach it. Around mile 20, I realized I could still easily finish within 4 hours, so I focused on picking up my pace and just moving forward.
Around miles 21-22, I started passing people. My mile splits finally returned back into the 8:xx’s for the first time in several miles, even with walking through the water stops. I did the math and realized that, if I kept a this steady pace, I could finish in under 3:50.
The last 10K honestly went by in a bit of a blur. I know there was a bit of a climb somewhere around 24 or 25, but hiking has strengthened my legs so much that I barely felt it. I kept passing runners and pushing for that sub-3:50. I just focused in on thinking about Ryan, on making him proud, and on seeing him. Finally, my pace returned to near my goal marathon pace in the last couple miles, and I heard Ryan cheer my name just before I rounded the corner to the finish line.
The clock read 3:51, but since I started in corral B, I realized I was just at 3:49. I raised my arms in the air as best I could, since everything hurt, and crossed the finish line. The sensation was one of utter relief and overwhelming accomplishment.
My Garmin read 3:49:22 for 26.29 miles (it was easy to run the tangents since it had only 21 turns); my official time for the race was 3:49:32. Later I found out that I placed 1033 out of 5550 runners, 294 out of 2841 women, and 69 out of 500 in my age group. Not too bad for my first marathon. I was ecstatic with my time, I ached all over, and I immediately needed to sit, so I sat on a curb in the middle of Portland and just marveled at the fact that I was officially a marathoner.
As soon as Ryan and I met up, I realized I desperately needed some bland carbs. I had not grabbed any of the post race food, since my hands were full from the medal, a finisher’s jacket (instead of a Mylar sheet), a race shirt, a rose, and a tree sapling that they gave to finishers. Einstein’s Bagels was about two short blocks from the race, so we sat outside, ate coffee and a bagel with cream cheese, and enjoyed the beautiful Portland weather.
A couple hours later, we grabbed lunch at Deschutes Brewery in downtown Portland. We love their beers, and the brewpub did not disappoint. It had beautiful wood carvings and plenty of seating, and even on a busy day we were seated and served with much-appreciated expediency. We had their Inversion IPAs, elk burgers, and fries. I couldn’t finish my food, so I ended up getting a to-go bag so I could eat it on our drive home.
On Missing My BQ
Honestly, I am so happy and proud of my finish time. I met my “B” goal and am still glad that I set the “A” goal I did. I’m a dreamer, a reacher, a shoot-for-the-stars personality, and the experience of pursuing goals means as much to me, if not more, than achieving the goal itself. I had such a successful training cycle and pushed myself beyond my previous self-imposed limits, which is as valuable to me as that BQ. The fact that I then pushed through stomach pains, rather than quitting, shows me that I’ve progressed so far in my ability to overcome discomfort.
I also now know that I can’t keep ignoring my digestive issues. I can’t blame my bad miles on anyone other than myself for not better preparing my stomach for the stress of a marathon. Crohn’s and IBS/IBD run in my family and I have endometriosis, which can lead to inflammation in the gut. Thankfully, my medication manages my endo symptoms fairly well, but the medicine can disrupt gut bacteria. My mom and Ryan have been suggesting that I get into a gastroenterologist to figure out why my stomach turns against me so frequently, and it’s about time I stopped being so stubborn and do so. It’s not a recent thing by any means; I don’t mention it on the blog because I don’t want to be “that runner with endometriosis” and no one wants to know the details of my stupid stomach. My training went so well that it is mildly frustrating to realize I could have done better if I was more proactive in taking care of my digestive health, but I’m still so proud of myself for overcoming the pain as I did.
Questions of the Day:
Is the Portland Marathon a race you would want to try?
What’s the most beautiful race you’ve ever run?
How do you handle stomach issues during a race or training run?