Portland Marathon: heartbreak, blisters and a lost runner

Last year when I did the Chicago Marathon, I cried during the race.

After that race, I told myself I would never cry during a race again.

I didn’t cry during the Portland Marathon.

However, I did cry three times after I crossed the finish line.

It was a battle. It was hot outside. It was painful. I kept trying to wrap my head around “what was going wrong” and I couldn’t figure it out. It was frustrating. It was extremely annoying. I felt like I let myself down, that I let my friends and family down. And worst of all, that I let Joanna, my race partner, down. For heaven’s sake I LOST HER ON THE COURSE. But, I’ll get to that part in a bit.

The Calm Before the Storm

The race started out great. Joanna and I made a plan to run with the 4-hour pacers and stay with them the entire race. The pacers “guaranteed” that if runners started with them, we would finish with a time of at least 3:59:59. And, that was my goal (and Joanna’s) all along: to break four hours.

Joanna and I made it to the start with plenty of time to spare. We used the portapotties twice with extra time to stretch and get rid of jitters. It was still dark and finally started to become light when our wave began shortly after 7 a.m. We weren’t sure when we would see our cheerleaders (our parents and boyfriends and friends) but were happy and surprised to see both groups early on twice. Everything was good. Everything was happy. Joanna and I chatted a bit as we enjoyed the beginning of the race.

And we begin!

And we begin!

It was reassuring to be running with the pacers because we didn’t have to do much thinking (or calculating). We just ran.

Just past mile 6 there was about a 3.5-mile out-and-back. On our way out, we were mostly shaded by trees and buildings but on our way back, the sun was rising and was beating right into our eyes. It was annoying but my body felt good and strong. In my mind, we were going to achieve the goal we had set out for, no doubt about it. We saw our friends again at the end of that out-and-back (so maybe around mile 11 or so) and we were still all smiles. A band along the course was playing Pharell’s “Happy” and we couldn’t help but sing and dance along. I even ran into Maria, another Seattle runner who was out racing! I did Hood to Coast with her last year and it was a fun surprise to see another familiar face on the course.

Two happy runners

Two happy runners

The Happy Slips Away

Somewhere around mile 12-13, I realized I had a side ache. I wasn’t sure if it was just a “normal” side ache or if it was because I had to pee. I mentioned this to Joanna and she suggested that if I really had to go, I should probably use a portapotty rather than run through it and feel bad. I was torn because I didn’t want to waste precious time but decided it was probably best to just go. We saw a row of portapotties up ahead and I told Joanna that if there was no line, I would run into one really quickly and be out even quicker. She said she would hang back for me.

Luckily there was no wait and I jumped into a portapotty and took care of business. I was in there for maybe 20 seconds tops and quickly jetted out of the thing and ran back onto the course. This is where the first of my problems occurred.

I sprinted and caught up to the 4-hour pacers but Joanna was nowhere in sight. I had a hinge of panic. “Where is she??” I thought to myself. Since we were still  “fairly early” into the race, there was quite the crowd around the pacers. I scanned through the group as I ran but couldn’t spot her. I pulled off to the sidewalk and stopped and turned around to look at the oncoming racers. No Joanna. I sprinted back up to the pacers and continued running. I replayed in my head our conversation. “I’ll hang back,” she had said. Then I realized that I didn’t know what “hang back” meant. Did it mean she was going to physically stop and wait for me? Did it mean she was going to run at the back of the pack of 4-hour runners, which is what I thought she meant? Did she mean something else?

I stopped and pulled off to the sidewalk to try to spot her two more times with no luck. I’m now very frustrated with myself that I didn’t clarify with Joanna what she meant. I am worried that if she doesn’t break four hours, it’ll be because she waited back for me to pee!

By now I have been running without her for more than a mile. I’m comfortably running with the 4-hour pacers but am irritated with the “lost friend” situation so I decide to plug my earbud in (yes, one) and listen to my music while I continue on. Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” sort of helps but I continue to be annoyed with myself.

Finally I arrive at the big hill that begins at around mile 16. As the pace group and I creep up this hill I can feel them slowly slip away from me. I dip deep to stay with the 4-hour pacers. Thank goodness this part was shady, but it was still a fight. We finally get to the top of the hill to be greeted by Saint Johns Bridge, which is an incline at first! My memory gets a bit hazy here but somewhere either on that bridge or shortly after it, I can no longer keep up with the pacers.

I feel defeated because I am letting my goal time “slip away” and I still have no idea where Joanna is.

Around mile 18 I hear people cheering my name. It’s Joanna’s friends and Bryce! As I run by I ask if Joanna is ahead of me and they confirm that they haven’t seen her yet. Although I don’t remember doing this, I cursed and ran on. (When Joanna approached her friends at this same point and found out I was ahead, she also cursed).

My look of pain

My look of pain

Shortly after seeing the friends, I see my parents and Joanna’s parents. They call out and ask me where Joanna is. I quickly mutter out that I had to pee and that I had lost Joanna but that she is behind me.

Soon after, Joanna does catch up with me!

I profusely apologize and she assures me that no harm is done. We can still make out the 4-hour pacers’ sign ahead of us. Joanna was looking strong so I figured she would eventually catch them. (Unfortunately, she didn’t). The two of us didn’t stay running together for long — I was now in a lot of physical pain.

Riding The Pain-Train And Drinking Beer

I ran alone again for the next 6.5 to 7 miles. These were the longest and loneliest miles I have experienced in a long time. They were hot. They were painful. My right foot felt numb and my legs just felt heavy. I thought my IT band was acting up again (but the day after the race I discovered that it was just in my head because my knee and IT band felt normal and fine!)

I never felt like completely giving up during the race. I knew I would eventually finish. I did think about walking the last six miles but the only reason I kept running was so it could all be over sooner. Plus, I had a 1 p.m. check-out at my hotel! And my parents and Bryce were waiting for me!

My act of “throwing in the towel” was taking the beer spectators were handing out at mile 23. At that point I knew breaking 4 hours or even PR’ing were so far gone. (For the record, I don’t even like beer! So, clearing I wasn’t thinking straight!)

When the 4 hour and 10 minute finish-time pacers passed me, I felt even worse. I didn’t think it was possible to feel any worse but apparently it was. I trudged along.

To the finish I continued trudging. I saw my parents and Bryce with less than a mile from the finish and I couldn’t make out a smile. I looked at them and continued on. I felt like a failure.

The street was lined on both sides with loud crowds. I just wanted it all to be over. I was in very low spirits. This was a heart-breaking race for me.

Then I heard someone loudly shout my name and tell me to kick it to the finish. I looked to my left and saw Abe, also another friend I had made on that Hood to Coast team last year. It was very uplifting to hear someone I was not expecting to see, call out to me when I was probably .2 miles away from the finish. After seeing him, I sprinted to the corner and turned — to find the finish still “far away.” I slowed down to a jogging pace again and when I was just a few yards from the finish line, I mustered a kick. I don’t know how, but I sprinted that last bit and passed a good five or so runners right before the finish line. I heard the announcer call out my name as I crossed the line. And, although I had a gag reflex thing going, I am proud to say it was just a reflex and I did not throw up. I just coughed while I sprinted.

It was finally over.

I gasped for air and wanted to cry. But, I didn’t — yet.

When All Is Said Cried And Done

I slowly walked through the chute and received my medal and rose and tree seedling and medallions (Why are they giving me so much stuff but no bag?? How am I supposed to hold all of this??)

I arrived at a water table and started chugging small dixie cups of water. I finally came up for air and noticed another finisher standing near me. We make eye contact and she asks me if I’m OK. (I’m guessing I look really awful).

I answered “yes” but immediately start crying. She asks me if I am hurt and I explain that I am not hurt but that I did not make my goal time.

Instead of rolling her eyes, this 50-year-old-ish woman assures me that I did a good job and also that this was her first marathon.

Now I feel like a jerk! I feel like I’m an over-privelaged child complaining about not getting an expensive enough Christmas present! I congratulate her even though I feel like my words “mean nothing” to her now.

I continue walking and receive my finisher’s shirt and some chips. I see popsicles but am too much in a bad mood to take one.

I cried again once I saw my dad and Joanna’s parents. They immediately told me what a great job I did and all I could answer back was, “It was so painful! I couldn’t do it!” (And I cried a third time when I reunited with Bryce).

But, looking back on it now — more than a week later — I know I did do it.

I completed my sixth full marathon.

Joanna PR’d and I am proud of her for that!

What I am having a hard time grasping even now is: What went wrong?

I did everything I was supposed to do. I followed my 16-week training plan. I was confident in the work I put in. I stretched and iced and foam rolled so as not to get re-injured. I took rest days when I needed to. I was healthy for this race. I didn’t catch even a cold or anything! I was well-rested for the race. I was eating well. I was staying hydrated. I had the best support crew along the course. (A million thank yous to my parents, Joanna’s parents, our friends and Bryce). I had the support of my new Oiselle Flock teammates!

Still standing because of all the love and support

Still standing because of all the love and support

I really, truly, deep-down-in-my heart believed I was going to break four hours.

So, what went wrong?

I don’t know.

Maybe the “stress” induced from losing track of Joanna just messed with my mental game for the race. Maybe it was the hot weather. It was in the mid to upper 70s when I finished the race. Maybe it was the blister that formed on my right foot that made me think my entire foot was numb. (I couldn’t wear close-toed shoes for three days!)

I walked away from that race thinking that I may have to retire from full marathons. It takes too much of a toll on my mind and body.

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that last year while training and racing through an IT band injury, I PR’d with a time of 4:05:26. Portland’s race was 11 minutes slower for me!

But, just 24 hours after the race, I woke up knowing it’s too early to retire. Not racing would be giving up. And, I’m not a quitter.

I don’t know when my next marathon will be. It may be next year. Or, I may take next year off (from full marathons, not running!) But, I know I won’t stop chasing after that sub-4 hour time.

Portland Marathon 2014: Check!

Portland Marathon 2014: Check!

Portland, you may have briefly broken my heart, but you have not completely shattered my spirits.





11 thoughts on “Portland Marathon: heartbreak, blisters and a lost runner

  1. Be proud of finishing! Finishing a race in pain when you feel like stopping is sometimes more valuable than a PR. Bad races happen to make us hungrier to PR!! If every race was great what would we have to push ourselves?

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