When you run long distances you have a lot of time to think. I tend to daydream, interview myself, and write blog posts during the miles. I often think that I should bring a voice recorder with me as I cannot remember 95% of the crap I think about. I’m sure most of it is only interesting to myself anyway. But the theme of running your own race actually stuck with me.
The Columbia Gorge Marathon was my 7th marathon. I had never run it before and several months ago was looking for any excuse not to run the loops of Autumn Leaves. If you like running loops – awesome. I don’t. Some of my worst races: Timberline Marathon and Hagg Lake 50k are loops. To me there is nothing worse than finishing something feeling meh about it and thinking ‘well geez. I get to do that AGAIN!’ I enjoy point-to-point, out and back, and lollipops.
Columbia Gorge Marathon is advertised as one of the most scenic marathons and they did not lie. It is beautiful. The views of the Gorge and the rolling hills are spectacular. However, the course is not easy. First you run downhill for about 6 miles. It’s an awesome way to start a race. But there is something in the pit of your stomach that says ‘Slow down there Speedracer. This shit is going to get tough.’
I had looked at the previous year’s finishing times and knew it was a tough course. I really wanted to PR at this race but deep down knew that was probably not going to happen. Initially I thought to myself that if I race the first half really fast then maybe I could do this? Several of my friends were running 50′s and 100′s and I wanted something to brag about as well. But eventually the voice of reason said “Run your own race”. So I stopped comparing my finish times to other people’s and focused on two things: proper race nutrition and being in a good mental place for the entire race. I didn’t want another repeat of Timberline. I knew that the negative voices would destroy me in this race.
I ran the first six conservatively not caring that I was in the back of the pack. I knew the next six miles were a long uphill that would force many of my competition to walk. The six miles of uphill were tough. I passed a lot of people waiting for the porta-potties and many who were walking. Eventually the wind starting picking up along with the traffic.
There were a lot of aid stations for this marathon. It was the reason I decided to run without a bottle or hydration pack. But many runners used their family and friends for aid stations. The added traffic started causing some issues as runners were in one lane and both lanes of traffic had to share the remaining lane. Runners were changing clothes, eating, sitting in the cars, etc. It was very distracting. I cannot prove it but I have suspicions that some runners were cheating by being driven closer to the turn around area.
The turnaround area was one of the windiest places I have ever been. Later I saw a photo of an overturned porta-potty. The wind was blowing runners to the extreme shoulder of the road. For about a mile I had a hard time staying upright. I knew that I had to suffer only a mile or so then the nice downhill decent began.
It was glorious. I realized at mile 15.5 that if I sped up, there was a small chance that I could PR at the race. I clenched my fists and ran a remarkedly speedy pace until mile 19. Around mile 18 or so, the cold, cold rain began. That sucked so bad. My feet were cold, my hands were cold and I just wanted to be done.
At mile 19ish we began running back up the hill. It sucked. The six miles or so were so hard. I was tired and cold and wet. I had to walk some which meant that my chance of PR was gone. I was sad for a bit then moved on. It was more important to stay positive and finish than dwell on negativity.
I chatted with another runner on the course for about 3/4 of a mile which was so awesome. I wish I could tell her how much it helped. The second to last aid station was also awesome. One of the volunteers was so sweet and encouraging. Thankfully he didn’t say you are almost there. He said, ‘Keep moving. The rain will stop. Soon you will have a beer.’ He was fantastic. I could have kissed him right there.
At mile My whole body was tired and starting to stiffen due to the rain and the cold. I tried to run faster but my legs just couldn’t do it. I tried all of the mental tricks I had used in the earlier miles but my shuffle did get any faster. So I just dug deep and tried as hard as I could. I eventually passed one runner in the last couple of miles which made me really happy.
I think working with Animal Athletics is really helping although I have a long way to go before I’ll be ready to toe the line of Mt. Hood 50 in July 2014. Although my overall pace was not as fast as I would like it to be, this race was a vast improvement over Timberline. After that race I didn’t want to run another race ever again. After Columbia Gorge, I wanted to come back again and run it faster.