Bunchgrasser’s World

My unique filter on life

Portland Marathon – 4:33:53

Posted by bunchgrasser on October 6, 2008

Yeah baby! I’m a marathoner now…

After more than a year of training and several frustrating injuries, I finally completed my first marathon on Sunday. My 4:33:53 finishing time isn’t likely to impress anyone, but I’m savoring the accomplishment nonetheless. My average per-minute pace was 10:27 and I placed 3746 out of 7498. Not too bad for a first-timer with a knee injury.

My status was questionable right up until the night before due to my sore knee. As I’ve documented on this blog – I acquired my sore knee on an 18 mile benchmark run many weeks ago and it has been slow to heal. I was leery of running such a long distance with knee pain, but at the same time I would have been crushed to miss the Portland Marathon again this year.

So, I showed up at the start line at 6:30am on Sunday morning. I stood in a long line to take my turn in the portable john. It was still kind of dark and cool but not cold. I wore an old white long sleeve t-shirt over my black Dri-Fit short sleeve running shirt. I ended up tossing the sleeves in mile 2 after I warmed up a little. I stepped into the sea of runners somewhere in the 3rd or 4th wave and waited for the starting horn. I had 2 GU gels (Espresso Love – naturally) and my Ipod Nano with exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes of music designed to keep me in “the zone”. I also tucked a $20 bill and my cell phone into my Ipod armband just in case I needed to be rescued somewhere along the course.

The first 5 miles went fine with a short loop downtown and then up Front Avenue to Barbur Blvd and then back. From there the course took us out Front Avenue into the industrial sector with the turnaround point at mile 9. This area is not exactly “scenic” but there were lots of supporters along the course cheering and plenty of drink stations. As I recall, the first of several Gummi Bear stations was in this area as well. I’m normally not a big fan of Gummi Bears, but on this day I was tossing em’ down.

I have to say that putting my name ‘Danny” on my bib was a great idea. I lost count of how many times supporters yelled my name along with some encouraging words. I’m sure if you’ve ran a few marathons this type of support isn’t important – but I can tell you assuredly that it helped me. So, I smiled, waved and enjoyed the sites along the way. Aside from guys peeing behind trees and some girls peeing behind trucks, the scenery was interesting and kept my mind off my knee.

At around mile 11 we left Front Avenue for a short tour of NW Portland which eventually dropped us onto St. Helens Road around mile 13. Now all had been going well up to this point. My knee was sore and achy but not causing any serious problems. I don’t know when I noticed but it had started raining and my shoes were pretty soaked at this point. I knew the blisters would come – but I couldn’t afford to think about anything negative. I recall dodging puddles and cussing the strong headwind on the long slog toward the St. Johns Bridge. I had been warned that you can see the bridge from the distance, but it is deceptively far away.

By the time I passed mile 16 and saw the long, steep ramp that takes you up onto the St. Johns Bridge, my knee had definitely taken a turn for the worse and was really bothering me. I could see that the majority of people were walking up the ramp but I continued a slow jog until the last 100 feet where I started walking also. It saved my knee and gave me a minute to reflect on where I was on the course. I made the turn onto the bridge and focused on getting to mid-span. I knew that once I made it over that bridge I would finish the race. There would be no quitting and no turning back. I just knew it. Heading down the other side of the bridge was an amazing feeling. I got a serious mental lift and felt like I had energy to spare. I even had enough energy to pump my fist and yell something incoherent as I passed a videographer while making the turn onto Willamette Blvd. Yeehaw! I made it past the bridge and it would be smooth sailing from here on out. Little did I know what would come in the next mile…

You know, we’ve all heard the phrase “hitting the wall”, and honestly I’ve always wondered what that actually meant. Since this was my first marathon, I’ve never had the chance to experience this before. Well, all I can say is that it got ugly really quickly after passing the 18 mile point.

I don’t think I really noticed how badly I felt for awhile, but at some point my face became permanently affixed with a grimace of pain and I started having thoughts of quitting. I recall thinking that the remaining 8 miles might as well have been 28 miles because there was no way I could do it either way. Willamette Blvd just happens to have a number of wide, flat speed bumps and each time I went over one – a jarring bolt of pain went up my legs. My mind had me convinced that every patch of wet, muddy grass along side the street would be as comfortable as my bed at home. I really, really wanted to just lay down for a couple of minutes. I’m pretty sure that I would have done that except stepping up onto the curb would have required some serious thought and effort on my part. Luckily I chose to keep running.

I passed mile 19 and, although I was a complete zombie I kept plugging away. I still had enough sense to realize that if I just kept moving I would see another mile marker in 10-11 minutes. I also knew that the blisters on my feet were getting worse and there was nothing I could do about it. I applied lots of Body Glide and Vaseline before the race, but the wet shoes & socks eventually wore away my protection.

At mile 20 there was a view of Portland’s industrial sector off to the right. It wasn’t much to look at but the change in scenery did help a bit. From there we passed the University of Portland campus and began a long downhill section that couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Basically it was coasting for half a mile and man did it feel good for awhile.

Miles 22-23 took me under the freeway and then up an overpass before cruising by the Memorial Coliseum. A hard right turn put me on the Broadway bridge and I was headed back over the river. The course narrowed considerably on the bridge and for the first time since the start of the race – I was shoulder to shoulder with other runners. We circled around and headed south on Naito Pkwy toward the finish. At this point I was completely spent and beyond running on fumes – I was running on pure determination. I didn’t dare stop to walk as it would have been nearly impossible to start running again.

I grabbed another cup of Gleukos and slowed down to drink it before making the final push to the finish. There were lots of supporters along the street now and hearing the cheers helped a lot. I focused on the pavement ahead of me and finally looked up to see the Salmon Street sign. It was such an amazing feeling knowing that I was about 3 blocks from the finish.

When I crossed the finish line they put a space blanket over my shoulders and pointed me toward the medals table. And, I kid you not, the last song on my Ipod play list – Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd was playing as they hung my medal around my neck. I was having trouble standing on my own and I think someone pushed me toward the tables of food. In 5 minutes I had downed some apple and orange slices, grapes, string cheese, several cookies, carton of yoghurt, bag of chips and a bottle of chocolate milk. I felt sick after that.

I found a chair to rest for awhile and then I managed to get through the t-shirt line and get my picture taken. As I stumbled through the crowd to the reunion area – a wave of emotion hit me. For the first time, I was able to focus on the accomplishment and not the pain. I just ran my very first marathon! Holy crap – I just ran 26.2 miles!

Yeah baby! I’m a marathoner now…

8 Responses to “Portland Marathon – 4:33:53”

  1. becelisa said

    congratulations! finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment and it’s inspiring to read about the experience of first timers. i’m training for my first (disney this january) and hope i too can make it through all the challenges. congrats again!

  2. bunchgrasser said

    Becelisa – thanks for the nice comments and best of luck to you on your upcoming first marathon. The Disney Marathon sounds like a blast and I may try it next year.

  3. Congratulations Dan!! I loved reading the play by play. My wife and I have a LONG term goal of doing a marathon together, with maybe doing a half next summer. Time to train with twin infants is a tad challenging, so we’re taking it slow. 🙂

    Did you hook up with a local running group, or train up by yourself?

    Again, congrats.

  4. bunchgrasser said

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the comments and I do hope you both achieve your goal as well. For me, the excitement of the accomplishment is still sinking in – but it is definitely a “life-affirming” achievement. I definitely recommend training for and running a couple of half marathons as a benchmark. I entered and ran 3 of them before tackling the full marathon. Then, at some point your personal training mileage rises (and surpasses) that distance, so you might be running half marathons on any (or every) given weekend.

    I did join Portland Fit (http://www.portlandfit.com/site/index.shtml) earlier this spring for accountability and group runs. It has been awesome and I will likely stay involved with this group as I train for my next marathon. My goal for this year will be to run faster so that I can break 4 hours in my next race. Without an injury I think that is possible for me. More recently (after injuring my knee) I trained mostly solo closer to home though.

    You have some awesome races up in your neck of the woods – so best of luck as you start getting serious about running!

  5. Scott said

    A 4:33:53 first marathon with an injury and interrupted training leading to a bad wall at mile 18? You’re wrong when you say that isn’t likely to impress anyone. That’s a spectacular time for those conditions. Way to gut it out. I think you’ll cruise to four hours in your next one.

  6. bunchgrasser said

    Thanks for the vote of confidence Scott! I saw your Eugene Marathon post (http://ratherberunning.wordpress.com/) yesterday and it got me thinking about a spring event. I’m laying low for a couple of weeks and hoping my knee feels better soon. I’m very anxious to hit the pavement again and put in some miles.

  7. audaciousalbert said

    Congratulations on your marathon! I admire your perseverance. I like reading about other runner’s marathon experiences. This year’s Portland Marathon was also my first one and it was a blast! I hope to run more in the future.

  8. bunchgrasser said

    Thanks Albert. Yes, I found reading other runner’s blogs very helpful in my training as well. Congrats on finishing your first marathon! I’m sure there will be many others for both of us.

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