Portland: a city that 20-somethings migrate to in order to retire, Washingtonians migrate to in order to avoid 10% sales tax rates, and 20,000 crazies migrate to each year to run 26.2 miles.
Yesterday, I put aside my dreams of early retirement and set down my credit card and joined up with the crazies to run in a gigantic circle around Portland. I have registered for the Portland Marathon three times in the past five years, failing to participate two times – the first time due to sheer laziness and the second time due to a stress fracture that settled in while I lived a shoeless existence in Santorini. When I returned home from Santorini, I settled into life as a graduate student, which for me meant an odd combination of late nights at the library, a pack of cigarettes a week, a single bowl of pho for my daily meal, two pots of coffee a day and hours spent shuffling from the gym to class to happy hour before going home to crash and repeat the day all over again. Needless to say, I thought my running days were over. For nearly two years, I avoided running at all costs. Then, out of nowhere, I started running again. Desperate to procrastinate finishing my final graduate school projects in San Francisco this past May, I took a look out the window of the Huntington Hotel and said to myself, “I think I’ll go for a run today.” It was beautiful out – 75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky – and I thought that the Marina would be a nice place to jog out to before diving back into my papers. Well, I got to the Marina and thought that the Golden Gate bridge might be fun to run to. When I arrived there, I decided to run out to Sausalito. When I reached Sausalito, I looked across the bay, realized I’d just pumped out an 8-mile run and decided it was time to go home. Having no cash on-hand, my only option was to run back to the hotel. By the time I collapsed on my bed at the Huntington, I’d covered more than 15 miles in under three hours. It was time to start running again. I registered for the Portland Marathon the next day and trained as diligently as I ever have.
It turns out that four months passes in a blink of an eye. On Wednesday last week, I looked at my calendar and realized that Marathon Time had come. Thanks to over 500 miles of training and months of CrossFit, I was completely ready for what was ahead of me. Sunday was gorgeous – I have literally never seen Portland look so beautiful – and downtown Portland literally buzzed while all the runners lined up in their corrals before the race. The guns went off at 7:00 on the nose and by 7:15, it was game time for my group. I literally sailed through the first 16 miles, following my race-day strategy of walking through each water station before picking back up to my 11:15 pace. Around this point, there were a series of downhill stretches that I felt I could pick up my pace on a bit. This might have been a bit of a mistake because, once the hills flattened out, my feet started cramping in a big way. And they just didn’t stop. I slowed down a bit, walking a bit more than I had planned to through the 19th and 21st miles, but was able to put on my game face for the last stretch, finishing in 4:42:12 – well ahead of my planned pace time. I have no idea how I was able to finish ahead of pace, but am pretty stoked that I did.
So, what does it feel like to run a marathon? Its a landmark accomplishment, something that required less strength and more mental fortitude than I anticipated. Toward the end, it hurt – I had to actively force the pain out of my conscious and into the recesses of my mind. The last few miles were both excruciating and invigorating – I couldn’t imagine that the last mile would ever end, but knew that the finish line was one song away on my playlist. Crossing the finish line, I felt relief and astonishment and pride and exhaustion at a level I have never experienced before in my life. “Holy Shit,” I thought, “I never want to experience this again.” Then, I went and had a beer.
This morning, I welcomed myself to the ranks of crazy, dedicated, out-of-control, nihilistic marathon runners. Looking beyond the pain and towards the exhilaration of the marathon, I registered for my next race. Here we go again…