We drove through Eugene last Fall during an ambitious 4-day road-trip from Monterey to Wenatchee, WA (it’s a real place with a lot of apples and a stunning outdoor amphitheater nearby) and were pretty floored by all of the beauty in one place, not to mention the whole “runner’s haven” Tracktown USA thang. They’ve got a good thing going there! The Eugene Marathon was immediately put on our race radar and we soon clicked “Register” without hesitation.
To switch things up a bit, I actually did my research before tackling this race! I knew the elevation chart in and out, ups and downs. I read many a race report and was hard-pressed to find a single item in any runner’s “con” list. It was more common to read something along the lines of “this course is magic!” and see recap after recap of people running much faster than they had anticipated. All in!
Eugene laid down the charm with perfectly sunny Spring weather and we got to see a lot of great people during a short weekend. Friday’s night out included dinner and Ninkasi beer with Emily & Morgan + Sergio. Saturday, a shake-out run on Pre’s trail with TAD teammate Allison + Liz, the Expo, lunch with Sass (Lauren) and her husband at Marche Provisions, and dinner with my favorite dude at Cafe 440. All things recommended if you find yourself in Eugene for some running or racing!
Sunday morning was all nerves and the realization that we actually had to go run. Up to that point I had been pretty calm and collected for this one; I knew what I was ready for but I also know that the marathon will test you no matter what. We opted out of the shuttle system and decided to park – landed a great spot just a few blocks away, walked it in and spent about 40 minutes repeatedly going to the bathroom, sitting to try and relax, and then finally checking the bags and lining up in our corrals. (All an easy, pain-free process because this race is extremely well organized!)
(If you look carefully you can see this is the first race under a new name, but not entirely. Because, brains are hard to predict.)
There was no 3:35 pacer (?!) so I situated myself somewhere between 3:30 and 3:40 in Corral B. My goal was to qualify for Boston (<3:34:59) and my Coach-approved race plan was reeling through my mind on repeat. A few things were certain: faith in my training, a beautiful (warm, sunny) day, a mind ready to fight, and a course that wouldn’t throw me too many surprises (just a few). Off we go!
Miles 1 – 6.2: 50:50, pace: 8:11
The 3:40 pacer crept up on me within approximately .05 miles and I was a little confused by that (see: annoyed). I realized my watch-pace was off (a lesson I’ve “learned” too many times, or not quite yet?) so that was that – no more looking at pace, HR, or auto-laps. My stride wasn’t coming as easily or comfortably as expected, but the warm-up worked like a warm-up should. The first 5K was spot on with the plan, average 8:15, anticipating the hill at mile 4.5 with the immediate downward slope to follow. I saw Emily twice here as we looped around Amazon parkway and all I really remember thinking is “I feel great!” and “She’s like magic – how’d that happen?!”
Somewhere around Mile 5 the sugar from my first fuel intake, the atmosphere of the race, and the reality of running hit me all at once, and it felt really good. In a fleeting moment of pure confidence I knew this day would turn out well.
I pressed “Lap” on the 10K mat, did some math (20 miles @ 8:00min/mile = 2:40:00 + 50:50 = yep!), and settled in.
Miles 6.21 – 13.1: 55:34, pace: 8:03
The biggest hill is from mile 8 – 8.5; we drove it the day before so we knew exactly what to expect and when – highly recommended! This is a long drag and it’ll drain you if you don’t play it smart. I took fuel before, powered up whilst remembering the ridiculous number of hill repeats I’ve done in the past 4 months (not to mention the Jerusalem half-marathon) and got to the top smoothly; open up the legs and make it up on the way down! This section brings you back past Hayward Field (the start + finish) with a tease, but if you’re playing the cards right there’s no way you want to be done by mile 9. Keep on keeping on!
At mile 10 we split from the half-marathoners, over the river and onto a trail, as the crowd dwindles. Expecting this, thanks to above-mentioned research, I plugged in my tunes and willed my mind zone out. My GPS took a nap and left me without updates or distance for the next 7+ miles – reason #102 technology fails at racing. (If Katie wasn’t doing science-y things with my HR data I’d be ready to revert to stop-watch racing only.) I turned all of my mental energy to math and miles; I split the day into 8-minute chunks so as long as I hit each marker within that window, I was in good shape. The 3:30 pacer-sign was still bobbing along well within sight (about a minute ahead) and that settled that.
Miles 13.11 – 20: 56:20, pace: 8:09
I started taking a cup of water at every station to dump over my head, followed by sneaking in a sip / getting it all over my face if there was anything left (the former is a skill that still eludes me). The one and only time I walked today was to try and actually get water in my mouth, but I can’t remember when this was (somewhere between 15-19?). All I know is it came and went without much more water in-mouth than if I had been running anyway. I simultaneously decided that’d be it; no more walking, no little breaks, no backing down! Run it in.
My pace was rarely “comfortable” by any stretch, but it was doable; at some point as a marathoner I’ve learned the difference between those two, and accepted it. When you let go of how it “should” feel you allow your legs to see what they can do without walls. My quads starting burning something fierce and the only things I let my brain think about were getting to mile 20, 8-minute time chunks, and fueling. That’s it. Don’t think about 21+, don’t think about the finish line, don’t think about anything else that has or might happen – just THIS mile, this minute, this pace. Concentrate.
We had a slight hill along a highway overpass, but otherwise we cruised through a residential area, onto a riverside trail, past Autzen Stadium, and then back on the trail. I knew there was one more hill coming up; waiting for us on the other side is the ever-unpredictable last 10k.
Miles 20.01 – 26.2: 51:35, pace: 8:19
A slight ramp up to the bridge shouldn’t feel rough but anything at this point in a race will irk you. My quads were burning so badly that I welcomed an uphill but approached any inkling of a decline with terror, sure my legs were about to buckle. Do math, drink OSMO, sing along, keep moving, stay consistent. On any other day, this is where you’re done. At least 99% of your brain has no interest in pushing through this, or can even begin to understand how it’s even happening – training teaches you to harness the 1% willing to play along. Because on marathon day? The limits disappear.
Don’t assume anything. You’re still moving as fast as you need to be.
You have a cushion.
Make yourself proud today.
You only have to sustain this for 20 more minutes…15 minutes…12 minutes…10 minutes.
Make. yourself. proud.
I ran to fight the disappointment I felt for so many miles through Marine Corps last Fall. I ran as if I once again had those surprise + familiar, peppy pacers next to me, unwilling to slow down and waste their Sunday morning. I ran knowing he was already done and waiting on me. I ran because if you walk, it just prolongs the pain. I ran as if my legs didn’t hurt at all, even though I’ve never felt anything like that quads-on-fire-burn before. Frankly, I ran because I was terrified that if I walked at all, my legs would give out and that’d be it.
I ran to remember how it feels to be proud – not just of the legs and muscles and all the systems miraculously coordinating to physically sustain, but proud of your whole self. To be in awe of what’s possible.
I kept running because I refused to end this race and wonder “What if…?”
I also thought about beer, and Voodoo Donuts, the weird Boston unicorn thing, dancing like Uma Thurman, and putting on flip-flops + clean clothes. Magic things.
I told myself everything I needed to hear when I needed to hear it, and my mind saved me more times than it hurt me. That’s all you can ask for.
Mile 26 showed up like a trusted friend and I was basically groaning (or some definition of odd, uncontrollable, where-the-hell-is-that-track sound), somehow still moving, racing the clock, and staring down the gated entrance to Hayward Field…
It wasn’t until I got through the gate and stepped onto this iconic track that I was 100% sure I would sneak in under 3:35, but nothing is guaranteed until you press STOP. He was right there in the stands where I knew he would be, already long-done with his speedy race, cheering & playing photog; this is barely considered running but it got me where I needed to go. I hardly remember the 30 seconds I was actually cruising along these famous lanes, but at least there’s photo proof!
26.2 miles sure do know how to throw an endorphin-pain party unlike any other. Thanks for hosting this round, Eugene!