State 42: Maine (2014 Maine “Half” Marathon)

I awoke on Sunday with a serious, credible issue in my right knee. My IT band was extremely tight and would complain loudly every time I raised it off the ground. It could bear weight, but the minute I sprung forward, it tingled with pain. The hilly and challenging New Hampshire Marathon had pulled something out of alignment and I had hoped against hope that a good night’s rest would somehow nudge all the pieces back to their original positions.

It hadn’t, and I was due to run another marathon in just two hours.

This marked the first time I saw the sun all weekend

This marked the first time I saw the sun all weekend

My friend Javier dropped me off at the start line about an hour before the race was to begin. I made use of that time by walking in circles, hoping to somehow shake off the pain, as if it were a pesky bug that had gotten caught in my leg hairs. As more runners arrived, I felt like I was doing something right. Lifting my leg so that my knee was almost touching my chest, I felt better. I even dashed for a hundred feet and the discomfort felt manageable.  Perhaps I would be able to survive this marathon after all.

It took just one tenth of a mile to crush my optimism like a mallet to an egg.

If I felt any sort of relief, it was gone by the time the smoke from the cannon had faded from the starting line. With hundreds of runners zipping by me, I stopped to walk just a minute into the race. The pain in my right knee was unbearable, sending acidic stings with every step, each one worse than the previous. In that moment, I knew that 26.1 more miles of this would be impossible, if not absolutely excruciating. In my hand I clenched my phone, which I had sealed in a ziploc bag, and every slow, stumbling step I took, I gripped it harder. It was my way out, my lifeline. I could use it to call Javier and this whole thing would be over. I had that power to drop out.  I just worried that I didn’t have the maturity.

Mile 4, by the sea

Mile 4, by the sea

I sent him a text message instead.  “This is not working out.”  It was like mental insurance, an early warning sign of things to come.  But I stopped just shy of using it to call for a rescue.

That first agonizing mile was slow.  Every time I broke into a run, pain would singe into my knee and I would be forced back to a walk.  In that time, the one thing I managed to do very quickly was burn through the five stages of grief.

Denial

This can’t be happening. This is my thing, running is MY thing, and I’ve proven to be pretty good at it. There’s no way that this pain is really such a big deal. I just need to keep running on it so it loosens up my knee.  After that, everything will just click. All pains eventually go away, so it’s just a matter of ignoring this little hiccup, steel yourself, use mind over matter, and pretend it doesn’t exist. Just keep going.

Anger

Ow, ow, ow, this is bullshit and not working. I absolutely killed my training for this without a single issue. There’s no reason why my knee should be hurting this much. It hasn’t ever been this bad. In fact, my right knee has NEVER hurt, so why start now? I didn’t even push myself yesterday and suddenly it’s punking out like it’s never experienced a race before? Unbelievable. Ow, ow, ow …

Bargaining

You know, if I switch my gait to my old, maligned heel-strike, then I can actually pick it up a little. Maybe I can stay with this run/walk business until the end. Can I hobble the full distance?  But then we’d miss our hotel check-out and Javier and his family would end up waiting far too long for me. I wouldn’t be able to shower either – is that such a bad thing though? Is it too much to ask a family of four to wait for five hours and then endure the mephitic odor of an unwashed runner in the car for another two? 

Depression

This sucks. This really sucks. I came all the way here and now I might have to bail. There’s a reason that many runners re-brand DNS from “Did Not Start” to “Did Nothing Stupid” and I’m about to discover just what Stupid is. Man, each step hurts; this is the worst. People are going to give me that smirk and tell me SEE? They KNEW running was bad for your knees, and the proof was in my pudding-like pace. I wish people would stop staring at me.  I know, I’m walking at the first mile, thanks for your concern, but please move along.  And on top of all that, I now have to come back to Maine eventually to re-do this state.

Acceptance

… or do I? This slower pace and awkward stride is actually working pretty well. In fact, check it out, I’m at mile 4. I can probably keep this up for another 9 miles, cut my losses, run a half marathon instead and stay on track for all fifty states. It wasn’t my original plan, but if I stop running and go home now, I’ll be very upset at myself. Am I alright with doing “just” a half marathon?  Yeah … yeah I’m okay with that.

(left to right at Sebago): Diego, me, Javier, Erin

(left to right at Sebago): Diego, me, Javier, Erin

I would love to say that a smile burst from my visage from that moment onward and I waltzed happily for the next nine miles. Instead, I was locked in a grimace, a vestigial emotion leftover from the Anger phase. Denial was quickly overcome – there was no getting past the obvious pain. I bargained with my goals and ultimately accepted that I would rather not crawl for five hours, kill my enjoyment of the event and ruin everyone’s plans. But anger would stick around for several thousand strides.

It wouldn’t be until mile 10 that I began to run fast again. I wasn’t in the clear, as my IT band was still pretty tight. But it was no longer feeling like it was getting squeezed. I even sped up to a 6:47 pace toward the end and only then did I let myself smile. Maybe I hadn’t really accepted what I was doing until this point, as if the last two hours had only existed to get my mind off what felt like cheating or giving up.

Lobster Roll at Sebago Brewpub

Lobster Roll at Sebago Brewpub

It took me a while to get over it. I thought of people like Steve, Danielle and Otter, who have gone on to finish long races with terrible, probably worse pains, crossing the timing mats often smiling and with absolutely no regrets. It made me wonder if they know something I don’t, or if their worldview is somehow more mature than mine. Maybe they’re just better actors.  A childish part of me believes that accomplishments are only worthy or important if someone else thinks they’re impressive. I know that’s not true, but I can’t help but think on it from time to time.

I wish I had been able to fully enjoy the friendly volunteers, the flanks of cheerful spectators who assured me that I was “looking good” and encouraged me by name to “keep it up.” I’m sure they had seen my scowl because I had never gotten that much dedicated attention before. It would have been nice to enjoy the picturesque neighborhoods that came alive to witness the stream of people flowing through them. I would have taken more time to breathe in the beautiful seaside vistas and wispy cirrus clouds vanishing into the horizon.  Because the race really was quite scenic and very well organized.

The Maine Marathon gives out enough swag to fill a Doomsday Prepper bunker

The Maine Marathon gives out enough swag to fill a Doomsday Prepper bunker.  And yes, that IS a can of baked beans.

But I did finish smiling. Oddly enough, part of me did have fun at this race, even if the majority of it was spent wincing and facing the possibility of dropping out. If the physical act of running weren’t fun by itself, then I wouldn’t have come all the way here in the first place. Though they were emotionally charged and far from graceful, the miles I ran in Portland were still miles run. And of course, beyond the race itself, there was plenty to enjoy. When I wasn’t running, I was spending a fun weekend with a good friend and his family, happily noshing on local seafood during a gorgeous time of year.

It’s a strange thing, dropping to half the distance.  As the day went on, I quickly forgot about the race, almost as if it had happened weeks ago.  Despite how much those early miles hurt, they didn’t seem to register in my mind.  Maybe my subconscious is already quite aware that I will come back to Maine for the distance I originally wanted to run.  But that comeback will have to wait, and for now, I’m happy with my memories of the Pine Tree State.  Though I will certainly look back on this trip as “the time I dropped to the half,” I will also remember Maine for many other reasons.  There was the lobster, the chance to reconnect with friends and the realization that these events can bring out more than just the strength in your legs and the sweat from your pores.

Onwards.

Marathon_Map 053 (ME)

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2014 Race Schedule

In 2013, I mapped out the vast majority of my races for one purpose: to ramp-up to the North Country 50-miler.  While that race wasn’t as successful as I had hoped, the training leading up to it was more than worthwhile.  2014 won’t be quite as structured as I don’t have a singular epic event that will dominate my every interval run.  There is an ultra in the mix, but it won’t require as much all-encompassing focus as last year’s top race.

2014 will be about filling in some of the gaps.  With the South completely done, there are just three areas left to finish: the west, the northeast and the two pesky states not attached to the remaining 48.  This year I will be running two of the four remaining “western” states, but mostly I’ll be tackling the Atlantic Coast.

And so, while this list is far from exhaustive or definitive, it is how I envision my 2014 looking from a race standpoint.  I haven’t signed up for all of them – in fact, I have only signed up for two – but I don’t envision them selling out anytime soon.  Yes, I realize those are famous last words, but this is just to serve as a disclaimer.  Please let me know if you will be joining me for any of the races below, as it will definitely motivate me to sign up sooner!

01-miami

February 2, 2014
Miami, Florida

2014 will start with my very first charity marathon.  On November 25, 2013, my uncle Daniel Robert Bonilla died from complications stemming from glioblastoma multiforme, a malignant and extremely aggressive brain tumor.  He was there with me in 2010 and 2011 when I ran the half marathon distance in Miami, so I decided that in 2014 my twentieth marathon would be in Miami in his loving memory.  Given Miami’s propensity for intense heat and humidity, even in the first weekend in February, it will be a challenge to finish this one in under four hours without succumbing to dehydration.  Although it won’t be easy, I hope to channel Tío Daniel’s lasting memory and legacy with every step.

02-stlouis

April 6, 2014
St. Louis, Missouri

I ran the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon in 2010 with my cousin and enjoyed it, despite Olive Road squashing my speed with its seemingly interminable incline.  Like Miami, I decided to return this year and run the full marathon, thus shading another nearby state in red.  Although I don’t have speedy ambitions for this race, I will try and run aggressively and build a solid base to  threaten my PR later in the year.

03-shiprock

May 3, 2014
Shiprock, New Mexico

I’ve run three desert races, one of which was a marathon, and have loved all of them.  Given the climate and the course’s net downhill elevation, this one seemed like a no-brainer.  I’m still a little unsure as to how hot it will be in early May, but I don’t plan on killing this course, so I’m not too worried.  Plus, if I fly into Albuquerque (just under 3 hours away), it will give me a chance to visit all the sets of Breaking Bad, like everyone is doing these days.  Forgive me for following trends.

04-maryland

May 10, 2014
Fulton, Maryland

Admittedly, I’m at the point in my 50-states quest where I no longer have a reason to run certain races.  Some of these races simply exist in states that I have never visited, so I find one and decide to run it (which is made most apparent by the fact that each race is basically the name of the state in which it is run).  But in the interest of trimming the budget, I decided to once again double-up on states.  However, unlike my Pacific Northwest Double-Marathon Weekend of 2013, I won’t be doing 52.4 miles this time.  Instead, I will be running 39.3 – a half marathon on Saturday in Maryland, followed by …

May 11, 2014
Wilmington, Delaware

2014-Marathon-Layout-Vert-with-CC-logo… a full marathon in Delaware on Sunday.  This is another race that I don’t know that much about, but fit nicely with my schedule.  In fact, a lot of these states don’t have particular significance to me but I do have friends who live in the area, so I will no doubt make it a point to visit them in the process.  There have been very few races that I have simply run without some sort of personal attachment and I don’t intend to make this pair succumb to that fate.  That way, when I’m done with my 50-states journey, I’ll have great stories for each one.  Even Delaware.

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06-bighorn

June 21, 2014
Dayton, Wyoming

Dayton, Wyoming is a tiny western town with a population that barely cracks 1,000.  But it’s the closest example of civilization that I could find to the Bighorn Trail Run course, which peaks at around 9,000 feet.  Sometime last year I realized that my two ultramarathons were being run in states that I had already completed, so I figured that my next huge race should at least net me another state.  If I’m going to put hundreds of miles running hills on the treadmill, I might as well get a new state out of it.  Pickings were slim in the flat states, so I decided to go crazy and do one at altitude.  Along the way, Otter, Marla and Jay (80% of the North Country crew) joined as well.

October 4, 2014
Bristol, New Hampshire

NHmarathongrayscale.jpgI will definitely regret doing another 39.3-mile weekend if the first one above doesn’t go well.  Regardless, my trips to New England will once again be minimized with a double-up.  Saturday will start with a half marathon in what is regarded as “the most beautiful race in the Northeast” (and one I have hitherto never visited) followed by …

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October 5, 2014
Portland, Maine

logo… a marathon in Portland, Maine.  Curiously enough, it will be happening on the exact same day as the marathon in the other Portland, which I ran in 2013.  With this state done, I will be at forty-two states, with the potential for a forty-third in November.  I haven’t made any commitments but I do anticipate squeezing out another run in the last two months of the year, leaving just a few empty spots on the map before the last states to ever join the union are run in 2016.

So there you have it, my 2014 race schedule.  It’s pretty straightforward, focusing mostly on marathons with the half distance only making an appearance (for now) as a prelude to the full distance just 24 hours afterward.  I was originally going to run the 50-mile distance at Bighorn to vindicate my DNF from this past year, but then I ran 4 miles at 4,000 feet and, while wheezing from oxygen debt, decided that an additional 46 at twice the elevation might not be what some call “intelligent.”  So while some may call us crazy, there is still a point at which the runner’s ego hits a wall.  The 50-mile distance still taunts me though, but I will likely table my next attempt for another year.

What’s on the 2014 docket for you?  What’s the one big race that will monopolize your training?  Is there a race that you would love to run this year, but for whatever reason, you can’t?  Mine is Berlin.  Goddamn I want to run that.

State 34: Oregon (2013 Portland Marathon)

Most marathons don’t allow their runners to get much sleep the night before.  The typical race starts between 6 and 8 in the morning, which has us eating our ritualistic pre-race meals between 4 and 6.  If we want to give ourselves some time to wake up before eating, then we’re setting our alarm clocks between 3 and 5.  If you’re anything like me, then you can’t go to sleep before 11 PM anyway, which sometimes means just four hours of shuteye before the big day kicks off.

But when you run a marathon the day before, then your body completely shuts down by 9 o’clock.

Because of this, I woke up on Sunday, October 6 feeling blissfully refreshed, as if I had slept for days on a bed made of unicorn hairs.  But the minute I moved, I could feel the rust creaking off my joints in little red tufts.  The five-hour drive from the Leavenworth Marathon to Portland the day before had done my post-race recovery efforts no favors and I felt like a machine that hadn’t been used in decades.  But it was too late to do anything about it, so like clockwork, Otter and I got into race mode, eating the exact same breakfast as the day before.

Portland Marathon Course Map (Google Earth)

Portland Marathon Course Map (Google Earth)

The day began in a sort of haze.  Yesterday we were admiring the beauty of the mountains all around us, taking in each white peak adoringly, excited to run, happy to be alive.  But as we prepared for the 2013 Portland Marathon, we were reticent, focused and very stiff.  We parked in a garage downtown and walked to the start line, barely stopping to take any pictures.  Even in our corral we hadn’t even run in place yet just to see how it would feel.  We were resigned to run but didn’t want to do any more than necessary.  It was all business.

After a very emotionally stirring national anthem sung by the running crowd of thousands without music, Boston Marathon champion and American running legend Bill Rodgers sent us on our way.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch-ouch-ouch …

It felt as if a demented doctor had replaced my right Achilles tendon with a shorter one overnight.  Every time I pushed off my right foot, I felt a strain on it.  I briefly considered changing my stride but opted to just tolerate the ache for the time being.  Otter vocalized his own discomfort by laughing and simply acknowledging the crazy thing we were doing for what it was: lunacy.  We stuck together for the first 5k, which started out flat, ushering us out of the city through Chinatown, but later climbed consistently for a good two miles.

Fortunately, we didn’t focus too much on the hills because that first 5k was flush with entertainment.  In the span of twenty minutes, we saw a female-led rock band suspended on a crane, a children’s handbell ensemble, a bluegrass band, a solo Celtic harpist, a dreadlocked acoustic guitarist, a Peruvian flute band, more than one drumline and a group playing marimbas on a pedestrian overpass.  And those are just the acts I remember.  The sheer variety and number of performers was staggering.

Start and Finish Area (Google Earth)

Start and Finish Area (Google Earth)

“I’m going to kill this downhill,” I told Otter as we reached a turnaround just before 5K.  He gave me his blessing and I sped around it at what felt like a 45-degree angle.  I looked at my watch and saw that I was running at a 6:52 pace, as if releasing the pent-up moderation from yesterday’s 10-mile downhill.  It would have been so easy to kick down that portion unrestrained, but I had kept myself in check.  Today I was hungry and I gave into that primal urge to fly, soon overtaking the large 3:55 pace group.

The course flattened quickly and I returned to a stable pace.  My lungs were fine, my breathing was controlled and relaxed, but my legs were still very acidic.  Ignoring the aches was proving difficult, but I had no choice.  Either I push through it and continue my sub-4 streak or groan my way through an unpleasant race.  About a mile later, every single person around me uttered a loud, collective groan.  I was so focused on my body, dialed into every electric response that I didn’t notice that the path ahead was getting cut off by a train.

It wasn’t a hallucination.  The striped signals were down, red lights were flashing and volunteers had brought in a large, orange mesh fence to stop the torrent of people coming at them.  While many runners looked indignant, scoffing loudly and craning their necks to the sky, I couldn’t help but laugh.  It was just a passenger train, so it only slowed us down by a minute, tops.  Had this been a freight train, I would have joined the outrage.  Once it was past the intersection (and literally not a second later), everyone scrambled under the gate and tried to catch up with their non-train selves.

I foresee a future tagline: Train to Beat the Train

I foresee a future tagline: Train to Beat the Train (Google Earth)

The next part of the race was the worst.  We were on a paved road that ran between an industrial park and a train yard.  Soon the four lanes bottlenecked into what felt like two.  Aid stations became somewhat claustrophobic, there were few bands to speak of, and we had nothing pretty to look at except for distant hills experiencing the advent of fall.  My legs weren’t doing any better and by this point the race was starting to feel like a controlled bonk.  But there was a bizarre silver lining to this: had this been any other race, I’d feel nervous or downright awful at how much I was struggling so early.  But this time, I knew why I was tired.  I could point to the reason so really, my expectations were lining up.

Exactly how I derived some sense of optimism from that, I still don’t know.

At some point between seeing the 3:25 and 3:30 pace groups on their way back, I saw Mike.  I found his blog almost exactly a year ago, drawn to his keen eye for detail, elevated diction, and the reverent way in which he described his Chicago Marathon experience.  Since then, we’ve been regular readers of each other’s racing exploits.  We exchanged a quick hello before continuing on our ways.  I reached the end of this awful gray out-and-back and turned straight into the sun.  I took my sunglasses, which had fogged up by the first mile, and wiped them with my shirt.  I put them on to find that I had just distributed sweat in thick, opaque streaks.  While it was better than my other option, blindness, my sight was limited to just bobbing silhouettes ahead of me.

I somehow saw Otter to my left, running towards the turnaround.  He told me he was thinking it would be a 4:30 – 4:45 race for him.  I joked that we had just passed mile 35 and he chuckled, but later admitted to me that it took him a few seconds to understand what I meant.  I guess I wasn’t the only one slightly out of sorts.

The marathon split from the half around mile 11.  In almost every single case where there’s a half marathon option, the vast majority of spots are dedicated to it, leaving the marathoners to run a lonely second half.  In Portland, the exact opposite happened.  In fact, when the half marathoners abandoned us, I barely noticed a difference.

It looks boring on Google Earth, it's even worse in reality.

It looks boring on Google Earth, it’s even worse in reality. (Google Earth)

I couldn’t wait to leave the trainyard, so I was willing to forgive the gently rolling hills we ran from miles 11 through 14.  We eventually returned to the Willamette River, where the course flattened out.  I saw a large green suspension bridge on the horizon as I passed 25k.  In the last eight miles, I had somehow gotten stronger; as if I needed the last 15 miles to truly warm up.  Running wasn’t getting any easier, but I was no longer feeling tiny sears of pain with every step.  We had been told that the first miles would be the worst, but I never thought it would take this many.  I actually managed to smile during this section, wondering if this race would pan out like Bruce Willis’ character in Unbreakable or the incredibly convenient material “unobtainium” from The Core (not Avatar), both of which got stronger with additional pressure.  With this newfound vigor, I picked up the pace just a little.

Mile 11, picture courtesy of Katie

Mile 11, picture courtesy of Katie

But my hopes of invincibility were dashed when I realized that we would be crossing the river on that giant suspension bridge.  The road dodged left and immediately sloped upward, a group of marines stationed at the bottom to provide the necessary motivation.  During that long climb, I could have taken a walk break to enjoy a wall of trees in varying shades of fiery reds and burnt oranges.  But instead, I kept my head down and heaved upward.

Don’t bonk until 30k, I was telling myself.  You can bonk at 30k if you want, but get there first.

I had to change gears midway up the hill, breathing more per turnover to keep from exhausting myself.  It was tempting to walk, especially as I saw every other runner around me stop to recover.  It might have been smart to stop and walk, but I refused.  I kept running until I reached the top of the hill and made a sharp right onto the St. Johns Bridge.  I was breathing through my teeth as I reached the top of its barely perceptible arch, letting the downhill carry me past many runners.  Somewhere on the bridge, I realized that my Achilles was no longer hurting.  I really was getting stronger.

The St. Johns Bridge (Google Earth)

The St. Johns Bridge (Google Earth)

But over the next four miles that strength would once again be tested.  We were running through neighborhoods overlooking the Willamette River, the city of Portland far away on the opposite shore.  Had I taken the time to examine the race’s altitude chart, I would have known that a gradual uphill would throttle my legs over the next four miles.  I passed 30k feeling relatively fine, but every time I looked ahead, after every turn, I wasn’t rewarded with the end of this climb.  Like the St. John’s Bridge, the slope was barely there – just enough to make you feel a little weaker with every mile, as if with each step the race was slowly leeching its runners.

Get to 35k, I thought.  Once you get to 35k, you can bonk.

The lead-up to the St. Johns Bridge (Google Streetview)

The lead-up to the St. Johns Bridge (Google Streetview)

I had started to sweat a lot more.  All morning it had been foggy and cool, with a frosty breeze sliding under my shoulders.  The chill kept me from abandoning my long-sleeved shirt.  But the sun had been lording over us for almost two hours now and the uphill had started to sponge all the energy out of me (and I thought the Pacific Northwest was supposed to be perennially cloudy).  I would have tossed the shirt, but it was from a race I ran in 2009 and sentimental attachment kept me from shedding it.

The crowds were out now, with signs bobbing on sidewalks and strangers supporting indiscriminately.

“You guys look great!” a woman said to my left.  “You look like you’ve done this before!”
“I have.  Yesterday.”

She and several people around her laughed at me, but I don’t know if they quite understood what I meant.  They most likely disregarded my comment as the raving madness that consumes you in the throes of a long-distance race.  Onwards and upwards I continued until I reached the top of the climb right at 35k.  The Willamette River beckoned me at the end of a delightfully long downhill, the weight of the earth and the 48 miles in my legs all but shoving me downward.  Aided by this pull, I reached the 3:45 pace group.  I tried to lock myself in with their pace only to watch them slowly pull away.

Get to 40k.  You can bonk at 40k.  You can bonk at … bonk at … bonk …

Runners approaching the finish line

Runners approaching the finish line

And then it happened.  The sack of bricks that hovers over every runner, held in place by a thread that thins with every mile until it is just a tiny filament, finally became too heavy.  I reached mile 23 and stopped running.  My head slumped and my hands slid to my waist as I reached complete exhaustion.  The time bomb had gone off, my legs were flooded with cement and the long march began.  For the next two miles, I would run to the nearest mile marker, and then take a walking break.  I kept up a sluggish pace until mile 24, where a circular onramp guided us across the Broadway Bridge and back into the heart of the city.  While I felt like I was running uphill, I’m sure that I could have walked faster.  I was a sad sight.

Once back in the city, there was little to do but just keep moving forward.  Unless a sinkhole were to eat me up, I was all but guaranteed to finish under four hours.  I had no other time goals, so there was no real point in speeding up.  But I didn’t want this weekend to end with a crawl.  I took one last sip of Ultima sports drink at an aid station that couldn’t have been more than four blocks away from the finish – placed to help runners around mile 1 – and took off.  Before the final turn, I heard someone call out my name and turned to see Mike and his wife Katie beyond the barricades with a camera.

I look delirious.

I look delirious.  Picture courtesy of Katie.

After one last turn onto 3rd Avenue, I made it to the finish line in 3:48 and change.  There was no glorious moment of triumph, no tears of relief or even a primal scream to the heavens.  I simply turned off my watch and basked in the satisfaction of a challenge completed.  My sense of accomplishment, and to a significant degree, my pride had both been hurt by my withdrawal from the North Country Run last month.  As often as I told myself that I had done the right thing, it still stung to put so much effort into something and not see it through to the end.  Reaching the finish line in Portland and running 52.4 miles in two days was not only a return to form, but a vindication of my decision to call it quits in Michigan’s forests.  It wasn’t until I held that medal, which wouldn’t look out of place on a decorated soldier’s uniform, that everything was finally okay.

The finishers chute looked more like a smuggler’s bazaar than the usual smorgasbord of carb-heavy foods.  Friendly volunteers were handing out the expected bananas and oranges, but past them I was given two velvet pouches, one with a coin and the other with a pendant-sized replica of the medal.  I kept walking and was offered a rose by another cheerful volunteer, symbolizing Portland’s nickname, the City of Roses.  Finally, just when I thought I had seen everything, another volunteer offered me a potted tree.  I was half expecting someone to offer me a live chicken at the next table.

This is so Portland, the recurring sentiment played out in my head.

2013-portland-marathon-medal-front2013-portland-marathon-medal-back

The 2013 Portland Marathon Medal, front and back

I left the race and hobbled to the 26.3-mile post-race party, where I sipped on a local IPA and met the man behind Blisters, Cramps & Heaves and his wife / race crew / photographer Katie, who impressively managed to get some excellent pictures of me despite having never met me before.  That night Otter and I dined with them at the Deschutes Brewery Public House, where we exchanged war stories, talked about future running plans and waxed glycogenic on the things that only diehard runners care about.  I realized then that I have two pretty solid streaks going: running marathons in under four hours and meeting amazingly friendly and down-to-earth people afterward.  You know who you are.

Left to right: Otter, me, Mike

Left to right: Otter, me, Mike.  Picture courtesy of Katie.

Once sufficiently full of food and local brews, Otter and I walked what felt like twenty blocks uphill to meet up with Will, a friend of mine from middle school, at Pope House Bourbon Lounge.  It was a dimly lit bar in what looked like an old Victorian house (again, so Portland) but we enjoyed ourselves because their craft beers were $3.75 each and Will is good people.

And so ended our double-marathon experience.  If we’re being completely honest, I don’t think I will do something like this again.  Sure, you have to take anything I say with a grain of salt, because “never again” is a popular saying in the sport that usually precedes “maybe someday” which is just shy of “where’s my credit card?”  But I truly didn’t enjoy the Portland Marathon as much as I would have had it been the only race of the weekend.  I was too focused on pain maintenance, on keeping a reliable stride to minimize discomfort, on second-guessing every tiny pain as a harbinger of bonk-provoking doom to look around and absorb the city’s autumnal glow or the beautiful music being played by its urban minstrels.

Will is moving to Denver soon, after 3 years of being a Portlander.  Portlandan?  Portlangolier?

Will is moving to Denver soon, after 3 years of being a Portlander. Portlandan? Portlangolier?

But what an experience it was nevertheless.  These two races were so different in every measurable way that it was easy to forget they happened just a day apart.  The first was remote, wooded and lost in an ice-carved canyon, the second in the middle of a raucous city.  One started silently in between mountains, the other with a former marathon legend under steel skyscrapers.  Leavenworth allowed me to run smoothly, evenly and enjoy the sinewy elegance of conversation on the run; Portland skewered and shamed me by pushing my body to the brink of collapse.  Washington showed me of how far I’ve come as an athlete as I ran comfortably at a pace I could only dream about four years ago and reminded me that running long distances can be fun and not a lonely, isolated experience.  But Oregon reintroduced me to the gut-busting wall and over the same distance proved to me once again that running is hard, that not all pain is significant, and that suffering is optional when you’re inching ever closer to your goal.

Marathon_Map 043 (OR)

2013 Race Schedule

I don’t usually have a perfectly solidified race schedule so early in the year.  At any given point, I have a few races set in stone with a select group waiting in the wings, either because I haven’t registered or because they have yet to graduate from “flight of fancy” to “official commitment.”  However, this year I am very confident that it has been completely mapped out through November.

The reason for my confidence actually stems from a comment Otter made to me a few days ago.  He said that (almost) every race on his radar has a purpose.  I looked at my own race calendar and had a similar epiphany.  With a few exceptions, the big races on my schedule were meaningful stepping stones of some sort, which made it easier to ink these events into my otherwise palimpsest of a calendar.  Though I haven’t officially registered for all of these, I decided to at least publish the schedule to keep me from flaking out on any of them.  And so, with great excitement and hope that I encounter no sudden injuries, this is the path that 2013 will take:

01-RNRNOLA
February 24, 2013
New Orleans, Louisiana

The Disney World Marathon was supposed to end my marathon-a-month streak and mark the beginning of my ultra regimen.  However, on something of a whim, I decided to go for the Rock ‘n Roll New Orleans Marathon.  If you’ve been following my adventures, you’ll find this choice of race a bit odd.  True, I’m not the biggest cheerleader for Competitor’s RNR series, but I refuse to run Louisiana in any other city and this is its only marathon.  The timing for this event wasn’t entirely whimsical though.  It has not escaped my notice that every marathon I’ve run since Des Moines has been slower than the previous.  Perhaps spacing them so close together has made it so I’m never fresh enough for a faster time.  So this will be my last shot at a fast marathon for a long time.

02-PALEO
March 16, 2013
Willow Springs, Illinois

I first saw the Paleozoic Trail Run on ultrarunner Jeff’s blog.  While the signature event is a 50k, the shorter 25k option looked like a great race to test our trail skills leading up to longer races.  I sent a link to Otter and he showed great interest, signing up almost immediately.  I was surprised at his enthusiasm, given that he has a loose rule about never signing up for inaugural races.  But here’s something intriguing, if not intimidating about their tagline: “Finish or Fossilize” which written on a T-Shirt is alone worth the registration fee.  Located just thirty minutes southwest of Chicago, it’s an easy race to reach and will surely give us a taste of the challenges to come later in the year.

03-NC
March 24, 2013
Charlotte, North Carolina

I originally wanted to run the NC Half Marathon in 2012 to continue a series of races that all had race tracks (Pomona Raceway, Kentucky Derby’s Churchill Downs and the Indianapolis 500) but airfare was unusually expensive and nobody else seemed interested.  So I tabled the race for 2013.  As of this writing, a group of 5 of us are registered and ready to start our engines.  While this race isn’t a building block of any kind, it will be the first half marathon I run since August and the last on my calendar for quite some time.  In other words, it’s my last shot at a fast half (perhaps even a PR), possibly until 2014.  Posting a record time will depend on the weather, but North Carolina can expect a bloodthirsty performance from me regardless.

04-GARMIN
April 20, 2013
Olathe, Kansas

You can’t run a marathon in  Kansas without it having some theme related to the Wizard of Oz.  Held three weeks before my first 50k race, I decided to use the Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz as a training run.  By this point I will have spent a lot of time on trails and will simply want to strengthen my legs and steel my stomach.  My goal for this race will therefore be to run conservatively, practice my food intake and finish comfortably (in other words, avoid throwing up).

05-ICEAGEjpg
May 11, 2013
Ottawa Lake, Wisconsin

The Ice Age Trail Runs include a 50-miler and two shorter distances, a 50K and a half marathon.  In order to continue training for a much longer event later in the year, Otter and I decided to sign up for the Ice Age Trail 50k as our first venture past the 26.2-mile barrier (and no, I’m not counting his 26.5-mile Route 66 Marathon as an ultra, no matter how pedantically he tries to suggest it).  Running this will be similar to my first marathon; the next big event, the one where once again I’ll be unsure of the outcome and all excitement is slathered with a thick layer of trepidation.  While pictures from the event look gorgeous, I’m sure my face afterward will be far from comely.  It will be the single hardest race I’ve ever run.  That is, until …

06-NCR
August 24, 2013
Wellston, Michigan

… this guy.  I still don’t know how an undertaking as massive as running fifty consecutive miles could start with something as simple as a webchat at work.  You’d expect things like this to happen after a bear with a broadsword orders you to do it or if a band of marauders captures your children and leaves them fifty miles away, hungry and afraid.  But somehow I found myself receiving an email saying I was registered for the North Country Run 50-Miler, wondering how it was possible that I had signed up.  50-milers are for crazy people and I just run marathons.  In fact, I still can’t truly process what this is going to be like, but it will likely change me, for better or worse.  Given its date, there’s a good chance it’ll be warm and humid, so I’ll have to double-down on training and nutrition to ensure that I don’t donate my body to the dirt beneath the Manistee National Forest.

07-LEAVENWORTH
October 5, 2013
Leavenworth, Washington

This marathon isn’t a milestone of any sort by itself (besides being my first in the state).  In order to understand its significance in this story, you have to move to the next race.

08-LEAVENWORTH
October 6, 2013
Portland, Oregon

I doubled-up on half marathons in 2012, which meant that it was only a matter of time before I tried the same with the full distance.  Just like the North Country Run, it started off as a suggestion, which grew into an idea and finally became a commitment.  Given the distance, I will have to practice both steady discipline and measured food intake in order to successfully complete both races without hating myself too much.  There will be additional challenges, such as avoiding atrophy on the drive between cities and eating enough to both replenish and restock.

09-PHILADELPHIA
November 17, 2013
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Assuming that I survive everything so far, I’m aiming to run the Philadelphia Marathon because … well, because I want to.  It’s not part of a greater plan nor is it supposed to teach me anything.  It’s simply because after all the year’s meticulous orchestrations, I want to run something simply because I want to.  Isn’t that why we run in the first place?

Given that I haven’t signed up for all of these, there’s still a very real chance that this schedule may change.  However, I’ll do everything possible to stick with it and hold myself accountable.

But more importantly, I’ll need advice from all experienced runners on trail running, nutrition and doubling-up.  I’m going to face these challenges directly with little but intuition and my “stick-to-itiveness” as my wife once noted, but I will definitely need as many tips and tricks as possible.  All insight and anecdotes will be appreciated.

Onwards!