Marathon Man.

First substantive post.

So I just finished the Portland Marathon yesterday. I had never run a marathon before. My unofficial time was 3:38:56.  Update:  official was 3:38:13.

A note about “times.” That 3:38:56 time doesn’t mean that it was three hours, thirty-eight minutes, and fifty-six seconds from the time the starting gun sounded until I crossed the finish line. That “gun time” was probably some twenty minutes longer. In a race like the Portland Marathon, where there may be 10,000 runners between the marathon and the half-marathon, which starts at the same time, the throng of people at the start line is managed by segregation of people, according to their anticipated speed, into huge block-long “corrals.” I had never run a marathon, so I had no historical time to report when I registered. That put me in corral “E,” which started (go figger) after corrals A, B, C, and D. Many minutes had gone past before I crossed the starting line, behind many thousands of other people.

That takes us to “chip timing.” (If this is remedial, skip this paragraph). Most big modern races are “chip timed,” which means that the race organizers provide a little RFID tag which you attach to your shoe, and a compuer then records when your chip, with you attached, crosses several timing strips throughout the race. Ths provides an accurate record of the race for those of us who milled around, not running, for the first many minutes of a given large race. When I stepped on a timing strip around mile 22, there was a display showing the race’s gun time, and I was about 19 minutes behind it.

I had never run more than twenty miles before. I’ve run a lot in my life, and I’m fit, but as I got ready for this marathon my last long runs were only of less than 18 miles and less than 20. Each of those lasted about three hours, with quite a bit of suffering at the end, so as I formulated goals about the race finishing in 4 hours seemed like a reasonable one. So that was goal 2, with goal 1 being “finish.” Then a couple of weeks ago the Paul Ryan kerfuffle came up, where he lied about (or just misremembered) his finish time for his only marathon, giving himself credit for finishing a full hour faster than he really did. So, goal 3: finish faster than Paul Ryan’s real marathon time of 3:59. (I have a thing about Ryan because my exercise of choice is CrossFit and he is famous for being a P90X junkie, and P90X is like CrossFit for bros who think the Shake Weight is funny but “Dude, you seriously get a nice pump from it.”)

Then it turns out that Sarah Palin ran a 3:55. Goal 4. Then it turns out that George W. Bush — who was a serious runner — owns a 3:45. That one was out of reach, I thought, but heck: goal 5.

A local running team sent “pace teams” of experienced runners who could run a designated pace for the whole race. I spent much of the first part of the race looking for the pacers for the 3:55 time. I didn’t catch them until around mile 12, because they had launched out of corral C, maybe 8 minutes ahead of my corral. So when I caught up with those pacers, I knew I was ahead of my own goal pace of 3:55 by eight minutes. Great! I kept going, and left the pacers behind. After we crossed the St. John’s bridge, with mile 15 on its west side, I was more than ten minutes ahead of my goal pace. By mile 22, I was almost two full miles ahead of my goal pace as reflected on my temporary 3:55 pace tattoo.

There was water or other hydration every two miles. I took some at every station, and I give that credit, along with the four GU energy gels (two of which were laced with caffeine) I packed with me, for keeping my energy level good through the whole race. There was also beer at mile 24, and while it was served in very small cups, I could have left that alone.

Portland is an “MP3 friendly” marathon, which is no longer uncommon, but was back when iPods were first becoming ubiquitous. But that means most people were listening to headphones, even thought there was musical entertainment every two miles or so. I put my headphones in around mile 6. The only things of note: during the long flat in industrial NW Portland, Kanye West’s “Power” was just what I needed right when I needed it. On the long run-up to the St. John’s bridge, “My Love” by Justin Timberlake came on and was perfect. Then as we approached the University of Portland, “Pain Lies by the Riverside” by Live came on — so true. And then, randomly, with less than a mile to go, “Eye of the Tiger.” Good stuff.

Overall the experience wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared.  It still felt bad, and my legs didn’t quite work after the finish, and I felt pretty sick.  But the killing boredom that had made my lonesome long runs into torture wasn’t there.  In a big race, the people around you form a bunch of different and insignificant subgoals.  “Let’s catch that guy in the green shirt.” “That obnoxious girl with the Camelbak is behind us again.  Let’s put some distance between us.” This is the same allure that casual games on the smartphone have:  the tasks are short and discrete and when one is done another pops up.  If I can play Angry Birds for long stretches of time — and I can, sad to say — then I can run a long race with lots of other people.

After the finish, when people were staggering around, I asked a fellow who looked experienced whether this was something that people really did, and why. In response, he assured me that I would “get the fever,” and asked me my time. I responded 3:38, and he said, “That’s great! You only need 3:25 to qualify for Boston. If you do Eugene, you’ll shave five minutes off that time and you’re close to qualifying!” (He was a little wild-eyed when he said all this.) I explained patiently that my body hurt and I could barely stand and I was pretty sure this was my last marathon as well as my first — the line item on the bucket list was officially crossed off.

So, anyway: 3:38:56. Suck it, Dubya.