Be the banana. ~ Susan Nuzum
Way back in the 5th century, a wise person said, “Patience is a virtue.” After running a 2:58:47 (gun time) at the Eugene Marathon this weekend, I could not agree more. Throughout the first 20 miles of this race, when I felt so good and wanted so badly to run faster, I kept telling myself, “Be patient,” and doing so paid off in spades.
Everything came together for this race: a solid training cycle, limited injury/wonkiness complications, good focus and preparation, fantastic weather, a good course… the list goes on. Sometimes, one can have everything prepped and ready to go and one small thing throws off the whole endeavor. But for me, at the 2012 Eugene Marathon, all the stars aligned and I had a great day of running.
After running a solid 5K in January, I decided that perhaps my fitness had finally returned. I was physically crushed after Boston last year and it took forever to recover. This effort, in the off-season, really helped bolster my confidence that I had returned to form and was in a good position to take another stab at the sub-3-hour barrier. My team was training for Boston so I just settled in to their regimen and started looking for a different race to run this Spring. I settled on the weekend of April 29th since it seemed to a) fit my schedule well and b) not push me too far out of the team’s cycle. This would give me a couple more weeks to prepare, the opportunity to tack on another long run or two onto the program and the ability to include a slightly more extended taper. OKC and Eugene were contenders and Eugene won out with the promise of “less bad” weather potential (Eugene could be rainy but never has extreme storms or heat like can be found in OKC) and more appeal on the travel front (sorry, Oklahoma). Plus, I have been trying to support areas with my travel dollars who do a better job of not discriminating against others and Oregon wins that competition hands-down.
Leading up to this race, I was more focused than any other event in regard to nutrition and attention to staying rested and healthy. Rach always keeps me very well-fed but I have a tendency to add snack calories here and there and have been known to be less disciplined than I should be when it comes to sodas and whatnot. Starting at the end of February, I made sure to pay special attention to my snacking, soda and beer consumption and made sure I was getting a lot of extra sleep throughout the week. I run enough (and generally snack very little) that this probably didn’t make a huge physical impact, but mentally it made me focus a lot more and feel like I was really sacrificing for this difficult to achieve goal.
My workouts were formulated with the help of Mark Plaatjes, who is just fantastic. Pretty much stayed on a similar plan of attack as prior cycles but added one over-distance run (28 miles) and several “fast-finish” long runs to the plan. Frankly, most of my longer runs didn’t go as well as I would have liked but having completed several marathon training cycles at this point, I knew that getting them done was slightly more important than hitting every split right on target. Again, patience paid off.
I headed out to Eugene on Friday and went straight to the Expo to pick up my bib and get that nonsense out of the way. Eugene is mellow enough that I probably could have flown in on Saturday without creating too much stress but I didn’t want to risk bad weather or other factors getting in the way of my travel. Eugene has some great vegetarian options as well and I ended up gravitating to Cafe Yumm for meals on three different occasions during my stay. I picked up some general provisions at Trader Joe’s and after driving the first 10 miles of the course and dinking around Eugene for a bit, headed back to the hotel to watch a movie and hit the sack early.
Saturday, I did my standard pre-race run (slightly extended to get the lay of the land so I wouldn’t be confused at all on race day). I ran from the hotel to the start (about 1.75 miles), then did some surges (4) on the way back toward the hotel, then did 1 mile at race pace on the course. Felt fine and dandy. I then headed out to King Estate Winery to meet family for lunch and some wine tasting. I spent the rest of the day with my feet up and head down, either watching movies or napping (briefly). I hit the sack early and the next morning, it was go-time.
Up at 5:25 to get ready, I ate some food (1/2 a bagel w/almond butter and banana, a cup of coffee, some gatorade), did my warm-ups in the room, then headed out the door at 6:25 to jog over to the start line. It was cool and overcast – perfect racing conditions – and after 4 surges in front of the line, I joined my corral. I ate 4 Clif Blocks and finished off a 12oz Gatorade before the start, chucked my short-sleeved warm-up shirt off-course and after getting a quick pep-talk from Meb Keflezighi, we were off.
I was seeded in Corral A, so was pretty near the front of the pack at the start and was able to settle into my race pace quickly. Way different than some of the larger races I have done where the first mile or two are incredibly frustrating from a pacing standpoint. I started looking around for people to run with and settled in with one guy who claimed to be wanting to run 2:58. After running with him for a bit on rolling terrain, I dropped off as we were ticking off 6:40s and I wanted to be super conservative through 20. As with most of my experiences running at (or near) sea level, hills were super easy. I would just maintain pace up hills and people would come back to me. By the first mat at the 5K mark, I was right on target pace (21:30ish, 6:45 pacing) and I kept these even splits through at least mile 20. My plan was to run 6:45-6:50 pacing all day unless I was feeling fantastic after mile 20 and I nailed it.
The majority of the hills come in the first 9 miles of this race and honestly, they were not a big deal at all. Training at altitude on hilly roads builds the strength and confidence to master most hills and dropping 6000+ feet in elevation makes them a breeze. The steepest hill on the Eugene course came on 19th street, about mile 9. I sailed over this one with a guy from Philly who was aiming for about a 2:58. He told me his last two marathons were 3:00:22 and 3:00:28 and he wasn’t going to let that happen to him again. Eventually, I dropped off his pace and he finished a bit in front of me for the day so a special congrats to him on breaking 3-hours!
The course loops back on itself and we passed Hayward Field at about mile 9 and sets off east along the Willamette River into Springfield, home of the Simpsons. I wasn’t sure what to expect on this portion of the course and was pleasantly surprised to find us running in a forested park area for a bit then nice, residential neighborhoods. I crossed the half-way mark in 1:28ish and kept rolling.
By mile 16, I was starting to get tempted to pick it up a little bit as I was still feeling fresh and relaxed and was nailing my 6:45 pacing. Whenever these urges arose, I reminded myself to be patient and continued to run relaxed. I am so glad I took this approach as the last 10K of pretty much every marathon I have run has been particularly difficult and Eugene was no exception. We ran along Pre’s Trail in central Eugene for a bit then headed west along the Willamette. I started feeling the effort around mile 18, flubbed a gel hand-up at mile 19.5 (for which I circled back briefly) and by mile 20 was content to work out the math of what I needed to do to get in under 3-hours and delay any notions of picking up the pace for if I started feeling better. There was a great cheering section at mile 20, which really helped and as we crossed a footbridge for the final leg of the race, I was feeling drained but confident I could get this done. I walked briefly through an aid-station at mile 23 but then just kept thinking, “Run sub-7s,” all the way in. The sun came out at mile 24 and even though my legs were dead, I motored in. At mile 26, Hayward Field came into view and a felt a wave of joy as I stepped onto the track and pushed the last 150 meters to the finish. 2:58:47 gun time, 7.5-minute PR, 87th overall and 13th in my age group. Good stuff.
Post-race, I took some time to relish the moment in the recovery area, sat down and ate some chips for a bit and drank a couple bottles of water. After about 5 minutes, I felt ready to get going so started my walk back to the hotel. Met up with a couple people who were out spectating and pacing friends and generally took my time getting back to the hotel. I was tired, of course, but not destroyed like after other races. I took an ice bath then went out to grab some food and a celebratory beer with Heather and Ewan North. Ewan had some stomach problems during his race so didn’t finish as well as he had hoped but still managed a top 10 2:31, which is impressive to say the least. I headed back to my hotel, ate some more and hit the sack early.
Monday, I woke up starving and had time for a fantastic breakfast at the Morning Glory in Eugene, then headed south to hike Spencer Butte. The weather on Monday was less agreeable than on race day (drizzley and socked-in) but it was good to get out to get my legs moving and hike around in the forest. I had a bit more time to kill before my flight so checked out the Hydrangea Gardens in Hendricks Park then jammed out to the airport for my return flight. All in all, a fantastic weekend adventure.