Sunday, July 5, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Stars and Stripes Marathon

This morning, I wrapped up the Firecracker Triple by running the Stars and Stripes Marathon in Beaverton, OR.  This race is in its fifth year.  It’s been part of every Firecracker Double, Triple or Quadzilla.  For me, it was my fourth time here.

The course is a 3.28 mile loop through Greenway Park, starting and finishing next to the Fanno Farmhouse.  We ran this loop eight times.

I was stiff and tired from the first two races of the triple, but my legs weren’t as sore this morning as they were yesterday.

I left early, so I would have time to stop and a grocery store and buy some chocolate milk.  The store wasn’t open yet, so I continued to the race, getting there earlier than I planned.

It was another blazing hot day.  The forecast high was 96, and it was going to be sunny.  This course has more shade than yesterday’s course, but there are still quite a few exposed areas.

The race started at 7:00, but there was a 6:00 early start for people needing extra time.  I saw that most of the other runners doing the triple were doing the early start.  The rule for the early start is that anyone finishing faster than 4:30 gets an official time of 4:30.  My time yesterday was 4:36, and I expected to be slower today.  A big advantage of taking the early start is that I could replace an hour in the late morning, with temperatures in the 80s or 90s, with an hour in the early morning, with temperatures in the 60s.

I made a last minute decision to take the early start.  I had to rush to make a bathroom stop and finish getting ready.  I barely made it back in time to line up for the start.

When you’re starting a race with stiff legs, it takes a real effort to push through the stiffness and get into your pace, but you can do it.  Today, I had no incentive to try.  Since I wasn’t trying to break 4:30, I started at a pace that was comfortable, even with stiff legs.  That meant I never worked through the stiffness.  My first mile was 10:27.  From there, I slowed down to 12 minute miles.  By my second lap, I was doing 13 minute miles.  Then my pace stabilized.

This course has lots of turns.  I noticed early that the inside of my left thigh felt uncomfortable when I made a sharp turn to my left.  In the middle of each lap, there’s a short out-and-back section, where you have to make a 180 degree turn.  The first time I made this turn, my left leg almost buckled.  My left leg is my healthy leg.

During my second lap, it occurred to me that I forgot to do my warm-ups before the race.  Since starting PT, I’ve been doing a series of 10 different walking and running motions that activate different muscle groups in my legs.  In my rush to get ready for the early tart, I didn’t have time.  I decided to do them during the race, even though it meant slowing down to a walking pace for most of them.  Then I resumed running.  It didn’t seem to help much with my stiff muscles, but I eventually noticed that my left leg was more comfortable on turns.

Just like at Friday’s race, I brought an insulated bag filled with ice, so I could put ice in my hat between laps.  The first time I did that, I regretted it.  It wasn’t that hot yet, and the ice on top of my head was painful until enough of it had melted.  After subsequent laps, I put the ice in the back of my hat.  That didn’t hurt as much.  The ice didn’t melt as fast, so it lasted longer.

There was a fully stocked aid station at the start/finish, plus two self-service aid stations that just had water.  The main aid station had little cups with pickle slices.  I had pickles or pickle juice every lap.  On Friday, I took electrolyte capsules.  Yesterday, I drank the electrolyte drink at the aid stations.  Today, I got my salt from pickles.

From my early lap times, it was apparent that I was on pace for a 5:20 marathon.  By the halfway mark, I was on pace to be slower than 5:30.  I might have been able to run faster, but I was afraid to push the pace.  I had the sense that the pace I was going was the fastest pace that was safe.  I was afraid that anything faster would make my groin injury flare up.

By the middle of the race, I was starting to notice some low grade soreness in my groin.  On the 10-point pain scale, it was only one or two.  I didn’t need to worry too much as long as it didn’t get worse.  After about 15 miles, it got worse.  It wasn’t constant, but I sometimes rated it a three or four.  I either had to stop, or I had to make some type of adjustment.

I decided to switch from slow running to brisk walking.  The first few strides were awkward, because of the stiffness in my legs.  After that, I was OK. I could walk without any discomfort.  My pace was 15 minutes per mile.  When I was running, my pace was never faster than 13 minutes per mile.  Walking wasn’t that much slower, but it was much more comfortable.

Then I pushed it too far.  I started walking too fast, and started having groin pain again.  Resuming my previous pace didn’t help.  I had to back off to a casual walking pace.  I still had 10 miles to go.  At this pace, it would take forever.

I walked at a slow pace until I finished my fifth lap.  Then I went to my car, where I had an elastic bandage.  I stopped long enough to wrap my upper thigh.  I made it snug enough to partially immobilize the injured muscle without being too binding on the larger muscles in my upper thigh.

I resumed walking at an average pace of 15 minutes per mile.  That worked.  I didn’t have any discomfort.  I could walk the rest of the race at this pace.  I would only be about 20 minutes slower than if I had been able to run the whole way.

By now, the course was getting lonely.  People doing the half marathon were finished.  Some of the faster runners in the marathon were also finishing.  There were other runners on the course, but we were getting spread out.  At times, I didn’t see other runners.

I was on pace for my second slowest marathon ever.  It was frustrating to be that slow, but I was getting the job done.  I was going to finish.  The time limit for finishing was 6:30.  Because I took the early start, I had an extra hour.  I had more than enough time to finish.

With about a mile to go in my seventh lap, I heard someone gaining on me.   I could tell that he was walking.  I expected people who were running to pass me.  I didn’t expect to be passed by someone walking.  It turned out to be Alexis “Racewalker” Davidson.  He walks all his marathons, and he keeps a pretty good pace.  I matched his pace, but I had to work at it.  We walked together for the rest of that lap.

After finishing my seventh lap, I had a drink at the aid station and put ice in my hat for the last time.  As I started my last lap, I checked my watch.  My time so far was 5:17.  I wouldn’t break six hours, but it wouldn’t be my slowest time ever.  That’s 6:23 at Pike’s Peak.

There’s something about knowing it’s your last lap that makes you pick up your pace.  I was hot, I was tired, I was stiff, I was injured, and I was reduced to walking.  I still lit a fire under myself to walk as fast as I could.  In the first mile of my last lap, I broke 13 minutes.  For most of the race, I couldn’t run any faster than that.  If I could maintain that pace, I’d be tantalizingly close to six hours.  I had to try.

I couldn’t maintain that pace for the whole lap.  My next mile was slower than 14.  To have any chance of breaking six, I had to run … if I could.

Since putting on the elastic bandage, I had been walking without pain, but I hadn’t tried to run.  It remained to be seen if I could run without pain.  There was also another unanswered question.  For two hours, I had done nothing but walk.  Before that, my running pace was slower than 13 minute miles.  If I started running now, with my leg wrapped, could I go any faster?  I had to try.

I forced myself to run.  There wasn’t any pain.  I forced myself to go as fast as I could.  I was no longer afraid to push through the stiffness.  I worked as hard as I could.

It felt like I had picked up my pace significantly, but I didn’t know for sure.  Within a few minutes, I could tell I was working much harder. For the first time in the race, I was getting short of breath.  I was hotter.  I was sweating more.  Sweat was dripping into my eyes.

I passed the last self-service aid station.  The previous one was out of water.  I was hot and thirsty, and wanted to stop.  I didn’t have time.  I skipped it and kept running.

When I reached the next mile marker, I saw that I ran that mile in nine minutes.  I was going to break six hours easily now.  I just had a fraction of a mile to go.

At the end of each lap, you cross a small bridge over Fanno Creek and run up a hill to get to the finish area.  This hill gets tiring in the late laps.  Walking it wasn’t tough, but now I had to run it.  Once again, knowing it was my last lap gave me wings.  I flew up that hill and crossed the finish line in 5:55:39.

Steve gave me two medals, one for finishing the race and one for finishing the Firecracker Triple.

Despite the early start, it was 90 degrees by the time I finished.  I hate to think how much tougher it would have been if I had waited until 7:00 to start.  There were only five runners left on the course.

I stayed in the finish area for a while to chat with other runners.  I had some post-race snacks, but I didn’t have any chocolate milk.  Eventually, I wanted to get something with protein.

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped at Burgerville.  Burgerville is a regional chain that uses locally grown ingredients.  If I’m going to have fast food in Portland, that’s where I go.  Their seasonal shake flavor for July is fresh Oregon raspberry.  Walla Walla sweet onions are also in season.

When I got back to the hotel, I took an ice bath to minimize inflammation.  Ideally, you should take an ice bath right after the race.  After the race, I kept the elastic bandage on until I was ready get into the ice bath.  My hope was that the compression would stave off inflammation.

After the ice bath, I went straight to the hotel’s hot tub.  When I got in, I immediately felt a sting around my neck and shoulders.

I try to avoid using sunblock in extremely hot conditions.  It can clog your pores, impeding your ability to cool yourself by perspiring.  On Friday, there was enough shade that I didn’t need it.  Yesterday, I got a little sunburn, but it wasn’t bothering me.  Today, I got more sunburn.

I was relieved to get through my first race without groin discomfort.  I was pleasantly surprised to also get through the second race without any major problems.  Doing a third race was pushing my luck.  Hopefully, I didn’t have a major setback.  I may not know for a day or two.  I have a PT appointment on Wednesday.

My next race is Saturday.  I never said I was smart.

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