Thursday, September 25, 2008

Portland Marathon 2008: St. John's War

With the Portland Marathon less than two weeks away, Kelly at the Run Oregon blog has given some good tips for handling the infamous but gorgeous St. John's Bridge and asks for more.

What's the trouble? Beginning around mile 16, there is a climb of more than 100 feet from St. Helen's Road to mile 17 at the middle of the bridge. It's not the steepest or longest hill in the running universe, but at this point in the race, it feels like you need climbing gear. Or a car.

What follows is an exasperating mix of wise and wise-ass insights on handling this part of the course grounded on my extensive experience -- I've run it twice, and I've given semi-useless advice countless thousands of times. Which tips are wise and which are wise-ass? You decide! And throw your own in the comments if you wish. Ain't web 2.0 grand?

  • The Turn. The turn from the road onto the bridge is a sharp one, more than 90 degrees, and it comes after a long stretch of miles in a straight line. Take this turn carefully! The first time I made this turn, I felt an odd little sproing, a dull snapping sensation, in my shin and the shin has never felt the same since. And that was nearly two years ago. I wish I could say I was kidding about that.
  • The Apex. Do note Kelly's correct observation that the peak of the climb isn't until you're midway along the bridge itself. You might be tempted to drop out of hill-running mode after The Turn, but you still have climbing to do. Hang in.
  • The Calves. Don't let your calf muscles cramp up as you climb the hill; it's painful on every level and really slows you down. How to prevent muscle cramps, you ask? I have no idea, and no one else seems to know either. If you learn a sure way to avoid cramps, let me know, won't you?
  • The Carriage. As you leave mile 15 and begin uphill, a disquieting thought may dawn on you: this 26.2-mile run is going to be difficult. If you've been carrying any heavy objects up to now -- trophies from past running events, marble busts of running heroes, a fellow runner on whom you've taken pity, your Great Dane, whatever -- now is the time to put it/him/her down.
  • The Etiquette. Everyone struggles on this hill, even the freakish weirdos who have already crossed the finish line ten miles ahead just as you're starting up it. If you're still in a running sort of condition, good for you, but don't taunt or sneer at the people who have decided to walk some or part of it. For that matter, walk if you need to.
  • The Congestion. The road leading up to the bridge is wide and car-free, but runners are restricted to one side of the bridge, so expect congestion as you get onto the bridge. No elbowing!
  • The View. While this is the most difficult part of the course, it's also the most scenic. Take in the spectacular view of the bridge -- you can see it forever as you're heading toward it -- and enjoy the view from the bridge. If the weather is agreeable, you can see a lovely view of downtown Portland to your right, Mt. St. Helens to your left, and Mt. Hood more or less in front of you. And after you leave the bridge, you'll proceed through a very picturesque neighborhood near the University of Portland. This is the good part of the marathon? This is the good part of the marathon!
  • The Expectations. This is the hardest section of the course, but it's all downhill from here (more or less literally). So give yourself a little victory once you reach The Apex, and be aware that you'll enjoy a lot of good crowd support after the bridge, but attenuate your Glee-Despair levels to reflect the fact that you still have several miles to cover.
Happy running!

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