Friday, October 2, 2009

Course-Specific Tips for the 2009 Portland Marathon

Everybody and their sexy flightless parrot has generic tips for marathon runners, but not this precious, precious blog -- here you'll find specific insights on the Portland Marathon* gleaned from running it three (it only seems like more) times. Those are these:

  • The first five miles features some rather odd-seeming corners, so look ahead enough to avoid being "pinched" by the flow of runners turning the corners.
  • If you like long miles of straight and flat through an unsightly industrial area, miles 5 through 11 are your kind of thing. I find this stretch tedious and slightly depressing, allayed only by the good feeling you can store up by watching other runners on the other end of the out-and-back turnaround at mile 9.
  • If conditions are clear, you'll get your first look at the St. John's Bridge right around the midway point. Sigh. The course is so much about that beautiful, terrible bridge -- for good or bad, the next five miles will be dominated by it.
  • The bridge is enormous, and however far away you are, you will be tempted to believe you're closer than you actually are. Don't fall for this! It can create false hopes that the coming miles-long slog will crush -- and slog it is, as miles 13 through 16 are at a slight incline, no matter how flat they may appear.
  • Then comes mile 16 and any illusion of flat goes away as you begin the ascent up the bridge. Expect this to be difficult, not just for the steepness but for the miles you've put in to get you here. Many a runner has faltered on the march up to the bridge (including yours truly).
  • For that matter, the uphill doesn't stop when you reach the bridge -- the climb continues until roughly the middle of the bridge. Don't put away your mountaineering gear too early!
  • Running a long and straight can do funny things to your mind and legs; take the rightward turn from the hill onto the bridge cautiously. And do note that the bridge narrows the available running path, so run nicely.
  • From here on out, it's super-easy! No. Not it is not. As you begin the downhill of the bridge, do a happy dance (not literally) that you're entering the best section of the course: a lovely neighborhood, lots of close crowd support, predominantly downhill terrain, plenty of opportunities for hydration. Of course, there's the fact that you're entering the last eight miles of a 26.2-mile run to consider, and everyone I've talked to agrees with me: those last eight miles of a marathon are difficult.
My final bit of unsolicited advice shatters my commitment to keep things Portland-specific in this scintillating, ever-so-informative blog post. To me, the best mantra for a long difficult race is simply I am alive. No matter what you're going through, no matter how ecstatic or despairing you feel, it is all the sensation of being very much alive, and this is no small thing. The billions of dead cannot join you, and of the living, vast numbers are unable and more are unwilling. Don't be deceived by the size of the field -- what you're doing is special and extraordinary. Whether this is your first marathon or your 101st, your life will be divisible into what came before this and what came after it -- despite any appearance to the contrary, your experience is unrepeatable, unique, and bound up with what your life will be from this day forward. If, years down the line, you are lucky enough to lie on a death-bed and think over what has passed, your thoughts will turn to this experience, and even if it turns out badly for you in some way, you will have reason to remember it fondly and proudly. I hope you will remember that on Sunday.

* This list o' tips includes all the tips I wrote up last year, newly edited with 22% less snark for 2009.

(photo source 1, top center, St. John's Bridge in profile; photo source 2, right, St. John's Bridge as it looks on crossing)

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