Sunday, June 6, 2010

Newport Marathon 2010 - Idyllic & Weasel-Rich

Yesterday's conditions were chafe-free and all but perfect for the Newport Marathon, which I completed in 3:26:02 (7:52 min/mile pace; official). While that time is a little slower than I might hope for -- around 5 minutes too slow to qualify for Boston -- it's a result I report without any tinge bad feeling since it represents the best I was able to do that day.

Truthfully, I wasn't sure I would make it. In the days before the event, I had a weird-to-me pain in my right hamstring and lower back that, by race morning, I was far from sure about. I doubted I would make it even 5 miles without having to turn to walking or bow out altogether. I can't remember entering a race with less confidence in my bodily integrity, and I even entertained the idea of backing out. Making it all the way at a run, never stopping -- not even for the raw oysters they offer at mile 11 (not an enticement to me on the best of days, but to each his own) -- was a victory in itself.

By the halfway point, the hamstring-back stuff together with my anxiety over it had dissolved, and only then did I get the confidence to push the pace a little harder. By mile 16, I felt a surge of ambition and energy and vowed that no more runners would pass me. From that point forward, I passed roughly twenty runners, and saw only three pass me, all of those in the last two miles (more on that below). I did not achieve a negative split in this marathon, but it felt as though I had, and if negative splits could somehow be graded on a curve, this run surely achieved one.

Only as late as mile 23 did any trouble start, when my left calf -- only the left -- began trying to cramp. I had to dial back my effort and pace, and modify my gait on that side to put as little stress on that muscle group as possible. I made it without any true cramp-ish seizing, but barely -- had the finish line been even 100 yards more distant, I might well have had to pull up and stretch it out.

In short, I made it all the way, and on a day when I might have truly broken down. So much for the detailed race-muscle report; how did things look? This is a photo I took of the Yaquina Bay Bridge as seen from the race start area. The cell phone camera is what it is, but it gives a hint of how it all looked:

Here is approximately the same vista taken today, using a better camera:

I already revered Newport for its natural beauty, but this course exceeded my expectations. We had beautiful views of the Yaquina Bay Bridge as we passed along the edge of the bay, and beyond that, we ran through what we could be forgiven for believing to be a storybook idyll. At one point, a great blue heron passed directly overhead carrying a beak full of nesting material; frogs and woodpeckers serenaded as we passed a shaded creek; hawks and ospreys glided above us; and, most unexpected of all, somewhere along the late teen miles of the route, an exquisite weasel -- possibly a least weasel -- skittered across the road only a few feet ahead of me. Who knew weasels were so beautiful? I had somehow missed this, never having seen one in the wild before this. I knew what I saw was a weasel-like creature, but only after the race was I able to confirm that the lovely creature with reddish-brown fur over off-white underside was a weasel, and not a fisher, ferret, or other member of the extensive weasel family.

Even the asphalt was beautiful -- I can't remember seeing more perfect asphalt than that surfacing Yaquina Bay Road.

As for the race organizers and volunteers, I can't thank them enough. This race has an old-school, no-nonsense quality to it -- no timing chips, no events other than the marathon, strict 800-runner cap. For all this, they are generous where they should be -- I love the shirt and ribbon, the post-race food was just right (heavy on the fresh fruit), there was more than adequate aid along the course, and even the race packet was more generous than I've seen from plenty of "fancier" events.

The no-nonsense, low-tech approach wouldn't work in all places, but Newport is not all places. May it never change.

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