Operation Slay the Albatross: Sage’s Portland Half Marathon Report

Portland Half Marathon: Very focused, about mile 12.
Portland Half Marathon 2015.

I last ran a half marathon in February 2010 (F (55-59); third place; net time: 1:50:03) in Austin, Texas. Shortly thereafter, I tore my left hamstring at the attachment point. Running came to an abrupt halt. I’ve written about my more than five-year attempt to run with the concomitant frustrations, medical diagnoses, and tears. My clearly stated goal when I started writing for Salty Running was to run a half marathon in August equal to or better than my 2010 time.

Did I accomplish my goal?

The statistics: October 4, 2015, Portland Half Marathon. Age category: F (60-64). Rank: 2/93. Net time: 1:49:23. The facts, however, belie the journey behind that morning run.

I started training in January using the Run Less Run Faster program, hoping to race the Windsor Green Half Marathon in early May. I scratched that half marathon as well as a subsequent one in August, reluctantly, but smartly (in retrospect), as my chronic injuries prevented me from the training at full strength. So, the Portland Half Marathon, on my schedule primarily because my husband planned to run the Portland Marathon and the trip gave me an opportunity to visit one of my sisters, was more of a stand-in or possibility after the other opportunities were converted to 10k races.

I duly recorded my daily runs: tempo workouts, track speed work, long easy runs (some with a few miles at half marathon pace thrown into the middle), and cross-training on alternate days. I continued Pilates twice weekly, except when traveling, and had deep massage therapy every two weeks. My right hamstring and gluts were the primary culprits impeding my progress, but I vowed to continue, to be patient, to cut-back occasionally on the longer runs, to skip a few track work-outs, and not to run the recommended 14 miles as my longest run (I didn’t believe my body would be able to recover from the longer runs in sufficient time to run a half marathon).

About a week before the race, I read Caper’s post about pre-marathon preparation. I panicked: I wanted to run the race even though I continued to downplay, in private and in public, my capabilities, but was I really prepared? My anxiety skyrocketed. I had to be physically prepared but I also needed the proper nutrition and hydration pre-race day, race day morning, during the race and post-race. I needed to be mentally prepared, reviewing the course maps, maybe walking part of the course, paying attention to weather forecasts, planning my taper, etc.

Everyone recommends NOT doing major life changes during the week pre-race. That makes sense in a perfect world. In my world, during the five days before race day, we moved, lived out of suitcases, stayed in several different motels, visited family, and sat too long in airplanes. My taper plan was interrupted, my eating was less than stellar, and my foam roller was packed away in some box on a moving van. Three days pre-race, I received news from my functional medicine doctor that I was deficient in several key nutrients, had very low testosterone, and suffered from potential anemia. He expressed surprise that I was able to do as much running and other physical activities as I was doing. The mental aspect of race preparation flew out the window.

Yet, despite or because of the setbacks of the past few years and months, I wanted that half marathon goal. Of course, the real accomplishment would be to cross the finish line, something I hadn’t been able to do for more than five years; I tried to convince myself that this goal was good. Truthfully, though, I decided on plan A (please, run under 1:50), plan B (1:52), and plan C (under 2:00). I did not share these three targets; I only worried aloud whether I’d start the race Sunday morning. On Saturdyay afternoon when I was viewing a women’s collective art show at Washington Park in Portland, I still couldn’t say for certain whether or not I would run the next morning. My stomach ached with the indecision: to run and increase the pain in my legs; to once again scratch a planned race; or to start the race and, if things weren’t going well, to stop and have DNF noted beside my name. After all, who really cares? It’s only a run. Right? Try telling that to your inner competitive self!

Washington Park the day before the race
Washington Park the day before the race

All the drama and anxiety aside, I woke early Sunday morning, an hour before the alarm, excited to get started. And most everything fell into place. It was sunny in Portland with only a hint of wind while we waited in our designated corrals. Cool at the start at 7:00 a.m., about 50 degrees, with projected 60 degrees for those who finished by 9:00 a.m. I drank lots of water mixed with lime Nuun tablets on Saturday and justified a pumpkin scone as “more carbs.” Sunday morning pre-race food was a scone with almond butter along with more Nuun-water and a coffee. I walked to the start, only a few blocks from my hotel. I gathered at the C Corral, where the 3:45 marathon pacer was stationed. The day before I’d talked with the pacing team who suggested I run just in front of this pacer to target a 1:50 half marathon time.

Our group was third in line to start, only slightly delayed so a light rail train could pass in front of us. We were off! The pacers were good: the first mile a little fast, then target time, then slightly slower up several hills. I felt strong, not winded, trying to maintain my form. I enjoyed the bands, musicians and pirates along the course, even catching a glimpse of the sun rising in a slight haze above Mt. Hood at about mile three. I smiled (a plan with my massage therapist) periodically, making this run not only about finishing, but also enjoying the day. I only glanced at my watch twice during the race, synching in time with the pacers then on my own as I ran through the half distance. During training I had trouble “running with feel,” but that Sunday the pace seemed natural. I wasn’t sure whether I’d hit plan A or B, but felt comfortable that my time would be less than 2:00. Still, that didn’t seem to matter much as I ran with the group.

I didn’t feel any major exertion until mile ten when my right hamstring started to grab and bite, weakening my stride. Oh, no, not again! I began the mantra to keep my form, to breathe deeply, to consider each mile at a time, only three to go, then only two to go, then running beneath the underpass with the finish banner around the corner. The race photos show my form starting to bend and weaken at this point; and, if one had a telescope, maybe a few tears welling in my eyes.

Portland Marathon/Half Marathon Official Poster
Portland Marathon/Half Marathon Official Poster

I finished this race despite the screaming hamstring and, to my absolute delight, I completed it in 1:49:23, a PR (plan A target)! I placed 2 out of 93 women in my age group. I remember thinking how seriously wonderful that 93 women in their early sixties ran/jogged/walked 13.1 miles! My leg was ready to be finished, though; I hobbled along the long finishers’ path, collecting a tee shirt and a rose, foregoing the tree to plant (I was soon to be on an airplane to another hotel), and savoring the medal, the medallion and the pin while deciding against another photo. I made my way back to the hotel and coffee. Relief, joy, pain all flooded together. I texted my husband, sons (one who was running Wineglass Marathon that morning and the other who had put in training miles for the Catalina Island Eco-Marathon in Novermber) and sister, “I finished. Will call later.”

Post-race week has been difficult with the pain of a biting hamstring coupled with a sore back after two days of unpacking furniture boxes. I don’t know what recovery will be like, although for the last several 10k races, it was painful. I’ve started supplements for my nutrition issues and hope they help. I’m swimming and hiking (easy trails) instead of running, and with the beautiful fall in Boulder, that is not a bad thing. I should take several weeks off before I try light jogging: it is true, at least in my case, that recovery for 60+ years muscles, tendons, ligaments, takes longer than for much younger ones. Still, the satisfaction of completing a half marathon and letting go of that albatross, makes me smile!

I'm a senior masters runner. I write about my running journey and topics of interest to runners of all ages. My current goal is to maintain of steady base of road and (new to me) trail running, with some 5k, 10k, and half marathons throughout the year.

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  1. Congratulations on your hard-earned, shiny new PR!! And so sorry my post caused you any angst. Sounds like you were more than amply prepared.

  2. Caper, actually your post was good bec/ I did get some Shockblox to chew along the way as I didn’t carry water and it is tough to get to water stops. They work better for me than gels, which upset my stomach if not taken with sufficient fluid.

  3. You are amazing. I am having similar feelings towards a race coming up in two weekends – will I start? Because we all know once you start, it’s hard to swallow the pride and drop, no matter what your body feels like. TBD for me, but I will take the to heart your goal of smiling every now and then, enjoying the day, and appreciating it for what it is. Excellent race!

  4. Awesome job! I was thinking of you on Sunday, so happy Portland decided to have such amazing weather for the races! I hope the recovery goes well!

  5. Congratulations!! Training, persistence and perspective, AND listening to your body… a recipe for success. I’m so glad you were able to reach this goal here in Portland (selfishly we got a visit in as well), it was a beautiful weekend for a run!