Prior to 2013, I had one Ironman and 17 marathon finishes on my resume, qualifying for Boston in nearly all of them, and I’ve been fortunate enough to finish Boston four times. After my most recent marathon in 2010, New York, I shifted my focus away from marathons, both because of injury and because of a choice to focus on triathlons, but in the fall of 2012 I caught the bug again. I got the idea to try and re-qualify for 2014, to run Boston just after my 40th birthday with my husband, who would attempt to BQ with me. I thought it would be a great way to enter my 40s, and better yet, since my birthday is right before the 2014 race day, I could add an extra 5 minutes to my qualifying time and run a 3:45.
And I can’t think of a better place to do it than Eugene!
Ever since I can remember, I have always wanted to visit Eugene, Oregon, nicknamed “Track Town, USA.” My husband has too, and we decided to target the Eugene Marathon for our 2014 BQs. We signed up and started training. Like all marathon training cycles, we endured good and bad workouts, uncooperative weather conditions and doubt. It had been awhile, but I was enjoying the focus on the marathon again, making a conscious effort to not stress out about training.
During my peak week in early April, I noticed a soreness in the second/third metatarsal area of my right foot. I had completed my normal training runs that week in Florida while visiting my parents, but the day before my final 20 miler, my right foot was unusually sore. Having had a stress fracture in that same area in 2011 I knew something wasn’t right.
I swam that afternoon, and every time I pushed off the wall, it hurt. I made the tough call to bag my long run and just rest, promising myself to not run for one week. I made an appointment with my sports doctor, who poked around at my foot, did some tests and ruled out a stress fracture, but without any imaging it was difficult to diagnose the issue. He decided to treat it as a stress reaction, which is the early stages of a stress fracture. He urged me to take off one more week from running, but to cross-train unless it hurt. I should ice and not take anti-inflammatories, since they inhibit bone healing. My first run back was to be on grass, super easy and no more than 20 minutes. If it felt fine, I could increase slightly over the next week before the marathon.
Fortunately, the test run went well, and I felt ready to tackle the marathon. My husband and I agreed that I should drop during the race if my foot flared up.
Eugene is a quaint, college town, very green and bicycle-friendly. It’s about two hours south of Portland and about 90 minutes’ drive from the Pacific coast. There are several national parks and mountain areas just to the east as well, making the area ideal for a running vacation. Planning a few extra days to tour the area is highly recommended!
We arrived Friday evening before the race and ventured around the town both Friday and Saturday, checking out lots of shops and restaurants and hitting up Eugene’s amazing Saturday morning farmer’s market. We loved the University of Oregon, especially the amazing track facility, and it was so cool to do our Saturday morning shakeout run on Pre’s Trail, which comprises a part of the marathon course.
We were blessed with great running conditions on race day: 50 degrees, cloudy, no wind. It was a little humid, but manageable. We arrived at the start corrals about an hour before the race–enough time for a short warm-up, to meet up with a couple of Boulder friends and take pictures in front of the Hayward Field entrance, where the race starts. I saw Clove, holding up her 5:00 pace sign and chatted with her for a few minutes before heading to my corral. There was a moment of silence to remember Boston–something I never thought we would have to do at a marathon start line. Highly visible bomb-sniffing dogs and black ribbons on race bibs were two other things I never thought I would see in a marathon–but there they were.
The race started promptly at 7:00. My plan was to start off around 8:30/mile for the first 3-4 miles and chip away from there, hoping to keep around the goal of 8:34/mile, keeping my foot in mind. At the first sign of pain, I was prepared to drop; after all, my real focus is IM Florida in November. I had gained some confidence since my easy runs earlier in the week revealed no signs of pain or discomfort, but this was the marathon, and you just never know what could happen….
My first mile was in 8:20, and I was patient as everyone flew past me. Honestly, it felt like I was walking! The next two miles were slightly downhill, so I let the hills take me down in just under 8:00 pace. Around mile four I heard some runners complaining about the slight hill, but I went up and came down, and felt no different–no heavy breathing, no burning, just enjoying the oxygen. I felt great, and was keeping right under 8:00/mile, and I still felt like I was walking. My confidence was increasing, and I had no pain in my foot. There was another hill at mile 8, and while others around me huffed and puffed, my breathing was the same. Soon at mile 9, I came up on the 3:25 pace group. Rather than try to blow past them and risk a train wreck, I hung onto the back of the group promising myself I would stay here for 4-5 miles. If I felt bad, I would back off, if I felt good, I would go.
I tried talking with some of the runners in the group, but I soon realized that I was reaping the benefits of the additional oxygen as opposed to others, who live at lower altitudes than I. Mile 11-12 went by, and I still felt awesome! The half and full split off, and we were now running on the bike path near the university. I started a conversation with the nice pace leader after I noticed he was wearing Newtons, and I learned that we knew some of the same people! He’s training for Badwater this year, so pacing Eugene was like an easy run for him.
Then…the halfway point of the marathon, and the turning point of my race…..
I’m not really sure what happened right before we reached mile 13. I vaguely remember someone stepping on my right heel, forcing my right shoe to pop off. I lost my balance and fell smack down on my left hip and knee. I may have rolled over too, causing road rash on my right side, but I really don’t remember. The stinging was awful, and I had the wind knocked out of me for a few seconds. Fortunately, I didn’t take anyone else down.
No one stopped except the pacer, who sprinted back to check on me and helped me up. I grabbed my shoe and put it back on. My knee was bleeding and my right calf stung. The pacer asked if I needed medical help but I declined, getting up and going after the pace group. Looking back, I probably should have taken a few minutes to get back into it, but I was stubborn and determined to get going again.
I caught up with the 3:25 group and felt pretty good up until mile 18, when my left hip really started to ache and sting, and I felt like I had no range of motion. I decided to back down at mile 19, but keep them in my sight. Mile 19 was 8:10–not bad at all, and I really didn’t lose pace. I felt OK, so I started back up with a little harder effort, or so I thought. I felt like I was running faster, but mile 20 was 8:24. It’s just a bad feeling when you feel like you’re working harder, but the time is so much slower. My right calf was bruising, and my hip was just achy.
At mile 21, I went for water, and my legs quit. I had to walk. I told myself: two minutes, then start running. Two minutes came and went. Then, I promised to start at the next mailbox I saw, and I started, but it hurt like hell. I was going to drop, but I was back on the bike path at this time, and if I dropped, I had no idea how long it would be before I could hitch a ride back to the finish. I looked at my watch and did some fuzzy math: If I jogged 11:00/mile, I could still make my BQ with a little cushion.
I jogged until mile 24, when I had to stop and walk for another three minutes. I knew the next 2.2 miles were
going to suck, but I was determined to finish on the track. I had thought about that moment for weeks, and I wanted that BQ. I focused on the fact I had finished so many marathons before this. I focused on the foot that wasn’t sore and thought about those at Boston who suffered major injury or lost limbs–this was nothing compared to their pain. Soon enough, I hit mile 25, and I could see Hayward Field! Finishing on the track was so exciting it was almost surreal. I was so happy to see that finish line!
After the race I was tired and sore, and wanted nothing to do with the post-race party. The smell of pancakes offered to the finishers nearly made me gag, and I could barely eat a banana. Fortunately, I found my husband quickly, and I got my gear bag. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed for two hours–even before showering, and that’s exactly what I did!
I was more sore and stiff than when I nearly broke 3:00 in 2009. I had bruises on my left upper leg, right calf, left arm and shoulder. I had road rash on both legs and my left hip hurt so bad I could barely lift it. It took three weeks for the bruise and scrapes on my left knee to heal. It was a tough race, and I’m proud that I finished! Should I have dropped? I’m not sure. Was I disappointed? Not really, I achieved my goal. Will I try to lower my BQ time before 2014? I don’t know.
Right now, I’m pleased with my result, ecstatic that I am healthy and ready to focus on Ironman Florida!