Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Rest of the Story - Eugene Half Marathon

I stepped off the bus about 7 or 7:02 am with the other participants frantically sprawling to the start line. We must have been dropped off about a half block to block away but I really do not recall details. I was in my own rush to get there and try to figure out where to go.

When I approached a huge mass of people gathered far behind the actual start line, I saw a man holding up a white sign with the words "10 minute or more pace starting gate" and an arrow indicating somewhere to the left. Never having run a marathon before and seeing an arrow pointing to the left of all the people, I assumed there was some kind of special entry off in yonderland where the arrow was pointing (remember that I am deaf and need to rely on visual cues).

My pace is actually faster than 10 minutes a mile but not that much faster. I did not want to start out in the mass of very fast runners doing 6 and 7 minute miles and therefore get trampled. My reasoning was that if I started at the front of the slower pack, I would stay at the front and have lots of space to myself. hehe So I quickly decided the 10 minute a mile and slower gate I go!

It was sort of strange though. All the runners (hundreds and really thousands) were inside a baracaded fence seperating me from the other participants. I was glad not to be mashed in the sardine can chute of runners. Yet at the same time, I questioned if I was going the right way. I DID follow the arrow! LOL I also saw a couple of other lost people (or so I thought) running the same way. I did not notice if they were wearing a bib number and were actual marathon participants or spectators rushing to catch a glimpse of someone they knew. At the time, I just continued on with the few other stragglers running in the direction of the starting line.

As I ran along the outside of the baracade protecting me from the massive herd of other participants, I could not find any "gate" or opening to let me in. I thought "Oh crap! I am on the wrong side." and I began to fantically search for an opening. As it turns out, there never was a "gate", chute, or whatever. I must have misinterpreted the sign and really it must have been indicating the people gathered together at the BACK of the large mass!
Not wanting to miss the race or have to turn back around, I just kept moving towards the start while looking for an opening.

Finally there was a break in the baracade about 4 strides in front of the starting line. So in desperation, I did a crazy thing which either pissed people off or left them stunned and puzzled over what kind of loon I was! LOL I broke through the opening and ran the opposite way towards the start into the crowd! I was in the far left hand side so it was not too disrupting. I yelled "Sorry! They told me to go the wrong way!"

When I passed the pad on the ground which started the timing chip, I immediately turned back around and began my race! I wondered if it was going to throw off my time as I passed the start twice which activates the timing chip. I do not have a good record with timing chips working perfectly (missing the timing chip in the Furry 5 K last year and a very inaccurate time in the Big Climb this March because I did not know I was supposed to pass a certain point in the upstairs lobby and turn the chip in when I finished. I went back to wait for Harley so I could get a picture.)

After all the confusion, I was off and could relax. I remembered to look at my watch about a couple blocks ahead of the start line. I think I recall it being 7:04 or 7:05 am. Seeing that I had sort of "cut in line" at a major marathon of thousands, I was not squished in the pack and had some room. However, this first leg of the course was on the streets heading out of downtown Eugene which were not perfectly level and had cracks popping up here and there. I had to be VERY careful to avoid them while spacing myself appropriately from people so that our arms or legs did not become entangled causing me to trip.

For some, the weather probably really sucked but it was "just right" for me. I do not do well in the heat so a nice cool drizzly day not only provided me refreshment but also kept my body at a very comfortable temperature for running. Further, the glare of the sun worsens my double vision and a dry day aggravates my "dry eye" at times causing a stinging or burning irritation. So I was really pleased with the weather and wore the appropriate layers to keep me comfortable (not too hot and not too cold). I bought a cheap pair of $2 gloves at the expo the day before which I would not be heartbroken or "bank broken" by tossing away during the event.

Running in the pack even though I kept a pretty nice cushion of space around me, did really take some getting used to. I could not keep at the constant pace I had practiced. People were continually slowing down, speeding up, weaving in and out, and then there were those darn pot holes, cracks, and large puddles to avoid too. I ended up zigzagging around to dodge all of the obstacles and so that I would not run into someone or step on their shoe (don't you just hate it when someone steps on the back of your shoe and your heel slips out?). Even so, with all of this slowing down and speeding up, I strived to keep the invisible "bubble" protecting myself. My concern was falling which I could not emulate in practice. If someone were to elbow me, I could possibly lose balance, trip, and fall over. But the other runners in the marathon seemed quite considerate. I did not get trampled by anyone and everyone waited for openings to safely pass (unlike when I walked the full Seattle marathon in 2006).

Within a mile, I chose to use the first honey bucket on the course which I think was actually someone's private latrine. You know how someone is doing a landscaping or remodeling project and the contractor puts a honey bucket on site for the workers? Well anyhow, the day prior, my dad drove me through the entire course so I would know where to go on event day. This was the first bathroom we came across on the course and I thought it was a good choice to use because I would not have to wait in line at the designated marathon bathrooms. Also, I did not want to worry about having to go while I was running along with no bathroom nearby. I wanted to go the first chance I got so I would not have that worry (In practice, I had to go within the first 15-30 minutes. Many readers may find that an uninteresting thing to write about but I know that it is most likely a question in the mind of some of you doing your first marathon. I know it was for me! I was so nervous about that when I walked the full marathon and wondered if there would be ample enough restrooms along the way.)

By mile 4 1/2 Imy hands were absolutely sweating and roasting! I could not stand to wear the glovew any longer! Yet I could not bring myself to just throw them down on the course. I opted to carry them until I saw my family at the 6-6 1/2 mile mark. However, carrying them became quite tiresome. After mile 5 I spotted a lady volunteer on the side of the course. I ran over to her, handed her the gloves, said "Here is a souvenier for you" and continued on my way.

In practice I only carried a water bottle if I was running 8 miles or more. When I ran longer runs, I would try to wait until mile 8 to take my first drink. Since there were lots of water stops on the course, I did not carry any water with me at all and I GREATLY depended upon the water stations available. I think I stopped at every single one except for 1. In total, I think I made about 6-7 hydration stops. I had to stop because I am unable to swallow if I am moving. So each was probably about 20-30 seconds to gulp down a wax paper dixie cup of refreshment. Only 1 stop did I drink gatorade provided. I fixed a sport bottle of FRS energy drink that my sister gave me after mile 6. I probably drank 1/3 to a 1/2 of it.

In all, the course was pretty fantastic and I was able to maintain a good cushion bubble around myself until we reached a bike path 5-6 feet wide at miles 7 and 8. On the trail it was a bit cramped and more like pickles in a jar rather than sardines. In many places the grass was too long or the terrain off the trail to lumpy and uncertain for me to pass. Thus during that stretch, in a few places I had to wait it out before I could pass. But that was alright because it gave me a good opportunity to rest. During practice, miles 7 and 8 were challenging and the run became a battle of "mental wit" to keep going.

There was only one section of the course we were unable to explore by driving through and that was between miles 10 and 12. I studied the map carefully as this was the most critical section to be familiar with for that was the point where the full marathon runners split off on a longer route while the half marathoners followed a different path. I was a little anxious about going the right way.

Just after the split, I reached mile 11 and was pretty relieved. Yet I came upon another mileage marker that said 15. For some reason, during this section I was surrounded by fewer runners. I was running for what seemed like a while and did not see any other signs. I began to worry that I took the wrong path and was running the full marathon route! Mile 12 seemed like it was taking FOREVER to reach. There were not any spectators on this stretch either so I grew even more concerned. I began to ponder what in the heck I would do if I took the full marathon route. Would I just run the half marathon distance and then walk the rest? No, there was not time for that. My sister and I had to drive back to Seattle that day. Would I just run as far as I possibly could then? "Cripes! I am exhausted and don't think I could run a full marathon today!" I thought. So then I contemplated if I reached mile 14 if I would turn around and track back to get on the right course. But then I would run past a half marathon and my time would be screwed up. At about the time I was heavily weighing my options, I finally reached the 12 mile marker. "Phew! Thank God!"

Now I was in the home stretch! After the 12 mile marker we entered the Eugene streets again. It seemed like we were back on the same stretch we began on. However, there were people on the other side of the road divider running in the opposite direction! I had been running almost 2 hours so surely they could not just be starting! Confused, I was leery to "open it up" as I was uncertain if I was going to have to turn a corner and run back the same direction to the finish. I wanted to conserve my energy.

A few people stopped running and started walking. I thought "Geez! You ran this far. Why stop now at the easiest part? You are almost there!" While thinking to myself and hearing Harley's voice of telling me this is the easy part (in my mind), I spotted my sister on the side of the road. She ran along taking photos of me which pschyed me up. I saw the corner ahead with the finish line in the distance. With visual confirmation of the distance I had left to the finish, I mustered all the energy left in my reserves to come in strong!

What satisfaction to have set a major goal which you were not even sure at first was possible and to have recognition of of accomplishing it by having a volunteer drape a finisher's medal around your neck! It was absolutely perfect! Just after I crossed the finish line, the sun peered out and it became a beautiful day! What a reward! In recovery, there were space blankets to warm our wet and rapidly cooling bodies and a plethora of food from various sponsors (pancakes by Krustea, Subway subs, small packs of doritoes and cheetos, nestle chocolate milk, water bottles, etc.). Outside the recovery gates were lots of treats to replenish electrolytes - cliff energy bars, Shot blocks and various sport drinks).

Thank you to my parents and sister for helping to cheer me on, offering support, and for making the event very special for me, to my husband Harley for providing the means for me to be an endurance athlete, enduring the time and financial sacrafice while I train, the freedom to help others, and for being my biggest fan, to my sister Michelle and DJ for driving me down to the event, to all my sponsors who helped me to raise over $5500 for NF2 research (as well as the sponsors from my hike last fall who helped me to raise an addition $5200 for NF2 research), Tim Wantabee at the Redmond Reporter for writing an excellent article about NF2 and my event which was featured on the front page of the May 1st issue of the Redmond Reporter, to fellow endurance athletes and friends who shared training stories and tips, and to all the friends and family who encouraged me during training. Without all that you have given and shared, I could not have accomplished my most challenging feat yet! Thanks for helping me to keep hope, to believe in myself, and helping me to attain the means to inspire and offer hope to countless others! I am very blessed and very grateful for your support!


Olivia Hernandez said...

Looks like you had a good race Beck, I'm proud of you!

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