Monday, October 29, 2012

2012 Columbia Gorge Marathon Recap (long post w/pictures!)

First, I want to address this to friends and family this blog is emailed to. If you've replied to any emails they are not getting to me and haven't been getting to me for at least 3-4 months. I'm not sure why blogger changed the email address to a no-reply email, but if you've sent anything I've not received it. If you reply make sure you put in my email!

Onto the race!!

Everyone's talks about how it's completely normal to not sleep the night before a marathon so I was prepared. My marathon was Sunday so I made sure to pack in a good 9 hours of sleep two nights before. Sleep was hard to come by all week so I knew I'd be a wreck the day before. On Saturday I had my acupuncture appointment and felt really mellow and calm after. I was even tired right after dinner (grilled salmon, avocado and brown rice) and fell asleep by 7pm. I woke up at 1am, well rested and wide awake but knew I had at least 4 more hours before my wake-up so I lazed around then fell back asleep. Somehow the night before my first marathon I slept for 10 freaking hours!

I was starting to get worried something was wrong me with me. I wanted to feel that exciting, "oh my god, I'm about to run a marathon!!" surge that I had felt all last week but it wasn't there. Instead I was very matter-of-fact and calmly put the essentials together, got dressed and ate breakfast like any other day. I even called my dad and read him inane stuff out of the birthday book to waste time before leaving. I think part of me felt like if I didn't feel that adrenaline surge that I wouldn't get through this.

When I left my house for the 75 minute drive it was nasty out. Wind and pouring rain. I actually thought I might die driving out there because my car kept hydroplaning and people were real jerks on the road. It was pitch black and eerie. I thought I might pee my pants I was so on edge. My adrenaline was pumping but for all the wrong reasons, I wanted to save that good stuff for the race!!

As I arrived in Hood River the rain stopped. Poof, gone! It was pretty amazing actually. I caught the shuttle bus up to the start and hung around for about 90 minutes hydrating and hearing most of the other athletes shoot the shit about their Ironman experiences. Awesome. Most of the people I noticed were seasoned athletes doing their XX marathon. Some were being ignorant about knowing that this course was tough. This one guy was like, "oh yeah, I just sign up for marathons to piss off my wife but didn't realize this one had hills". I hope he was kidding. Who does either of those things?? Hills were an understatement.

I finally met a normal girl at the start and chatted with her a bit. She was hoping for a 4 something time though so I knew she wasn't going to become my running buddy, just my right then buddy. I got her to take my picture at the start while we were waiting around.

It was such a pretty area for the start. You could see the menacing dark clouds start to move away off towards the west, near Portland. I made a last minute decision to bring my camera because the weather looked like it was going to hold up until the end.

There were about 280 people that had signed up for the marathon but only 183 showed/clocked a time. This was a tiny race! There were far more half marathoners but I didn't see them at all because we started 2 1/2 miles up at the trailhead and 30 minutes ahead.

We lined up at 9am for a very informal start, the best kind! We were told that the trail was pedestrian only but that most of the course was an open course and to watch out for traffic. They also joked that it wouldn't feel like it was an open course though because there were hardly any cars. I hoped that was the case as I had flashbacks of running on that highway for the Cascade Lakes Relay with big trucks zooming by me.

Since the weather had cleared and it was 60F I shed my jacket and opted for short sleeves and capri's plus my trusty old Glycerin's. I'd been advised to wear the shoe I trained the most in and the Glycerin's have really never let me down. I made sure to check that the shoe's were MATCHING this time too.

The start of this race was all uphill. It was gradual but it slowed me down a lot, which was good. I was in dead last and I didn't care because I knew I was running this race for me and didn't have anything to prove to those Ironman athletes. It was a quiet course and the only noise was the sound of footsteps in the distance and the crinkle of leaves as people ran over them.

The first 4 miles had a lot of up and down's. We gained 525ft and lost 449ft, so it was fairly rolling. I felt strong and comfortable running this course because I had done a lot of hill training and my god, the course was just beautiful. I think I said "WOW!!" around almost every bend. I couldn't believe how breathtaking this area was. I've hiked here a lot (hiked!!) so to be running along such a scenic route was empowering.

It was at the above bend that I made a running friend who was also taking a picture. Her name was Jennifer. In the previous running pictures she is the person wearing a bright yellow vest. She told me that it was her first marathon too but it was likely to be her last. This was kind of a bucket list deal for her and she signed up last year and trained all summer. We decided to run together since we both agreed we were there to soak up the scenery and finish. I was happy to make a running friend as even though I was feeling pretty serene, the course could have easily left one feeling lonely.

At mile 4 you arrive at the Mosier Twin Tunnels and get to run through them! I tried to take a picture but I was running uphill and it was blurry. Here is a picture from TheBeanTeam's Flickr page.

Mosier Tunnels East Tunnel

One interesting thing I noticed around mile 4 was that I hadn't been struggling at all those first 3 miles like I usually do. I wondered if maybe it was a combination of my early wake up time (5am) and all the pretty distracting scenery. Either way it was nice to start the race off so positive!

Whenever I stopped to take a few pictures Jennifer would stop with me. I told her she didn't need to wait for me but she didn't mind. Part of me felt bad though because I am not really the waiting type of person unless we agreed beforehand, but I certainly don't expect anyone else to wait for me either.

After the tunnels from midway through mile 4 and all of 5 we headed downhill into the town of Mosier, population 400. When we were running down that big 500ft hill we turned around to see the 20 mile marker and immediately knew this climb was going to feel like hell coming back. The downhill sure felt nice though! The town of Mosier was tiny and kind of weird. Sorry, Mosier. You were cute, but really tiny towns freak me out a little.

We came out of the valley and started the 6 mile climb up to Rowena Crest. We passed by orchards, vineyards and a lot of farmland. The road was winding and had S-curves but there were a few places where the road was straight and you could see for miles. I kept looking up at the cliffs and wondering if that was where we were going to end up. I'll admit, I was feeling anxious. Miles 6-9 didn't have any elevation loss. We climbed 551ft according to Mr. Garmin. The race directors were right, there really weren't many cars on the road at all!

We could see the Columbia off to our left and Washington was just on the other side. I was looking for Coyote Wall, a hike I did earlier this year, but it must have been closer to the beginning of the course. I always forget how much ground you can really cover when running.

I walked on the steeper parts of the climb. I remember my coach and Deb's advice to go out conservative and power-walk the steep grades. My mile times didn't dip that much and stayed between 11:20 - 12:20. I had set my Garmin to only show my average pace on the entire course and my heart rate. If my heart rate hit over 180 on the climbs I backed off and walked. This strategy worked out really well since the main goal was to conserve energy. I passed about 3 people on the climb too.

Jennifer was steady on most of the climb and it was good to have her there to keep up with someone. I fell behind a little but she would stop at the aid stations for longer so we played tag for a few miles.

There was a bit of a reprieve at mile 10 and we actually hit a small downhill section which made my calves happy. During this mile we passed a lot of the faster runners and most sent words of encouragement. You could definitely tell who was feeling good and who was having a tough race! I was looking forward to where they were on course since they were heading back downhill and looked pretty happy doing so! At the next aid station I took a quick bathroom break and ended up losing Jennifer as I think she did too.

We paid for that downhill on mile 11 though and climbed another 164 feet to the lookout point. What a view!! This was by far the friendliest aid station and they also had fruit. An orange slice never tasted so good. I always wondered what was so amazing about orange slices at a marathon. Everyone seems to love them and they are like gold. I fully understand now. I asked someone to take my picture at the Rowena Crest sign. I'm a little squinty but I was thrilled to have made it!

As I started my trek around the circle viewpoint I took a well deserved break and snapped some pictures. The weather had held up so far and the view was phenomenal. I was looking forward to that nice downhill section coming up and thought to myself that I had completed the hard part! My average pace on my watch was 11:30.

PS: Click on any pictures for a big view!

As I was leaving the circle I saw Jennifer enter. I kept on going and figured she would either catch up or she wouldn't, but I knew I needed to keep on running. The winds picked up on the descent. I fought to keep going and passed a couple more people with smiles and encouragement. We were all in this together.

Miles 13 - 16 were the hardest for me. At the halfway point my time was roughly 2:30. It wasn't the time that bothered me, I felt great about that, it was my left hip. As I tried to pick up the pace a little, closer to 11's on the downhill my hip seized. I had to modify my running and pick up my feet a lot more so that when they hit the ground the shock went up my leg and kind of acted like a release. I found a fence at mile 15 and stretched out briefly. Jennifer caught back up to me and told me she never thought she'd catch me. We both stretched but I had to leave her again because I had to keep on going and she wanted to stretch a little more.

I kept telling myself that once I got to mile 16 everything would feel better. I could run 10 miles. I actually thought about quitting though. Briefly. When I saw the long stretch of road and no one on it I started to feel defeated. At least it was mostly flat, but it sure felt like it was going to take me ages to get anywhere.

This is where I stopped taking pictures. I knew that big hill was coming in a couple miles and I had no idea how I was going to tackle it. This is going to sound really cheesy but at that moment, right before I hit mile 16 the sun came out. While I'm not religious it certainly felt like some sign. The sun hadn't emerged all day and there it was at mile 16, just shining down on me saying, "pull your shit together, you can do this! shine on you marathoner!"

My speed picked back up and I headed back into Mosier and mentally prepared myself for the climb. I was focused and determined and wasn't going to stop until that next aid station. My pace dropped quite a bit on the hill because I had to walk most of it. I didn't care because I just wanted to finish and I was still on track to finish about 5:15.

At the next aid station, mile 20 something I took about a 5 minute break. It was my slowest mile at close to 18 minutes but I needed to regroup. I also needed a bathroom. I forced myself to open my second fig paste (I lost my first 1/2 empty one somewhere on course) and ate about 1/2 of it with some water. I had packed about 8 Swedish fish, some shot blocks and 2 fig pastes and up until then I had gone through the fish that hadn't fallen out, 3 shot blocks and 1/2 a fig paste. I made sure to drink mostly electrolytes up until mile 12 and then I stuck with water. My stomach was not agreeing with me though. I contemplated making myself throw up for a minute because all that sugar was making me feel awful. I was also getting delirious. I remember sitting in the port-o-potty, not able to go to the bathroom and feeling like the ground was spinning. I gave myself another pep talk and walked out of that aid station, let my stomach settle and started running slowly.

My average pace had fallen to about 11:50. During miles 19 - 21 we gained 588ft. Garmin says we lost 220ft too but I sure as heck didn't feel any elevation loss! Hah! I think this was where those tunnels were though and that was downhill. I kept running the downhills and flats and would power walk the climbs. I learned that it was a mental battle to get myself to start running but once I did I felt so much better. My hip wasn't bothering me anymore and my stomach settled by mile 22 but I vowed to not eat or drink any more sugar for the rest of the course. I was fried. Things felt a bit surreal and I think I passed the wall because I was so freaking high on sugar. I definitely walked a lot but only the hills. The absolute hardest part for me though was back on miles 14 and 15. At this point I was determined to finish and finish strong.

The last 4 miles felt great! It started to lightly rain and it was refreshing. My form didn't deteriorate on this course, which I'm sure made a huge difference in how I was feeling in those later miles. I was back on the rolling hills at the start and while my pace was quite a bit slower I was still running most of it. My average pace had fallen to 12:10 but it was a tough course and I knew I had done my best. I could hear Jennifer behind me. She had told me at the 20 mile aid station that she was tired and was ready to walk but I think I pushed her a bit (unintentionally) because there she was still only a couple hundred feet back! I was really proud of her for not giving into the walk.

The last aid station was at mile 23.5. I stopped one last time, grabbed a cup of water and then headed off to finish! Less than a 5k, I could do it!! I felt my second wind and it certainly helped that mile 25 was 310ft of elevation loss! This was my fastest mile at 10:30. I passed 3 people on the downhill and ran the tangents. There was a lovely woman cheering me on as I got to the bottom and she said, "You're looking so strong! Only a little more than a mile left!" I told her this was my first marathon and she said, "Wow!! You are amazing!!". Those words of encouragement were huge and I beamed.

As I went through the little town of Hood River I heard so many cheers. People walking would stop and cheer me on and people in cars would tell me I was almost there. I had on a permagrin and felt like such a winner even though I knew I was one of the last runners coming in. A woman crossing the street even stopped, put down her cup of coffee and clapped for me. After being mostly alone for the last 15 miles besides aid stations, this level of support felt so genuine and heartfelt. I crossed a pedestrian bridge over into the Marina (the end) and encountered a guy who ran out and gave me a daisy and he said, "take this, you're doing great and you're almost done!". A very sweet gesture. I ran out on a muddy gravel road around the point and back down to the finish. I didn't stop running. I was slipping around on wet muddy grass but I didn't care. A few people were standing out in the rain cheering me on. The timer said 5 hours, 18 minutes and 20 seconds. I yelled a big "YAY!!" and threw my hands up as I crossed the finish which got the camera guy's attention. I got my lovely finisher medal, a water bottle and some nice tech socks. I was a marathoner!! I had just ran 26.2 miles and I was still mostly coherent!!

I searched for someone to take a picture of me right after I finished. I was a little out of it so my cheesy thumbs up pose was kind of sideways.

After the race I didn't do much except drive back home. I couldn't stomach food, but I tried. It took me about 40 minutes before I returned to some sense of normalcy and felt like I could drive. It started to pour once I got into my car which made for another scary ride back home. I listened to NPR and they were talking about food which thankfully perked my appetite. Salt never tasted so good. Next time I'm bringing pretzels. And there will be a next time! I was even thinking about Big Sur on the drive back. I'm pretty sure if you're already looking forward to your next marathon that soon after your first, that you had a damn good race!!

My official finishing time was 5 hours 18 minutes and 8 seconds. Total elevation gain was +2,410 feet. Garmin avg pace says 12:06 so I knocked a little off at the end. Besides the hip/stomach issues which faded I'm also happy to report I have no pain, blisters or chafing! My quads were not burning like everyone said they would be on the downhills and my knees were just fine. I'm kind of in amazement since I feel like I should feel more beaten up. I'm walking like a marionette today and my muscles are sore, but that's normal. I've been on air since yesterday and can't believe that only after really being a consistent runner for 6 months (read: 3+ days a week), I just completed my first marathon. And I kicked its ass!! ;)

I should mention I saw Jennifer at the end briefly when she met up with her family. She came up to me and told me that I finished that race really strong and did a great job. I thought about getting a picture with her but she was with her little ones and things were a bit chaotic so I wished her well and told her it was great to have met her. Having race buddies really makes a difference, even if they're only there for a few miles.

Thank you to all my friends and family for your support, inspiration and encouragement. The messages I got before running were so sweet. Yesterday was such a fantastic day for me and I couldn't have asked for a more scenic and special marathon for my first. What an incredible experience. Certainly one that will live on in the memories forever. So next year... do over? You all knew I was crazy, right??


  1. You are *amazing*! I've seriously been waiting since yesterday for this recap. I LOVE it! Thanks for taking pictures, too!

  2. The photos are beautiful. Nice work Brie. We are proud/excited for you!

  3. Congratulations Brie! Awesome job! :)