Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Portland marathon memories

On a cool Sunday morning that was also the first morning of October 1st (as well as marked the festival of Dushehra in India) I started my first of the three races of the month. The previous day was spent in the expo in the Hilton Hotel. The day before was spent pretty much in Rupal's car journeying from San Mateo to Portland, first crossing the California-Oregon border, then caressing the western side of the Cascades in Oregon and ending with the beautiful sight of Mt Hood towering over North Oregon.

The theme of my run was Not Yet. Starting from the fact that this was not my "official" marathon (that honor goes to Chicago), I had deliberately planned to relax and soak in the atmosphere, more than to run a race. But the most carefully constructed of plans go awry when you are in the midst of 8000 people effusing adrenaline. However, once I had invented the theme of my run, it was easier to hold back -- despite feeling extremely good at around mile 4 and then at around mile 15. A long line in front of the porta johns arond mile 1.5 had separated me from my running buddy, Anurag, condemning me to running solitude that I had not known the whole year. Challenging my theme of the run was the urge to catch up with the bugger who was now about 5-6 minutes ahead of me thanks to the long line of losers who did not ease up before the gun went off.

I actually never caught up with Anurag. I did catch up with some of the other Asha runners on the way -- Chandu, Ram, Diana -- and got a chance to run with them for some period of time, in the process further decreasing the hope of ever catching up with Anurag. Not that it mattered, at least not for this run. I had a longish run with Diana until I felt that I am not getting my rhythm at that speed (now I know when one of my mentees says he can not run with the rest as the rest of us are too slow -- except that he says this at even 9 min/mile pace!) and had to speed up to feel less work for my body. Don't cry me a snob, as I only sped up by 45s or so, and it still made a difference to how I felt.

Coming back to feeling good around mile 15. It was actually the feeling of feeling good at mile 15 that made me feel really good, if you know what I mean. At that time, I really wanted to speed up, but managed to repeat the Not Yet mantra enough to postpone my speeding up to after mile 18. St John's bridge came and went and now we were descending from the bridge and entering the residential area to the other side of the Willamette. Mile 18 was finally here and for the first time in the race I did some mental calculations of what my estimated finish time would be at the current pace. It seemed like I would do 5:05 but if I could speed up a bit, 5hrs would be achievable. I decided to NOT speed up here and postponed the speeding that I had promised myself to mile 22.

Good thing that I did that. There was like a half mile long steep downhill around that mile that was taxing my quads. Usually I am the happiest person going downhill, but you run 22 miles and no matter what pace you are doing, your legs will feel it. So, instead of speeding up, I slowed down and started walking downhill to save the quads for another day. I saw Mandar dutifully waiting for Diana to join her for the last 4 miles or so; and wondered where my wife would be. As for Grishu, she had called me at around mile 20 and after I told her what mile I had just crossed, she exclaimed saying that I am pretty slow today and that half of the people have already finished. Yeah right!

Now I saw what seemed like (and was) Uma from about a quarter mile away. I felt so happy that I sped up a bit to catch up with her. Unfortunately, Uma was hurting in her right toe but was still bravely carrying on. It was great running with someone and so we finished together, going slow but strong in the last 3.5 miles, giving our chip a time of 5:15. The first few minutes after the end are pretty intense as well. It is funny how you can finish strong but feel so weak immediately after finishing. At Chicago last year I had made the mistake of looking down in the last 3-4 miles (thinking that I could focus more that way to help me somehow cover those long painful miles that have grown so much sweeter now as memories) causing me to feel dizzy and wanting to collapse after the finish line. Here, I did not want to collapse but for sure wanted to sit down with a thump and stretch out my legs. I mean it felt awful here too, despite the cookies and the cool orange juice and the bananas and the bagels... But, heeding the advice meant walking around. And for sure, the miserable feelings lasted only about 10 minutes. Now, with the finisher shirt, the medal and a mylar sheet around me barely managing to keep me warm, my pain sensations were easing and getting replaced with an unmistakable high that I have only experienced through running (no, I haven't tried Ecstasy yet). It is to be noted that this high is different from the high I get while running. The former is a self-satisfied feeling accompanied with quiet euphoria of something nice that you have just completed. The latter is more meditative high giving you a feeling that you can do whatever you want and are in the process of doing it. The former is celebratory and static, the latter more flowing and alive. The former more backward looking, the latter more in the present. Both feed off each other and I am grateful that I have the fortune to be able to experience them once in a while.

I can go on and on but I have another marathon to complete and you -- my hapless reader -- have more blogs to read and emails to delete. So, I will write the more useful list of lessons I learned from Portland. This is what I will and will not do in my next marathon.

  • I will not move around the day before the marathon. If I want to do sight seeing, I will go to the same place some other time. Instead, I will play cards, read poetry, eat bananas, watch movies, read email and listen to the coaches. Woof, that is going to be one busy day!
  • I will double my hydration in the days leading to the marathon.
  • I will double my carbs in the days leading to the marathon.
  • I will not run alone in the marathon. Faced with the choice of going faster or going with a fellow runner, I will choose the latter.
  • I will conserve until mile 18 at the minimum. The wise ones say that the real race starts at mile 18 and gets hotter at mile 22. If I have to show myself my mettle, it is in the last 8 miles.
  • I will eat by 8pm on the night before the marathon.
  • I will sleep really well in the week leading to the marathon Sunday.
  • I will take with me two pairs of contact lenses, two pairs of shorts, two shirts, two pairs of socks, and two SD cards for my camera.
  • I will not take any GU gel with me (I am flying this time to Chicago :-)
  • I will try harder to convince my wife to run with me the last couple of miles :-)
  • I will sign up myself and my wife for runner updates on cell phone.
  • I will eat a breakfast (as usual) on the morning of the race.
  • I will warm up and stretch before the race begins.
  • I will take my GU every 5 miles without fail.
  • I will go to the porta john before the race. If I have to go during the run, I will not stand in a long line, but will instead go behind the trees.
  • When it gets tough after mile 20, I will ward off negative thoughts. I will focus instead on giving the best performance I can. I owe this much at least to my fellow runners, coaches and Asha.
  • I will remember the high I will get after the marathon is over and use it to propel me to do my best during the race, esp. the last few miles.
  • I will start with a smile, run with a high, and end with a smile.
  • If I am not able to do that for whatever reason, I will not fret too much about it.
  • I will not lose the fitness gained from my training after the marathon. Letting go of this hard earned fitness will be a crime! I will slowly and wisely restart my running or channel my fitness into new activities like swimming or biking or gym-ming.
  • I will party my heart out the night after the marathon.
Chicago, here we come.


Blogger Nikhil said...

the long line of losers outside the porta johns....that included you....tch tch :)

good job, man!! lets hope i feel at least half as good when i finish my marathon!!

1:14 PM  

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