Eugene: A Pilgrimage to a Running Mecca

To make a long story short, I did not run a Boston qualifying time at the 2017 Eugene Marathon. I finished in 3:20:12.

But this post is not just about a finishing time. It is about the process, the journey, and a pilgrimage to a running Mecca.

For those not familiar with my story, I have been trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon (seriously) now for about two years, although it feels like a lot longer. Running the Eugene Marathon was something I only decided to do after learning that my result from The Woodlands Marathon fiasco would not be considered for a Boston qualifying time. Major bummer. Like the-sound-of-a-dream-being-crushed kind of bummer.

Racing another marathon just nine weeks after your last marathon is not necessarily the best strategy. Sure, people run back to back marathons all the time. But racing is different. Racing requires pushing your body to the limit, and then finding a way to keep on going. Needless to say, The Woodlands Marathon was a huge breakthrough for me and gave me the confidence that I could hold my race pace for the marathon distance.

After taking some time to regroup after the disappointment of The Woodlands, I decided I might take another crack at it, and identified the Eugene Marathon as a unique destination race. Elizabeth and I were already planning on being in the Pacific Northwest during this timeframe, and so it worked out for me to travel a few days earlier to run the race. The Eugene Marathon even gave me a 50% registration discount out of pity for the course error at The Woodlands.

After taking ten days off after The Woodlands, I slowly eased back into training. I was surprised to find that my body was responding well to training, even so soon after an all-out race effort. I didn’t focus on crazy milage during the short buildup to Eugene, but instead focused on quality workouts. I was hitting my paces about was well as I could have expected for my long tempo runs.

About two weeks out from Eugene I went for a run in a new pair of Altras (a foot-shaped, zero drop shoe) that I wanted to try out for an easy run. Great shoe. The only problem was that I felt so good I decided to run the last mile at a much faster 5k pace. I think the combination of the zero drop and faster than usual pace caused me to tweak a muscle in my lower right leg. I took it easy for a few days, and then attempted a very challenging 14 mile tempo run. That run went mostly well, but my lower right leg was tightening up, and getting painful enough that I decided to cut the workout short at about 12 miles.

I tried all manner of rehab and rest (discovered it was the right soleus muscle), but even during my shakeout run the day before the marathon, my lower right leg was still tight and slightly painful. I struggled with all the normal self-doubt that comes before a big race. Should I switch to the half-marathon? What if I injure myself so bad that I can’t finish? After receiving some encouragement from my #runSATX crew, I decided to go for broke. I knew it would probably hurt, I just decided that didn’t matter.

Race morning was a crisp forty degrees with sunshine in Eugene. Olympian Alexi Pappas was the ceremonial race marshal and gave us the start gun. I won’t go into every nitty gritty detail of the race, but I will share some of the highlights and turning points. By the half-marathon mark I could already tell I was working hard to hold race pace (7:03 minute-per-mile). I was feeling tightness and pain in my lower right leg, and somewhere around mile 14 felt it tweak again. The best way I can describe it would be to say it was kind of like running with a small knife in your leg. It wasn’t excruciating, but it wasn’t great either. I fought for about five miles after I first felt like giving up, which is not easy to do. When your body wants you to stop, it is a struggle of willpower to keep going. Somewhere around mile 18 I realized that with how my leg was feeling, it just wasn’t going to happen.

The rest of the race I ran at a slower pace, stopping to stretch when my legs started to get really tight. They say that it is important to set more than one goal for a big race – to set an A, B, or even C goal. My “A” goal was to qualify for Boston. My “B” goal was to beat my previous full marathon finish time (not counting the 25.4 of The Woodlands), and my “C” goal was simply to finish and have a good time. Those last 6-8 miles I did my best to take in the beautiful scenery, thank the volunteers, and chat with other runners who were struggling or falling apart. Knowing that my “A” goal was out of the picture, it was kind of fun to run with and encourage some of those runners who were still trying to make their goal.

One of the highlights of the race was the finish at Historic Hayward Field. So many running legends have run on this track, and it made for a fantastic finish. So, even though I did not qualify for Boston, I did beat my 2015 San Antonio Marathon time. Finishing in 3:20:12 with an injury isn’t too bad, I suppose.

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The start of the women’s 800m at the 2017 Oregon Twilight Meet.

I have to say, the Eugene Marathon was a fantastic race. The organizers have this one nailed. It is not too big, and not too small. The finisher’s festival was perfect. Krusteaz pancakes provided piping hot pancakes that were the best thing I’ve ever tasted at the end of a marathon.

The day after the marathon I drove up to Seattle to pick Elizabeth up at the airport to begin our 15 year anniversary adventure. We drove, and ferried, out to San Juan Island where we ate, hiked, and soaked in all the beauty until we were saturated. Not a bad consolation prize 😉 I even got to make friends with an adorable alpaca.

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So, so soft. A new alpaca friend on San Juan Island.

And in regards to that troublesome soleus muscle…it appears I may have experienced some sort of slight tear. While it has not been incredibly painful, it has certainly caused some swelling and some pretty spectacular bruising. But it looks much worse than it feels.

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Not pretty, but not all that painful. Some blood from a muscle tear pooled around my ankle/foot. Keeping moving in the days after a marathon aids in recovery, so it was good to get some light hiking in.

I’ve had a blast running Eugene. And our anniversary trip has been amazing. I haven’t qualified for Boston yet, nor am I finished. But I do think I’ll take a short break.

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Pre and me at Historic Hayward Field
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Cascade Falls on Orcas Island
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Atop Mt. Constitution – elevation 2,400 – on Orcas Island.

 

 

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