Coming off a slightly disappointing finish at the Newport Marathon, I’m reminded of my worst marathon experience ever.
In 2007 I started an evening masters program at Arizona State while continuing to work full time. I had always considered myself a runner, but I wasn’t a very consistent runner. I ran the Pocatello Marathon in 2006 but I hadn’t done much since then. Once I started the masters program, my free time became very limited. I had been gaining weight for a few years and in December 2007 I hit 239 lbs on the scale. I decided that if I wanted to run again, I needed to lose weight, so I altered my eating habits and gradually shed some pounds.
I played a tiny bit of basketball off and on for the next two years, and I did a little hiking. Around 2009 I started jogging a couple miles a couple times per week with a friend. We would just run back and forth on a mile long grass strip near my house since I was pretty heavy and that was easiest on my knees and shins. Finally I graduated in May 2009 and decided it was time to sign up for a marathon. I picked the Hoover Dam Marathon which was a 4 hour drive away near the Nevada/Arizona border.
I trained for the marathon by just running, and especially trying to work up my Saturday morning mileage. Beyond just running 3 or so times per week, I really had no concept of how to properly train. Nevertheless, I worked my way up to a ~21 mile run one hot Saturday morning. I would frequently run past a drinking fountain so I could refill my water bottle in the Arizona heat. Even when I woke up at 5am to run, it would already be light and 90+ degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Just at the peak of my training, 3 weeks before the Hoover Dam Marathon, I injured my foot. I had gone camping on a Friday night and when I woke up on Saturday morning I had a sharp, nagging, pain in a tendon on the side of my foot. I didn’t think anything of it, but I could still feel it on Monday morning when I woke up to do a 10 mile run. About 5 miles into the run, the pain suddenly worsened, but being stupid and stubborn I still finished the 10 miles. I hobbled around for the next two days and I couldn’t run a step without pain.
Due to the pain, I took the next three weeks off, which happened to be the final three weeks before the marathon. I hoped I’d still be in good enough shape to run a decent race. I really had no idea what kind of time I was capable of, and I hadn’t run a marathon (or even a half) since September 2006. This would be my sixth marathon. In my head I was thinking that a 3:30 to 3:45 would be nice.
My wife, two daughters, and I drove to the Hoover Dam the day before the marathon. We ate at a pizza/pasta place that we found in Henderson. Beyond this I did zero carbo loading and didn’t even pay attention to what I ate. We stayed at a hotel/casino on Friday night. In hindsight, I don’t know why I never took the time to do a simple “carbo loading for marathon” Google search. I just assumed carbo loading meant eating spaghetti the evening before the race.
Since we had one daughter nursing still, we decided that Cyndi would sleep in one bed and take care of her, and I’d sleep in the other bed with our 2-year-old, Paisley. At one point early in the night, Paisley rolled out of the bed, so for the rest of the night I half-slept and held onto her. Besides the threat of rolling, Paisley is notorious in our family for being a light and wiggly sleeper. I didn’t get much sleep that night.
My friend, Dan, who I hadn’t seen in years, was also running the race. He picked me up early in the morning and we were excited. We reported to the starting line and started running once the gun went off.
I think the course has been changed since 2009, but at the time the Hoover Dam Marathon was set up as a double out-and-back. We first ran to an overlook above the dam and back, then we ran the opposite direction and back. This meant zero net elevation gain, but there were some little rolling hills. The course was part pavement, part dirt and went through a cool train tunnel in addition to running onto a parking garage overlooking the Hoover Dam.
Dan and I ran together for the first part of the race, and I pushed the pace way too hard. I don’t recall too many details, but I remember looking at my watch around Mile 10 and saying “wow, we’re cookin!” I didn’t realize at the time that this should have worried me. Finally around Mile 11 or Mile 12, I started to feel some fatigue. I began to slow down. At first Dan slowed down with me, but eventually he kept going and I really slowed down. I realized it was going to be a pretty long second half, but I still hoped to be able to pull through. I had never resorted to walking in my first 5 marathons and I didn’t plan to today.
I crossed the half way point at about 1:45, which is what I was tentatively planning on, but I knew the second half was going to be much tougher. I kept chugging along and approached a climb right around Mile 15. I suddenly had a wave of fatigue and became very light-headed to the point where I thought I might faint, so I started walking.
I was disappointed to be walking with 11 miles still to go, but at least it cleared my head. Unfortunately, this also gave my legs a chance to tighten up. I’ve seen many people that can walk and then begin running again, but I’m generally not like this. If I’m on the latter part of a long run and I begin walking my legs will begin to hurt a lot worse than if I’d never walked in the first place. This was the case when I started walking at the Hoover Dam Marathon. After that point it became very difficult for me to run more than 100 yards at a time.
I continued my walk/jog as runners began to pass me on their way back to the finish. Eventually I saw my friend Dan. He had slowed down but was doing much better than I was. When I arrived at the turn-around aid station around Mile 20 I stopped and took a break. I ate some pretzels, got a drink, and tried to regroup. I think I was there longer than anyone else had been — the aid station volunteers started looking at my questioningly and saying stuff like, “Well, you better get going!” I grudgingly left, knowing I still had 6 miles of agony left to endure.
As if the walking and pain weren’t enough, somewhere around Mile 22 a 55+ year-old lady wearing butterfly wings passed me. That is a moment that will be etched into my memory forever.
A few miles before the finish I saw my wife, Cyndi, with our two daughters. She had found a spot to cheer for me. She saw that I didn’t look good and thought it was my injured foot, but I told her it was just a bad day for me.
Finally I hobbled into the finish line. I gathered all the energy I could to be able to jog the last 200 yards or so. I must have been moving at about 12min/mile pace and Cyndi later told me it took an incredibly long time. Dan was ready to leave since he had finished a long time before me, so I told him goodbye shortly after finishing.
My final time for the Hoover Dam Marathon was 4:48:01, making it my worst time by about 45 minutes in the six marathons I had completed up to that point. While the first half took about 1:45, the second half took 3 hours.
It was a bad enough experience that it took me four years before I braved another marathon. Looking back on it, several things went wrong, most of them due to ignorance and ill preparation on my part. It taught me that I couldn’t just show up and run like I did in my first two marathons a year out of high school. It was a failure for me by most measures. Not so much because the time was worse than my expectations, but because I completely fell apart so early in the race and had to walk so much. While the failure wasn’t pleasant, it has been something I can look back on and strive to prevent it from happening again. Plus, I was able to finish, which made for six completed marathons.
I signed up for the 2015 Newport Marathon back in mid-September, 2014. I had never run a marathon that was at sea level, and I had only run a couple that were relatively flat. The Newport Marathon is both flat and at sea level. The timing of Newport was also good for me since it would give me plenty of time to train in the spring and since it takes place a month and a half after the Race to Robie Creek. Additionally, I have in-laws who live a few hours from Newport so it would be a good meet-up with them. I hoped for a PR and a Boston qualification time.
Shortly after signing up, Cyndi (my wife) and I found out we were expecting our 5th child. The due date turned out to be May 22, eight days before the marathon. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, but everything ended up working out pretty well.
The Newport Marathon Course
The Newport Marathon takes place in Newport, OR on the Saturday after Memorial Day. (Note that there is also a Newport Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island.) This year (2015) it fell on May 30th. The race has about 750 marathon finishers as well as about 250 half marathon finishers.
The course begins near the north end of the Yaquina Bay Bridge. The first three miles take runners on a loop through downtown Newport and then back past the starting line. The race then makes its way to Yaquina Bay Road, which follows the north shore of Yaquina Bay. The course runs along the bay for 10 miles until a turnaround point at Mile 15 near Toledo, Oregon where runners then make their way back towards Newport and finish one mile east of the starting point.
Despite the out-and-back nature of the marathon, the course is very scenic and enjoyable. The last 20 miles of the race is lined by trees on one side of the road and the bay on the other side. The course has some small hills during the first four miles or so, but then it’s very flat until a small hill in the final half mile.
My training was exceptional during the months leading into the Newport Marathon. I didn’t have any significant setbacks from injuries and I hit many of my target times, particularly for long runs. My training schedule was mostly based on the 3:05 schedule from the book Run Less, Run Faster. The training program consists of three runs per week: intervals, a tempo run, and a long run. I hit basically every one of my long run targets and exceeded most of them. I had more trouble with the intervals, but I hit some of them and still had good workouts even when my intervals were a few seconds slow. My tempo runs were a bit slow at first, but by about the middle of my schedule I was usually hitting them.
Overall, my endurance seemed pretty solid and I started with a great base, but my speed was a little slow and that took some time to catch up. I also generally did two cross training workouts each week, which usually consisted of full or half court basketball in the mornings on my non-running days. Sometimes I did stationary bike and rowing in the gym. Since I was only doing three runs per week, my mileage during training was typically between 30 and 40 miles per week, which is on the low end of what most marathoners do. However, this was supplemented with cross training.
My primary goal with the Newport Marathon was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. My previous marathon PR was 3:21 at the 2014 Phoenix Marathon, and I figured I needed about a 3:03 to guarantee entry into Boston. This may seem like a big jump, but I had been training for over a year since hitting my previous PR. I was a bit concerned with my ability to do 3:03, but I had a big confidence booster in mid-April when I ran a sub-19:00 5k followed a week later by a big PR in the Race to Robie Creek half marathon — 1:31:10 including an enormous hill.
A week and a half before the Newport Marathon my knee started hurting. I first noticed it going up some stairs after my Monday workout. Then on Wednesday after my workout it really hurt. On Saturday I went out for a 10 mile run and walked home after 2 miles after my knee started hurting. I was trying to be careful and I was also very worried. On Monday before the marathon I did a ~40 minute bike ride followed by about 20 minutes on Tuesday.
Since we were expecting a baby on May 22nd and I had been training hard for several months, I listed a few contingency marathons that I could do in case Newport didn’t work out. These included a marathon in Boise (where I live), as well as a couple in early June within driving distance. I still hoped to do the Newport Marathon since it was more interesting to me, I hadn’t run a marathon in Oregon, and my in-laws would be there.
Cyndi and I hoped the baby would come on the due date or even a few days earlier, but alas, this wasn’t the case. The doctor set up an appointment for Cyndi to be induced 5 days after the due date. So on 12:01am on May 27, Cyndi and I reported to the hospital and Cyndi was induced. After a mostly sleepless night and long, patience-testing morning and afternoon, Luna Joy was finally born at 4:50pm. Cyndi and Luna were both healthy and safe and we were happy to welcome another child into our family. My mom was watching our other four kids and the three older children were excited when they got to meet Luna for the first time that evening. Cyndi and I stayed in the hospital on the night of the 27th, a Wednesday, and then told the doctors and nurses we wanted to leave ASAP. They all thought we should stay another night and “rest”. We asked each other whether any of them had tried to sleep in a hospital: The nurses come in and wake you up every 2 hours and it’s not comfortable at all. Finally we were allowed to leave on Thursday at about 6pm.
This left me Thursday evening to pack for my trip to Newport the next day. After about 7.5 hours of good sleep (unlike the hospital) I woke up and did a final 1.5 mile run the day before the marathon. My knee hurt by the end which was worrisome. I had trained so much that I decided I would do the marathon and just hope for no long term knee issues from it.
I packed the car and left home around 9:30am with two of our children to make the 500 mile drive to Newport, Oregon. The drive went well and took about 10 hours including stops. I had never been on Highway 20, which runs west from Ontario, OR through Vale, Bend, Corvallis, and several small towns, so the drive was interesting at least. I tried to take more breaks than usual so that I could walk around and loosen my legs, but of course by the time we arrived in Newport I was pretty tight and sick of driving my little manual Honda Fit sans cruise control. Fortunately the kids in the back seat were troopers and did really well.
Newport Marathon packet pickup was quick and easy. My in-laws had a condo reserved at the Embarcadero resort, which happened to be the race HQ and the finish line. I grabbed my packet in just a few minutes — they were selling a few t-shirts but there wasn’t an expo or anything. I did weigh in to see if I qualified for the Hercules division, but I was 2lbs short (the minimum was 190lbs). All my carbo loading and water drinking had added a few pounds to my weight as I usually weigh in at the low 180’s.
Kara and Jerry, my in-laws, were doing the half marathon so they picked up their packets, too. We took it pretty easy that evening. I walked around a tiny bit as we dropped some crab pots off a dock and I got the kids situated for the night.
The night before the race I slept horribly, as expected. I was comfortable, but also very anxious and excited. I set my alarm for 4am to eat something but ended up just eating at 3:30am since I was awake anyways. Then I laid back down and rested until about 5:20am. I caught the bus around 6:15 from the hotel. It was only about 1 mile to the start line, so that was nice.
As usual, I immediately hit the port-o-potties and was delighted to be the first one that morning to have used the particular facility I selected. I went again about 15 minutes later. I mention this because the lines were remarkably small for a 750 person race, which was very nice.
The weather was right around 52 Fahrenheit with only a slight breeze and some cloud cover. I opted to run without my usual white hat. Jerry and Kara showed up around 6:40 and we took some photos.
I changed shoes, lined up, and soon the race was on its way. The Newport Marathon started at 7am and the half started at 7:45.
Racing the Newport Marathon
I started pretty close to where I figured I would place — in the top 50 or so. I planned on running a 6:50 pace as long as I could. That would give me a little room to slow down if I hit the wall but would also keep the option open for a sub 3hr marathon if I had it in me.
As usual, I started out pretty fast but within the first half mile I was very purposefully looking at my watch and slowing myself down. When I passed Mile 1, I saw that my watch was annoying off by 0.1 mile and I was right around 6:50 pace. The first few miles wind through Newport and were quite enjoyable. There were several spectators and it was exciting to be finally running this race.
There were a couple little hills, and in hindsight I wonder if I didn’t slow down enough for them. They weren’t anything serious. We passed back by the starting line at about Mile 3 and I got to smile at Jerry and Kara, who were still waiting for the half marathon to start.
After passing the Newport Marathon starting line, we made our way down to Yaquina Bay. There was one cool stretch where we ran on a boardwalk, which I thought was pretty fun. Some people in front of me ran on the sidewalk right next to the boardwalk, but I figured that it wasn’t every day that an Idaho boy got to run on a boardwalk, so I might as well enjoy it.
By Mile 4 or so we were on Yaquina Bay Road, where we would basically remain for the rest of the marathon. I was feeling good. My knee had started hurting around Mile 2.5, but by Mile 5 the pain was gone and I was very thankful. I had fretted over it for the previous 10 days. The night before the marathon (and several other times) I had prayed that my knee would be ok, and I felt that this was an answered prayer. Despite how the race would end up, I felt grateful that at least I wasn’t destroying my knee in the process.
The runners had thinned out pretty well by now, and for the next 10 miles I was mostly running near the same few people. No one was very talkative. I said “hi” or “how’s it going?” to a few runners and no one cared to carry on the conversation. I spent several miles near a lady who I think ended up being the 5th or 6th woman to cross the line.
Aid stations were good. I had packed a couple packages of Bloks so I was mostly just grabbing water. I didn’t have any issues. The stations were at weird intervals though — some closer than 2 miles apart and some more than 2 miles apart. At Mile 11 the infamous Oyster Shooter station was waiting, but I didn’t dare.
I was still feeling good at the half way point. I hit 13.1 miles around 1:29:00, which made for my half marathon PR. This was pretty awesome, although I fully expected it and I was right on target of the pace I intended. However, things started to go figuratively downhill a couple miles later.
I noticed at Mile 14 that my pace had slowed beyond 6:50 unexpectedly. Then it happened again at Mile 15. I figured it was ok as long as I could keep it under 7:00 per mile.
The turnaround point for the marathon was just after Mile 15. I still felt pretty good, but I began to notice signs of fatigue. It was nice to turn around as running past all the runners still making their way out gave me something to think about and made the course less lonely. I tried to perk up and tell people “good job” to keep my mind off running. Mile 16 and 17 were still under 7 minutes.
However, during Mile 17 I had a short wave of exhaustion where I got a little light headed. It reminded me of when I ran the Hoover Dam Marathon over 5 years ago — the only marathon I’ve ever resorted to walking in and my worst running experience ever. I was now having to push pretty hard to keep up the pace. Mile 18 was my first mile over 7 minutes. I reminded myself of the countless number of 8 mile runs I had done and how 8 miles really isn’t too far.
I passed the oyster shooter station again at Mile 19 and figured I’d vomit if I got too close to them or thought about it too much. Now my legs were beginning to tighten and cramp up. I just needed to hold the line at 7:30 or so, but it was getting more and more difficult. I had more Bloks in my pocket, but my stomach was through with them and I didn’t think I could handle any more. The Mile 20 aid station had oranges, and I hoped biting into one would give me a boost, but unfortunately it wasn’t much help.
Miles 20 and 21 were my last efforts to hold myself together before my legs just wouldn’t let me. I began to get slower and slower. By then I knew that I was going to miss my goal of qualifying for Boston and I continued to deteriorate. A few people started passing me at this point. I noticed my breathing was much faster than the previous 20 miles and figured my heart rate was spiking.
Around Mile 22 or 23 the 3:05 pacer passed me. This was disappointing but I knew it was coming. I picked up the pace for a few steps but there was no way I could keep up with him. Now I was just doing my best to not walk and to get whatever time I could salvage.
The last few miles were slow and painful, as only distances beyond The Wall can be. I was under a 9 minute pace through Mile 24, but at Mile 25 I went over it. There was a little hill towards the end of Mile 25. When I got to the top there were spectators and the finish line below. I sped up on the way down but my hamstring knotted up and I got a nasty charlie horse, my first during a run. I had to stop and wait it out for 10 or so seconds before I could hobble down the hill again. My in-laws and kids were there cheering me on and it was good to be done.
After the finish line I got my cool, blown-glass metal. I grabbed some water and hunched over for a bit. My kids and in-laws came over and Fielding, my 4-year-old, showed me the collection of snails that he had amassed in a paper cup. I was worn out but happy it was over.
The post-race food was located a couple hundred yards from the finish line, and it was nice to walk over to it. I grabbed a decent t-shirt, as well as some good food including a bowl of clam chowder. They had some high tables which I leaned against as I downed some much needed food. We hung out a while and then I headed back to the condo to shower.
We ate lunch after another hour or two and by this time my stomach was pretty messed up. Salty potato chips seemed to be the easiest thing to eat, but I also had a little chicken. We talked about the race and I called Cyndi and gave her a report.
I decided I better head home around 1:30 rather than stay for the 2:30pm awards ceremony. I said goodbye to my in-laws and my two children who were staying with them and reiterated to them that they needed to be on their best behavior for the next week. Then I got back into my Honda Fit and started the long, lonely drive home. I had a few snacks in the car, but I made a few gas/bathroom stops just so I could stretch. My stomach was finally ready for a nice meal by the time I got to Bend, so I ate a big salad at Baja Fresh. It was delicious. I made another stop in a small town with a Dairy Queen and got a large peanut butter cookie Blizzard. Also delicious. Fortunately I had some interesting books on CD to keep me awake — I only had to rely on one can of soda. I finally arrived home to a sleeping wife and baby at 11:45pm.
I was happy to get a PR at 3:13:48, but pretty disappointed that I didn’t reach my goal of 3:03. I fully expected to be able to hold the 6:50 pace through Mile 20, so I wasn’t sure what had gone so wrong. In hindsight, I figure it was a combination of four factors:
Insufficient mileage, leaving me out of gas too early. (I’m not convinced of this since I had done a 20 miler just three weeks before without hitting a hard wall.)
Lack of sleep with the baby’s arrival. (Worth it.)
Messed up training regimen during my final 8 days — particularly the missed 10 miler on the previous Saturday. This was due to my knee pain.
Lack of toughness. I think I could have squeezed another minute or two out of my legs. Had I been within striking distance of 3:05, I think I would have. That said, I don’t think my legs and heart could have given me the 9 minutes I lacked.
Whatever the reason, it only makes me want to train hard and try again.
Overall, the Newport Marathon was a great race to run and I’m glad I chose it. Organization, course, and metal were all well done. The shirt could have been a little better (the 2014 shirt looked nice). I would gladly do it again, although I’d prefer to make it into a 4-5 day trip rather than a 39 hour whirlwind.
Now to decide what to do this summer to maximize my chances of qualifying for Boston and squeeze another 10 minutes out of my time…