Portland has had bizarre weather this winter. While the eastern US has suffered intense snow storms, Portland has been having spring since January, it seems: only a week of actual cold back in December, and almost no rain.
Except for Shamrock weekend, of course. It was pouring it down Saturday and early Sunday.
The temperatures were still very mild, however, so for the second year in a row I ran Shamrock in just shorts and T-shirt. This time I wore gloves too, and that made all the difference between my being cold at the start and shivering like a shaken blancmange*.
It is always impressive to join the crowd at the start of a Shamrock run. They had over thirty five thousand registered participants, and two and a half thousand of them were doing the half marathon – the first year that there was a half marathon route available. I signed up for it in a fit of enthusiasm when a bunch of us at work went in as a team, and the race sold out pretty fast.
Shamrock is an exceptionally well-organised race. Everything from packet pickup to the finish line is smooth, but then this race has been run for more than thirty years so you would hope they’d have it sorted out by now! I found my spot in the start chute by the 9-10 minute pace board, and tried to calm the nerves.
My race plan was pretty simple: run the first half gently and then put more into the second half. This reflected the course structure, which was flat at the beginning and then started its climb after the half way point. The last three miles were down hill.
I actually did a decent job of running a controlled pace in the first half, too. My usual problem on Shamrock (more than other races, curiously) is to kick out too fast: overtaken by the energy of the event, I’ll hurry along the streets, passing other runners left and right. This year that was not my problem: I maintained a steady pace, and I didn’t sprint past any other runners.
The problem was the rain. My feet got wet and heavy. It felt more like a steeplechase than a road race, there were so many puddles to jump and obstacles to avoid. The rain had largely abated by the halfway point, but feet were already soaked through by that point, heavy and cold.
This year was also novel in that I had left my gear at the day job office, and the halfway point was right by there. Running past the building I couldn’t help but thinking: “I could stop now. I have dry clothes inside…”
And I knew what was coming.
I am well acquainted with the back half of this half marathon route, partly from my four times running the 15K race, but mostly from running up and down Terwilliger on training runs. I am perhaps more accustomed to trundling up the hills on the pedestrian paths than the road, but I know the slopes. As I started up the Broadway hill I thought my legs felt reminiscent of when I run my seven miler after a few days of standing at my desk**.
Well, I got up the hill in reasonable order. My plan was to speed up compared to the first half, aiming for a negative split: I’ve done the Terwilliger seven in 9:25 minute miles before, and I thought I might manage that since my legs felt about right. However, I was wrong: all I can say is that I didn’t slow down much. I crested the hill at about an eleven minute pace, slow enough to know I wasn’t going to beat my last half marathon time by much but also fast enough to see my family at the top before they got bored of standing in the rain.
Coming down the other side is supposed to be this glorious descent, but running downhill for three miles when you’ve already got worn legs is fraught. As it happens, I was walking through the eleven mile marker. I just couldn’t keep running any more at that point, and when I started up again I found that one leg was sore – the IT band on my right leg was twanging something chronic.
In the end, I closed out the race with an official time of 2:29:04 – half an hour slower than I really wanted, but this is apparently my pace now.
This is my second half marathon in six months, and although the time was no different I did finish in better shape. I was a wreck after Beat the Blerch: my legs were painful, and I was very low on blood sugar (what is called “bonking” in the cycling community) – I couldn’t think, or indeed taste any food. Things were better this time by some margin, and so I can only conclude that I was conditioned more thoroughly this time.
And I have my medal cum bottle opener, and I have my commemorative towel.
I admitted to myself quite some time ago that I was unlikely to do a marathon again, because the training is just too time consuming.
That admission appears to have commuted down to the half marathon distance, although for a subtly different reason: I can make the time to train for the race, but the training I have time for is not sufficient to achieve my goals. Beat the Blerch was still in the shadow of the stomach flu of last June but even with fairly consistent training and distance building in the lead-up for this race it still felt like there was nothing there when I called on my legs to push.
Also, I’ve decided I don’t care for this half marathon course. I still like the Shamrock 15K and I will continue to plan on running it in future years, but I won’t be doing this half again. That long jag north into the industrial zone is just no fun at all.
Well, onto the next thing. I think it’s time to get back on the bike for the spring.
[*] a French word meaning “white eat”, but it’s usually pink.
[**] I have a standing desk at the office. It’s really great. I heartily recommend it.