My favorite racing organization, Uberthons, has been putting on races in the Portland area since 2011, but it wasn't until this year that it organized a marathon or half-marathon: the Oregon Marathon & Half. I had never run a half (or a full) before, but I went ahead and signed up as soon as registration was open. (Good thing, too, as the half marathon ended up selling out quickly.)
Apart from the start and the last mile and a half or so, the route was the Banks Vernonia Trail, with the half starting just off the halfway point of the full marathon. An extra nice bonus for us half runners was that the halfway point of the full marathon also happened to be the highest point on that route -- meaning that the half was basically downhill or flat for the entire 13.1 miles.
The half was scheduled to start at 7:45 am. Yikes, that's early! But wait, it gets worse. Banks is about 40 minutes away from Portland, so that's more travel time cutting into sleep. But wait, there's even more! Banks was the end of the race, and it was a point-to-point route. The starting point was, well, 13.1 miles away. We were directed to park in Banks and take a shuttle that Uberthons had arranged . . . but the last shuttle on the schedule was leaving around 6:30-6:45.
So I went to bed on Friday night at 9 pm, setting my alarm for 5 am. Yes, the things I do for running.
It rained steadily Friday night and the forecast for Saturday was more rain. As I listened to the rain drumming on our roof while falling asleep, I thought to myself, yes, rain as hard as you want right now; get it all out now!
BZZZZ! My alarm went off at 4:56 am. I felt refreshed, and having not run since Wednesday, my legs felt pretty fresh. It was still raining steadily. (I guess the skies had a lot more rain....) I had carbo-loaded the night before with clam linguine, and I didn't feel too hungry, so I had a carton of key lime flavored yogurt.
I dressed in what I'd laid out before going to bed: longsleeve tech shirt (from Uberthons' Turkeython, so I didn't feel as bad about not wearing the official race shirt), Brooks running jacket (as a rain shield), shorts, and sweatpants for now. It was supposed to be in the 50s all morning, so I didn't think I needed running tights. Also, I added an Uberthons hat that race organizer Darwin Rasmussen gave me at the packet pick-up for having won a contest a while ago or something like that. I figured the bill would keep rain out of my face.
When I left home around 5:30 am, it was dark and raining. I'm in for 13.1 miles of being rained on? I said to myself.
I arrived in Banks a little after 6 am, and it was still dark. I parked in the lot for Sunset Park and then asked some other runners where we were supposed to go. They didn't exactly know either, but they saw people up ahead, so we followed those and sure enough, came to a big parking lot full of school buses. (By the way, I'm not huge or anything; I'm a very average 5'10" but I felt squished in the school bus seats.)
I boarded the first half marathon bus and warmed up inside. The bus filled quickly and we were off. We had to drive around inside the park a bit until we found the right spot, which was obvious from, if nothing else, the row of green porta-potties.
Around 7:30, the bus started to get warm, so I took my sweatpants off and stuck them in a plastic bag to be left for the post-race bag pick-up. Then I headed outside to, I guess, get used to the rain. I saw race organizer Randy Wilder, so I greeted him and asked how long he'd been here already getting things set up. 3 am!! Okay, getting up at 5 didn't seem like nearly the same hardship.... Not long after that, I saw running friends Eileen and MaryAlicia and chatted with them briefly.
At 7:45, Randy got the race started. In typical Uberthons fashion, we went in waves of 10-20 runners so as to minimize overcrowding on the race route, with faster runners encouraged to go in front. I didn't deserve to be in the first wave, but I also didn't want to remain standing in the rain any longer than necessary. I ended up starting with the third wave.
We started with a slight incline to get out of the parking lot before beginning a long descent. Not long after we started, the wind blew my hat off. Argh! I had to double back to pick it up and then adjust the velcro strap in back on the run (so to speak).
After about a mile and a half, we were on the paved Vernonia-Banks State Trail. It's wide enough for two runners to run side-by-side easily, and there's enough room that someone else could squeeze by if needed. I caught up to a group of two men and a woman who seemed to know one another, and for the next two miles, I ran with them, chatting(!). I would never think of chatting during a 5K or 10K run, because if you can chat, you aren't running fast enough. I figured, though, that the half was long enough that it would be okay; if nothing else, it would keep me from running too fast at the start. Plus, RunKeeper was telling me that I was running at a 7:15 pace at the time (aided by the descent), so I wasn't worried.
I did that for a couple of miles and then I went ahead at what seemed like a sustainable pace. My mile splits show this comfortable chat pace:
Mile 1 - 7:07
Mile 2 - 7:06
Mile 3 - 7:26
Mile 4 - 7:24
Mile 5 - 7:04
Mile 6 - 7:00
Mile 7 - 7:17
Those latter miles on the trail were through a heavily forested part, so the rain was lessened by overhead cover, and it was quite pretty. I supposed I could've taken some pictures with my smartphone, but (1) unless I stop, the pictures are blurry; and (2) because of the rain, I had my phone inside a ziplock bag, which would further mess up any pictures.
There were aid stations every 1.5-2 miles, with water, Gatorade, and energy gels available at most of them. I always skip these (politely) during 5K or 10K runs, but I found myself wondering if I should at least get some water. But I wasn't feeling thirsty; maybe the rain was keeping me from losing too much water.
After seven miles, the course flattened out, and we were no longer in the forest. It was mostly running through fields, with the 26 highway alongside at points. When you've been running a not-very-taxing sub-7:15 pace for 7 miles because of a downhill profile, flat ground all of a sudden seems harder than it should.
Miles 8-10 have already blended into a blur of rain; the two runners I drafted behind for a while, then passed, and then was passed by one; and low-level misery. Around mile 9.3, I was thinking, Geez, this is like running a 10K, and then a 5K, and I still have more than a 5K to go?!?
When I hit the mile 10, I thought of the saying that a half marathon is just a 5K race with a 10 mile warm up. Ha ha ha! I was, however, doing some basic math in my head, trying to figure out what pace I needed on the last 5K to finish the race in under 1:40:00. I would've been satisfied with anything under 1:45:00, but with the overall descent, I was figuring that 1:39:59 would be in reach.
At 10.01 miles, the elapsed time was 1:13:28, so I had 26+ minutes to run the last 5K. That seemed doable.
The town of Banks emerged somewhere between miles 11 and 12, and the course transitioned from paved trail to sidewalk. With 12 miles in the bank, I had been running for 1:29:18 -- sub-1:40:00 seemed guaranteed!
I had been running down Main Street, and then I turned on NW Trellis Court, which goes east-west for a tenth of a mile before turning up to parallel a football field, where high school kids were practicing.
In between the lower field and the upper field with the track was a small path, and a race volunteer directed us to turn on to the path. "Turn at those white houses," he said.
And here the wheels (sort of) went off . . . .
I was following the guy who I had passed and then who passed me back in that mile 8-10 stretch, and he missed the turn, which, to be fair to him and to me, wasn't marked and was pretty unclear. I saw him run along the gravel path toward a closed fence, whereupon he threw his hands up and looked back to me. I slowed down. He ran closer to the fence and seemed to think that was the right way to go, and then he stopped and headed back.
"Where is the path?" we both asked. Ah, the perils of not running in a pack.
We found the right opening, but I'd added 0.18 miles to my run, and it was even more for him. Argh! Now I found myself fretting that I would miss breaking the 1:40:00 time because of this "bonus" distance.
The end of the route was a half-spiral at a park. When I hit the second to last corner turn, race director Alan Rasmussen was there and yelled, "Go Tung, the clock's just at 1:40!" and as I ran past, he added, "Your first half marathon!"
(Alan knows me, but one of the nice touches of this race is that almost all of the racing bibs were personalized with the runner's first name, unless you registered within the last month; so others might have gotten the same personal encouragement.)
I wish I could say that I unleashed a massive kick at the end, but all I could manage was 6:30-7:00 pace by then. Then again, I could say that I used up my remaining energy on that 0.18 mile detour....
Finishing time per RunKeeper was 1:39:43! At the finish line, a volunteer handed me a bottle of water, and another handed me a finisher's medal. This is a nice, solid medal:
And sandwiches from Big Town Hero! At first I didn't feel AT ALL like eating, but after standing around a bit, talking with other runners and waiting for the instant results (the rain and wind were causing some problems), I started to get hungry, so I grabbed one of the bags with a turkey sandwich.
I was also feeling very stiff and mildly achy, which I've never felt from the shorter races. I would've stuck around longer but I had to get home for my share of parental duties, so I walked stiffly back to the parking lot. And when I say stiffly, I do mean stiffly.
Usually, Uberthons races have the results available instantly on the website, with multiple monitors on-site to check. The monitors were in the process of getting connected when I left, and the website finally got the results when I got lost on the way home and had to stop to check Google Navigation. For some reason, it had me with a 1:44 time, but by this afternoon, that had been corrected to an official chip time of 1:39:40, good for #22 out of 398 overall, and #2 out of 41 in my age group.