The Green River Marathon: My Dream Race

By Tanya

This spring I ran the Boston Marathon - a dream come true.  But the unexpected heat forced me to go with my Plan B, a finish time that did not qualify me to run the Boston Marathon again in 2018.  This meant, I would need to run another marathon before September 2017 and get a Boston Qualifying time of 3:45:00 or better. The marathon I chose for this purpose was the Green River Marathon (GRM). I heard about the GRM from some running friends who raced it for the past couple of years and really liked it.
Some of the major draws of the GRM are: 

  • The majority of the race takes place on a mostly flat biking trail. 
  • A big portion of the race is along the scenic Green River and ends at the beautiful Alki Beach. 
  • The Kent, Washington, location is a mere three hour drive from Portland.
  • It is a small race with only about 150 runners. 
  • The course is a Boston certified course. 
  • The best part? This is a FREE race! Donations are accepted to help pay for event costs, i.e. supplies, improvements and certifications, however a substantial amount of the donations are given to a local charity.
Some of the drawbacks of the GRM are: 

  • Because it is a free race it is put on entirely by an all-volunteer crew. That being said, we were warned there are only a few rotating aid stations along the course and runners are encouraged to “bring your own bottle to be filled.  
  • The course is entirely open, meaning cars are not stopped, and when you get to a traffic light you must wait for traffic. 
  • It also ends on a busy beach boardwalk and some weaving around public may be necessary. 
  • Additionally, the race is not chip timed so when it starts at 8:30am you better be close to the starting line and hope your Garmin, and their watch at the end function correctly! 
  • The race takes place in early June and hot weather can be a factor. Last year it was 80 degrees during the race! 
  • There is also no fanfare whatsoever. No swag, no big cheering crowds, and no medal.

The drawbacks of GRM were not deal breakers for me.  However, because I am directionally challenged, especially when focusing on maintaining my BQ pace as well as my fueling, I was scared I would accidently get off course somewhere. This fear was put to rest when two of my best running buddies, Michael and Paul, told me they would pace me during the first and second half of the race.

Because my race in Boston was so difficult, my confidence was a little shaken. I was so certain that I was stronger this year than the previous year when I ran and qualified for Boston at the Vernonia Marathon. When I was not able to push through the heat and tough course at Boston I wondered if maybe I just had a lucky day in Vernonia. Regardless, two of my best running friends had just qualified for their first Boston marathon and I knew I had to join them.

The GRM was six weeks after I ran Boston so I was on a new training routine I’d never practiced before. I decided to just repeat the last 6 weeks of my previous training program and pray that I was actually as strong as I thought. Because the GRM had been 80 degrees last year, I was concerned the heat may once again get the better of me.  I combatted this fear by going to a “Training for Hot Races” seminar by Coach Chris Bragg. I decided to apply the lessons I had learned for the GRM, just in case.

Some of the new heat tactics I practiced included finding out my sweat rate and corresponding amount of fluids I would need to replace during my marathon.  I was shocked to discover this was forty ounces per hour! Once I knew how many fluids, I practiced replacing them plus more, while simulating a hot environment. To do this I did what my friends and I coined “Toilet Training.” I spent one hour, three nights a week in my bathroom on my bike trainer with my shower running and a space heater blasting on my face while forcing myself to ingest sixty ounces of fluid with electrolytes. Yes I am that crazy!

I was a nervous about having to replace forty ounces of fluid and electrolyte every hour during the race. In order to do so I would have to carry two twenty ounce water bottles while running and refill them two or three more times! Michael and Paul volunteered to be my “fuel mules” and carry my water bottles for me, and three more amazing friends of mine volunteered to drive along the course and replace the fuel as needed! How lucky was I to have five friends traveling to the race to support me on the course? It was already shaping up to be a dream race!
Me and My Awesome Pacers: Michael, Paul, and Lynnette
As the race day grew closer the weather forecast fell in line with the “dream race” theme and it looked like cloud cover, no rain and an ideal 60-65 degrees the whole time!

The night before the race I dreamed that I missed the start of the race. I woke up in a funk with my stomach in knots. It is very unusual for me to have stomach issues before or during a race so when I was unable to eat all of my pre-race breakfast fuel I was a little concerned.
I lined up at the start of the race on time, but still felt like I was in a foggy, dream-like state. The first two miles I felt a bit “off” but continued with my plan to stay at my pace of 8:23 per mile and force in my forty ounces of electrolyte fluid. Around mile four I started to feel like I was going to throw up. Sensing my discomfort, my friend Michael kept reassuring me I was doing well and keeping right on my pace.
                                               The GRM very simple starting line and small racing crowd.
My mind started to doubt. I thought maybe the pace was too fast, but I needed to keep the consistent pace to meet my BQ goal, so I kept going. I kept drinking and gagging. I figured that if I threw up, oh well. Perhaps I’d feel better and then just keep going. Miles 6-13 continued in the same way, feeling like crap but holding my pace.

At mile 13, I saw my crew again.  Michael switched out with Paul and he became my new pacer. I did my best to put on a smile for my crew. Paul brought with him a new bottle of my carb mix and two new bottles of electrolyte water. I knew I would need the carb to sustain me through the last six miles, so I forced it in as quickly as I could and did my best to keep it down. Paul kept offering me my electrolyte drink and telling me I was on pace but at that point I started to feel dizzy and zone out. I felt like my dream race had turned into a nightmare. I made a decision at that point that I was going to keep pushing along and keep my pace until I either felt better or passed out. I prayed that God would keep me going strong and if possible make me feel better so I could enjoy the experience.
The next four miles were a blur. I told Paul I was going to either throw up or pass out.  He reminded me that I may feel like crap but I was keeping my pace. He told me to splash the water on my face at the next aid station and that made me feel better. Around mile 17 my angel crew showed up again. I couldn't drink any more electrolyte so Paul switched it out for straight water.

By mile 18 we were finally going through a city and off the long straight bike path. The change in scenery and variance in terrain, along with the straight water started working wonders. Also, at each of the tricky turns or traffic stops before we’d get there Michael Allen would already be there waving for us and/or pushing the cross walk button to get us a walk signal right when we got there! So amazing, right?! By mile 19 when we hit the first of the two hills, I felt so much better. At mile 20, my friend Lynnette came onboard to pace me the last six miles. She and I have a very similar cadence and I knew I’d make it to my goal if I just kept in step with her.
Lynnette and Me stride for stride
By mile 21 when other runners were starting to struggle, I was starting to feel pretty good! We started passing runners left and right and I just kept making sure my watch was staying at an overall 8:23 pace.

At mile 25 when we turned onto the boardwalk at Alki Beach and I knew I was going to meet my goal I stopped looking at my watch and just ran! I enjoyed the beautiful view and said a prayer of thanks to God for my amazing friends! Halfway into mile 25, Michael joined us again and all four of us ran strong into the finish where the other half of my crew, Sacha and Michael Nguyen, were waiting for us with cheers, cowbells and cameras!
 Crossing the no frills finish line with my three amazing pacers
My official finishing time was 3:39:20! That’s 5 minutes 40 seconds faster than my Boston Qualifying time and 2 minutes and 55 seconds faster than my fastest marathon!
Thanks to my wonderful friends and racing crew, the Green River Marathon truly was my dream race!
My Crew: Me, Michael Nguyen, Michal Allen
Lynnette, Paul and Sacha

      Mile        Pace

Plan The Race. Race The Plan. - Eugene Marathon 2017

by Jodi

"Plan the race.  Race the Plan."  - Cashier Guy at the Eugene Marathon 2017 Expo
Marathon #8 is in the books: 3:24:26 (7:49 pace)
I started training for the 2017 Eugene Marathon in mid-January using the same plan from the Boston Athletic Association website that I used last year for the Vernonia Marathon.  I took that marathon finish time, factored in my current fitness level and committed to train for a 3:15 (7:26 average pace) finish time at Eugene.  

This pace is very ambitious for me, especially coming off four months of very little tempo or speed work. Hitting the required paces in the first two months of training was really challenging, especially given the fact that it was the wettest winter on record for the state of Oregon.  The sun went into hibernation and it rained almost every day for months.  Since I run outside, I spent the winter feeling like a raisin and rotating my shoes on the heating vent.  It was hard.

The good news is that this training plan works. In spite of the weather and my initial lack of speed, I managed to hit the pace requirements of the training plan day in and day out. Mileage increased week by week, but the paces got easier and easier to achieve. My confidence grew with each successful track workout, tempo run, and long run.

I went into the taper week feeling mentally confident and equipped, but with an exhausted and achy body. My left knee has been bugging me since I fell hard on it last August.  I subconsciously adjust my gait to accommodate for it, so my left hip, then hamstring, then calf got tighter and sorer as marathon training intensified. Normally I would do weekly yoga to help, but marathon training is so time consuming that I let yoga lag this time.  It was a mistake I won’t make again.

My training partner Dawn didn't want to commit to training for a marathon, but she did at least one-third of my hard workouts with me.  Since my hubby was finishing up his dissertation, Dawn decided to be my wingman and come to Eugene with me. She promised to find me with about ten miles to go and run me to the finish. (I thank God every day for a friend like Dawn.) We were at the marathon expo and the Cashier Guy who rang up my purchase said something that stuck with me.

"Plan the race.  Race the plan.”
I loved the faux tattoo.  

At the expo with my Wingman Dawn

This was super cool - everyone's name printed on the banner.  Here's mine.

I had Planned the Race: Train hard. Taper well. Start with the 3:15 pace group and run even splits to the finish.  I also wanted to get on the podium in either my age group or overall Masters category. I was ready to Race the Plan… except my legs still didn’t feel fresh the night before the marathon.  It concerned me, but I chose not to dwell on it.  There was nothing I could do about it with only hours until the start of the race.

Race Morning was the typical mess of nerves and excitement.  It also happened to be an incredibly beautiful day! What a gift after months of rain to have blue skies, sunshine, crisp temperatures, and dry socks and shoes.  Dawn and I walked to the start then found Corral A and the 3:15 pacer with minutes to spare.
just before the race started.
I ran stride for stride with the 3:15 pace group for the first 15 miles.  My cardio effort was right on track – comfortably hard - and the pacer was keeping us on target to finish around 3:14.

I saw my Hood to Coast teammate Ashley at Mile 8.  She came running out to me with a water bottle and so much joy.  Dawn was next at Mile 10, then Tanya and her friends at Mile 12.  Their love and encouragement gave me a huge boost!
Dawn snapped this photo of me as I ran by her at Mile 10.
At Mile 11, the marathon course heads off the streets and onto a lovely trail system. It was at this point in the race that my legs started to tighten up.  Our pacer also kicked it up a notch, taking us from a 7:25-7:30 pace to several miles in the 7:10-7:20 pace.  It felt like a big jump in speed on legs that were acting goofy way too early in a long race.

I started to freak out mentally, but didn’t let myself go very far down the Crazy Road. I told myself,

" You're fine.  Relax your legs.  Adjust your stride.  Fast feet. Strong mind.  Race the plan. Trust your training. You can do this."

I started to pray.  I asked God to give me mental stamina and to help my muscles relax. As I was praying, God brought a song to mind that I love.

"Lord I need you.  Oh I need you.  
Every hour I need you.  
My one defense, my righteousness, oh God how I need you."

The lyrics became the cadence of my feet and the prayer of my heart.  

I let the pace group start to pull away as we climbed the overpass around mile 15, but I’m way too competitive to give up that early.  I told myself, "NO.  Trust your training.  Lean into the suck. Race the plan.”  I had to kick into another gear, but I caught them on the downhill and found my place again in the pack that was dwindling with every mile. 

True to her word, Dawn came running out to meet me at Mile 16.  She was sunshine and joy, encouragement and love.  The comfortability of her friendship gave me permission to lose it mentally for a brief moment.

"Dawn! My legs are so tight.  This has never happened to me before.  I don’t know what to do and I am FREAKING OUT!”

Dawn was a stabilizing force in my fluctuating emotions.  

"Walking won't help.  Slowing down won't help.  Stopping to stretch won't help.  You have to just keep running.  Stop talking and don’t respond to me.  I'll be your voice and your encouragement.  Your job is to run and keep yourself together mentally."

I mean really...  what a friend.

Slowly over the next three miles, the 3:15 pace group slipped away.  My legs were so tight it felt like I was dragging tree stumps down the path.  Everything hurt, especially the bottoms of my feet.  It felt like my shoes were made of concrete and I was just bang, bang, banging my way to a slow and painful finish. It was so hard to stay in the race mentally as I watched all I'd trained for disappear in the distance.  

Dawn kept encouraging me.  She quoted verses from the Bible, gave me practical running tips, and at one point she even sang to me.  Always the nurse, she also kept staring at me to make sure I was looking okay physically.

At Mile 20 my average pace was exactly what I needed for a 3:15 finish time in spite of slowing down each of the previous three miles.  But there were still 6.2 (or 6.43 according to my Garmin) long and brutal miles left in this race. I physically could not maintain my pace. I stopped often to walk briefly, trying to shake my legs out and get my muscles to relax.  With each mile my pace got slower.  

At Mile 23 nausea set in.  I think it's my body's way of saying, "Peace out.  You have pushed me too hard and I'm done,” because I never get nauseous when I’m training and I didn’t switch up my fueling strategy.  Everyone who knows me knows I don’t do vomit.

I briefly considered dropping out of the race.  And then I saw your faces.  YOU - my friends and neighbors - who have encouraged and prayed me through this training cycle.  I knew you were praying for me on race morning.  I couldn't let you down.  I couldn't let myself down.  

I slowed my pace by more than a minute per mile and found a zone where I could continue plodding to the finish and keep the nausea at bay.  The last three miles felt so long. I took a final walking break during mile 24 and then committed to not walk again until I finished the race.

Three women passed me in the last mile. I wanted to chase them, but I had nothing left. It was so irritating.   

Dawn ran me to the Hayward Field entrance then left me to finish on the track by myself. Ashley was at the 100 meter mark, screaming lies at me about looking strong and good. I have a photo to prove she was lying but it made me feel so loved anyway.  I have the BEST friends a girl could ask for.  
See?  She was lying!
I crossed the finish in 3 hours, 24 minutes and 36 seconds (a 7:49 average pace), nine minutes off my goal pace, but still my second fastest marathon finish ever.  This still baffles me given how awful I felt the last nine miles.  And I found out after the fact that I got on the podium for my age group and Overall Masters.  Who would have thought?

My biggest emotion in the moments after crossing the finish line was RELIEF to be done running.  And then came the DISAPPOINTMENT.  I planned the race, but couldn't race the plan.  I had to grieve the death of that dream for a few hours before I could appreciate what I had accomplished and that’s okay.
My Disappointed Face
The marathon is a formidable opponent.  Because of the distance it only takes one factor to alter the outcome.  I think that's why marathoners keep coming back, in spite of the pain. We want to feel like we won our race – like we raced our plan.  I am 0-2 against the Eugene Marathon, but God willing I’ll be back next year to try again.  

The final emotion that I felt strongly, even in the aftermath of a race that wrecked me physically and mentally, was GRATITUDE.  Gratitude for friends like Dawn and Ashley and Tanya who gave up their Sunday to come support me and my dream. Grateful that my body can do stupid hard things.  Grateful for an incredible network of friends who offered prayer and support throughout the training cycle and on race day.  Grateful for a God who knows my name and gives me strength.  To Him be the glory forever and ever.
My Grateful Face

Driving home.

MONSTER COOKIES!  The best pre and post race food.
I hobbled to church the night of the race and guess what song was in the worship set?  Lord I Need You - the exact song God gave me as I raced.  I fought back tears as I let God's personal and intimate love wash over my battered body and renew my soul.  

Friends, Jesus loves you.  Deeply.  Personally.  Intimately.  He is for you.  He is with you.  Even when it includes unplanned detours, Jesus is with you. We Plan our life Race.  But He helps us Race the Plan.   Run on friends...

Official Race Results: 3:24:26. 26.2 miles. 7:49 avg. pace
·       263rd of 1,480 overall. 
·       37th of 680 females. 
·       2nd of 94 in my age division. 
·       3rd of 277 female masters.

By the Splits and According to my Garmin: 
3:24:38.  26:43 miles (the course measured long) 7:44 avg. pace

Mile 1: 7:23
Mile 10: 7:27
Mile 19: 8:08
Mile 2: 7:35
Mile 11: 7:20
Mile 20: 8:07
Mile 3: 7:27
Mile 12: 7:13
Mile 21: 8:10
Mile 4: 7:28
Mile 13: 7:18
Mile 22: 8:18
Mile 5: 7:15
Mile 14: 7:17
Mile 23: 8:12
Mile 6: 7:25
Mile 15: 7:23
Mile 24: 9:19
Mile 7: 7:22
Mile 16: 7:16
Mile 25: 8:43
Mile 8: 7:27
Mile 17:  7:22
Mile 26: 8:39
Mile 9: 7:33
Mile 18: 7:50
Mile 26.2 (or 26.43): 8:29