Settling the Score - Keizer Iris Festival Marathon

by Jodi

On May 18th, 2014, I ran my fifth marathon.  Four times previous to this race I've run 26.2 miles.  Every single time the distance crumbled me.  I didn't think I could cover this distance strong.

The Marathon thoroughly defeated me in Vernonia.  When I was crumpled on the field at the finish of that race I didn't think I ever wanted to run another one again.  But I'm enough of a competitor that as soon as I started recovering from the dehydration I knew I couldn't just roll over and let The Marathon win.  I had to settle the score.

A quick Google search revealed a marathon practically in my backyard - the inaugural running of the Keizer Iris Festival Marathon.  It was five weeks out - a pretty quick turnaround for someone who runs marathons at a rate of one every twenty four months.  But this marathon intrigued me.
  • It was the first year the Iris Festival was hosting a full marathon.  I loved the idea of being a part of the inaugural running of the race.  
  • I prefer country running to city running any day and was immediately drawn to the out-and-back course through rolling farmland in the lush Willamette Valley.  Beautiful views were a guarantee.
  • Even though I'm not a morning person I liked the early 7 a.m. race start.  I could be home by lunch time and not have the race consume the entire day.  
  • Small town races lack the glitz, glamour, and crowd appeal of big city races, but they are charming.  Racers who would go unnoticed in giant races are celebrated in the small ones.  There's something appealing about that.
  • It's easier to find your loved one on the course and offer encouragement in smaller races.
  • It was affordable.  At $60, the Keizer Iris Festival marathon was cheaper than most half marathons I've run.
When I told my brother I was thinking of running another marathon he said, "Those of us afflicted with the Stupid Gene think those kind of thoughts." After I laughed, I registered - less than a week after the disaster in Vernonia and with only four weeks to train.

I only told a few of my close running buddies what I was up to and didn't post anything on social media.  While I appreciate all the support from our Sole Sisters and my friends, this race felt like my private battle with the marathon.  I wanted a sneak attack.

My one and only goal for this race was to run strong and steady all 26.2 miles.  I didn't think it was possible for me to sprint across the finish line of a marathon but I was determined to try.  I scrapped my time goals and focused on conserving enough energy to finish well.

My buddy Ruth and I ran 20 miles of the Keizer race course.  Very little of the course was flat by Midwestern standards.  Most of it was rolling hills with quite a few hairpin turns.  I killed a toenail on my downhill foot from running at an incline around corner after corner.  There were three big hills.  All of them were under a half mile long and weren't ridiculously steep but they were hills and would take some effort to climb.  The last big climb was at mile 18.
Ruth and I on our 20 mile training run
My race strategy after seeing the course was this:  Start out SLOW and give myself five miles to fall into a steady pace.  Once I found that pace, I hoped to hold it to the top of last hill just past Mile 18.  After cresting the hill I hoped to either maintain the steady pace or try to take it up a notch through the finish.

I also worked harder on being mentally strong.  In the week before the race I wrote out three passages from the Bible focused on endurance and running and taped them on my cupboards and the bathroom mirror.  The one I meditated on most was from Philippians 4.  "Forgetting what is behind (Vernonia) and straining toward what is ahead (Keizer), I press on toward the goal to win the prize."

Originally I was going to wear my Nike running shorts with an old Skirt Sport race belt skirt.  But it was cold and raining before the race so I switched to my Nike Epic Lux capris right before the race started.  Thankfully I did not regret switching to warmer clothes on the bottom.

I wore my Nike Pegasus running shoes and Thorlo Experia Multi-Activity socks.  My feet felt cushioned the entire run and I didn't lose any toenails or get any blisters - a first for me in a marathon.  These Thorlo socks are worth every penny!

On top I wore my Sky's the Limit Blue Adjustable Handful bra, my Skirt Sport arm warmers and visor, and a very old Champion tank top.  I seldom race without my Mountain Hardware Momentum Running Gloves so they came along for the ride too.  The arm warmers came off by mile four and my gloves were on and off throughout the race, but other than that I dressed appropriately for the weather.

Curt and I decided to experience this marathon together from start to finish.  We left the kids at home and he brought his bike so he could ride along the course with me.  It was cold and wet the morning of the race.  Bursts of heavy rain showers mixed with a steady drizzle as we drove to the start.  We thought we were going to be really wet, really fast.  But the rain stopped a few minutes before the race started and a nice cloud cover kept the sun hidden.  With the exception of a short rain shower at mile 24 and some wind gust from mile 21-24, the racing conditions were ideal.

The field of racers was TINY.  With only 38 finishers, it was a cozy start and made getting to know the other competitors much easier.  It will be fun to see how this race grows over time.

My first mile was an 8:12 - a great warm up pace.  Mile Three dipped into the 7 minute range so I slowed down.  I wanted to run a conservative first half, not getting to the turnaround point until 1:45 or 1:46.
Mile 2

I started passing people somewhere around mile 5.  It made me feel good that I'm not the only runner who often goes out too fast in a race.
Mile 5

The first big hill was during mile 8.  I made it up and down with no problem.

At mile 10 I caught up to another girl.  She was YOUNG!  Her name was Brooklyn and she had just turned fifteen years old.  We ran together for the next three miles.  Her parents were following her in their car and cheering her on.  We shared a big hug at the finish and she ran her race in under four hours!  It was fun to be a part of Brooklyn's first marathon story.

The second big hill came just before the turnaround spot.  Once I crested the hill I saw the leaders coming back.  A handful of men and then the first woman.  She looked good and was about a half mile in front of me.  The next woman was me.  I had second place in a marathon locked down if I could hold my pace.  YEE-HAW!

My Garmin said 1:46:37 at the turnaround.  A little slower than I wanted but overall pretty close to my target pace.  I kept telling myself, "There is a LOT of race left.  Stay strong.  Maybe the girl in the lead will get tired and you can pass her."
Mile 14
One pitfall of tiny races is sustaining your mental mojo.  It's hard to feel like you're racing and keep pushing the pace when you're all alone on the road.  At Mile 16 I stopped to pee.  Hooray for hydrating properly but BOO that it added a minute to my time.

Curt was AH-MAZING!  He continues to steal my heart over and over again.  He rode his bike all 26.2 miles of the marathon course offering encouragement not just to me but to all the runners on the course.  He had a kind word for every racer and their family cheering them on.  Everybody loved him.

Curt was my Water Sherpa.  My Gear Carrier and Garbage Collector.  My Encourager and Biggest Fan. At Mile 14 he started telling stories - one after another, mostly of his boyhood shenanigans.  He could sense when I was getting tired and in those moments, he prayed for me.  Out loud and with passion.  He asked God to give my legs fresh energy and my mind new strength.  And then he hauled out some 3x5 cards.  He had written down the three Bible passages I was meditating on and read them to me as I ran.  His thoughtful kindness brought me to tears.  How did I get so lucky?

I was worried about climbing the hill at Mile 18.  But something inside took over and I flew up it like it was flat as a pancake.  I couldn't believe when I looked up and I was already at the top!

I slowed down a bit in Miles 22 through 24.  It was wide open with enough wind to make holding the pace challenging.  I could see some of the guy leaders in the distance but not the first place woman.  I had been hoping I could gain on her and run her down at the end, but she was nowhere in sight.  It was discouraging and it reflected in my pace.
Mile 21

A gorgeous farm on the route
I ate my last gel at Mile 24.  I was starting to get a bit of a stomach ache so I chose to walk through this snack break, forcing myself to eat the entire gel and wash it down with a bunch of water.   It added 30 seconds to time but I know it was the right decision.  A little rain shower washed off my sweaty grime and perked me up.  I dropped my garbage on the ground (Curt stopped to pick it up for me), and shoved off to tackle the last 2.2 miles.

From Mile 20 until the finish I kept waiting to hit The Wall.  To burn through all my stored energy and have each step become painfully slower than the one before.  But it NEVER happened.  I ran out of the country and back into the Keizer city limits. Then caught up to some of the half marathoners who started an hour after the marathon.  Curt was riding his bike on the other side of the street telling me how strong I was.  How steady my pace was. How he knew I could do this.  All of a sudden I believed him.

Somewhere just past Mile 25 I had A Moment.  I still had fuel left in the tank. I had stored enough energy to pick up the pace in the last miles of a MARATHON!  I started crying, looked across the street at Curt and said, "You know this is a dream come true.  I can't believe it!"

When I got done crying I started running faster.  Each step got me closer to the finish and grew my confidence. Each step was faster than the last.  My mind focused on "Forgetting what is behind (Vernonia) and straining toward what is ahead (Keizer), I press on toward the goal to win the prize.  Get the prize! You're almost there."  When I took the last turn, I had .2 miles left.  Curt bolted ahead to meet me at the finish.

I ran faster.  When I saw the finish banner, I started sprinting.  The impossible became reality.  I sprinted through the finish of a 26.2 mile race!  It was exhilarating.
Sprinting through the finish

turning off my Garmin
A race official came running over, gave me a huge hug and yelled, "Congratulations!  You're our winner!"  Curt was laughing, holding my shoulders and yelling, "You won!  You won!"  People were clapping and cheering, handing me flowers, a race T-shirt and one of those post-race blankets.  I just stood there baffled.  And then started crying.  "WHAT?  I won?  How can that be?"  But it was true.  Oh the unexpected irony and extreme satisfaction.

Getting my medal
All I wanted to do was run strong.  But I ended up winning.  I have never won a race.  To win a marathon was that much sweeter.  My finish time of 3:36:05 was a PR and a Boston qualifying time. I still can't believe it.  A 3:36 finish time is not a typical marathon winning time.  It's really not even that fast.  Which is why the irony of meditating on a verse about winning the prize is not lost on me.   I love the stories God writes!

This is what satisfaction looks like
When Curt stopped to pick up my garbage at Mile 24 he looked back and saw the girl who had been in first place off in the distance.  He didn't remember me passing her either, but he knew then that I was going to win.  He purposely didn't tell me because he wanted me to have my finish line moment and it played out just how he wanted.  See what I mean about being lucky to have him? (And he looks hot in his tights.  #menintights)

After the race we asked the girl who had been in first what happened. On the way back, she missed the turnoff to go down the hill at Mile 18 and instead ran along the bluff into a residential area.  How disappointing!

My official finish time was 3:36:05 - an 8:14 pace.
See ^^ - tiniest race ever
My Garmin read 3:36:06 and 26.55 miles.  I felt those extra .3 miles!  Here's my race by the splits:

Mile 1: 8:12
Mile 14: 7:43
Mile 2: 8:05
Mile 15: 8:00
Mile 3: 7:52
Mile 16: 9:00 (potty stop)
Mile 4: 8:04
Mile 17: 8:03
Mile 5: 8:03
Mile 18: 8:14 (last big climb)
Mile 6: 8:06
Mile 19: 8:37  (walked a bit to gel)
Mile 7: 8:23 (no idea why this was slow)
Mile 20: 8:05
Mile 8: 8:07 (first hill climb)
Mile 21: 8:05
Mile 9: 7:36
Mile 22: 8:20
Mile 10: 7:56
Mile 23: 8:27
Mile 11: 7:55
Mile 24: 8:19
Mile 12: 7:53
Mile 25: 9:04 (walked to take last gel)
Mile 13: 8:06 (second hill climb)
Mile 26: 7:45

Mile 27: 7:01

The Marathon and I.. we made up.  By the grace of God, a good training plan, and a super awesome husband, I settled the score and it was SO satisfying.  I still don't love this distance, but I'm starting to not hate it.  And lately I've been dreaming of actually running the Boston marathon to celebrate my 40th birthday.  No matter what, I hope to come back to Keizer and run this well organized, beautiful and fun race again.  Maybe you should join me!

Sole Sisters will you share your race success stories with us?  


  1. Oh Jodi, what an amazing story! I am so proud of you for chasing down your goal. God rewards those who put their trust in Him. And you, my sole sister, deserve that sensational finish! Amazing!! Love ya.

    1. Thank you Tanya! I love you too. I'm really hoping we can do a tri together this summer.

  2. :) Big smiles here today!
    So happy you got to have the race of your dreams. God line this up nicely for you and I am so happy that you shared your story of faith and racing. I hadn't heard that the Iris festival was hosting a marathon. What a way to celebrate an inaugural year!
    Congrats ♥♥

    1. Maybe we can meet in the middle and run it together next year Raina. It would be AWESOME to finally meet you in person. Thanks for the love and support.

  3. Yay, Jodi! I'm so happy for your race! When I read the recap of your last race, I could totally relate. I ran in Pittsburgh in May. I had a great training cycle and was completely healthy and well-rested, but the race performance did not show that. I started to get really tired about mile 15, it just went downhill from there, and I, too, watched my BQ fade away.. At the end, I was just thankful to be done, and thankful to be blessed enough to be healthy and able to travel to a fun marathon with my family. But...I did want redemption. I signed up the next day for the Air Force Marathon in Dayton, OH. My race is not until Sept., so I have another whole training cycle to go through. I will be focusing on strength training this time. I haven't done a lot of that in the past few years. This next race, I will be focusing on running strong, and more than that, I will be focusing on an outside goal! I will be raising support and awareness for Fisher House by running for them as a fundraiser. If a BQ happens, then great, otherwise, just thankful to be running. I'm happy this race went so well for you!!

    1. Hi Claire. I'm so sorry that your body didn't cooperate on race day in Pittsburgh. That is seriously the most frustrating experience, especially when you have weeks and weeks of good, solid training behind you. I'm happy you have a chance at redemption too. Kind of bummer that you have to keep training hard. I hope you gave your body few weeks off before jumping back into it? This training cycle I cross trained primarily with yoga. I was supposed to be swimming and biking, but my muscles were TIRED so the yoga brought strength (especially to my core) and stretched out those really tight muscles. I think it made me stronger and faster overall. Just a suggestion if you're looking for some strength training options. It's awesome that you have an outside motivator for the Air Force race too. So cool that you'll be running with the Fisher House at the front of your mind and thoughts as well. Send us an email a few days before your race so we can pray you through it. Good luck!