Vernonia Marathon 2016: When a Dream Becomes Reality

by Jodi

HOLY SMOKES!  A PR I NEVER expected or dreamed of.
On Sunday I ran the race of my life. Shattered my previous marathon PR (3:31:43) and ran myself to a 3:18:57 first place finish at the Vernonia Marathon. What a difference from two years ago when I fell apart on that course. I chased two fast, fit women up and down that trail for more than 20 miles.  They inadvertently paced me to a long time dream becoming a reality.  I still can’t believe it.

What made Vernonia 2016 even more special was the fact that a ton of my running buddies also had record breaking races.  Tanya chased down her dream of a Boston Qualfiying Marathon time. Carissa, Devon (PR) and Dawn all had top ten half marathon finishing times. There were so many things to celebrate that I thought my heart would explode with joy.

A shout out to Brad Bauer and the Oregon Road Runners Club for putting on an organized, smoothly run event.  Communication pre-race was clear.  Shuttle buses were on time.  The course was well marked.  Volunteers were in place and educated on FAQ’s. Post race soup and rolls were yummy.  And you can’t beat the course: 21 miles of the point-to-point course are closed to traffic on a paved trail through the lush Oregon forests. If you haven't participated in this race, add it to your Bucket List.

My friends Paula and Dave are experienced, successful, fast runners. Paula suggested a training plan that had running assignments for six days a week, perfect for me since I started a run streak in July.

Breaking the 3:30 marathon barrier has been my goal since 2010.  Several times it’s been within grasping, but 26.2 miles has kicked my butt.  I fear the distance. My recent half marathon time projected a 3:20 marathon finish time.  I immediately discounted this as even a remote possibility and saw it instead as a time cushion to actually get under 3:30 for a finish time.

Paula challenged this thinking.  Why would you train for a 3:30 marathon when you’re capable of running a 3:20?”

Based on her challenge, I printed out training schedules for a 3:20 and a 3:30 marathon and took each pace range with me on every workout.  I consistently hit the 3:20 pace goals, but never let myself believe a 3:20 was possible. 

The Vernonia marathon course lends itself to negative splits.  The first five miles are mostly flat, with a few rolling hills.  Miles 8-13 are a gradual climb, Mile 14 is a steep down and up, Miles 15-21 are all downhill and the last five miles are flat to the finish. Overall it’s a net downhill course, but it feels hard.

I set my race strategy for negative splits, hoping to run the first half in 1:40 to 1:42, and the second half in 1:38-1:40 for a 3:20 finish. I knew it would take a PERFECT race to achieve this. I told Curt I was willing to suffer to hit my marathon time goal, but also told him if he was there by a 3:20 finish he'd have plenty of time.  
Race Morning Alarm and message to myself.

Super blurry selfie with Paul, Tanya, and Niki pre-race 

The weather was perfect for racing: overcast and mild the entire race.  I was never too cold or hot.

I was the first woman out of the starting gate, but another woman flew by me and out of sight just past the first mile.  I pegged her as the winner. 

My first mile was too fast (7:23), second mile was right on the money (7:36), and my third mile was too slow (7:53). I had expected to settle into a “nice” pace but nothing about running a 7:36 pace felt nice.  It felt hard. 26.2 miles is a LONG way to race hard and self doubt was creeping in. I felt mentally flustered and ready to alter my race plans when God sent me a fit, young and fast angel named Maura. 

Maura caught me by mile 3.  Paula told me, “NO talking during a race.  Don’t give your energy to someone else,” but I had to at least say hi and introduce myself. Maura was hoping to run around a 7:30 pace – slightly faster than my goal time – and she was already in her groove.  She passed me and started pulling away. 

And then it happened. I decided to not be scared of 26.2 miles.

Race Day was the payoff for all those months of training. I chose not to squander it with self doubt. I heard Paula’s voice saying, “Trust your training,” so I recommitted myself to my race goals and started chasing Maura.

I kept Maura in my sights.  Each time she started to pull away I went back to that mental space and told myself, “Trust your training. Fast feet.  Speed up.”  The distance between us stayed the same for mile after mile that kept clocking in at a 3:20 finish time.

Maura caught up to a pack of six guys and I chased them through the entire uphill portion of the course. By mile 15, I had passed four of the seven guys. The pack had dwindled to three. 

My calves were tight and fiery after a tough first half and the downhill was initially a welcome relief. I finally caught up to what was left of the pack by Mile 16 and the four of us ran together the next two miles. To my shock, we started catching glimpses of the lead woman in the distance.  

My quads and calves were burning and my hamstring was threatening to cramp up, but as we gained on her I heard Paula in my head again. “You better be careful.  You just might end up winning another marathon.” Was I really in the chase pack to win a marathon that actually had more than 50 runners in it?

Miles 18-20 we ran in a loose pack.  Vanessa (I talked to her too - sorry Paula) still in the lead, with Maura and I stride for stride behind her.  Maura's legs were also threatening to cramp.  She told me she was going to slow down, and just like that I slid into second place.

I caught Vanessa at the bottom of the LONG descent.  We chatted briefly and then she said, “Take it.”  She was tired too and offering the lead to me. The race was mine to win or lose, and I gradually eased past her into the number one spot.

We still had five long miles to run.  My legs were tighter than they have ever been in a race, but my breathing was steady.  Praise God, I didn’t experience any wheezing at all during this race – a total answer to prayer! Steady to the finish was my goal.

Jesus and I chatted it up a lot those last five miles.  I prayed for my family, for my friends who were racing, and for my friends who are suffering. It kept my mind focused on something other than fatigue.

Dave wrote a post about his Boston marathon training called Lean Into the Suck that speaks to choosing to stay mentally strong in the dark parts of a race when everything in you says “I can’t do this anymore.” Mile 24-25 was dark.  My legs were shot. My body and mind tired. I wanted to slow down, but instead I leaned into the suck. I asked Jesus for a strong mind and fast feet.  Ate a Glukos tablet. Recommitted to my finish time goal and kept running.

None of my friends who were waiting for me at the finish expected me so early, but that’s not surprising.  I wasn’t expecting me so early either.  Poor Curt, Alli, and Amanda all got to the finish area after I had already finished. Carissa was waiting on her bike for me with less than a mile to go. She rode with me for about a half mile, told me about her super fast half marathon, warned me about a fire that was diverting traffic just before the finish, then sent me on my way. 

That last half mile of the race I could taste victory.  I was a woman on a mission, dodging half marathoners and even begging the police officer who was holding up runners to let traffic through to just let me cross already! 

Dawn, Devon, Shelley and Kelly were all waiting to cheer me in.  They hooped and hollered and I gave them some theatrical “Can you believe this?” gestures (sorry again Paula) as I ran the final curve toward the finish.  My legs did not have enough left to sprint through the finish but I ran strong the entire way and right into my running buddies’ arms. 
Dawn, Devon and Me

Bringing our Crazy to Banks High School: Niki, Carissa, Tanya, Devon, me and Dawn.
a hug from Alli

Me and Boo Thang

Free Champion shirt.
My finish time was 3:18:57 – a 7:36 average pace.  It was surreal to hear the announcer say, “And that was our women’s marathon champion Jodi Stilp. Come get your complimentary CHAMPION shirt.”  I also received a plaque and a winners medal at the award ceremony.

The morning of the race I read Psalm 94.  Verses 18 and 10 say, “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” I mediated on this – along with Paula’s wisdom and Dave’s Lean Into the Suck – as I ran. 
Finisher's Loot and my notes I studied right before the race.
Thank you Jesus for a great run.  Your consolation truly brought me joy. And cheers to my friends – new and old – who ran so strong and beautifully.  You inspire.

3:18:57 – 7:36 avg. Pace
Mile 1: 7:23
Mile 8: 7:45
Mile 15: 7:10
Mile 22: 7:46
Mile 2: 7:36
Mile 9: 7:34
Mile 16: 7:20
Mile 23: 7:40
Mile 3: 7:53
Mile 10: 7:30
Mile 17: 7:25
Mile 24: 7:50
Mile 4: 7:39
Mile 11: 7:35
Mile 18: 7:34
Mile 25: 8:08
Mile 5: 7:44
Mile 12: 7:44
Mile 19: 7:38
Mile 26: 7:52
Mile 6: 7:26
Mile 13: 7:50
Mile 20: 7:32
Mile .2: 6:03
Mile 7: 7:40
Mile 14: 7:59
Mile 21: 7:28

#vernoniamarathon2016 #leanintothesuck #BQ #PR #whyirun #runstreak #runeveryday


  1. Congratulations Jodi! I love this post, I felt like I was out there with you. All of your friend Paula's words of encouragement are awesome!!

    1. Thanks Kathleen. She is a gifted runner and coach. I'm lucky to glean from her. I'm so excited for your new baby.