Portland Marathon 2009 Race Report

2 Hours Before The Race

The race started at 7:00am an 8 minute walk from the hotel. Damon and I were rooming together and the alarm was set for 5:00 am (the phone and the hotel clock alarm). We’d laid out our clothes and everything was ready for race day and were going to meet some of the rest of the crew at 6:15 in the lobby to head out to the bag drop and start line. Pre-race breakfast was a bottle of vitamin water and two slices of bread with Nutella. The only thing really different from other long runs was the bottle of vitamin water. That was all done around 5:40. Then at 6:00 was the first pre-race GU and two thermolyte pills. My bag for the post race bag drop had a couple of layers for my upper body, a pair of cargo pants and my recovery drink. The temperature for the race was predicted to be in the upper 40s to lower 50s so race gear consisted of:

  • Race shorts, singlet, shoes, socks, GU & thermolytes
  • Watch, a standard stop watch that laps … no Garmin on race days for me
  • Throw away arm warmers (cut off tube socks), throw away gloves, running vest to keep warm pre start and throw away sweat pants (pair I’ve had with me since my time living in the UK … 16 years!)
  • Water bottle to avoid the rush at stops early in the race

Got down to the lobby at 6:10 and met up with a number of Team Roguers. Larry and I were both trying to great 2:50 but both decided a few weeks ago that we wouldn’t run together since we have very different running styles and race plans. We all made our way out of the hotel, quick left, then down 3rd street to the start. Larry and I started jogging half way there to warm up, found our way to the bag drop and then made our way to the start.

Start Line

As we got closer to the front we could see the pace group signs, pretty close to each other, and before we knew it we were all the way in the front, ahead of the 3:00 hour pace group and with a red tape in front of us, in front of that some empty space, then another red tape and the timing mats ahead of that. As we get up to the red tape one of the volunteers says, anybody running faster than 3:00 hours should come up in front of the first red tape. Larry and I look at each other and then make our way up. It’s very strange to be so far up front in a race. The Portland marathon doesn’t seem to attract the fastest folks apparently. It’s 6:30 and we need to warm up so we leave the start area, run around a block and then back to our spot. Slowly it starts filling up and the “elites” line up in front of the second red tape. It was a very strange feeling being in the 2nd row at the start of a marathon with 8000 people.

The Gun Goes Off

This was a bit of a cluster. The Portland Marathon has a “wave” start. Note that all the tape that was dividing people is now gone. Ok, I guess that makes sense. The wheelchairs go off and then of course most people assume the countdown for everybody else … NO that would not be the case. We were far enough in front to hear that the next start was for the elites only, everybody else would go a minute later. So the gun goes off again for the elites and probably 15 to 20 other people go along for the ride since the “wave” start was so confusing. One guy next to me gets pissed off, I’m like whatever, this is the least of my worries … I’m not wasting any energy getting worked up over this. Then the gun goes off for us.

And We’re Off

The start is almost a fifth to a quarter mile up-hill, followed by a hard right turn and decent. Damon, Muz and I had walked the start two days before so I knew what to expect and I wore my Garmin at that time to know where the quarter and half mile points were to gauge my pace initially.

The First Section: Miles 1 through 8

In my race plan (read here) I broke the race up into a five sections. The first section was intended to be at “MGP” effort for a 2:49:59 marathon which on a flat course would be 6:29 minutes/mile. Even though the first mile was net downhill I planned on not going faster than flat MGP pace since it was the first mile and I’d need to warm up. Overall the section worked relatively well, as I would have expected.

Miles 1 to 8

Miles 1 to 8

The hill between mile 2 and 3 was tougher than I expected but the second mile wasn’t as difficult as the course profile from the marathon web-site (which by the way is very misleading as far as what is really going on at many points in the course) so I was net 2 seconds off. Once the downhill section ended I had trouble getting back into pace until the end of mile 8 so lost some time overall in the section. I realized this but didn’t really worry about it, I figured it’s time I could try and make up later on if things work out, no point going crazy right now.

I dropped my running vest (an Austin distance challenge finisher vest from when I ran the Motorola Marathon in 2004) after the first mile, then the gloves and arm warmers right before mile 3. Thermolytes (2 pills) with my water bottle around 1.5 miles in (this was planned and written on my pace band as were all other planned times to GU and take termolytes) and then threw away the water bottle since there wasn’t much of a crowd in front of me.

Some of the highlights of this part of the course:

  • Saw Steve’s mom before mile 2 cheering us on.
  • On the turn up mile 2 I noticed my foot was slipping on the road. It had been drizzling and the road was wet and this was an early reminder to try and stay off the painted road surfaces and on the wetter and sliprier surfaces like concrete.
  • On the down hill, mile 4 to 6 saw Steve’s mom again as well as Julia, John and Trey
  • Got a bunch of “Go Kam”‘s from people on the side since the bib had “Kam” printed on it and also a few “G0 Team Rogue”‘s because of the singlet.
  • At the water stop at mile 6 to 7 the guy infront of me came to a complete stop, I yelled “Holy $#!t” weaved around him and unfortunately knocked into one of the girls handling out water. What is going on, this guy is running 6:30 paces and is STOPPING AT A WATER STOP!!!. Wait, now as I look at that mile it was 6:36, a few seconds off. Not sure if that was the reason or not but it did distract me a little.

The Second Section: Miles 9 through 13

This was the section where I planned to bank some time for the big hill between 16 and 18. This section had some up-hill so I was hoping to be faster than flat MGP for 4 of the miles.

Miles 9 to 13

Miles 9 to 13

Coming into this section I was 16 seconds off and coming out I was 32 seconds behind. It seemed like mile mark 9 was of to me, or I was breaking down. At mile 11 I felt good since I was able to pick up my pace and not really feel like I was going to crazy. What really hit me was the next uphill climb, it was a lot tougher and longer than I expected and I lost quite a bit of time there and was almost 40 seconds behind. BTW, I wasn’t really thinking in this much detail at this point. As long as I was within a minute of where I needed to be I felt I had a chance of breaking 2:50 so this was all still good.

In this section there were a number rail track to cross. My left foot got caught first and I started feeling some discomfort in the arch on my left foot, nothing to stop me running but something was tweaked. Then my right foot got completely caught, I stumbled and my foot came out and I kept going. On this second one I was grateful for some of my trail runs that taught me to be light on my feet and keep my feet relatively loose so there wouldn’t be too much damage if my foot gave way.

The Third Section: Miles 14 to 18

This section has the big hill and the goal was to each my effort back to a flat based effort. I expected to loose some time on the up-hill.

Miles 14 to 18

Miles 14 to 18

I felt good this entire section. I was within range of a couple of folks and just ran and tried to stay comfortable. Looking back it seems the build up to the hill and the hill were harder for me than I thought they were. When I ran the hill I felt great. I think I passed 10 people on that hill. After the hill and crest on the bridge nobody managed to pass me on the race which was pretty cool. The section overall was fine, I was still around 30 seconds off which was very reasonable to try and make up if I felt good. At this point I was thinking I just need to get back into my pace for a couple of miles and then see if I can push a little earlier than I planned to make up the 30 seconds.

Fourth Section: Miles 19 to 22

In this winding section through a neighborhood the original plan was to run it at MGP of 6:29. About a mile into this section I heard lots of cheering, the lead woman was right ahead of me. I did manage to pass here. After looking at some of the stats post marathon I passed 30 people in the last half of the marathon and nobody passed me … that was kind of cool. I think Damon passed 100 people!

Miles 19 to 22

Miles 19 to 22

This section is where the wheels came off. As I sated in my race plan I started the season at the end of April hoping to get over my injury ridden training season for Boston 2009 … which I ended up not running because of tendonitis and to try and break 2:55 in Portland. After the second race prep results and talking with Steve I decided to drop my target to 2:50. This is 10 seconds a mile faster which is a lot. Both the time and running aggressively and out of my comfort zone where my goals. Well I definitely managed to get out of my comfort zone. Mile 19 was a little off, and then slowly by mile 21 I was 10 seconds off pace. These were very uncomfortable miles, my legs weren’t responding, I felt some soreness and twitching in my quads and I felt like I was pushing my effort but was running slower and slower.

I was reminded of a few things at this point:

  • Steve knows I can enter my “cocoon” of comfort. My backoff plan was 6:40 pace which is what I was running. I told myself NO, you have to try.
  • I remembered Ruth’s text from the morning “Run like the wind” and all the positive comments from everybody else in the weeks leading up to the race and tried to push.

I relaxed, seemed like my GU and thermolytes from mile 20 were kicking in and Mile 22 was 6:32 so getting better and at this point I decided that with 2.2 miles to go I would go as hard as I could.

The Race to the Finish

This is where I planned to make up some time on the nice long downhill section.

Miles 23 to 26.2

Miles 23 to 26.2

The downhill mile 23 should have been blazing fast but I lost 20 seconds on it. The road curved around to the left my left foot hurt on every foot strike at this point and the downhill as well as the turn was aggravating it. I pushed as hard as I could but that’s all I had. My final GU and termolyte (of 6 GUs in the race and 5 sets of 2 pills of thermoloytes) from mile 22 seemed to kick in for the finish as well. Managed to recover some and saw Julia and John on around 24 and after the 24 mile mark felt like I was trying to sprint as hard as I could. It’s amazing that sprinting as hard as I could ended up being 6:19 my final 1.2 miles (I didn’t split it at mile 26). Half way into mile 25 I started picking a few people off. We rounded the curve after the 40k mark and there was one person ahead of me that I hoped to catch. I caught him, passed him and keep going. I turned right and then left into downtown Portland and then heard something along these lines from the announcer … “another Austin Runner, Kamran Shah with a 7 minute PR”

The Result

I finished with an 8 minute PR of 2:51:08 over CIM last year (2:59:09) and finished 41st overall (remember this race doesn’t attract the fastest folks). This was emotionally the most satisfying race I’ve ever run, I was way out of my comfort zone and even when it looked like I was about to break apart I was able to keep going.

Oh, since they go 15 deep in age group awards I also walked away with a little hardware … which I did take a picture of but I think I left in Portland somewhere 😦

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Thank you all for the support and good luck wishes leading to this race. A big thank you to Steve and Ruth for a truly great training group with Team Rogue and the Rogue community. Last but not least to all the members of Team Rogue for the early mornings of training and keeping me honest and motivated.

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9 comments

  1. Good stuff Kamran, seriously awesome (cool) job you did. One quick comment though:
    “Slowly it starts filling up and the “elites” line up in front of the second red tape. It was a very strange feeling being in the 2nd row at the start of a marathon with 8000 people.”

    Guess when you will now experience this being in the first corral where? No partial credit:)

  2. Hey Kamran: Felt this was the better place to leave a comment than FB. I just wanted to say how much your decision to go for a stretch goal inspired me up there. Your reputation as a human metronome was always impressive but I felt it was earned by running conservatively. Hearing you admit that this was going to be a stretch and that you might well crash and burn certainly resonates with me having insisted on going for 3 when 3:10 would have been safe and attainable. The main thing I wanted to say is: You may have come up a bit short of your goal, but I am here to tell you that your wheels most certainly did NOT come off. You ran to your limits and posted a GREAT time on a difficult marathon course. So congratulations again!

  3. Kamran – You’ll be hearing this a LOT, but I am so proud of you and very, very happy for you. You deserve this great outcome. Savor it!

  4. Kamran – Thanks for the excellent race report. Loved hearing about pushing harder and harder at the finish rather than being comfortable. I hope I can apply this lesson at MCM. Something I’m working on as well.

    Hat’s off…

    PS – how’s the foot feeling? Bummer to have something like thathappen during the race…

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