Monday, March 17, 2008

May the road rise up to meet you....

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

the rains fall soft upon your fields;

and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

I intended to rewrite this traditional Irish blessing to apply it to the Shamrock Run yesterday, but it is so lovely that I couldn't bear to change the words. And actually, it can easily be about running just the way it is!

I certainly prayed, when running the Portland Shamrock Run 15K yesterday, that the road would rise up to meet me, that the wind would be at my back and at least a little bit of sun would shine upon my face; that the rain, if it must fall, would fall softly, and that God would hold me in the palm of his hand until I crossed the finish line (hopefully in a speedy fashion).

And I would say that is what happened, pretty much. The rain, which had been falling on and off all weekend, held off nicely and in fact the sun came out later (though not until my running was done). The road literally rose up to meet us all, as the first five to six miles are quite hilly (a large portion simply uphill, turning into up and down hills, before changing to all downhill—hurrah—for the last third of the race). But thanks to the hill work I've been doing, and in particular the Anacortes run last weekend, I wasn't bothered by the hills very much at all, and in fact took them at a much better pace than last year. I can honestly say that there was not one hill in the Portland run that compared any way in steepness to the Sunset Loop in Anacortes! My time, in the end, was about two minutes faster than last year—a net time (thanks to chip timing) of 1:22:32, for an average pace of 8:52 per mile.

I made the weekend into a fun mini-break with my traveling companion "Mother" (also known as unofficial race photographer, which she was not very successful at this time, missing me as I ran by her in front of the hotel, and not even seeing me finish—apparently she was watching the finish line for the 8K runners rather than the 15K—thank goodness for the official race photographer, which will hopefully have some decent photos I can purchase).

We stayed at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland (got a much better rate than the Vintage Plaza was offering), a lovely classic hotel with a very English theme to it. (Conference rooms called Oxford, Cambridge, Windsor, etc.; a Mayfair Ballroom; and a hotel restaurant called the London Grill. I love it.) The lobby and public areas are quite grand and beautiful. Our room was a bit small, with two queen beds in it, but very nicely decorated and comfortable. It is what you would like your London hotel to be, if you could afford it!

Friday was a bit of a wasted day, as far as travel goes. I did get in a 6.7 mile run in the morning, then packed, paid bills, and went to two banks—which contributed to a much later departure time than planned. We left Marysville (car packed to the gills) around 2:30 or so. Unfortunately the traffic was awful, even for a Friday afternoon, and it took hours to get to Tacoma. We hit Centralia around 6:00 or later, and stopped for dinner at the Country Cousin Restaurant.

A word about cinnamon rolls. It is no secret that I like to celebrate the finish of a race with a cinnamon roll (usually shared, luckily). I do try to avoid them on other occasions, however! But some of the best cinnamon rolls in the world are to be found at the Country Cousin—and there we were. Okay, it was a little bit premeditated. So I attempted to have a light dinner—a cup of Taco Soup (quite yummy) and a smallish salad with chicken—so as to allow for sharing a cinnamon roll as dessert. And it was delish! Warm, yeasty, a little doughy, and dripping with white icing (and butter, I'm afraid). No regrets! (And after all, I was miles, and days, away from getting on a scale.)

We finally got to Portland around 9:15, left our car with the very expensive valet parking, and checked in. After watching some TV (my mother asked for Frasier, and by a stroke of luck I found a channel playing it), we called it a night.

Saturday morning I set out on foot to pick up my race packet at Lincoln High School. It was an easy walk from the hotel, less than a mile, and since I had signed up as a "Patron Saint" I was able to get my packet without even standing in line. For an extra contribution to the race charity I got to be a Patron Saint and also got a $35 coupon for McCormick and Schmick's, which we used for dinner that night.

I needed to buy running socks at Nordstrom (socks had mysteriously disappeared in the last load of laundry), which led to some browsing and, ultimately, just a teeny bit of shopping. No sales tax, you know. By the time I finished at Nordstrom and walked down to McCormick & Schmick's to check the location (less than half a mile from the hotel, a direct route), it was midday and mother had moved down to the lobby to sit while the room was made up. I bought us lattes at Starbuck's and joined her in the lobby. She had staked out a nice spot near the fireplace.

We decided that instead of trying to go out to lunch we would eat our leftovers from yesterday (a few pieces of California Roll and some sliced turkey) and go back to the lobby for tea and cookies at 2:00. The cookies, it turned out, were store bought (not that it kept us from eating several), but the tea was nicely set up with cups and saucers (as well as to-go cups), honey, lemon, and a selection of Tazo teas. (I'm afraid we were personally responsible for cleaning out their supply of Awake!) We spent more than an hour sitting elegantly in the lobby drinking cup after cup of tea.

We might not have stayed so long but we were entertained by the preparations for a wedding that was to be held at the hotel that evening. In fact, we were practically in the wedding pictures as the bride and groom posed by the fireplace and around the lobby. (Later that evening we also saw the bride from a second wedding reception at the hotel—but neither of them offered us a piece of cake!)

We still had plenty of time before dinner, so we walked over to the Pearl District, only a few blocks away, and did a little window shopping and a little actual shopping. In Whole Foods I got a bottle of Kiss My Face bath and shower gel, specially meant for soaking athletes' sore muscles. Then we wandered into Powell's Books. Quite overwhelmed by all the books, we might have left without buying anything, if we hadn't stumbled into the cooking section. In addition to cookbooks and all that, there was a large section of shelves called "Culinary Literature." This fascinated me. In short order, I had picked up several novels, a couple of memoirs, and two recipe collections (one recipes inspired by books, other "Book Club" recipes), all with culinary themes, of course. We left carrying a large bag of books!

We weren't able to get a dinner reservation until 8:15, so a little before 8 we started out on our short walk to the restaurant. McCormick & Schmick's is only a block or so from the race site, so I took mother over to show her where to go, and to arrange a meeting place after the race.

McCormick & Schmick's specializes in seafood, but I wanted pasta for my pre-race supper. They did have a few dishes with pasta, so I ended up picking one with shellfish (mussels, clams, shrimp and calamari) in a tomato broth on linguine. It was pretty good, but probably wouldn't be my first pick again. As I was eating the seafood, I had a panicky thought—what if I got a bad shrimp and was sick before the race? Why hadn't I stuck with something plain like chicken? (I have never had food poisoning, and obviously, there was no problem with this either!) With the $35 voucher, though, it made for a good bargain meal, and as such, was quite satisfactory. (I must say, I was disappointed by the sourdough bread though—much inferior to Anthony's and Duke's, probably simpy because it wasn't warmed up! That didn't prevent me from eating plenty, though, and using it to sop up the sauce in my dish.)

Carb-loading finished, we walked back to hotel where I tried out my new bath gel for a nice soak before heading to bed.

Sunday—Race Day—and the alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. After a while I rolled out of bed and pulled on my running clothes. My outfit was specially selected for St. Patrick's Day (with consideration of cool weather). I wore long black running pants (knee pants having been determined to be too chilly), a white technical tee shirt under an orange pullover and a dark green jacket, all topped off with a bright orange Road Runner cap. (Since the Shamrock Run signs were orange and green, I decided there was nothing wrong with wearing both colors. That is the colors of the flag of Ireland, after all!) For a lot of people all those layers may have seemed too heavy, but I am used to dressing rather warmly for running. I started out with gloves too, but took them off quite soon into the run.

I headed down to the nearby Starbuck's for a pre-race latte, which I drank in the hotel room with a mini-breakfast cookie and a small banana. I put a couple packets of honey in my pocket in case I needed fuel during the race, but I never used them.

I left for my warm-up around 7:30 or so, maybe 7:45. I jogged down to the race site and back to the hotel, about .8 miles. In the hotel lobby I called mother to update her on the race information, then headed back out toward Naito Parkway. I got there just as the 5K race was starting (at 8:05 a.m.). This time when I looped back toward the hotel I couldn't cross Broadway—it was filled with 5,000 5K runners! So I snuck into the lobby of the Hotel Vintage Plaza to use their restroom. I'm afraid I wasn't very subtle in my orange cap! But I did stay there last year!

Back toward the start line again. But whether it was nerves or true biology, I felt like I need to go to the bathroom again. This time I ducked into a nearby Starbucks. I wasn't the only one with that idea, so I got into line behind several other runners (probably all running the 8K, which started a bit later).

But the time I got in and out (I was fast!), it was past 8:30 and the race was to start at 8:40. Now I was a bit worried. I hustled the few blocks back to the park. It wasn't far, but the problem was that the race course was fenced on both sides (waist high), the 15K start was at the other end, and meantime the 5K runners were coming in!

I followed a couple of other runners trying to make their way to the 15K start. I felt a bit panicky shoving my way through the crowd, saying "excuse me" in a wavery voice. At last I was in the vicinity of the 15K start, but there was still a fence between me and the other runners! So I climbed over the fence. Someone gave me a hand to steady me, and I blended myself into the crowd. I noticed that I was not the only one jumping the fence!

So, after that little adrenaline producing incident, I was ready to run—and then we were off! About five minutes into the run we were due to pass the Benson Hotel as we ran south on Broadway. I had directed mother to watch for me. As I approached her she was gazing at the runners, but did not seem to be prepared with the camera. I shouted "are you going to take a picture?" Then, as she fumbled with the camera, "too late!" as I approached and passed her. My parting shot was "here are my gloves" as tossed them toward her. Later she said that she heard someone else laugh when I said "too late." Apparently she was fixated by the mob of runners.
We ran through downtown, past Nordstrom's and various Starbucks, then started to veer uphill. After Broadway turned into 6th Avenue, we headed onto Terwilliger, where the road really started to climb. There's a hairpin turn where you can see the runners ahead of you climbing a high bluff—which must have been intimidating to runners who were worried about hills! It probably looked steeper than it really was. It certainly looked like a substantial incline to me, but as I may have already stated, there was no hill on this route that compared in any way to the Anacortes Sunset Loop!
The uphill climb continued for several miles, although after three or four miles it changed from "uphill" to "hilly." That is where downhill portions alternated with uphill bits. At each milepost there was someone with a stopwatch calling out times. Last year I pushed to maintain a 10 mph pace on the hills. This year I was doing quite a bit under 10.
I had remembered the final downhill as beginning after mile 6. But this time I realized it started sooner, at least by 5½ miles. I kept expecting another uphill but none appeared! So I pushed myself into "last 3 miles" mode and tried to pick up the pace. That's not too hard to do when you're switching from uphill to downhill, but this year I didn't feel like I was flying quite as fast as last year. Maybe because I had been runner faster on the ups, the difference in pace was less.
My pacemaker on the downhill finish was some guy, I couldn't describe him or even remember what he was wearing, but all throughout the last few miles we ran abreast. I know I was working to keep up with him; I wonder if he was working to keep up with me? Even when I felt I slowed or sped up slightly, he seemed to keep the same pace. I felt certain that in the final stretch he would put on a burst of speed and pull ahead of me to the finish.
If he did that, I was pretty sure I would not be able to keep up with him. I wasn't running at a full 100%, but I was pretty close to the top of my effort ability. I was saving a little bit (very little) for a final push to the finish line, but practically speaking, I usually cannot outrun a male who is running his hardest (even if it is a male running the same pace as me!).
At some point in the last mile or so, the possibility of death crossed my mind. Okay, I'm being a bit overdramatic. But I did think of a magazine article I had read just the day before about hidden asthma, as well as exercise induced asthma. I couldn't help thinking, as I was sucking air, "what if I have a sudden asthma attack and collapse and die?" Now I have never had asthma, and I have run lots of long races without a problem, but still. I seem to recall reading about—or maybe seeing a story on Gray's Anatomy or ER—elite athletes (much fitter than me) who drop dead from an asthma attack.
Then the finish line was in site. Phantom asthma be damned—I drew on one final burst of energy and threw myself toward the finish line. I think I actually lost my running mate somewhere. I like to think that I pulled ahead of him in the end.
Once across the finish line, I stumbled toward someone who helped me removed the chip strap from around my ankle (I still have marks where it cut me), and looked around for my mother. There were people everywhere. There was no way I was going to just spot her. So I made my way to our designated meeting point.
After standing there a couple of minutes, I decided there was no harm in going to get some water before I waited. Then I waited. And waited, scanning the crowd for a familiar face or head. I contemplated asking to borrow someone's phone to call her. I considered offering my beer and chowder tickets to someone in exchange for the use of her phone. I wondered if I really had to wait until 11:00 (another 45 minutes or so) before I gave up and headed back to the hotel.
But eventually she found me. It had taken a while for her to work through the crowd, and apparently she had been watching the 8K finish line instead of the 15K! Oh well. We took a few posed post-race shots. Hopefully the official photographer will have a few pictures of me running.
I didn't bother with the chowder or beer (ugh, anyway), and we just walked on back to the hotel so I could take a shower. Later, after I was dressed, we went to Whole Foods and bought some takeaway lunch to eat in our room.
We didn't want to bother with a fancy lunch because I had a splashy dinner planned at the London Grill. (C'mon, you didn't think I would leave without eating there, did you?) My justification was that instead of spending money on an expensive massage, as I did last year, I would invest in dinner instead.
So at 7:00 we dressed up as best as we could and headed down to the restaurant. It was quiet on a Sunday night, and we were seated at a nice table near the back of the room. I had already pretty much decided what to order, though I was torn between the Filet Mignon and the New York steak.
In the end I went for the New York steak, medium rare. It was perfectly done and served simply but stylishly with a generous portion of green beans and carrots, plus an artful mound of creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Mother chose a scallop crusted halibut dish.
We started, however, with a Caesar salad for two, prepared tableside. What fun! I asked the waiter to go light on the dressing, and thank goodness I did, because there was plenty and then some even so. But I restrained myself from shouting "stop" as he glugged olive oil into the bowl. After all, would you tell Picasso, "not so much blue"?
The waiter had two large wooden salad bowls, one in which he mixed up the dressing and later tossed the salad, and the other just containing the lettuce. I of course said "yes" to anchovies, so he mashed up the anchovies with some of the other ingredients, mustard, Worcestershire, probably some garlic. Then he whisked in the yolk of a coddled egg. Next he squeezed in the juice of half a lemon, and whisked it as he glug, glugged the olive oil. Piling the romaine lettuce into the bowl, he tossed it all, added a generous amount of shredded parmesan and croutons, and divided it onto two plates. Scrumptious!
After the salad they brought us each a tiny scoop of lime sorbet, no doubt to "cleanse our palates." Then our delicious entrees—I saved about 2/3 of my steak to bring home—and finally, when we declined dessert, two chocolate truffles.
A grand meal indeed!
The next day, Monday, was St. Patrick's Day and our final day in Portland. Since Monday is a running day for me, I headed out resolutely for an early run. I felt pretty sluggish, but I wouldn't have wanted to miss the opportunity to run in Portland anyway. I ran in Waterfront Park, across Steel Street Bridge and down the Eastside Embankment, and back across Hawthorne Street Bridge. Later I calculated my entire route (including some doubling back and forth and the trips from and to the hotel) as about 5½ miles.
Before we checked out of the hotel, I made breakfast (as I had on Saturday, but not on Sunday because of the race). I had brought along packets of Quaker Weight Control Oatmeal, which I mixed with some dried cherries and cinnamon before adding the hot water, then stirred in half a chopped banana and topped it with sliced almonds. It was delicious and filling, and really worth the extra calories (the Weight Control type has 160 calories per serving). Each packet has twice as much fiber and twice as much protein (thanks to whey protein) as ordinary oatmeal. So I figure the extra calories are equivalent to having an egg on the side, which I would probably do at home.
Then we finally had to pack up and leave, with only a couple more bags than we came with (thanks to Nordstrom and Whole Foods). The drive home was much quicker and easier than the drive down... even with a stop in Centralia for one final, gooey, sugary cinnamon roll. I know I'll pay for it, but it was so, so worth it!

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