Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Race Report: Stars and Stripes Marathon and Foot Traffic Flat Marathon

When in PDX...
The week after my trip to Alaska, I had a weekend off of running, my first weekend off since March.  But even then, that weekend involved travel, as I went up to Boston for a retreat weekend with my a cappella group. If you want to look at my last non-running, non-travelling weekend, you'd have to look to the end of January, when I was forced to stay home due to a huge blizzard (effectively getting a DNS for the Miami Marathon).  But that weekend after Alaska was still super busy - as I fulfilled my duties as an assistant race director for the 35th Annual Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run, my second year in the role.  While I didn't run the race, I was practically running around the start/finish area ensuring that everything was flowing smoothly!  New York Road Runners happened to have a 4 mile race the following day in Central Park that I did end up getting to run, so I wasn't completely without having some type of race over the weekend.

But with a big race coming up at the end of July - the San Francisco Marathon (which I ended up upgrading to the Ultramarathon, a 52.4 mile challenge), I needed to get two consecutive marathon runs in my schedule to ensure I could get that amount of distance under my legs in a short period of time.  I had been considering the races in the Portland area over July 4th weekend put on by my friend Steve Walters; this year, he hosted two races on Saturday and Sunday in the Portland suburbs of Tigard and Beaverton, respectively, with a separate race put on by local running store Foot Traffic on Monday, July 4.

Mount Hood from the plane
I booked flights literally five days before I was set to leave - not really too cheap, but hey, I got miles out of it. ;)  Leaving on July 1 would be out of the question, as flights out that day were RIDICULOUSLY expensive, so I decided to forego the Saturday race and fly in that day, and just do the Sunday and Monday races - besides, I only needed 52.4 miles to get my mileage in.  I lucked out majorly on my flights - I flew LaGuardia to Houston, and then was magically upgraded to first class on my Houston to Portland flight... my first "longer" flight to be in first class, and during the dinner hour!

MAPLE! and Stout.
Having last come into Portland at night, I was astounded by the beauty of the area coming in just before sunset.  It was a gorgeous, clear day, with few clouds blocking the landscape.  I even got some majestic views of Mount Hood, as we passed it on our descent into the Portland area.  I arrived just before 9pm, and took an Uber from the airport to my friend Anna's house in the trendy Alberta Arts District in the northeast area of the city. After settling in, we made our way to Breakside Brewery, a great little brewpub just north of her house with a delicious Salted Caramel Stout (what?!?!) and some locally sourced and very tasty light eats.  We were very serendipitously seated next to these two guys who had their corgi, Maple, with them, which both Anna and I gushed over.

Runners at the start!
(Photo courtesy of Steve Walters)
With the race start at 7am the following morning, and having travelled all the way across the country, we turned in for the night, and got up early the next morning, Anna along with me.  Last minute, she decided to enter the 5K race, and still enjoyed herself despite not really having prepped to do so.  The race - second in the "Firecracker Triple" series put on by Steve Walters - was called the Stars and Stripes Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K, and was held on a looped course along the Fanno Creek Trail at Greenway Park in Beaverton, Oregon.  The race started and finished next to the Fanno Farmhouse, a 157 year old historical rural home in the New England revival style, designed and built by one of the first European-American settlers in the Portland area, Augustus Fanno, who pioneered the cultivation of a breed of onions that adapted to the damp climate and soil of Oregon.  The farmhouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and hosts a comprehensive preschool program on its premises.

With only 104 participants across the three distances, it was a small race that looped around the pathways within the park.  Marathoners ran the 3.28 mile loop 8 times, while half marathoners obviously would run only 4, and the 5k runners running a shortened version of the loop once. Each loop returned to the one timing mat that also had a fully stocked aid station, with water and Gatorade as well as chips, cookies, gummy bears, jelly beans, pretzels, among other things - in fact, many things you'd find in an ultra, which was perfect for my preparations for San Francisco.  After some group photos, a quick talk from Steve, he introduced me, and I had the honor of singing the national anthem at my 11th state to sing the Star Spangled Banner in, and then we were off!

Larry, Jim, and Cyndie on the trail

The first 1/4 mile of the loop was a nice downhill, with a bridge that went over the Fanno Creek.  We then took the trail to the right headed toward the trailhead at SW Hall Boulevard before making a hairpin turn onto the pathways that would take us past a few playgrounds and the backyards of houses that abutted against the park.  About 3/4 mile in, we made curved right toward an out-and-back section that took us around a basketball court and two tennis courts, and also where the first aid station was located (where we could fix ourselves a Dixie cup of water or Gatorade.)  We then turned right, and continued along the wooded path on another out-and-back section, which had us go around a small playground (where another aid station and a port-a-potty was located), before turning around just before reaching SW Scholls Ferry Road, and then returning on the pathway all the way to the beginning, but with a couple small detours along additional trail (and another small bridge across the creek inside the park)

Chely finishing her first ever half!
The timing mat was at a perfect location, as it allowed us to monitor our splits for each 3.28 mile loop.  I managed a decent 31:30 for the first loop, but progressively took longer each time, as my legs began to tire.  I also took into consideration utilizing the fully stocked aid station at the timing mat.  My wireless headphones shorted out at around loop 4, and despite borrowing Anna's for a loop (which I couldn't really get into), I continued on my run with my music here and there.  My fifth loop was memorable, as I caught up to a woman I met at the start, Chely, who was running her first ever half marathon, and I got to run her into the finish, as she joyously crossed the timing mat for the final time.  Finally, my eight loop was probably the toughest, because as I began to hit my stride, I ended up having a rough calf cramp that forced me to walk a lot of that last three miles.  Regardless, I gunned it to the finish (despite a loop almost 9 1/2 minutes slower than my first) and managed a 4:58:53 finish, right in line with what I wanted for this first race... a sub-5!

Victory Headstand for Marathon #1!
Anna and I are idiots.
The rest of the Saturday was nice, as Anna and I headed back to her house to take showers, and then we headed out to get my bib for the following day's race at the northeast Portland Foot Traffic store. We then headed out for a delicious barbecue lunch at Podnah's Pit Barbecue (and forgetting that Anna's a vegetarian, oops) and then we went to a local spa to soak the day away in some therapeutic hot tubs... among a lot of naked people.  We stayed clothed and were berated by the front desk for wearing sunglasses.  After a day of zen-ing out, we rested for a bit before heading out again and meeting up with my old friend from home Deanna and her boyfriend Greg for a light dinner at Grain and Gristle (with a stunningly handsome Australian waiter with an accent that made all of us a bit verklempt) and then waited out a line at Voodoo Doughnuts for their iconic donuts!  So much to have done in a day, and I still had one more marathon to go!

Voodoo Doughnuts or BUST!
Pre-race with Kimberlee and Lisa

VERY early the next morning, I got up, and made my way with Deanna's car (who had graciously allowed me to borrow it for the weekend, as Anna bikes around town) to head out to Sauvie Island for the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon.  A July 4th tradition around Portland, the "Flat" has been run on the picturesque Sauvie Island since 2004. It lives up to its name, as the race was ranked 16th in the nation in 2013 and 12th in the nation in 2010 in percentage of Boston Qualifiers for marathon finishers. I had been warned about potential traffic issues getting onto the island as there is only ONE bridge to get on and off, but luckily, with my early wake up, I got there without any big traffic hassles.

Foot Traffic Flat start
It was similar temperature wise to the previous day, but significantly cloudier.  Thankfully.  This race has been notorious for being egregiously hot due to the July temps in Oregon.  But the weather gods smiled upon us that race morning, and after taking a few more photos at the start with those who had finished one or both of the previous day's events, we assembled at the startline within the Sauvie Island Pumpkin Patch to begin the last race of the weekend.  I had the pleasure of being able to sing the national anthem at this race as well, so over the loudspeaker, I was able to sing the Star-Spangled Banner on Independence Day for a captive audience of marathoners about to run, half marathoners waiting for their chance to toe the line, and any friends or family who were at the Pumpkin Patch.  At 6:30, we were off, and I ran/hobbled across the start line holding a little American flag given to me by my friend Lisa!  And despite my exhausted legs, I still was managing a healthy 10 minute pace as we passed cars still coming onto the island to park (I told you... parking is an issue!) Having had a shorted out pair of headphones, I decided to run with my phone blasting the music inside my fanny pack, so while muffled, I'd still have some music.

Even with the overcast skies, this course was
beautiful! Actually... Perfect running weather

Running up toward the only bridge to get on and off the island...

Just out here watering the plants...

Running alongisde the Multnomah
Those first miles as we made our way on the only road circling the island (NW Gillihan Road, which turned into NW Sauvie Island Road after the bridge) were beautiful, with views of the island's flat interior, right as the sprinklers were beginning to turn on to water the area's crops.  It was just about at mile 2 when we ran underneath the Sauvie Island Bridge, and were greeted with a beautiful American flag draped over the side of the bridge.  We continued northward on Sauvie Island Road, having a nicely stocked aid station (with NUUN!  and Clif Shot Gels!) every two miles along the road.  It was right after mile 7 when we began to see runners on the other side of the road coming back - the really fast runners, clocking in 6 to 6 1/2 minute miles, me just having passed mile 7, them coming upon mile 14.  The stretch of Sauvie Island Road was a SUPER LONG out and back where runners wouldn't make the turn around until mile 10.5.  But after mile 7 was when the views were super pretty, as we got to run right alongside the Multnomah Channel and see across to the marinas and moorages docked on the other side of the water.   This was also probably one of the flatter parts of the flat course, too.

Made the turnaround past mile 10, with more views
of the Multnomah Channel, this time to the runner's right side!

Views of the island's interior
Vibrant colors!

I made the turn around at mile 10.5 and then hit the 11 mile mark at almost exactly 2:00:00 into the race. Still feeling good, I began to hit my stride and ran the next three miles a little faster than before, and passing a couple people here and there.  I noticed some cool wildlife along the way, including a red tailed hawk looking over its nest along the road. It was also making a whole lot of noise as we ran underneath it! By mile 15, I had caught up to a small group of three other guys, and I ran with them, making some small talk along the way, and talking about our recent race schedules.  We made the turn just before mile 17 (the first turn in the race!) left onto NW Reeder Road, and approached the one mile out-and-back onto NW Charlton Road that also marked the most significant "hill" in the entire race... a mere 19 feet.  Even that much uphill after running on flat course wasn't easy.  After the turn around, it was actually a nice downhill that took us back onto NW Reeder Road and took us to an even lower elevation, dropping us downhill almost 40 feet when we reached mile 19.  Along the way, I found a goat just hangin' out, minding its own business.

Hey, goat.
Ick... roadkill.

Only a 10k left to go!
NW Reeder Road was a "cut through" road down the middle of the island, and it fed us right back to NW Gillihan Road, but on the east side of the island.  From here, it was just a straight shot right back to where we started where the finish line was at.  But as always, the last six miles are the toughest, when you get to mile 20 and just want to be done.  As we turned right onto Gillihan Road at mile 22, we could see across the Columbia River into the state of Washington.  I just kept moving as best as I can, and with two miles left of the race, I could see the Pumpkin Patch in the distance.  My pace quickened a tiny bit, as I began to realize, I could sub-5 this race as well, and heck... could this race even be faster than my time from the day before?  I ran the heck out the last two miles, no stopping anymore... and thankfully, this was the most continuous flat section of the race, so as the finish line began to come closer and closer, I took out the little American flag that Lisa gave me before the race (which I ended up running with for a good 12 miles before putting it in my pocket to focus on my stride), and strode across the finish line with that sub-5, a 4:57:16-- over a minute and a half faster than my marathon from the day before!

It's the 4th of July.  Made me want to have a hot dog REAL bad.

And nothing like having a strawberry shortcake to finish it off!
What a way to cap off a weekend.  Two sub-5 marathons in consecutive days, with the second being FASTER than the first.   It felt really good to have finished 52.4 miles of racing over two days, and made me more confident in my preparations for my ultramarathon at the end of the month. After grabbing an absolutely necessary bite to eat (all finishers get a hot dog and strawberry shortcake!), I got back into the car to head back to Anna's place for a much needed shower and packed all my stuff up before taking the car back to Deanna's house.  From there, Lisa and her husband picked me up and drove me up to Seattle (surprisingly in a decent amount of time not having hit any major potential holiday traffic), where I would catch my flight back home to NYC.  Except... my luck with travel and this race weekend decided to go out the window when my redeye back to JFK got cancelled about an hour before we were due to leave due to crew time out.  An angry line of passengers ensued, but I got out of that drama, bypassed the line and called American directly... They were able to book me onto a redeye to Philadelphia, connecting to me on to Newark (the most pointless connection ever, but hey it got me closer to NYC) and I got back to NYC by 11am.  Of course, after that redeye, my legs tensed up, and I ended up getting a ride in a wheelchair through the airport in Philadelphia... and it wouldn't be the last time I'd do that, haha! :) Tack in an NJTransit and LIRR train ride, and I got back to the office by 1 and worked for the remainder of the day.

Celebrating my finish of two sub-5 marathons in consecutive days!
(Photo courtesy of Steve Walters)

Bling haul.  And America.

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