In 1981, as a 19 year old college student at UC Davis, some of my friends coerced me into signing up for my first marathon, the Avenue of the Giants. They assured me that since I ran track and cross country, this would be easy. The 4 of us were undertrained, young, and naive. It was a bonding experience, but we were so horribly unprepared that the pain made us all vow never to run another marathon again. The other 3 have kept their promises. I hang around with runners and was eventually talked into running the 2004 Portland Marathon, twenty-three and a half years after that first experience. I was amazed at how much fun a marathon could be if you train properly!
A few months ago, one of my favorite running buddies, Van Phan, asked if I would consider running Ave of the Giants this year. I don't think she realized that it was my 25th anniversary of that first marathon, but I immediately said yes. I had been hoping to go back sometime.
The day before the race, my husband and I arrived at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We drove the course, which was very rolling, no big hills, just rolling the whole way. That night, we had dinner with my old friend, Mike Reuter, who ran it with me 25 years ago. He is no longer running, but came out to support me. We hadn't seen each other in 20 years.
The 9:00 start was delayed until 9:10 am, then we headed out Old Bull Creek Rd under sunny skies, except where we were shaded by the trees. I quickly settled in to my pace. My target was 6:50, and I was at a 6:48 pace at the first turn around. That was my pace at my last marathon, so OK, a bit fast, but OK. Then for some reason, I hit a string of miles in the 6:30s, and my pace for the second set of 6.55 miles was 6:40, way off my target!
On the second out and back I started to fade. This race was reviewed as having very little in the way of crowd support, but if you are the first woman, every other woman out there and many of the men will cheer for you. On a double out and back with the early starters already out there, I got lots of support. It was inspiring when I passed a walking woman who said, "Next year! Next year, I am going to be right with you!" I passed another woman who said, "When I grow up, I want to run as fast as you!" I felt a responsibility to run strong for these other runners and walkers.
After the second turn around, at the 20 mile mark, I picked it up for the last 10K. The trouble is it only lasted a mile. The heat started getting to me, and the early pace was taking a toll. I reached a point late in the race where I felt like I had to let go of my dream of a sub-3 and run for the win. I had to reel it in to survive. A guy I ran with early in the race came up and started chatting. I think he could tell I was struggling and asked if I needed a gel or anything. I replied, "Do you have an extra gel??" I had taken my last of 3 gels at the 19 mile mark and was really wishing I had another. He did not have an extra, but he would split the one he had. I said, "Never mind, I'm OK," but he took half of it and handed me the other half saying, "Take it if you want," so I did - I took a half-eaten gel from a benevolent stranger!!
After running a 6:44 pace for my first half, my last 5 miles were 7:00, 7:00, 7:08, 7:04, 7:01, 1:28. As I rounded the corner towards the finish, I could see the clock said 2:59, but I could not see the seconds, so I ran as hard as I could manage. Happily, I came in under 3, but once again, I learned not to go too fast too early. How many times do I have to relearn that?
After the race, we had a wonderful Mexican lunch with Van and her husband, Ken. After lunch, the four of us found a campground and had a nice campfire. Monday was a very long driving day - 10 hours including the lunch break. It was a fun and special weekend.
Maple Valley, WA