January in Oregon: The scenario doesn’t scream ideal racing conditions. Yet for the past three years that I’d run the Cascade Half, the weather gods were fairly kind. Well, we must have worn out our weather-karma, as Sunday was crummy, bordering on horrific. It was raining when I picked up my sometimes-running partner Sheila. I joked we had to stop racing together as last time we had—Portland Marathon—it had poured buckets. On the bright side (relatively speaking!), the temp was in the mid-50’s, ideal for racing.
The rain tapered off on the 70-minute drive south to the race, so we were feeling pretty good about things when we arrived…until I stepped out of the car. The car door was nearly ripped out of my hand by the ceaseless wind whipping across the open farmland. The day before, I had decided my race-goal was sub-1:50, but there in the parking lot, I stuck my head back in the car to tell Sheila, “Revised goal: I’m happy if I break two hours.”
It was an out-and-back course through exposed acreage, offering no protection from the elements. The rain picked up moments before an official called the start. As I dodged puddles, my left heel (my, ahem, Achilles heel) announced that it was back to hurting after a few days of silence. Sheila and I started next to each other, but she quickly moved ahead (we had no plans to run together). From personal fly-and-die experience, I knew I’d be doomed if I started too fast so I stuck to my plan of easing in with an 8:30-8:45 pace. With the wind at my back—gently, it felt—it felt easy and enjoyable. I mean, I’d done plenty of training runs in the rain, so I was no stranger to soggy. Ever the optimist, I even told myself we might enjoy a moderate cross-wind the entire time.
Blue-capped Sheila stayed within my sights until my planned gel/drink break at mile 4. After I resumed running, a shorter, grey-haired man appeared alongside of me. I soon sensed he was tucking himself next to me, not intending to pass. Under the pewter sky, with sideways rain lashing us, it felt comforting to have this older gentleman at my side. Nearing the halfway point, I pulled out an earbud and semi-shouted, “I don’t know if you’re doing it on purpose, but I like having you running next to me.” I let him know I planned on walking for a gel after the halfway point, and he told me he was, too. Ours was a mismatch made in heaven!
As we pushed toward the eight- and nine-mile markers, it was hard to tell who was pulling whom, me or my new friend, Johan. We even silently formed a triumvirate with a wiry-haired woman. Johan and I didn’t speak, but we seemed to pick up the pace together to overtake a red-jacketed guy, then a man in blue shorts. Johan looked at his watch and finally spoke, asking what our goal was. I told him I might try for under 1:50, but that sub-2 [hours] was the more realistic goal. “Unless the wheels fall off the bus, we’ve totally got that,” I said. He replied, “Yeah, but the wheels are starting to squeak a bit.”
Oh, yeah, they were. The mile markers felt like they were getting further and further apart—which I know was a cruel illusion—and the wind seemed to be getting stronger, which, alas, was reality. Adding insult to injury, the rain picked up, too. Johan continued on while I walked to suck back my third gel. Right before mile 10 I remembered I had a secret weapon in my Amphipod—Jolt Caffeinated Gum. I’d chewed two pieces at the start, and now tossed two more in my mouth. My stomach lurched a bit, but I felt my energy level pick up…until I hit the wall of wind near mile 11. It was cruelly unrelenting for the final miles of the race. I lost sight of Johan, and about a dozen runners past me. Over the usually sure-fire sounds of Enrique Iglesias and Black Eyed Peas, I shouted, “Good finish” and “Way to work through the wind” to each of them.
Sheila’s soaked-but-smiling face greeted me at the finish line, and Johan was there to shake my hand. Sheila had an awesome race, finishing in 1:48, and Johan ended up winning third in his age group (men’s 65-70, thus my “mismatched” comment earlier!). I came in well under my revised goal—my Garmin read 1:53:55 (the race is not chip timed). Given the conditions, I felt pretty good about my time, especially when I heard that some half-marathoners called friends to pick them up on the course instead of finishing the race.
Only time I didn’t feel good post-race? About a half an hour later, while I was chatting with some friends (including RLAMer Lara, who smoked the course in 1:37:39!!), I suddenly felt super-queasy. Excusing myself, I stepped outside and proceeded to hurl. Repeatedly. The rain beat down on my back, and I had to laugh. When a stranger asked if I needed anything, I said between upchucks, “No, I just feel like I’m in a Monty Python skit.”