Monday, October 29, 2012

Columbia Gorge Marathon

We're driving to the Columbia Gorge Marathon and I have no idea what the weather is going to be like. Right now we have rain. That bodes ill. I've brought two different jackets, but I'd prefer not to wear either one, because though they'll keep off the rain, they'll add to my sweat factor.

In the meantime the Gorge itself is starting to become visible: huge dark cliffs rising just to the right (south) and equally bigger shadows on the north side, though with more houses visible. Lots o' trophy homes over there.

But lo, as we pull into Hood River, the clouds are parting! We park at the Marina, where some yachts the size of my apartment building are docked, and I assess my clothing needs: I will take my 'shell' jacket, just to stay warm while we wait for the start, then hopefully leave it in my check bag. Hopefully. There's still an evil dark cloud to the north.

I'm also wearing my Luna Sandals for this one. Yep, I'm wussing out. Based on my experience with the Portland Marathon and the Run Like Hell Half-Marathon, the pavement around the Portland area has just been pretty rough, just too unpleasant to be running for four hours on. If I'm wrong, and I hope I am, I have the option to just take them off and go barefoot.

The problem? I just noticed this morning that one of my sandals is on the verge of blowout: these new versions have what's supposed to be an improvement: a small shallow circular area cut out of the bottom, where the knot from the (in this case) hemp rope feeds up through the hole between the toes. Apparently, some folks get really freaked out by that lumpy knot, so this shallow circle is supposed to give some space for the knot to 'nest.' I never had a problem with the knot in my last pair, and when I learned the new versions have this area, I remember my first thought was, Hm, seems like that thinner area might get torn more easily. Et voilĂ , three months after buying them, the knot has torn almost all the way through. After a quick stop at a party store (is that what they call them out here? Or am I betraying my Michiganderness?) I've got some duct tape, which, as everyone knows, fixes everything. I've placed small strips surrounding both the top and bottom of the hole, to hopefully stop the knot from bulging through. We'll see, especially if they get wet. But yeah, I'm very disappointed in this pair of Lunas.

The half-marathoners will start here, at the finish. Us full-marathoners have to get on a bus and get shipped a couple miles east, and up, where we'll start, at nine o'clock. Yes, I'm liking this marathon already. An actual sane start time. And get this: there's a taco bar at the finish. How cool is that?

So, on the bus, up to a visitor center. Steep road. Going to be killer on the quads coming back, because by the way, this is and 'out and back' race: We'll run about twelve miles east, paralleling the Columbia River, turn around, come back through this visitor center, then barrel down through the town of Hood River back to the Marina area. Some of it, like right here, is on a bike/hike trail, but most of it will be on actual roads, and the roads aren't closed off either, though we are assured that there won't be much traffic. But yeah, two lanes of runners, with vehicles in the middle. What could go wrong?

There's about two-hundred of us full marathoners, maybe more. I'm not sure on the halflings. Big enough that there will be a continuous stream of folks, but not too chaotic. I hope.

My friend Katherine is here, for her third marathon, and all three have been within two months time. She's insatiable, even though now that school has started back up, she hasn't been running as much. Both of us are nursing injuries. I know, you might then ask, why are we running? Because we're marathoners, and as long as the pain isn't anything tearing, game on!

She's wearing her VFFs. While we're waiting around, a woman comes up and asks to take our picture. She and her husband recently read Born To Run, and she's amazed to actually find someone wearing huaraches, so she wants to send him some pics. She's got some Merrill Trail Gloves, and says they've changed her life. Katherine tells her about the Portland Barefoot Running Society FaceBook page, so hopefully they'll both sign up and come out for one of our meetups. Yay, new recruits!

There are some other 'zero drop' shoes around, and well as at least two other runners with VFFs. So, the minimalist contingent is well represented. I'm looking at the bike trail we'll be on for the first five miles or so, and man, it looks pretty smooth. But still wet, and cold, so I wuss out. Though the air temp is not that cold actually, and no rain, so off comes the shell, leaving me with a wicking long sleeve, and a long sleeve tech shirt over it, as well as running pants (trousers for you Aussies and Brits—NOT underwear).

Ok, time to start. The announcer encourages us to move to the Start line, but only a few hard core people go up to the actual line. The rest of us don't want to be mistaken for people who are actually fast. And, with a small race like this (though, side note: why is this race small???? It's in a freaking gorgeous place, not far from a big city, and didn't cost that much! And it didn't even fill up!) the announcer merely says, Go! And we go!

Ha. With an immediate uphill. But, well, that spreads out the pack pretty quick. And yeah, this bike path is smooth. But I'm already running. But I tell Katherine, “I'm gonna run this part barefoot when we come back.”

The view. Amazing. We are up towards the top of the south side, and can look down on Hood River (the town, and the river itself, which runs north from Mt. Hood), and then east and west along the Columbia, with some sun, but also wild-looking grey swirly clouds. And the leaves are turning: oranges and reds mixed in with the many shades of evergreens. Cool air on the face. Perfect weather. Man, why don't I come out here and explore more? Oh yeah, I don't have a car anymore. And, have been wanting to explore Portland, have a city experience. And, if the rain were pouring down I'd probably be less enthused. Though I don't know. The Gorge is just gorgeous any way I look at it. This may beat out Missoula as most beautiful marathon I've run.

I guess this race benefits the local high school cross country and track teams, so the aid stations are manned by future recruits to the marathon madness. No mob to get water either, we're all spread out now. I do have my Amphipod bottle though, just to be able to drink when I want.

So far neither Katherine's nor my injuries are bothering us. That'll come later, after the race. For now, just a good solid pace, the uphill behind us, and a long long downhill, out of the recreation area (not sure if it's a state park or part of a National Forest) and down into the small town (population 240!) of Mosher. And yeah, once on regular roads, the pavement gets rougher. I'm glad to have my huaraches at this point. I know I know, what happened to my badass days? Gone. The wussman cometh.

And we're on regular roads, with regular traffic. Or, well, actually the cars on the road seem to be friends and family of runners, so therefore going very slow. Many are parked on the main street of Mosher, and they're generously cheering on everyone. That's nice. We're not going to have much of that on this race. Nope, this is one of those 'get in your head zone' runs, unless you can talk with someone. I again feel bad that I'm not that talkative with Katherine, but she's got her iPod Mini and headbuds in, grooving. Though, we do have some short convos with people along the way, just people saying hello as we all lean into our first real big hill out of town.

Up up up. Not steep, no one is walking, but it goes for a while. This may not be my fastest marathon. And that's ok. Again, the view, the colors. Now that we're getting further east, the terrain is changing a bit, looking, to me, a bit like Idaho, with less thick woods, and more pines and open meadows. Also a bit like, to me, northern California, with the oak trees in those meadows. Bringing back memories of wildland firefighter days, but not unreasonable to see these things in this area. We are, after all, close to both Idaho and Northern California. Much different than back in Michigan, where I've been for some years. I'm much happier to be out here, back in the west!

And then a downhill, right where the halflings will be turning around at an aid station. And soon, can it be? Already? We start to see runners coming back the other way, on the other side of the road. Really? When we're just at Mile 7? That just doesn't seem right, and the people we're seeing don't seem to be running that fast, and don't like like the sleek marathoners one would normally see at the front. The only thing I can figure is that they're part of the 'early start' pack. But then more runners appear, and some of them do start to like like the emaciated marathon types, and they do seem to be running faster than I. So, I don't know. Odd. Maybe some people just decided to turn around? Like, 'Screw this!'

On the uphill to the turn around, Katherine tells me to go on ahead, that she's feeling the need to go a little slower. Ok. We will meet at the taco bar!

I speed up a little, but only a little. Enough to catch some people on this uphill. Yeah, fatigue is setting in for all of us. But coming up to Ravencrest Point, a small parking lot/scenic point, with an amazing view of the rolling hills to the east, I feel a little energized. I'm not alone. A young woman cheering us on, one of the cross country people I'm sure, yells out, “You guys are leaving here running faster! Amazing!' Ha ha, we'll see how long it lasts, mon amie.

I cross paths with Katherine who's just coming in, not that far behind. She's smiling, grooving on tunes. Man, when I ran my first marathon I had no clue that one could actually run more than one marathon in a year. I thought it took a year to recover and train for the next one!

Also here are two state highway workers manning flags out on the road. I nod to one guy and we share a smile. He sees my huaraches. “Damn man, you got the coolest shoes out here!'

I smile. “Thanks!”

Nibbling on raisins, I descend back into the long downhill. I'm feeling good. Keeping a steady pace. I've actually forgotten my watch, so have no idea of my time, which is kinda nice. Not that I'd want to be running any faster at this point. It'll be what it'll be. I'm just having fun.

Down down down. Up up up. And down down down into Mosher again. And here, when the bike path starts, I can resist no longer: off with the huaraches! Interestingly, I immediately start taking smaller strides. Or, ha ha, hardly a 'stride' with this hill. More like baby steps. But running still, and with no loss in speed. My cadence automatically increases. Something to remember: just how much even wearing huaraches changes my running style, with just a little bit more heel striking, I think.

But no one, or at least no one around me, is walking this hill. We all just keep on with the penguin waddle. I end up running with one woman who has run this marathon like eleven times. She seems like she's got plenty o' marathons under her belt, so I ask if she ran the recent Portland Marathon.

“No. I ran the 10K. I didn't train for it. But I didn't really train for this one either.”

“Yeah, if you've run enough marathons, it becomes more of a mental thing.”

“Exactly. You know you can finish. It's just a question of how much it'll hurt.”

She and I bump back and forth, then I bump back and forth with someone else. We're all strung out pretty far apart by now, but I find myself running faster on the downhill's than most of the shod folks. One guy, looks like some kind of military, passes me and says, “You're an animal!”

That's the kind of comment I like! Not like another guy that passes me, turns slightly and says, “I'm sure you've gotten plenty of comments about your feet, so I won't make one.”

Ok...can we get more passive-aggressive? But I just smile and say, “Alright.”

Man this is a long hill. But we eventually top out and start the long downhill all the way to town. We pass the Start line at the visitor center. The tent is still up and the youth are still cranking the PA music, though there's no aid station or anything. They're just hanging out.

And yeah, this downhill is pretty steep. Nice of the organizers not to make us run up this one. Too bad the halflings had to. I'm no longer running faster downhill than the shodheads, but at least I know I'm not alone in being in pain, with almost-exploding quads. And the pavement is now rougher again, but I'm not going back to huaraches. Barefoot to the end! Ouch! Ok, well, I'll run on this center line for a bit, until we get down into town, and we're flagged off onto the sidewalks. Ok, fine by me!

Zigging and zagging through the streets. Crossing Hood River once, then down by the freeway, and back across a pedestrian suspension bridge right at the river mouth, where the water is strong and brown and flowing fast. Almost there! I can see the park. But no, we zig to the left. Argh, we have to run around the city park first! Just let it end! And, it's on a gravel road! Nooooo! But, it's muddy! And soft! Ok! A little added pleasure of splashing through muddy puddles. No one around me. I speed up, not wanting to get passed at this point. A couple more turns and into a flagged off 'chute', on muddy grass. One guy ahead of me. Ok, sorry dude, but you just became my last goal. Must. Pass. Dude.

And I do, coming around a bend, in full on sprint over the great, no need to worry about small stride here!

And over the line. The announcer states, anti-climatically, “Good job John.”

We all get hand crafted medals, ceramic, locally made. No slaves in China were used. Nice touch.

I do some yoga stretches. The sky is now dark grey, and a slight drizzle has begun. I change into my dry clothes and go into the heated tent because, oh yes, that taco bar is calling my name. And, bonus: hot cider. I am kinda in heaven right now.

4:19. 90th overall. 9th in my age group. I'm a little disappointed, but hell, with those hills, I'll take it. I gotta get older though, so there's less dudes in my age category. The awards are starting, and two of the women I ran with, including the one who didn't train, have placed in their categories. Also cool: the woman who wins the 60+ age category, and she's the only woman in that category, finished before me, and does not look over 60. Overall winner for women ran it in 3:26 I think, and overall men's in 2:50-ish.

And Katherine zips in just before the deluge begins! She's hurting, but she finished! Third marathon ever! She too partakes of the holy taco bar. Up next? Seattle Marathon in about a month.

Now the long drive back to Portland, trying not to have all my muscles freeze up.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Run Like Hell! Half Marathon

I don’t know if I’m up for this half marathon. I wasn’t going to run it, due to just trying to watch my money, and pick and choose races (opting for marathons at this point) but someone offered their bib at the last minute, free, and I can’t argue with free, but it’s interesting: If I weren’t running this half, I’d be doing my weekly long run of 15-16 miles, though at a much slower pace. And, if I’m at all going to get serious about running another 100M next summer, maybe I should be putting in extra miles. But, a half marathon is an opportunity to get some speed work in. Or, speed for me. Faster than normal anyways, so using some different muscles. And again, free.

But my running buddy Katherine is running late, waiting for a third person who shall not be named. So I’m sitting here in my dark apartment, waiting, tired, wanting to just go back to sleep. Maybe I just haven’t had the time to mentally psych myself up for this.

Katherine and her shuttle van finally arrive. Yikes, we’re cutting it a little close. Race starts at 7:45 and it’s 7:10! But she zips us downtown and we park and get down to Pioneer Square, where the races start and end. The Half starts first, and the 10K starts a half hour or 45 minutes later. I’m not sure but there might be a 5K too. We get in line for the Honey Buckets, which is odd because, instead of lining out along a completely empty cordoned off road, people have lined out in the opposite direction, out onto Yamhill Road, which is not shut off at all, just doesn’t have traffic at this particular moment. Sheep. We’re all sheep.

Katherine and I get through the Honey Buckets quickly, but The Nameless One is taking a long long time. And, he’s left his bag with us. If he’d taken it, we could’ve just left. He’s running in the 10K so doesn’t seem to have a sense of urgency. When he finally gets out, we give him his bag, make quick vague arrangements on where to meet (“By the beer”) and zip over to the bag drop-off, for which there is also a line. Argh. Announcements are coming over the PA, telling Half runners to start lining up. In line, we briefly run into another member of the Portland barefoot contingent, Chris, who is also running the 10K. We’ll meet up with him later.

I finally get my bag checked, opting to keep my sweatshirt-ish thing for a second layer, because by the way, it’s raining. Yep, welcome to Portland. And it’s cold. And it’s not until we’re walking over to the starting area that I realize that I forgot to take off my huaraches and put them in the bag. Doh. Well, hell. I mean, I could carry them, and might even very well opt to use them on what I now know are the rough Portland roads, and if the weather were any nicer, I’d do that, but right now, the rain is coming down, my feet are freezing already, and I can’t imagine standing on wet pavement would feel any better. Ok, forget pride and principle: I’ll run this one shod, even though it’s overkill: I’m wearing my Luna Leadvilles, super thick rubber meant for longer distance and rough terrain. Well, since I don’t have to worry about road roughness, I have no excuse not to run fast. My goal? Under 1:50

But we are not starting on time. Instead, we are standing in the cold rain, unable to hear the announcers, who seem not to realize this. We should have started ten minutes ago. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to look around at the people, because by the way, this is a costume race! The theme this year is superheroes, and there are plenty. All kinds of Batmen and Batwomen, Supermen and Superwomen (or girls, there never was a Superwoman in the comics), and with some Flashes, Green Lanterns, Catwomen. The guy next to me is Wolverine. And, Portland being Portland, even more obscure stuff, like The Tick, the Ambiguously Gay Duo (two different duos), a group of Powderpuff Girls. Ninja Turtles. Superchicken. Lara Croft. Also, perhaps my favorite, a Hunter S. Thompson with a red cape, with the guy playing it in character.

And it’s not just superheroes: There’s a group of Rainbow Unicorns. A zombie family. A group of sharks. A woman dressed as a Tri-Met train. A Bullwinkle. I’m feeling a wee bit lame. The Nameless One is going as a Native American. Katherine is Dorothy. I’ve had Katherine draw a cat nose and whiskers on my face, so I can at least be a black cat. A tailless black cat. I don’t know, I’m just not an extrovert, though I love seeing everyone out and being fun and weird. Especially, holy yowza Batman, there’s a rocking sexy Zorro woman, with half her fake breasts hanging out. I love Halloween: the only time of the year when woman can dress as sexy as they really want to, without damage to their reputations. Or dress silly. The guys just look silly though. Guy in Superman outfit? Silly. Woman in superman outfit? Hot.

Ok, finally! We start! North at first, around downtown, then south on Naito Parkway. Still raining, though some sun starting to appear to the east. My Leadvilles are ok. Definitely don’t have to worry about what I’m stepping on. I’m trying to maintain good running form, though running faster than normal, and therefore can’t help but have a longer stride. They’re at least not slippery when wet, that new custom lace Luna makes really keeps the soles tight against the feet, without any discomfort. I am slapping a lot though.

I’ve seen a few Vibram Five Fingers in the crowd. People seem as freaked out by my huaraches than if I were barefoot, with a few snide ‘Ouch’ comments, and one guy, on passing, seeing the 50K on my sweatshirt, asks kind of passive-aggressively, “You don’t run ultras in sandals, do you?”

I just stare ahead and say, “Yes.” I don’t know what people expect me to say to a question phrased that way. But, here I am getting grumpy, when really, I’m feeling good. The rain has stopped, the sun is even coming out, I’m warmed up. I’ve lost Katherine. One of her ankles has been bothering her, and we had already planned to separate pretty quickly. I hope she’s ok though. We’re going to be running the Columbia Gorge Marathon next weekend!

The route takes us up, up into the hills, above PSU, near the VA, with some nice paved bike/running trails in the trees, along quiet roads. I’ll have to come back up here and explore sometime. In fact, wow, this is a long uphill. But now we ‘peak out’ and head down Tewilliger (I think? sp?). I try to let gravity do its work, and let myself be pulled fast downhill, but really I’ve been going pretty fast already (for me) and I can kind of feel it in the feets—slapping them down hard. And the road here isn’t that bad at all. I think I really could have run this barefoot with no cost to my speed. Even the rougher road parts have had convenient paint strips that I could have utilized. Well, the Leadvilles are still not slipping, and it’s a good opportunity to try them out in another kind of way.

Somewhere in here we’ve gone halfway. I check my watch. Under fifty minutes. Ok, good, that puts me under two hours for sure, and probably around my usual 1:45. I was wondering about the long uphill, how it would affect my time, but this long downhill helps make up for it.

Back up Naito Parkway the other way, waving hello to the homeless people who slept under the overpasses. What must they think of all this? Decadent middle-class luxury.

The weather is much better. Sun! Too bad everyone’s clothes are now soaked, especially costumes. Plenty of people with sopping wet capes clinging to their backs. Ick.

At this point, the 10K course comes in from the west and joins up with us, which is a little....not annoying, not frustrating, but....after running 10 miles, I’m feeling weary, and here come all these super fast runners whizzing by.

But wait, can it be? Yes, a train is actually crossing the road, and everyone is forced to just stop and wait. Wow. That’s some good planning for the course. The timing company has put some timing pads before and after the tracks, so supposedly they can erase the wait time off of our official time, but having to stop and wait kind of sucks something out of everyone mentally. Or, it does to me, because now all those people I passed in the last mile have caught up and are in front of me again. Good thing the train was really important: just four engines linked together, going very very sloooowly. As soon as they pass, runners are zipping under the lowered gates, lights still flashing.

Some twists and turns through downtown, and suddenly from 4 miles to go we’re at 1.1 miles to go! Ok John, time to kick out the jams. Finish strong!

Pass pass pass. Weird to see some people actually walking at this point, just physically kaput. or probably mentally. But they’re so close! I want to say to them, just keep jogging! Baby steps! Penguin waddle in!

There’s the finish! Same as the start. The course is now kind of crowded as we get narrowed down and the halfers and 10Kers mush together. I have to do some more whipping and dipping like at the beginning. Not a full on sprint, no room for that, nor maybe inclination, but at least still strong to the end.

Et voilĂ , le fin! Check the watch: 1:44. Ok, cool, I’ll take that. That’s about my average. Good to know I still got it.

Festivities are going on in Pioneer Park. A band playing, the whole area crowded, with people enjoying their two free IPA beers for finishing, plus veggie chili (I love Portland that way) and whole grain bread slices. Still cold. I get my bag and take off my wet top layers, which helps. And, I eventually come across Chris, who directs me over to the Barefoot table. He and the Nameless One have been there a while, and I get to meet another member of the Portland BRS, Daniel, dressed at a Hawaiian dancer, with coconut bra and everything. And Katherine eventually comes in, though nursing that hurting ankle. Still, she finished.

We hang around for the race awards, then the costume awards, hosted by The Joker, who is funny, and people’s costumes are funny. Seriously, only in Portland. Maybe San Francisco I suppose, but for example, the Detroit Marathon always happens around Halloween, and costumes are suggested, but most people don’t dress up. They’re boring like me. I guess I need to be less boring. Next year. Maybe I can finally indulge all those crossdressing fantasies I’ve had.

The costume contests are ok, but I’m cold, and sore, and tired of standing up. It’s been a good day so far, but I’m ready to get on to other things. The good thing about a half-marathon (versus a full) is that one can actually have the rest of the day and not be bed-ridden with fatigue. And so, we all say goodbye and head out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Portland Marathon!

The weather continues to be fantastic here in Portland, in the first week of October. Someday soon it’ll get rainy, but right now we have another clear day. Still a little dark here downtown, the sun just starting to rise, as we gather in our corrals for the start of the Portland Marathon. I’m in shorts, and I soon ditch my sweatshirt to the bag check volunteers (note: a separate bag check in each corral is a great idea!) leaving me in just one wicking shirt, and yes, a little chilly, but not unreasonably so, and we’ll soon be warming up.

I’m also barefoot, which normally (though what is normal when barefoot running is involved?) wouldn’t be a...doubt, I guess, though in my couple months here in Portland so far, I’ve found that the roads, the actual pavement, not the sidewalks, seems to be a little rough, to the point where I was considering at least carrying my huaraches in a drink pouch, if the roughness got to the point where it was affecting my normal speed. But, yesterday, I happened to run with Barefoot Todd, up from California, and joining our Portland Barefoot Runners meet-up. He’s run twenty zillion marathons barefoot and said that this course is “very barefoot friendly.” So, with that advice, I’m just going barefoot, no backup, come what may.

I’m joined once again by my new running buddy here, Katherine, who I conned into running the Forest Park Marathon only two weeks ago. Her first! And here she is again, for more long-distance torture and merriment. She’s wearing her VFFs, and we’ve already spotted a couple other VFFers in the crowd.

Our corral is one of the later-starting ones, which we are kind of committed to (the marathon police are pretty strict around here) and though we both think we could bump up to an earlier starting one, the advantage of being back here is that we’ll be passing people most of the race: a good psychological boost.

The corrals are sectioned off in kind of a circle to the start line, so we’re not even in a long line, and can hardly hear the official start. As our block of folks moves up to the start, I’m surprised at the...lack of festiveness. No loud PA cranking inspiring music. The announcer is just a guy kind of standing off to the side, with no real announcements, except when he comes on a man and woman at the head of our pack dressed in a tuxedo and a wedding dress: they’re going to get married at Mile 20! That’s awesome. I generally disapprove of marriage, but if you have to, that’s the way to do it.

And without much ado, some volunteers lower the rope in front of us, and we’re off! And we can actually run right from the start, since we waited a bit after the previous group, so there’s space for the faster folks to take off. Which we do.

Hard to stay together and pass people, since other slower people are clustering in their own groups, so Katherine and I kind of duck and weave around people as we all loop around downtown and out to Naito Parkway, the main road that runs along the Willamette River on the west. There’s actually a riverwalk type park, with a bike path, etc, but we’re out on the road, and since this section is a quick out and back heading south, we get to see the leaders of the pack coming back on the left. All the skinny guys (and soon some gals) with no body fat. I tell Katherine that I keep waiting for all my extra body fat to fall away, and she says, ‘You mean you wish you were young again?’

“Um, yeah....”

Anyways, watching them, I feel like there’s some kind of optical illusion going on, because they don’t seem to be going that fast. Certainly not an all out sprint. I guess it’s because they’re so relaxed-looking, when actually they’re probably hauling ass.

As I suspected/feared, the pavement is a little on the rough side. So I’m doing my best to seek out the painted lines, either in the middle of the road or the side, which sometimes requires some whipping and dipping and passing. Katherine is better off, and in fact is helpful in pointing out lines for me, going into what I’ll soon call ‘pilot fish mode,’ swinging back and forth on either side of me depending where I need to run. Although we ended up separating towards the end of the last marathon, this one we’re hoping to stay together on, if only because finding each other at the end might be impossible. Though seriously, it’s good to have someone I know, who’s the same speed and ability, and also a barefoot/minimalist runner!

We head north up into the industrial area for another short out and back. And on the way back, we come upon another barefooter! I don’t recognize him, he hasn’t been at any of the BF meet-ups, so must be going rogue. I try to ironically say to him, ‘Hey, nice shoes!’ but I’m not sure he sees that I’m barefoot, and so does what I might do, go into defensive mode, thinking I’m making fun of him. In any case, doesn’t seem in the mood to chat, which I respect. Much focus is needed running on this rough pavement, and he doesn’t even seem to be using the paint lines.

We also come upon someone in huaraches. They look huge on him, so I ask as I pass if they’re homemade, but no, he says they’re Lunas. So with the VFF wearers we’ve seen, we barefoot/minimalistas are fairly represented.

At this point the half-marathoners split off and head back into downtown, while the rest of us take a right and head north again. Oddly, at least for me, because I didn’t know until like two days ago, the route is actually going up into my neighborhood, to within a block of my apartment. Unfortunately, I don’t have to go to the bathroom. Seems a waste not to take advantage of being able to use my own actual bathroom. But then I’d probably want to stop and get a drink and toast a bagel and lie down for a little bit, so maybe it’s better this way.

We lope down onto the Mt. Hood road, which I think is also Highway 30 at this point (? I’m still learning the territory) which is where the Hood To Coast race come through. Was that only like six weeks ago? Seems like a lifetime already. I’ve had so many adventures here in Portland! If you’re reading this, drop everything and move here!

And now for a little uphill, as we all head to the St. John’s Bridge. Katherine and I are both pretty strong trail runners, so while everyone else starts walking, we bag dozens of ‘roadkills’ (H2C slang for passing someone), and as an added bonus, I can jump up on the sidewalk. Ah...nice smooth cement.

And wow, the view from the bridge is just amazing. All of Portland visible in the early morning light, with the huge Willamette River heading north to join up with the huger Columbia River. Perhaps even more beautiful: the stream of runners on either side. All these fit people give me faith in humanity. They could be home watching Dancing With The Stars on TiVo, eating Doritos, but no, they’re out here, challenging themselves. And, we’re challenging each other. A tribe, out for the big mammoth hunt. Or something like that....

We take a right and start our way back south, via neighborhood roads, and this is where the first real large groups of spectators appear. I’m of course getting lots of ‘good job barefooter!’ comments, which is nice. It may be my imagination, but I swear that here (versus back in Michigan) I’m getting less, basically none, passive-aggressive comments, or those comments from people twenty feet behind who sorta kinda think you can’t hear them when they say, ‘That’s crazy!’ Instead, I feel like that, while people are still noting my barefootedness, it’s more either as an observation, or as a compliment. I guess it’s that, here in Portland, I’m just another weirdo. Which is nice.

Also, some of the comments I hear are, ‘There’s another barefoot runner!’ So I think there’s yet another rogue barefooter out here. An actual fast one.

The road continues to be rough. Ok, well John, time to just suck it up. But note to self: never believe what California barefoot runners say about road barefoot friendliness. And/or, California barefoot runners might all just be super badasses.

But, the good news is that from here on into downtown, it’s mostly downhill! And Katherine and I still seem to be placed well in the pack. We’re now more with people of our speed and ability, still passing some folks. Not being passed much has been nice. And, now that we’re at Mile 20, people are starting to stop and walk and/or stretch. The Wall has begun. This is where the mental strength comes in. And gotta give Katherine credit, she’s sticking with it. I think if I weren’t here she’d be going a little slower. Though, hell, the reverse might be true as well: I’m feeling pretty stiff and sore. Without her here as my pilot fish, I might go into my trudge zone. Having someone with me gives me this sense of responsibility. Like, I gotta help her finish! Unasked for I know, and she may at this point be thinking, ‘Goddammit, I just wish he’d get the hell away from me so I could freaking slow down!’ But neither of us is quite into ‘penguin waddle’ mode, we’re still running, if slowly and stiffly.

By the way, someone has thrown rose pedals in the road, so I think the wedding has happened, or it happening, but I don’t ever see the actual ceremony. Good luck to both of you! Don’t think about the fact that half of all marriages now end in divorce. La la la!

A slight uphill gets us onto the Broadway Bridge, with another great view of the city, and over into downtown. Weirdly, suddenly, we seem to have gone from Mile 20, to now Mile 25. That went fast. I guess the pain helped distract me. Katherine is right with me. I’m actually more excited about her finishing than me finishing. The streets are lined with people now, though all mostly quiet, just looking for people they know. So, uncharacteristically for me, I raise my hands to get them to make some noise. And they respond, roaring. With some ‘Go barefoot runner!’ yells as well. Whew. How embarrassing would it have been if they’d ignored me? But the crowd roar is nice, carrying us through to, yep, there it is, the Finish line!

4:19 for both of us. I’ll take it! Whew, I’m tired, though we both pass the visual inspection from the medical folks waiting for us, looking for people who may be about to pass out. We collect out shiny medals, our finisher t-shirts (another great idea!), plus a memorial coin and bracelet charm (wtf?)(don’t think about how all this stuff was made in China by slave labor—just don’t think about it) and filter along the food tables, though really, once we collapse on the sidewalk with everyone else for a little bit, and can walk somewhat normally, what we really are craving is a late breakfast of ginger pancakes. Onward to our victory feast!