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?’
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!