Let’s be real. Who in their right mind races a hilly 9.3 miles at the crack of down in the cold, wind, and rain as a rust buster out of winter training year after year? It’s a Portland thing, apparently.
Last weekend I raced the Shamrock 15K Challenge for the fifth time since moving to Portland in 2009. It was my first race back after taking almost two months off this winter due to pneumonia. While the couple of months of training leading up to the race had been going well, I knew my fitness wasn’t where it was when I ran my personal best in the same event last year. Still, I love racing Shamrock year after year, and I wanted to get out there and see what I could do. Plus I wanted to add another goofy St. Paddy’s Day theme finishers medal/bottle opener to my ever growing collection.
Waking up the morning of the race was rough. I had set my alarm for 4am because the race was at 7:30 and I like having a few hours to eat breakfast and wake up before racing. Not only was that so early, but daylight savings began that day so it really felt like 3am! My body was so confused! I peeked out my window to see that it was pitch black outside and raining heavily. Joy! I had my usual pre-race breakfast and coffee, but instead of energizing me it just made me feel full and sleepy. At one point I laid down on the carpet next to my cat and considered going back to sleep then and there. It was then that I smacked myself in the face a few times, dragged myself off the floor, and started blasting Gwen Stefani on Spotify. I had a race to run!
Walking out my front door into a dark, spooky, steady rain was probably the most difficult part of the day. I would be drenched before even starting the race. As I jogged toward the start on Naito Parkway, I finally started to warm up and not focus so much on the weather. I’m used to running in the rain, and since when was that the most terrible thing? I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad workout or race because of rain. Wind, maybe. This was going to be fiiine.
I ran into some friends at the start line and we exchanged our time and pace goals, hoping to find a bud to pair off with. My goal was to finish under an hour, but would be happy with a pace of 6:30 per mile, equal to a 1:00:35 finish. After taking a moment for a youth choir to sing the national anthem (without the mics or speakers working… because rain), we were off!
My official plan was to go out kind of fast in the first two miles because the course was flat at that point. I hoped to bank a little bit of time before facing the rolling hills up Broadway and Terwilliger. Elevation chart for reference:
Considering race day adrenaline and getting swept up by the hundreds of runners around me, I anticipated my “fast” would be maybe around 6:00 flat for the first mile. In reality, I went through in 6:30. Oh dear. That indicated to me that I was nowhere near the shape I thought I was in. I told myself that the race was just for fun anyway and if I needed to jog it in to the finish that would be okay. Yeah, I gave up that easily. From that point I just stopped looking at my watch and ran.
The uphill climb began on Broadway. Hills have never been my strong suit, but I tried to maintain the rhythm of my breath and cadence. Those running within my vicinity began to pull away and I let them. This happened every year- I was used to it! We had several more miles of hills ahead of us and I was in no hurry. Toward the end of Broadway though, around mile three, the tide turned. The runners that had gotten away from me earlier were slowly coming back. Rather, I was catching up. This most certainly had not happened in past years. A particular group including three women that had lost me about a mile before were suddenly within reach. I ran with them for a bit then continued to sail on by.
After that little boost of confidence, I continued to zip right up the hills of Terwilliger, passing men and women left and right until settling into a comfortably hard pace. All the while still going uphill. The next three miles or so took their toll as I was seriously sucking air. My heart was pounding through the roof. This also happened every year. My lungs couldn’t handle the intake and it was beginning to sound like I was giving a demonstration of those old school breathing methods to use while giving birth. “Hee, hee, hooo!” with an occasional “HA!” It was pretty embarrassing.
I turned my focus to a new short term goal, which was to catch the next woman in front of me, up about 50 feet. She was quite petite and ran in quick, short strides. It seemed that every time I closed the gap between us a little, she’d pull away again. It might have had something to do with my obnoxious breathing. I didn’t exactly have the element of surprise on my side.
I began to hear a low drone in the distance, which could only mean one thing- the bagpipe players were near! They were stationed at the highest point of the course, meaning it would be all downhill from there. As I dashed by the kilt-clad bagpipers, the road finally dipped down and I was finally able to catch my breath and let gravity do its thing.
After the next turn onto Barbur Boulevard I began to gain on the woman I had been trying so hard to catch up to. Now that we were going downhill, I had a major advantage- my height! I opened up my stride and with each step I covered just a little more ground than she did. I strode past her along with a guy with long hair and tattoos I had been chasing all the way up Terwilliger.
There was really no way of letting up from the downhill momentum over the next couple of miles. I also couldn’t get my legs to physically turn over any faster. A few guys passed by me like it was nothing and even shouted at me to “C’mon!” and “Keep moving!” I tried, but felt totally maxed out. I ran my seventh mile in 5:38, and later calculated I ran the last 5K of the race under 18 minutes. My 5K PR is 18:13! The road finally evened out as it merged into the homestretch on Naito Pkwy. I had lost the momentum of the hill but the finish line was looming near. As I got closer I could make out the number on the digital clock, which read 59:xx and counting. I still actually had a shot at finishing under an hour! I pumped my arms hard and kicked it in across the line with five seconds to spare. Official time, 59:55! It was more than I could have asked for. I couldn’t stop smiling all the way through the finisher area.
Some valuable feedback from the race:
- Incorporating more hills into my every day runs paid off. I’ve never felt so strong on the uphill portion of Shamrock.
- A race can totally be salvaged even if the morning routine or the first couple of miles don’t go perfectly.
- I’d like to think nutrition and core work played a role in how quickly I bounced back after time off this winter. That was all the encouragement I needed to keep it up.
- Must work on leg speed!
Speaking of, I entered the Willamette Invitational 5000 this Saturday, March 26th! Now to translate that downhill 5K onto the track…