As eager runners crowded into the corralled start area of the Houston Marathon, I stepped off to the side, took a deep breath, and removed my fleece hoodie which had been my only protection from the wind and cold. I looked ahead at the shivering, lanky runners bunched together tightly; partly to be as close to the starting line as possible, but also to keep each other warm. I ran up and squeezed in to join them. We were like a colony of penguins huddled together in a tundra.
Prologue: The Fall
On Thursday, November 7th, just after 4:00am in the Nantahala National Forest of North Carolina, I climbed my way up a steep, rocky trail to the top of Albert Mountain. It was cold, dark, and the wind was howling. My headlamp and the flashlight I was carrying lit the way, though I could only ever really see a few feet in front of me since the trail, essentially made up of giant rock steps, was so steep. When I reached the summit I shined my lights on the legs of the fire tower rising up before me. In daylight there would be a fantastic, sweeping view of the forested landscape to take in, but all I could see was dark and mist. I couldn’t linger long anyway; I’d planned to travel north as far as I could until the weather turned bad, which it was predicted to do later that morning.
I kicked off Boston Marathon training in January with an interval workout on the Portland waterfront. It was one of those perfect nights for running. Cool, dark, and windless. I used to run the waterfront at night all the time, but between starting a running club and coaching a high school cross country and track team, it’s incredibly rare if I run alone at all. I found myself a little on-edge, partly because of the looming workout, and partly out of uneasiness. Will there be any other runners or cyclists out there? Will I attract attention? Will anyone bother me? It was my first workout back since running CIM in December, so no real expectations. This made it all the more surprising when I looked down at my watch during the first rep and it read 5:17/mile pace. It was only for a minute, but still! Maybe it was the hyper awareness of my surroundings and being alone, maybe it was the anticipation and excitement of running fast, but I felt ready to charge.
Two weeks since running CIM, yet I’ve barely been able to stop. On the one hand, that race was everything. Not a day went by in 2018 when I didn’t think about the impending journey from Folsom to Sacramento. On the other hand, it was just another Sunday in the swirl of work and general busyness. Time management has never been my forte, yet somehow I just barely squeeze it all in, imperfections be damned. If marathoning is any sort of reflection on life, that was the picture I painted with this one.
My pursuit of marathon greatness has been a tumultuous path, to say the least. I began 2018 in an upward swing, running one PR after another in the mile, 5K, 10K, and half marathon. I had a seemingly perfect build up to the Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in June, pictured above, only to have a bad day for what seemed like no reason at all. I shook it off and spent the remainder of the summer “playing” at running, entering just-for-fun races like the Portland vs Seattle Relay (we won!), the off-the-grid urban race Take the Bridge Portland (I got 2nd!), Ragnar Relay NW Passage (we won!), and the Dual Duel 10K on the track (I won!). I spent a nice chunk of time not running at all and road tripping around Norway, dreaming of what the next chapter might bring.