I walked the Portland Marathon today, though the last few miles almost killed me. Pam asked for a race report, so I’m going to write one, even though this was far from a “race”. (Pam is an ultramarathoner and just completed a hundred-mile run, so a marathon is nothing to her. She would have finished second.)

In 2008 and 2009, I’ve spent my April through June training to run the marathon, but I keep getting hurt. My injury this year healed at the end of August, and it occurred to me that although it was too late to train to run the course, maybe I could walk it. Since I’ve been trying to walk 5-10 miles every day this summer, I decided to give it a go. I registered.

Last week, I put out a call for volunteers to walk with me and got three offers to help. So this morning, promptly at 7 am, I lined up to walk the marathon. (As I was waiting to start, I realized I had forgotten to eat breakfast. How stupid is that? Answer: Pretty damn stupid — but it didn’t seem to matter.)

My companions today included:

  • The redoubtable Chris Guillebeau, who writes one of the best damn blogs on the internet. Chris walked with me from the start to mile nine. He also carried my pack for me and paced me to roughly 15:15 miles, which was awesome.
  • Chris left me at mile nine to run home (literally) to his wife, Jolie, and Paul and Tiffany stepped in to take his place for five miles. They left me just after mile 14.
  • Mackenzie Smith, the master of getting fit slowly, joined me at mile 18 and stuck with me to the very end, putting up with my whining in an admirably stoic fashion. I couldn’t have finished the race without him.

How did I do? Well, when I walk through my neighborhood — reading books as I go — I average a 17-minute mile. That seemed like a reasonable target, so my goal was a seven hour, 26 minute marathon. I actually finished in 6:54:07.

My chip time was actually 7:01:25. Because there can be a 15-minute delay between when the first runner and the last walker cross the starting line, every marathon participant wears a microchip. At various intervals on the course, there are mats to record your progress. This chip time is your official time. But chip time doesn’t account for bathroom breaks, stopping to change socks, etc. My GPS watch automatically pauses when I stop to do any of these things, so that’s the time I use. It really doesn’t matter, though. Whether my time is 6:54:07 or 7:01:25, I’m proud of finishing.


Here are my official results:

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Look at that! I finished 13th from bottom for my age and gender. You know what? I don’t give a damn. Here’s the data directly from my GPS watch:

Click to view larger image in new window.


You’ll note that my GPS watch clocks a distance of 26.54 miles, which is longer than the 26.2 miles in a marathon. There are several reasons for this:

  • My watch (a Garmin Forerunner 305) consistently overreports distance.
  • I’m sure I didn’t follow the optimal “line” through the course.
  • I left the course from time-to-time to use the portapotties and to swap foot gear.
  • I forgot to turn off the watch after I crossed the finish line. I spent a couple of minutes wandering the finishers’ area before I realized my mistake.

For my purposes, I choose to go with the 6:54:07 finish time, but use a 26.2 mile distance. Strange? Perhaps, but that’s fine.

How did the race go? It was the best of time, it was the worst of times.

Chris Guillebeau walked with me for the first nine miles. He spurred me ahead while we talked about blogging and world travel. I had a great time. The first mile wandered through downtown, up Salmon to Broadway to Davis. After a mile, we turned south on Front. We walked south on Front for about two miles, including a modest incline. At about 3.5 miles, we turned and headed back north on Front. This entire time, we aimed for a 15:15 pace, which was well ahead of the 17-minute pace I was aiming for.

The ninth mile looks a little slow, but that’s because it includes a portapotty break.

At mile nine, the course doubled back on itself, heading back down Front. Chris left to run home, and I was joined by Paul and Tiffany. Their fresh legs pushed me to some solid times. We walked briskly and chatted about life. They invited me to dinner tonight, but I declined. I told them that if I finished, I was going to eat chicken wings with Mac. They left me after five miles, just past the 14-mile marker.

By this time, my feet were sore. Very sore. I’d brought two pairs of socks, and had already tried all possible permutations with them, but there was no doubt that I had terrible blisters on both heels and on my right pinky toe. I pushed on, trying to ignore the pain.

From mile 14 to mile 18, I walked alone. To distract myself, I posted to Twitter and Facebook (yes, really) and listened to high-intensity dance tunes. Though my mental stamina was flagging, I kept at it. I marched up the appraoch to the St. John’s Bridge (mile 16), passing tons of walkers. I was having a good time. On the way down the bridge, I even jogged a little.

But by mile 18, my mental and physical reserves were beginning to flag. My feet were killiing me. How could I last another 8.2 miles?

How? With the support of Mackenzie Smith. Mac joined me at about mile 18, and he kicked my ass. As I whined about my ailments — “oh my feet”, “oh my shins”, “do you have any ibuprofen? any hydrocodone?” — he just kept on walking. At first, he let me set the pace. But when I started to flag — and boy did I start to flag — he walked slightly ahead of me, tacitly goading me to keep up.

Mac and I were fortunate to have two long downhill sections, and we jogged down both of them. Because I was wearing street clothes (yes, really), I looked foolish jogging, but I didn’t reall care. The change of pace felt like heaven on my feet. (You can’t really see our first jog because it’s absorbed in miles 21 and 22. But you can see the second jog in mile 23. I did a 13:27 mile! That’s about what I would have aimed for if I’d run the marathon.)

During the last couple of miles, I was in dark black place. If Mac hadn’t been there, I would not have finished. My feet hurt like hell. But Mac was there, and I did finish.

After the race, I took off my shoes and socks. I had gigantic blisters on both heels, as well as various other blisters around my feet. (Some are actually double blisters.) As Mac watched me put my shoes on, he stopped me.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “How tight do you have those tied?”

“Pretty tight,” I said. I showed him.

Mac laughed. “Dude, you need to loosen the laces. No wonder you’re in such pain.” I loosened the laces. The pain wasn’t gone, but my feet felt much better. I realized he was right. No wonder I was in such agony.

According to my “body bug” fitness monitor, I burned just under 3500 calories during the marathon. Some of you will understand that 3500 calories is roughly a pound of body weight. By walking a marathon, I only lost a pound. Good grief.

I always say that I take about 2000 steps per mile. I walked 26.54 miles today. According to my pedometer, I took 53,208 steps. That’s about 2005 steps per mile. Eerie, huh?


As I write this at 6pm, I’ve burned 4844 calories. I’ll end up having burned about 5500 calories for the day. Cool, huh? That makes up for the chicken wings I had with Mac, and the pork rinds and alcohol I consumed since returning home. But you know what? It’s nothing compared to the contestants on The Bigger Loser. The women aim to burn 6000 calories per day, and the men aim for 8000. Yes, they’re much larger than I am, but still…

Anyhow, I’m proud to have finished this race, but I’m glad I can cross this off my life goals list. I’d still like to run a marathon sometime, but it won’t be next year. Maybe in 2011?

Footnote: Call me crazy, but hours after finishing the race, I’m still wearing the finishers’ medal around the house, even though I’m all by myself this weekend. I think I’ll even wear it to bed. (I plan to go to sleep early.) Update: Did wear it to bed. Still wearing it the next morning…

23 Replies to “2009 Portland Marathon Race Report”

  1. Jenny says:

    Well done! I really enjoyed keeping up with you today on twitter. 🙂

  2. Amy Jo says:

    Wear the medal in the tub, wear the medal to bed, wear it where you want, you deserve it! Congrats. This is a quite an accomplishment, and I am happy to hear that you had companions to help you when you were fledgling. I would have loved to have joined you, but I would have slowed you down . . . I can only manage a 3.5 mile per hour pace.

  3. Pam says:

    JD – Congratulations and great job! So glad Mac was there to give you the support you needed because it is obvious that finishing meant a lot to you (and it should!). Bask in the afterglow…you’ll be too sore to do it tomorrow!

    ps – love the second place joke!

  4. jdroth says:

    I just noticed that I used a lot of damns in this post. I guess after a long walk, I don’t give a damn about swearing. (As Mac knows, my language turned pretty foul there toward the end of the race.)

  5. jdroth says:

    Also, @Amy Jo I surprised myself with my pace. When I walk through the neighborhood, my pace is about 3.5mph too.

  6. Four Pillars says:

    That’s pretty neat. I’ve never heard of walking a marathon but it is a good idea. I’ve love to run a marathon but knee problems have prevented me from being motivated to train. I could probably do it (even with the knee) but it wouldn’t be pleasant. Maybe walking is a good alternative.

  7. Amy Jo says:

    Flagging not fledgling. Note to self: Don’t write comments while trying to have a conversation with someone.

  8. Amy Jo says:

    Paul has some suped-up ibuprofen if you need it tomorrow . . .

  9. luneray says:

    Congrats, JD! Maybe I”ll walk a marathon this spring…hmmm…

    The only thing I’m surprised about is that you wore street clothes. I figured that would get too hot after awhile.

  10. Kris B. says:

    You are awesome!

  11. Congrats on finishing the marathon! The last few miles are a killer! A few weeks ago we did a walk to cure breast cancer (30KM walk) my feet still hurt 🙂

  12. Lauren says:

    Great race report… and quite a natty outfit, young marathoner! 🙂 I’m glad that your discussing Mac being a benefit to your finishing really supported a recent article about ‘training in groups’ (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/health/nutrition/17best.html?_r=1&ref=health)

    Good on ya, JD! Yay! What’s your next conquer?

  13. Lisa says:

    On Friday, I tried The Biggest Loser cardio workout video for the first time. Three days later, I’m still incredibly sore. It’s excruciatingly impressive…

    Congrats on finishing the marathon. Even walking it is a really big deal!

  14. This is the best damn marathon writeup ever! Hilarious — and all true, as I can attest to at least the first nine miles.

    Seriously, this is a great accomplishment and you deserve to wear the medal everywhere you go. I’m sure everyone in France and Italy will appreciate seeing it this time next year.


  15. Sean says:

    I notice on your GPS watch your max speed was 15 mph…wow…talk about speed walking!

  16. jdroth says:

    @Sean (#15)
    Yeah, I don’t know where that maxspeed came from. Note that it comes in the last half mile of the course. I guarantee you that my slowest times were achieved during this last half mile, not my fastest times. The only explanation I have is that the watch “dropped” its connection to the satellite for a moment (which happens) as I passed under the Burnside Bridge, and the satellite registered this as a burst of lightning speed on my part…

    Re-reading this post, I’m embarrassed by all of the typos. There are a ton of them. I was tired when I wrote it. I’ll proof-read it more closely tonight. Right now, I need to finish the first chapter of my book! 🙂

  17. Mom says:

    Sorry I’m late on this, J.D., but I was thinking about you and the marathon before, during and after! I like that picture of you — you look very natty, if you don’t mind the description. How are your feet by now? I agree with everyone else — wear the medal wherever you want. 26.2 miles walking and with blistered feet yet at the end is nothing to sneeze at! In fact, it’s pretty damn good! 😉

  18. Bobby Piles says:

    You turned up for a marathon wearing street clothes, and forgot to have breakfast beforehand? No wonder you finished in 7:01:25 ! Well done… but I don’t think I’ll be turning to you for financial advice, if this is how you plan your life events 😉

  19. rachel says:

    i’ve been wearing my medal under my shirt at work for the last 2 days and probably will for the rest of the week.

  20. Craig says:

    Have u considered running barefoot or with minimal shoes to help you strengthen your feet and avoid injuries? I just read Born to Run.

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