2009 Portland Marathon Race Report

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:


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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…

Walk With Me

On my 38th birthday, I made a list of 101 goals that I wanted to accomplish in 1001 days. I last updated my progress on this list at the beginning of July.

One of the goals that means the most to me is “complete a marathon”. I’m not sure why, but I have it in my head that this is a major Life Achievement. Ideally, I’d run a marathon. In the real world, however, I keep getting injured. So far, running hasn’t been an option.

However, I realized a couple of weeks ago that after walking 5-10 miles nearly every day this summer, I just might be in shape to walk a marathon. So I signed up. This Sunday, I’ll be walking the Portland Marathon.

Chris Guillebeau plans to accompany me for part of the course (up to ten miles, he says). This is awesome. Walking and talking with Chris will be an excellent way to pass the time. I would love to walk and talk with you, too. If you’re free on Sunday and want to walk a mile or two with me, let me know. We’ll make arrangements.

Some quick facts:

  • The marathon starts at 7am in downtown Portland. It winds through downtown, then heads up across the St. Johns Bridge before returning to downtown.
  • I intend to walk the entire route. I had entertained the notion of running and walking, but I’m not going to do it. This is all walking.
  • I walk at an average pace. I expect to do approximately 17-minute miles. At this pace, I’ll complete the marathon in 7-1/2 hours. This sounds perfect.

So, how about it? Anyone want to join me for a mile or two — or twelve? Mac? Pam? Andy? Tiffany? Craig? Lisa? Lane? Walk with me!

Best. Summer. Ever.

I had lunch with my friend/colleague Mike today. He told me that his income has really taken a nose-dive this year. His family has had to cut back. He told me that despite the lower income, he’s made some changes to his lifestyle in order to emphasize the things that are actually important to him.

“You know what?” he said. “I’m happier. I’m really so much happier.” Mike and his wife have spent a lot of time discussing the Ideal Lifestyle. They’re asking themselves: In a perfect world — if money weren’t an issue — what would their life look like? And they’re trying to make that a reality.

I nodded in agreement as I listened to Mike’s story. I was suddenly able to articulate something I’ve been feeling lately. “Actually,” I said, “I’m happy now, too. This may have been the best summer of my entire life.

“Tell me about it,” Mike said. So I did.

I’m finally getting my workload under control. I love to write. I love maintaining my personal-finance blog. But I did not love the 80 hour weeks. Those have declined this summer, thanks in part to bringing on two staff writers. In fact, my actual obligation at the site has been reduced from about ten posts per week to about two post per week. I’m still doing work that I love, but now I have time for other stuff.

For example, I’m getting regular exercise for the first time since 1998. (That was the summer I rode over 1500 miles on my bike.) My goal is to walk at least five miles every day — and I’m doing it. I’m averaging about 35 miles per week. At least five days a week, I walk on my errands. And as I walk, I read. (I’m very talented, eh?) So, I’m killing three birds with one stone:

  • I’m running my errands.
  • I’m reading for pleasure (for the first time in years).
  • I’m getting exercise.

I’ve also begun to see more of my friends. For the past few years, my life has been Get Rich Slowly. That dedication proved to be financially and professionally rewarding, but I had to sacrifice a lot of other things. Like reading. And friends. This summer, I’ve finally begun to be social again. I’ve even reconnected with a group of high school acquaintances on Facebook. None of us were really close in school, but we’ve begun to see each other at least once per month. I enjoy this immensely. (I’m hosting the group at Rosings Park on Saturday.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been able to focus on a couple of hobbies. I’m very wary of adding new Stuff to our house. But with caution, I’ve begun to collect comic books again. And vinyl record albums. And old books. I’m being very particular about what I acquire. I’m setting a budget, and I’m targeting very specific stuff. And I’m having a hell of a lot of fun. When I was in college, I gave away all of my comic books. Now I’m looking to buy them back for a buck or two a piece. It’s a challenge that will take years, but I’m up to it!

Speaking of Stuff: Kris and I have continued the slow-motion decluttering that we began two years ago. I may be bringing a few new record albums into my soon-to-be-completed Man Room, but I’m ready to purge hundreds more. Yes to a Johnny Cash record and a Miles Davis record. Good-bye, my vast New Wave collection. I’m also purging a lot of books and comics — and clothes.

Finally, I feel like I’m getting physically fit again. After struggling with my weight for years, I bit the bullet and purchased one of those “body bug” monitoring devices. I strap it to my arm and it tracks how many calories I burn. Every night, I tell the software what I ate during the day. This process is keeping me honest, is helping me to lose weight again.

All of these things taken together yield one very happy J.D. I seem like a completely different man than I was last winter. Last winter I was dull and overwhelmed and depressed. Today I am sharp and happy and invigorated.

Yes, this just may be the best summer I’ve ever had.

A Walkable Neighborhood

Dave and Karen are in the process of purchasing a new home in the Sellwood/Westmoreland neighborhood. (Where does Sellwood end, by the way, and Westmoreland begin? I get the divide between Westmoreland and Eastmoreland — it’d be hard not to — but I don’t now where to draw the line with Sellwood.) Part of the reason they chose this new house is that it’s in a “walkable neighborhood”.

I’ve given a lot of thought to what a walkable neighborhood is lately. I have some definite opinions on it.

Last fall, Andrew and I had a conversation about Dave and Karen’s househunting. He mentioned it would be nice if they moved in near him and Courtney. (Dave and Karen are godparents to Andrew and Courtney’s children.)

“Yeah,” I said. “But I think they’re looking for a walkable neighborhood.”

“This is a walkable neighborhood,” Andrew said. I can’t remember if I debated the point out loud, but I certainly did internally. Andrew and Courtney live in a nice place, but I consider it only borderline walkable. It’s just a little too far away from the community center. It’s three-quarters of a mile to the nearest grocery store, and it’s the same distance to the public library. (They do have a park very close at hand, though.)

I mentioned this story to Paul and Tiffany the other night. They were divided on the walkability of the Cronks’ neighborhood. (Tiffany voted “yes”; Paul voted “no”.)

But what is walkable?

The other night, I tried to use our own neighborhood as an example to Tiffany. I forgot to ask her if she ever walks to the grocery store (probably not often), but that would have been the best way to make my point.

Tiffany lives 1.2 miles away from Kris and me. It’s exactly a one-mile walk for her to get to Fred Meyer. (It’s a 0.9-mile walk for us here at Rosings Park.) That’s not much further than Andrew and Courtney have to walk to the grocery store. I don’t think Tiffany would argue that we live in a walkable neighborhood, yet it’s not far off from the one the Cronks live in.

Tangent: This is one reason I think it’s a shame that Oak Grove’s downtown area is dead. There are two bars and two minimarts and a variety of smallish shops. But most of the businesses that open here cannot stay in business. The community cannot or will not support them. People are so car-bound that they don’t bother to walk up the hill to shop for groceries. There used to be a grocery store on the corner of River and Oak Grove, but it died a year or two before we moved in to Rosings Park.

Again, what is walkable?

As I say, I’ve given this question a lot of thought. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a personal campaign to use my car less. I’ve been walking to all sorts of places I used to consider unwalkable. I walk the 2-1/2 miles to downtown Milwaukie to visit the comic book store and my favorite taco place. I walk two miles to the mower repair shop (and then push my mower two miles home). And today I walked 2-1/2 miles to the credit union in Gladstone; 2-1/2 miles up McLoughlin to get pizza, to go to Goodwill, to go to Fred Meyer, to stop at the liquor store, and to go to the bank; and then I walked a mile home.

You know what? It’s a hell of a lot of fun. Yes, my feet hurt. Yes, I’m tired. But it feels awesome to not be in the car. It feels fantastic to be listening to the birds and seeing people and actually noticing new roads and new businesses.

But I don’t think what I’m doing is normal. What I’m doing is unusual. Yes, technically it’s possible to walk my neighborhood, but it’s not something many people do. I wouldn’t call it walkable — not like the Hawthorne area or Northwest.

To me, a “walkable neighborhood” doesn’t mean a neighborhood where people could walk to-and-from stores; it means a neighborhood where people do walk to-and-from stores. That’s a subtle but important difference.

According to Walk Score:

  • Andrew and Courtney’s neighborhood is “somewhat walkable” (Walk Score of 68).
  • Kris and I also live in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 65). Our house in Canby had a Walk Score of 83; it was “very walkable”.
  • Tiffany lives in a “somewhat walkable” neighborhood (Walk Score of 52).
  • Dave and Karen’s current house is a little more walkable than Tiffany’s (Walk Score of 54). Their new house will have a Walk Score of 85, which is “very walkable”.
  • Paul and Amy Jo are “car-dependant”. Their house has a Walk Score of 43 — and that’s with the map giving them credit for stuff in Lake Oswego! (The map is dumb and doesn’t account for the river that’s in the way. Or maybe it thinks they can take the railroad bridge.)
  • Chris and Jolie live in a “walker’s paradise” up on Hawthorne. Their apartment has a Walk Score of 97.

Dave and Karen want a neighborhood where people do walk to stores. And they’ve found one.