I remember it clearly. I had just completed a flurry of races that included the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, Big Sur 21-Miler, and the Flying Pig Marathon. Each race tells a different story along my journey - whether it’s the blooming cherry blossoms that welcomed me into their sweet canopy, like the arms of my mother in which I ran to honor; the scenic and hilly Pacific coast of Big Sur, listening to the waves break against the rugged, rocky edge as my husband, who ran his longest mileage ever, stayed side-by-side with his selfie stick wielding wife making him stop at every possible mile (and hill) for pictures; and tackling the rolling hills of Cincinnati, while grabbing strips of bacon and scarfing down Twizzlers along the course that would fuel me into a personal best of 4:08.
With my runner’s high of getting a new PR and with each race being so rewarding, unique, and most importantly, fun, I was chomping at the bits to register for more races in my lifelong pursuit of 50 marathons in 50 states. Plus who doesn’t love a reason to travel the country?!
That summer of 2015, I had just gotten the latest issue of Runner’s World and was flipping through the pages when I came across a Races + Places article titled “10 Editor-Approved Marathons for 2015: Find Your Perfect 26.2”. Conversations amongst my running crew spurred into registering for one of these “perfect 26.2” - the Eugene Marathon. Because of the build up in conversation and excitement, one registration led to a group of 8 Savannahians preparing to head to Eugene in April/May of 2016 to run the Eugene Marathon and Half! Fun! I was marking Oregon off my list of states and was pretty excited since Michael and I have never been. So in July of 2015, we registered and our friends booked us all a sweet vacation home (which we dubbed our Real World house) just 8 blocks away from the University of Oregon - the start and finish of the Eugene Marathon.
Why the Eugene Marathon? Runner’s World boasts Eugene as “the epicenter of American distance running - it’s where Nike began, where Steve Prefontaine lived and died, and the home of the Oregon Track Club. The grand finale is on the historic Hayward Field track, where legendary coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman trained Pre.” The race’s tagline is “Running in the Footsteps of Legends” and the city is dubbed as Tracktown USA. Not to mention, the city has hosted the Olympic Marathon Trials. This city is serious about running. The very thought of running the same city streets and bike paths, as well as finishing on Hayward Track, literally in the footsteps of Oregon running legends, was just so damn exciting! I was looking forward to seeing what kind of story the Eugene Marathon would tell.
A few weeks ago, I took part in a Runner’s World Getaway and the guest speaker, Deena Kastor, said that you should set an intention for every run. You should ask yourself what purpose will this current run serve? Is it for improving speed, is to clear your mind, is it to build up endurance? What intention was I going to set for the Eugene Marathon?
I hate to admit it, but I’m usually very lackadaisical in my training. Meh, I don’t want to run a tempo so I’m just going to do an easy run. Hill work, shmill work. Long runs? But I’m hungry! ….and then I started thinking about my NYC Marathon and how my legs felt like they were going to pop out of its sockets on mile 20 and wondering if I was actually going to be able to finish it afterall. That’s a scary thought when others around you are collapsing and being carted off in a wheelchair. Hmm….maybe I should run the bridge on Sundays and do some more long runs to build up endurance for those last couple of miles? Ya think? Having a group of friends running the same marathon, or a marathon on the same weekend (Claudia), helps A LOT! I don’t think I would’ve survived doing those long runs or those Sunday bridge runs on my own. Actually, I can go ahead and tell you that I wouldn’t do those long runs and bridge runs on my own because - well, lackadaisical. I like that word, but can’t wait to get rid of it in my vocab!
So, I set my intention on beating my PR. Since I didn’t hit my 4-hour goal for the NYC Marathon, Eugene was going to be where it happened. Secretly, I wanted to run a sub-4:00 and I didn’t share it with anyone. Not one single soul. Not even to Michael. I’m a weenie when it comes to announcing goals. I know, I can already hear you, “Cecilia? You’re keeping something private? What?!” Yes, I don’t like to announce my race goal to anyone. It’s private and personal to me and I don’t need any kind of added pressure. My ultimate goal for the Eugene Marathon was to focus, dig deep, and do well on race day.
Saturday before the race, we went to the expo to pick up our packets at the University of Oregon and I thought it was so cool how they listed all the runners’ names under our respective states. All 50 states were represented amongst the 5,500 runners. There was even another person running from Savannah, but the name wasn’t familiar to any of us. Georgia (especially Savannah) was very well represented! Since this is where Nike was founded and Eugene is known as a distance running mecca, I thought there would be a smorgasbord of cool Nike and Pre-themed apparel, but there wasn’t much of that at the expo at all, which was disappointing. However, I had to remind myself that this race is significantly smaller (approximately 1,361 marathoners) than any of my other marathons so it’s really not fair to compare it to the big race expos. We all grabbed our race packets and prepared for a low-key day so we could be well rested for the next morning.
Sunday morning, we prepared our way to the race start and found parking literally right around the corner from the start/finish line. Score! I love it when there’s no stress of traffic (hello Disney) to deal with! This is an advantage of running a smaller race. Each of us had different goals so we all split up as we got to our corrals. Some of us made a final pit stop to the port-a-potties, nervously glancing at our watches with minutes/seconds to spare before the 7:00 start! Mel and I had just enough time to spot our 4-hour pacer and crawled into our corral with just minutes before the race began. Because of the rush, it prevented any of the nervous jitters I usually get just standing and waiting around in the corral. I quickly ate one of my Huma gels, started my watch, and was off running!
As with all races, there was some mild congestion at the beginning, but it wasn’t too bad. Running with the crowd masqueraded some of the hills. I felt it in my legs, but couldn’t see the depth. The one memorable hill came at mile 8. It also didn’t help that the two ladies (who must be locals) running next to me kept talking about this dreaded hill. I channeled Ernie Ledesma’s advice he gave at one of the Savannah Striders’ meetings on form and did a slight lean into the hill, focusing on my footfalls under my body. I’ve also been trying to practice mindfulness meditation in my runs and started taking some really deep breaths through the nose and exhaling out my mouth. Focusing on my breath really does provide a calming effect. Many times throughout the race when I would start to feel a little weary, I would focus on my breaths, accepting the little aches and pains, and continue to truck along. A couple of times I would glance at my watch during these breaths and it was amazing to see just how much faster I was actually moving when doing this.
Overall, I really felt good throughout the race. At around mile 16, Mel told me her foot was bothering her and to go ahead. I took a deep breath and kept going. Throughout the race, I paid careful attention to my pace - making sure I wasn’t getting ahead of myself like I did in New York. I didn’t want to make that same mistake again and it scared the shit out of me. Once I hit mile 20, I was all smiles. I couldn’t believe just how incredibly strong I felt so I pushed the pace a little bit. Occasionally, I’d find a runner on the course to partner with for a few meters or so and then my goal was to break away. Then I started getting nervous and was having flashbacks of NYC and told myself to stay conservative with the pace. I knew I was well ahead of the 4-hour pacer. I looked around and saw there was some distance between myself and the other runners so I would repeat my mantra out loud, “YOU GOT THIS! COME ON! YOU GOT THIS!” My plan was if I still felt good at mile 23, to push it a little more to the finish. At mile 23, I felt excellent! I was still doing my mindfulness meditation exercises and feeling more relaxed with each step.
This race was really beautiful and I would totally recommend it. There were so many sights to see and I took them all in. I watched the quick currents and the streaming water falling along the jagged rocks of the Willamette River. The scenery is just so different from the streets of Savannah. I was captivated by it all. At some parts, it felt like a nice trail run with all the shade from the trees and the tunnels. I loved seeing the different colors and vibrancy in the greenery. As we ran the bike paths through the several parks, I found myself people watching as they went about enjoying their day as we ran past them. I started noticing the same folks over and over on the course as they followed their loved ones to offer support. Before I knew it, mile marker 25 was coming into view and I still felt really strong so with a couple of deep breaths, I hoped to push the pace a little more..and I did! I was so excited to see the entrance into Hayward Field. As I ran the last stretch along the rubber track, my friends who had already finished their races, stood along the side cheering me into my finish! It gave me that extra oomph to finish strong. I glanced at the gun time clock and saw 3:58 so I was really excited that I’d be finishing well under 4:00. As I passed the timing mat, I went to stop my Garmin and saw that my time was 3:55! Emotions hit me hard. I found Michael waiting for me around the corner and I couldn’t help myself and started tearing up. Not only had I gotten a new PR, but I shaved 13 minutes! What a story!!
My Eugene Marathon was all about listening. Listening to my body, words of advice, deep breaths and exhalations, and the sounds of my environment. When you’re running 26.2 miles and running for close to 4 hours, you spend a lot of time listening.
The whole trip to Eugene is one that I will always cherish. We made some great memories that I will always fondly look back upon. It was an amazing time with great friends. There wasn’t a day wasted - even on our low-key day. Our trip included running a nice shakeout 3-miler at a local brewery called Ninkasi Brewing; buying a dozen, and then some, of the famous VooDoo Donuts (yum!); shopping at a local art festival where I bought some nice smelling handmade soaps and a cool print that was created using exoskeletons of flies (trust me - it’s so cool!); some more shopping at the Eugene Running Company and other local retailers; dining and sipping pinot noir wine flights at the beautiful King Estate Winery (my first trip to a winery); snapping selfies along the glorious Pacific coast and visiting the sea lion caves; winning some money at the Three Rivers Casino; running out of a vegan pizza joint because well, no meat; playing multiple games of pinball, Gauntlet, and air hockey for hours at a bar called Level Up; and just lots of laughter that bring so much joy to my heart. This trip was a major success and just so much fun!
Next up, Colfax Marathon….in 4 days.
If you look up the idiom "on-the-run", it means to constantly travel or moving from place to place. Welcome to my life! I get asked the question - "Do you ever sleep?" at least once a week. The truth is - I am always on the run. My weeks are filled with work, training runs, dropping kids off to school and extra curricular activities, traveling out-of-town for races and soccer games, theatre rehearsals, civic duties - you name it. In addition to being an avid runner, I'm a happily married wife, mother of two, an actress, singer, a Fleet Feet CREW coach, and work full time as the Marketing Manager for Thomas & Hutton Engineering Co. I love being on the run!