A marathon can be a lot like life. Starts, stops, detours, challenges, chance meetings, disappointments, achievements, and then it’s over. At about the 10 mile mark I heard someone yell from a street corner; ‘’…Fluge…” I looked over and it was Yelena, Team FGA’s core specialist. I hadn’t shared my very late entry into the Portland Marathon with her or with almost anyone – questioning if I would even show for the start of an event that I had always assumed I wasn’t qualified to participate in. No reason to set early expectations if the better part of me planned to be sleeping safely at home when the 7am start siren signaled the beginning of the event.
The day before began like many others for me – a quick trip to the club to do a ‘marginal’ workout (only marginal if Yelena or Troy aren’t present) – they weren’t. As I was about to return home to settle in for a Saturday of college football on the big screen I noticed some people with bags who were talking about the big event on Sunday (the 38th annual Portland Marathon). For some reason their enthusiasm encouraged me to go directly to the Hilton hotel (for registration). While most competitors were already registered by then there were a few late comers like myself along with hundreds of others sampling the marathon ‘mini-show’ of exhibitors.
I had no clue what I was doing but was directed to the registrants’ table where I paid my fee just so I could be tortured for 26.2 miles. On my way out I managed to grab a few free sample energy bars as well as my instructions, number banner and shoelace timing chip. That led to many emotions over the day…should I?…can I? I even enjoyed the last games of the day with a few cocktails not worried about last minute detailed training. By the time I went to bed I was pretty sure that ‘just entering the event’ would be enough of a story to generate a few laughs and keep the FGA story line moving forward. After all – I had never wanted to or entertained the idea of ANY run – let alone a marathon.
A restless night led to an early rise (5am) just in time for a shower, a quick gathering of my free mini energy bars, and finding my most broken in pair of tennis shoes to go along with a regular workout t-shirt and shorts. I was on my way downtown by 6 parked and finding my way to start/finish by 6:30. As I huddled with the estimated 10,000 – 11,000 other participants I noticed they were stretching! OK, I knew how to do that – so I joined in – but a concern hit me that these people were serious!
As we waited for the start (with 000’s of people ahead and behind me), I was still expecting to just jog beyond the start line so I could say I had an official start. It took about 10 – 15 minutes after the start for the people in my area to begin moving – a tribute to the large crowd ahead of us. With so many people bunched together the early going was slow and a bit dangerous (at least for those runners who ventured near my awkward movements).
After one mile I realized I could make two, after two … three. You get the picture. We moved downtown then south up the Harrison Hill (only a slight rise – but noticeable). I was slow jogging / fast walking – which gave me the opportunity to talk to a number of people (most of them were passing me but slow enough to say hello). Many were there supporting an organization or a charity, some were there with family, others with friends, I even met two national guardsmen in full military regalia and 38 pound packs (yes, they also passed me).
As we turned back north and moved up Naito Parkway the miles moved from 5 and 6 to 7 and 8. I was noticing a few aches and pains even at my slow pace – so…I made a quick plan for a “Half Marathon”! I decided to exit the course prior to going towards NW PDX and return to my car downtown making for about a 13 mile event. Not perfect but far more than I ever would have expected from myself.
Well, that’s when I heard Yelena’s voice. It took her and Troy a year to get me prepared in all ways to conquer Kilimanjaro in 2007 as well as other adventures. Given none of us had ever discussed my participation in this event let alone practiced for it – my very presence on the course gave her cause for surprise. She wasn’t running on this day – only there to rally on some of her friends. But…once she saw me she began the early texts to others who know us all saying … “You won’t guess who is in the marathon…”
Well, suffice it to say that Yelena began pushing me towards the finish of another challenge as she’s done before. She walked with me for a few miles on the course, introduced me to a few others who were participating, and gave me the final goodbye, good-luck, and ‘see you at the finish line’ send off when we got as far as the St John’s bridge at mile 17. (Only entrants were allowed over the bridge on that day). I was walking with speed (I thought) but my mile times grew slower as the distance increased. At mile 21 in North Portland we were just 11 minutes late from making the ‘regular’ course – and had to take the ‘alternate course’ for a distance which made for an even longer marathon but which helped traffic. (A great reason to move quicker early on…).
By mile 24 the Broadway Bridge felt welcoming, by 25 I knew we were within blocks of SW Salmon and that finishing line. I was feeling stronger knowing the end was near. It was great to see a lot of smiling faces at the finish area, and yes, even though I was super slow, I finished before they took the timing equipment down! I even got a ‘2009 Finishers’ Medal’ – I think I’ll keep that for while. Yelena – thanks for once again pushing me towards goals I couldn’t have thought possible to attain.
I had finished behind about 8000 runners (but somewhere – either injured – or behind me – were another 2 – 3000 people). I heard there were actually a few commendable and hardy souls finished their objective near midnight – congrats to them!
The 2009 PDX Marathon – is now in the books. No preparation, no FGA apparel, no security girls, no gala food and beverage, no Derhaag Corvette to help me look good. But with this one adventure – I saw that everyone is capable of doing most anything by just taking that first one step towards the future. The second step will come – give it time.