Marathon number 6!! This one goes down as my happiest, most fun, emotionally transformative, mentally strongest, and honestly my favorite marathon yet. Buckle your seatbelts because this will be a long one.
Day-before race: chilling in small town Eugene
I flew into Eugene around noon on Saturday. I checked into my hotel and stopped by the race expo right away so I could spend the rest of the day exploring. Can you tell I was excited when customizing my bib? 😛
From driving around I could tell that Eugene was as small town as it gets. It’s very residential and a typical college town with University of Oregon based there. The downtown vibe is quite fun and walkable, and VERY hippie. I checked out their Saturday market, hands down the best outdoor market I’ve ever been to. It was hippie central with people selling their homemade goods, live music, drum circles… Afterwards I killed some time by watching an indie movie at a small 20-seat theater for 6 dollars (#smalltownlife), bought Voodhoo donuts as my treat post-race treat, ate dinner, and went back to my hotel in the evening to make a running playlist and mentally prepare myself for the race.
I will say, I felt pretty lonely the entire day. Maybe because Eugene was quite lackluster to me and I saw lots of families/friends/couples at the race expo. After six marathons, often I feel a down when no one is there to support me during race weekend and crossing the finish line alone. I’m mentioning this because I think I needed this lonely period to truly appreciate what was to about to come…
Pre-race: almost missed it!
I didn’t get much sleep, typical for me before a race. I woke up to this text from my mom and it meant the world to me, especially after feeling so lonely yesterday. It was the push I needed to feel excited and get going.
I ate my usual race breakfast: plain oatmeal and 1 liter of water. I got ready in my hotel and by 6:20am, I called my uber to make it to the 7am start. Of course, typical big-city girl who thinks ubers are available everywhere…the closest one was 20 minutes away! I was for sure going to be late!! I went into problem-solving mode and since half of my hotel was filled with runners, I literally knocked on people’s doors until someone answered and I asked them for a ride. Luckily I found a nice girl and her mom who were just about to take off.
The race organized shuttles from various spots in Eugene, and so we drove to one of the stops. It was an absolute nightmare as lots of streets were closed. My anxiety level was through the roof. I could NOT miss this race! We finally arrived with seconds to spare before the final shuttle took off, phew! After hopping, I still felt pretty nervous as we were only 20 minutes away from the start.
Tried really hard to smile in this picture even though I was a wreck.
We arrived with 10 minutes to go. I hopped on the loooong bathroom line right away. God must have been watching me that day since I was able to use the bathroom and line up at my corral with 1 minute to spare! What a crazy morning before the race!
We were off! The first few miles were a blast. There was a lot of initial race energy and the weather was PERFECT for running (sunny and high 40’s). You know those initial moments of race when you’re examining your body to “predict” whether it’s going to be a good day or not? I felt deep in my heart that it was a fabulous running day for me. My legs were fresh, my energy was up, and most importantly my body and mind felt in tune with each other.
Miles 1-4 were through the heart of downtown Eugene. It was pretty congested but I didn’t worry about weaving in-and-out of people like I usually do. I was overwhelmed with feeling so happy to be there. All my hard work for the past 4 months, this was it!
One thought I had in the crowded first few miles was feeling in awe by every single runner at this large race. Every runner was on their own journey and decided to sign up for the Eugene Marathon for their own reasons…and we all made it! Kinda cheesy, but given how I felt kinda down yesterday, I really felt a strong sense of community and connection with all the runners. From that point, I told myself that I was going to enjoy every precious second of this race – smile at every single person who cheered me on, thank every volunteer, support other runners…and that’s what I did.
Miles 4-8 were still strong. I felt so incredible present and didn’t “count down” the miles like I usually do, especially in the early portion where I’m typically overwhelmed by all the miles ahead. We were in a beautiful, green and open portion of town and I felt so serene and present.
Miles 8-13 I felt some soreness creeping in, but nothing out of the ordinary for the half marathon point. My energy/cardio was still incredibly strong. I passed by a spectator who was giving out free tequila shots to the runners – hilarious.
It’s always an overwhelming feeling seeing the half marathoners turn one way and finish and the marathoners turn the other way and have to do it all over again. 😛 I was having so much fun interacting with other runners/volunteers, that I didn’t even put in music the entire first half!
The second half mostly took place along the beautiful riverside. It was more scenic and peaceful than the roads of the first half, but also with less crowd support. We ran on a well-paved trail in the midst of tall shaded trees and the gorgeous river. Gorg.
Miles 13-18 I felt the soreness in my legs build more and more. My mind channeled a quote from Eliud Kipoge: “Marathon is life. It’s not about the legs, but about the heart and mind.” So every time I felt pain, my mantra was “It’s okay, it’s just your legs.” My mind was very tough and I knew that mattered more, but it still took a lot of focus to put one foot in front of the other. I’m really proud of the language I told myself in this portion, telling myself everything was going to be okay instead of freaking out like I normally would.
Also during these miles, I felt a little nervous as I kept thinking “when is the wall coming?” It was getting more painful by the mile, and I was a bit anxious awaiting the big moment. Finally, I said to myself, “what am I afraid of? I can handle the wall, just as I have before.” I went from fearing the wall to welcoming it with open arms. It was very freeing – I’m proud of myself for this thought as well.
My favorite photo of the race!
And so, miles 18-20, the wall approached stronger and stronger, but I felt relaxed and ready to handle it. The old me would have been completely consumed by the pain and and hating myself for not being stronger, but as I do more races and get older, I realize that negative self-talk is counter-productive.
This led to a very emotional next miles 21-24. I was deep in the pain cave and every step felt like a knife stabbing through the back of my leg. But rather than complaining about the pain, my mind went through some deeply personal thoughts. I thought about my life up to this point and the struggles I’ve fought through. It then hit me how this marathon was a metaphor for my life: all the work I’ve done for this race to all the hard work I put into becoming the person I am today…I felt so darn proud for making it this far and for being my own plug for most of my life. In that moment, for the first time in a long time, I thought: “I am enough.”
I think it was the combination of the intense pain and the emotions, but I literally could not stop crying for 4 straight miles. Thank god I wore sunglasses or the volunteers would have been worried! I remember feeling so grateful for hitting this wall and how it brought me to this realization. It was one of the most profound, transformative moments I’ve ever had in a race.
Like a little child, I felt much better after sobbing away. After hitting the 24 mile mark, I told myself I was going to enjoy every last, painful step of the race.
Approaching Autzen Stadium at U Oregon was very exciting. I was about to run into the track where so many of my elite runner role models have raced. As I ran through the dark tunnel and emerged into the lit stadium, hearing the crowd cheering as I sprinted towards the finish line…I was completely overwhelmed. It was the closest I’ll ever feel to an elite runner.
Final time: 4 hours, 45 minutes
Some final thoughts:
- This marathon really showed me how important mental toughness is. The week before the race, I took in so many documentaries/podcasts/books/articles about running. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what this race meant to me and preparing my heart. Putting in this extra mental work led to a complete 180 in my running. During the tough portions, I had my mantras handy and remembered how tough my role models were in their races. I knew I had the heart to do the same.
- My cardio was incredibly strong this whole race! My lungs/heart never felt tired at any point which has never happened before… the limiting factor really were my legs. My legs were so dead I literally collapsed at the finish line, which has also never happened before. I will probably need to incorporate strength training in the future.
- I ate a gel every 4 miles no matter how I felt, which helped my energy a lot. By mile 20, I literally kept the gel in my mouth for like 30 seconds because it was so gross to me…I also for the first time drank Gatorade at the aid stations since I felt like the sugars from the gels weren’t enough. I need to explore way to replenish electrolytes since I never really thought about that before.
- This was a very flat course. There were only 2-3 hills which were a piece of cake after training in SF.
- Even though this was my absolute favorite race yet, I probably will not do it again since I thought the town was slightly boring compared to the huge international races I’ve done.
- My last marathon was 1.5 years ago and this race really highlighted how much I’ve grown and matured. The old me was so hard on myself during races and could not control my anxiety during the tough miles. But this time, I felt so at peace with my performance (even though this was one of my slowest marathons!) and in control of my thought process. So many times during the race I was aware of how “current me” was handling a situation versus how the “old me” would have reacted. It’s amazing how running helps us feel more connected and self-ware of our bodies and minds.
If you made it to the end of this post, you deserve a medal too! I am so beyond grateful for this race. 6 marathons later and they don’t stop shaping my life. ❤