10 August 2014

You Raced Where?

I’ve got this thing about privacy. Yes, I post my adventures for all to see. Yes, I gave in last winter and got on social media. No, I’ve nothing to hide, I’ll hand my phone records to the NSA. Still, I’m somewhat old school in that I really don’t like to advertise my travels in advance. Hey, you never know, there are wackos out there, right? As a result, those of you not otherwise in on my plans via local chit-chat might find it surprising that Dearest Daughter the Younger and I just ran a half marathon in…where? Yeah, Eugene, Oregon. Tracktown, USA. The very same. And I never warned you it was coming. Keeping you on your toes, mind you.

It’s not unheard of for me to race in far-flung or obscure places. I have traipsed off to Seattle and Kentucky, but those were for national meets that were only held in, well, Seattle and Kentucky. A plain old garden-variety half marathon? Aren’t those available all over? Answer: Yes, but… Blame this one on DDY. It was her idea.

The evening I came home from the Boston Marathon (I had, frankly, forgotten it was that particular evening, but DDY reminded me), she, who had been hinting at wanting to do her first half marathon for some time, announced, “Dad, I’ve found the race for us!” Before getting to the punchline, I have to remind you that DDY is track & field Superfan Numero Uno. Her bedroom door and walls are shrines to the stars of the sport, sporting autographed bits from race expos, marathon posters, and other things that generally envelop her in a sea of Ryan, Galen, Meb, and others. Most kids her age crave bad pop music; her obsession is all things & people motile on foot.

“Dad, I’ve found a half marathon that finishes on the track at Hayward Field!”

I can’t recall if this was before or after dinner, but it is notable that I didn’t cough anything up.

Let me get this straight… You want us to go to Oregon to run a race we can find around the corner just because it finishes on a certain track? But as I said that, I cannot lie, I knew it was sacred ground. But seriously? You want us to spend how much on airfare, car, hotel, food, not to mention time off, planning effort, and all that jazz to run a race we can do here at home just because it ends on the X-Y coordinates… where the Olympic trials were, and will again be held… where Prefontaine and legends hath tread…where…wait a minute, why are we even talking about this?

“Dad, I’m going to get a job and I’ll help pay for it!”

By now you know. She did. We did. And you don’t fly all the way out there, just run the race and come home. We made it an epic adventure, a saga you will hear more about. But for the moment, we’ll stick to the prime objective of this expedition: We ran the Eugene Half-Marathon, for her, her first, and for me, another notch in my quest to regain some sort of racing shape. She succeeded brilliantly. I, well, I succeeded; I’ll leave it at that. And we had the time of our lives.

Since DDY came off the “Around the Mountain” carriage road at Acadia back in June with a smile on her face, I knew she’d cover the distance in Eugene. I didn’t care how fast or slow she did it. All that mattered to me was whether she’d walk away from this as a triumph or a living hell; the latter certainly putting a damper on future miles. But before I’d find out, I too had a race to run.

And Eugene put on a pretty good show. The run up was a little over-produced, to be fair, with a few too many cheesy emails, but I’ll chalk that up to comparing it to the subdued New England scene, where running is so in our blood we don’t feel the need to rile up the troops on a weekly basis beforehand. Not that running isn’t in the blood of Eugene and Portland, but this event clearly drew from far more than just the Oregon Duck and Nike corporate headquarters crowd. Fine, rev ‘em up a bit, it’s just email. It’s all just part of a solid organization effort.

But at the same time, Eugene was a madhouse. As it turned out, not only were thousands in town for the marathon and half, as well as the shorter races the day before, but the entire world was in town for the IAAF World Junior Championships – essentially, the track and field Olympians of 2016, 2020, and beyond. The town felt like the Olympic Village, and to our fortune, we were able to catch a few hours of said quasi-Olympics the day before, on that track at Hayward Field where we’d be finishing the next morning. Yet another layer of the mythical added to this pilgrimage…

Amidst that aura the gun went off at six in the morning. Or, as Robin Williams crowed in Good Morning, Vietnam, “It's 0600 hours. What does the "O" stand for? O my God, it's early!” Seeing it hit ninety-something later in the day, fifty-six at six was a worthy reward for rising before four. Fine, we’re up already, belt out that national anthem (getting the words wrong), but get us on our way.

In a word, or to be more accurate, two words, mostly uneventful.

There was no real racing for me, no obvious competition, no duels or showdowns. It was a hard, fast run, plain and simple, targeting a goal that seemed like a reasonable stab toward racing redemption. I’d self-seeded at an hour twenty-five, three minutes off my best, yet in my current state, a bit of a stretch. I’d like to say I monitored my progress to hitting that target, but once past mile four, the only real sin committed by the Eugene folks became apparent, as it became clear that monitoring with certainty wasn’t going to happen. Mile five, missing; mile six, early; seven, eight, and nine, entirely uncertain; ten nowhere to be seen. At four I was on target, hitting the first hill feeling pretty good. By the second hill at eight, the misfortunes of injuries and lousy training were already rearing their ugly heads, but without decent mileposts (yes, still no GPS watch for me, call me a purist Luddite) I really couldn’t judge how ugly it might have been. By the half/full split at ten, the field was so sparse (I’d end it nearly half a minute behind the previous finisher), it was just a game of trying to stay focused, stay intense, stay on the goal, and in the face of some blinding early morning sunrise, don’t trip over anything and stay on my feet.

Being accustomed to the full event, the half wraps so quickly. In no time, there were the gates of Hayward Field. There was that track, only hours before the host of the best youth of the world, and over the years the home of legends. No amount of late-race agony can prevent you from kicking it up with all you’ve got for your half-lap through the Holy Cathedral of Track.

Yes, I hit my buck-twenty-five (allowing for some change), and yes, I even took home (or at least they’ve promised to ship me) hardware for third in my old fart category, but there was unfinished business. You don’t travel all that way and spend all that dough and not be there to share the moment and get a picture with your daughter finishing her first on the track at Hayward Field.

But security and traffic flow made it impossible to hang around and wait. Off the track with you, you’re finished, move along! So we had a plan, hatched and planned, knowingly winked at and ignored by a particularly friendly volunteer. Time to execute!

Off the track, recover, retrieve the mini-camera from one of our checked bags. Key step, tear the D-tag off the back of my bib so as not to screw up the timing. And head out backward on the course…with a crucial pause at the unofficial beer stop at twelve-point-one, since I certainly couldn’t avail myself of that joy during the race. Back to the twelve-mile water stop, baffle and amuse the volunteers by jumping in and working the water stop (“Wait a minute, you ran, now you’re here working?” “Yeah, it’s a habit”). Realize with some embarrassment that you’ve forgotten what she’s wearing and hope to God you don’t miss her…and a few minutes later, along she came. So, what would it be, smiling or grimacing?

“Whatever you do, don’t give me that water! I’ve drank way too much!” Otherwise, smiling. Big smiling. Not even annoyed at Dad jumping ahead and snapping pictures (almost all of which came out wicked pissah blurry) smiling. Huge relief!

She cruised mile thirteen, and with me in tow for my second pass into the stadium, rousing up cheers from the crowd for her, she had her Moment of Zen on the Sacred Track at Hayward Field.

The fact that she sliced more than ten minutes off her expectations was gravy.

The fact that we got a couple of great pictures, Dad and DDY, there in that Holy Spot, was better.

Yeah, we traveled cross-country for a not-so-plain-old half marathon. We’ll both remember this one for a long, long time.

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