Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eugene Marathon May 2, 2010

Marathoning and Unfinished Business

It’s a bit oxymoronic to write a race report about a destination marathon in which the memories that stand out the most are not moments in the race at all, but rather from two days of sightseeing after the race. Having signed up through the local community college for a two-day tour of the Oregon coast following my second running of the Eugene Marathon on May 2, I am now finding myself more inclined to recall the geology lecture about the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate that is crashing into the westward-traveling North American plate and thus creating a subduction zone which uplifts the coastal mountain range and exposes the great mounds of volcanic basalt all over Oregon beaches. Or recalling expert birder Anne and her shouts of “Bird up!” and pointing at a flying cormorant with one of her two canes as everyone refocuses binoculars skyward. Or recalling the tour of a trail high above Cape Perpetua, led by naturalist and cartoonist T. McCracken, who has the funniest shtick you’re ever likely to hear from a trail guide. For some reason those thoughts predominate over memories of things like the marathon finish on the legendary Hayward Field track of Track Town USA. – as very cool as that was. But I digress.

This trip follows a similar trip two years ago when I ran the second annual Eugene Marathon and visited big brother Brad and his wife Stephanie, who are having a great retirement on the Oregon coast. At that time I was getting introduced to the history and mystique of Track Town USA, and immediately after the 2008 race I proceeded to read my autographed copy (from the expo) of Kenny Moore’s great book on (Coach Bill) Bowerman And the Men of Oregon, and then watched the definitive Steve Prefontaine biopic Without Limits (also written by first-hand participant Moore). The race had gone well, with some signs I was moving toward a PR, and I felt there was potential to move more that direction upon a return. I also had listened briefly to a talk of coach Joe Henderson at the 2008 expo, encouraging people among other things to visit “Pre’s Rock,” the spot where Pre had overturned his sports car one night in 1975 on a windy road on the east hills of town, and thus ensured the continuing legend of his running talent and grit. I thought at the time that sounded a little macabre, but looking into it later convinced me that it was a runner’s imperative. Add the fact that I had enjoyed a wonderful visit in 2008 with Brad and Stephanie at their new home and while driving around coastal mid-Oregon, and I now had plenty of reasons to make a return visit to the Eugene Marathon. Unfinished business.

This time I didn’t train adequately for the marathon, which is the norm for me lately anyway, so the PR I was somewhat hoping for was never in the picture. But I started out the pre-race day with having Brad drive me up to Pre’s Rock so I could visit this running shrine recommended by Coach Henderson and see first-hand that part of the culture. I then went to the expo and bought a copy of Fire on the Track, the documentary movie on Pre that I had been unable to get through Netflix. I also made time to hear the full lecture Henderson was giving at the evening pasta dinner. Henderson, who now writes for Marathon and Beyond, also teaches running classes at the U of O and leads a marathon training group out of the Eugene Running Company store. I struck up a chat at the dinner with one of the runners in Coach Joe’s marathon group, someone who obviously thinks the world of his coach. At the lecture I could see why, as Henderson is soft-spoken and modest, and conveys an obvious joy in seeing his students (young and older) overcome obstacles and prove time and again that anyone can break through boundaries. He has a nice interaction with the audience, giving away gifts to those answering trivia questions, and freely recognized running students who had particular accomplishments – including one 60-something fellow who shared with Joe the distinction of recently overcoming prostate cancer.

This time I ran what was probably my best 14 or 15 miles going out in any of my marathons, but then the lack of proper training (and going out too fast in view of that training deficit) led to a fairly vicious wall to go through, accompanied by IT band/knee pain that made most of the rest of the race a repeat of some other not-so-great attempts in recent months. But I had my handy cell phone to take pictures, which I did primarily at the end. Oh, that cell phone thing is not necessarily such a good idea, such as when I pulled it out and saw a text message from Judy telling me the car had been broken into during the night and telling me to call asap so she could take inventory of anything missing. (I saw Brad at mile 19 and asked him to make a preliminary call until I could finish the race. It turns out nothing of any value was taken.) The course changed somewhat since 2008, to include, of course, the Hayward Field finish, and also some more street mileage and a hill in a nice scenic neighborhood in the south part of town. But it maintains the signature river and bike trail sections that make this race so “green” and scenic. Course support and entertainment are ample, including many live music spots, aid stations, and lots of people cheering from their porches, as well as picnickers just out enjoying the parks on a beautiful spring day (sunny and about 55 degrees). The finish offered nice hot Krusteaz pancakes and a good variety of other rehydration and refueling options.

The race is a wonderful event and I recommend it highly – a great experience in a historically meaningful environment. But back to the Juan de Fuca thing. I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Never mind that he was a great explorer who is mistakenly thought to be from Spain because his Greek name was too hard to say. But with the scientific push these days to understand the dynamics of plate tectonics, and how the plate named after him may cause the next Real Big One, who remembers his actual discoveries? As we toured beautiful Newport, OR, and learned that NOAA is moving its Pacific Marine Operations Center there next year, I began to appreciate the significance of this area, beyond the obvious abundant natural beauty and wildlife of all kinds. Completely unexpected discoveries of the dynamics of Mother Earth may be coming.

So as you might have guessed, I am inclined to feel I’ve “been there, done that” as to the Eugene Marathon, but there is more out there I would love to see and do. I’d love to rejoin Brad and Stephanie and get back to watching those birds, and also try another turn at looking for whales, ideally on calmer seas that don’t require the boat to turn back to the bay, as we had to do. I’d also like to hear what more NOAA and others are learning about JDF and his mischievous plate. And there’s other unfinished business to tend to. You see, there’s this very popular little marathon in Newport, and . . .

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