The Great Columbia Crossing, a 10k run mostly on the Megler Bridge, limited entries this year to 3,500. It filled last month. We started on the Washington side at Dismal Nitch, ran west a mile to the first suspension section on the north side of the Columbia River, over that and then south three miles on the flat portion which is really not a “bridge” by my reconning. It is an elevated two-lane highway. Then the highway tips upward for a killing hill (okay, killing for me—I could not run that hill 20 years ago and not today either) and over the suspension bridge on the Oregon side, down a long curved ramp and a final mile or so, west and east, at the Port of Astoria.

I’d run it before, meaning to take my time, but hustling in the face of the crush. I had much the same intentions of not hurrying this morning. I would not run that awful hill in the fifth mile. I would not.

Before the start at Dismal Nitch on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Andrew is a former student who graduated with my older son in 1998. He recognized me first. Another student Nora (SHS 1996) ran up and gave me a hug before the start. I saw each of them again on the Washington side in my last half mile! (Andrew’s photo with his girlfriend at right)

I began running again in March of this year. I had not expected ever to run again after accepting the injury I’d done to myself in 2011. But then I lost weight, walked daily, and tried running a mile with absolutely no ill effect. Then, when it felt safe, I tried running two miles on the beach. Flash forward a few months and I signed up for this 10k (6.2 miles) without thinking too much about it. If I could not run 5 miles, I’d run four, if not four, I’d run what I could. I trained over a few four-mile runs and one of five miles in the last few weeks. That’s not ideal, but I knew that if I got into trouble on the bridge I could safely walk the distance. If I injured myself, I would get a lift from the van that picks up stragglers in order to reopen the bridge at 11am. Start was 8:45.

Out of focus, but that’s me turning into the last stretch to the Finish line.

What I feel good about: my time, the people I met, the views. The people: Marlee is a runner older than me who I met in line for the bus that took us to the starting line. She’s run longer than me and better than me (she won her age division today), and with bad bones like mine. She introduced me to another runner who was much stronger than either of us and has run the Crossing every year but one. Thanks to Marlee, I used the port-a-potty a second time before the race. That was good.

I was thrilled to see former students and make new friends, but the views from the bridge are worth the run all by themselves. I was passing walkers and runners and being passed by a few runners throughout the 10k. Some stopped on the bridge to take photographs. I did not have my camera, but maybe I should have stuck it in a pocket.

Always when I am running, I do math. I can tell when my oxygen debt is high because I can’t figure my pace or distance properly—I can’t do simple arithmetic. These days I am running two or three about ten-minute miles every other day, faster in Portland on a downhill, slower on an up hill. On the beach I run known distances, which are sometimes inaccurate, but close enough. I figured running a longer distance, based on how I’d done on the one five-miler practice run from Tolovana home, that I would manage 11 minute miles in this race. Walking the hill up the north end of the southern bridge would add 6-10 minutes overall. If I left right at the starting gun (8:45), I would likely finish after 10am. I hoped to finish in 76 or 80 minutes, but accepted that I might take longer. I told Gary to “expect me after 10. Maybe 10:15. If I don’t get there by 10:30 then I’ve sat down someplace on the bridge and the sweeper will pick me up, so I’ll get to Astoria about 11am.”

Despite numerous emails and careful instructions, in a big race some new people put their bibs on wrong. It’s supposed to be on your chest but people had it on their leg or back. Usually someone will come over and explain this on race day because people fail to read instructions. In a large gathering that welcomes walkers as well as runners, walkers are generally asked to position themselves at the back of the pack, with runners at front to allow them to speed ahead. Individual timing does not begin until you cross the starting line, so timing is based on the time it takes from when you actually cross the Start to the time you cross the Finish. My first mile and into the second, I was running a zigzag course—I remember this from last time—to get past walkers, often two or three walking abreast. It slowed me down but kept me distracted. All good. I slowed to a walk to take my sweater off and reposition my bib on my sport bra, and then decided I would take a minute to walk after each mile. That was a good decision. Warrenton was invisible in the fog when I started onto the bridge, and clearing by the time I was halfway across. I walked the hill up onto the south suspension bridge, just as I’d promised myself I would. My time looked good. And I was way hot by then. Temps were low but I do not like running in sunshine. I drank a quarter cup of water when I came off the bridge—the first place water was offered—and if I’d had any other clothing I could decently removed, I’d have stripped by then. The Columbia Crossing is notoriously cold, but not this year.

If I do this next year at age 70 (I will be 70 next week), I’ll take my aspirin with a last gulp of coffee in Dismal Nitch instead of three hours before. Aspirin and coffee are part of my running routine. Yeah, I might run again next year. I am a little tired, but in a good way.

My net time was 1:11:09.0. That’s 71 minutes, and better than I had any right to hope for. I officially started a couple of minutes after the starter’s gun and still finished before 10am.

Overall: 635 of 2820; Division (Female 65-69) 8 of 201; and Gender: 303 of 2270

I was not exhausted at the finish, not sore or “sucking air” but glad of another dose of aspirin after I’d walked back to Gary and the car. I ate a square of chocolate and a banana. I had a slice of apple pie when we got home and I took a nap.

I am holding the “Preliminary Results” slip I was given when I handed in the timer strip from my bib. Gary waited all day to ask me just now at home: “You want to go for a walk?” Neither does he.

16 thoughts on “RUNNING A RACE

  1. Congratulations, Jan; well done! I appreciate your detailed descriptions of your training regimen and progress through the race. And there is never a bad time for a slice of apple pie…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Melanie.

      I worked up distance for six months, running every other day, then pushed only a bit to get the 5-mile run, then tapered. “Tapering” is something some professional runners do. For a week or more, you taper down workouts to be sure that your body has healed but not so long a taper that you lose conditioning. I ran a total of only 6 miles the week before the Bridge; I ran 15 miles the week before that. And I walked. Tapering is something I wish we’d reviewed with our high school cross country runners, but there was the concern they would abuse or misuse or misunderstand the process. I like to know the theory behind everything. It worked for me. That 5-mile run worked me hard; the taper over the next ten days allowed me to actually build muscle.

      [Of course, I should have built to a 7- or 8-mile long run, but my body always liked a 6-mile run and rebelled against an 8-mile run. My excuse.]


  2. I love how you wrapped your race experience: “I was not exhausted at the finish, not sore or “sucking air” but glad of another dose of aspirin after I’d walked back to Gary and the car. I ate a square of chocolate and a banana. I had a slice of apple pie when we got home and I took a nap.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The first year I did the Cycle Oregon Weekend, it was based at Fort Stevens. The second day, Sunday, we rode over the bridge to Washington. I was so scared on the water-level portion, and it took me forever to ride back up the Evil Hill. But I wouldn’t have missed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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