One of my favorite running events, the Bend Marathon is equal parts gorgeous and challenge. Taking place in one of the most geologically diverse regions of Oregon, and with equally diverse climate conditions, the race combines distance, elevation, and weather in ways for which few can prepare.
This was my third year running the marathon. I’ll admit, leading up to it, I wasn’t sure this year was going to work out. Despite a season of training, a slip of my right ankle in January had me on crutches for close to a month. Through my recovery, I’d worked to steadily increase mileage and duration of training runs. Walks had become brief jogs, and from that, 5-mile slow runs. Slowly, confidence returned. The San Diego Half in March was my first double-digit race, and just six weeks before Bend. I’d done okay, more or less, give or take some stiffness in my joints. But this was different. And here it was.
Nervous as I was, on the morning of April 22, I managed down a small breakfast. Though gut issues set in, and which would persist through the first quarter of the race, I would not be stopped. Angela was going to run the Half, and together we set off for the race. It was a quick drive through the eerily quiet streets of Bend that morning, and we were able to park just a block from the start line.
It’s easy to recall the conditions that morning of the race. The sky was brilliant blue. The air, crisp and fresh. The temperature, near freezing. I became keenly aware of one of my feet going numb. Wow, it was cold! It was now or never. Standing in the company of hundreds of other runners, we lined up, and we were off.
The course began in beautiful Drake Park, set in downtown Bend, lined by Mirror Pond and shaded by tall trees of every sort. The first two miles past quickly, as we circled around the park and onto Wall Street. The course then shifted us back down towards Deschutes River, following waterfront trails and roads. This year, the course had been shifted away from the Old Mill District. It’s fine by me, that space is too stuffy to appreciate the fun that this race provides. Instead, runners turned up along Colorado Avenue and past Deschutes Brewery.
I was hoping we’d have some trail time, and was not disappointed! The route took us down to Reed Market Road, which lines the southern portion of Riverbend Park, and then crossed the river once more to place us on a trail of finely crushed volcanic rock and dirt. This three mile, out-and-back stretch of the course provided incredible views of the Deschutes. At mile 8, we exited the trail for Reed Market once more. We turned left and South, to follow a gravel trail and paved path along SW Century Drive out of town, and up towards Mount Bachelor.
The six mile climb took us all the way up to the Cascade Lakes Ranger Station three miles further up the mountain than before. A freshly-paved trail, beautifully set back from the highway a good 100 feet, provided shade and protection, and allowed me to take in nearby slopes and rock faces that I’d never before seen. At mile 14, the turnaround was almost bittersweet. I’d wanted to keep going, but the path had ended.
The descent back down into Bend was quick. At mile 16, we left the protected trail and rejoined SW Century Drive. I knew that another climb (ahem, “rolling hills”) lay ahead. Sure enough, we turned up Skyline Ranch Road for a few feet, before heading up into the Tetherow community. The architecture of the houses in this area are simply breathtaking, but in the moment, I was having a hard enough time catching my breath, so chose to instead focus on a few gummy bears and called it good.
Turning North along Mt. Washington Drive, then Metolius Drive, and finally Skyline Ranch Road, I was now solidly walking. I’d hit a wall at mile 18 that I just could not shake. My pit stop at mile 5 had left me dehydrated and lacking nutrients, and I’d been borrowing time up to this point. I took in as many calories and Nuun as I could get at the aid stations, but I just could not get my feet to move. At one point, I actually contemplated lying down in the gravel to take a nap. That’s never happened before. I stopped for a moment, taking in the view of the mountains to the West, and regained my composure.
I pushed on. I realized Angela was closing in on my position, just like last year, and I took some comfort in the possibility of crossing the finish line with her once more. Whatever it was, I finally passed the wall, and by mile 23, I was ready to wrap this thing up. I met Ang at about mile 24, and I was encouraged that she was on a PR pace. We ended up those last two miles pacing each other.
At mile 25, at the exact same house we’ve passed before, there was a loudspeaker blasting the theme from Rocky. It was Ang’s father’s favorite song, and his fight song during his battle with cancer. It’s one of those things that we hear when we most need the inspiration, and we have come to accept it as a sign he is cheering us on.
And then, there was long, wooden footbridge across Mirror Pond, and the path beyond it through Drake Park toward the finish line. We’d made it! As we did last year, so did we again cross the finish line together.
The wrap-up was nice. The weather had turned warmer, the sun was out, and smiles were all around. Runners came in and were cheered by all. Deschutes Brewery’s mobile beer keg was pouring pints of a few select ales, and after a long race is one of the rare times I can manage down a pint or two of beer. We rested for a bit, and headed on to a hearty lunch in town.
And so it was a wrap for the 2018 Bend Marathon.