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You Can Go Home Again (The 2024 Eugene Half Marathon)

Can I say that I was actually very nervous going out to Eugene to complete in their Half Marathon?

Can I admit that part of me actually dreaded it?

Can I shamefully add that much of that dread stemmed from worrying about meeting several old friends?

I’m guessing that I’d better explain all of that.

An Overdue Reunion

I highly value my friends.  I also take running quite seriously.  Putting both together truly troubled me.  I feared that as much as I would enjoy seeing my old friends, I would also want to adhere to my rigid pre-race routine.  The Eugene Half Marathon had been the focus of my training for several months.  Still, the absolute last thing I wanted to do would be to hurt anyone’s feelings as a result of my desire for a good performance on Sunday morning.

However, I'm ashamed to say that I quicky discovered that I didn’t give my friends enough credit.  They already knew me and being former runners, completely understood the importance of this race to me. All that worrying had been for absolutely nothing.

That's Mark on the left with Jim in the center and the grinning idiot on the right.

The first two friends I met were Jim and Mark.  Coincidentally, they’re the ones I’d just mentioned in my previous post with Mark being the guy who’d warned me that they were about to pass me in a 3000 back in high school. While I’d had on and off contact with Jim, that drizzly Saturday morning was the first time I’d seen Mark in at least twenty years.  But we never fell into that awkwardness that often accompanies such a span of time. Instead, gathered at a coffee shop, we found ourselves immersed in not only old memories, but our lives today along with our futures - just as we had done when we sipped cheap beer in our early twenties.

I’d looked forward to some solitude for that evening.  But when they both left later that afternoon, I found myself feeling lonely.  

The Main Event

Although no stranger to pre-race jitters, this one was different. The anticipation of racing in Eugene - the Track Capital of the World - loomed large in my mind. I knew full well the talent from this community alone that would participate in the race, as well as from Portland and elsewhere throughout my home state.

Following my warm-up, I moved into the upper-level seats where I overlooked Hayward Field where I would finish on in less than two hours, awed at how many incredible runners had been on that same track. It proved more than sufficient for me to forget the cold drizzle that had been biting into me.

I savored every moment as I made my way through the crowd of runners to "Corral A" where I had been placed. Sensations of both pride and excitement resonated within me as I realized the significance of being in the “top” grouping of runners at my age in my home state. When I heard someone call out my name about a quarter mile into the race, a smile worked its way onto my face where it remained for the next couple miles.

For all but the last mile and a half, this race went entirely according to script. With a delightfully quirky alternative music playlist providing delightful soundtrack to the perfectly-normal-for-Eugene-in-late-April mixture of drizzle, sunshine and clouds, my Garmin chirped out a time at each mile that landed on or damned close to my intended pace. I adhered faithfully to my strategy of patience, knowing that I’d eventually catch and pass many of those runners who were ahead of me before we reached the track at Hayward Field.  

So much for my early race smile. Time to get serious as we reach the mid-point of the half marathon.

The only concern came when my left hip tightened up around the fifth mile. Last time that happened, my left IT band soon throbbed badly enough that I had to walk the remaining distance. This time, I stubbornly refused to accept that narrative, focusing my thoughts on continuing to close in on the runners in the next pack.

At mile seven, I nudged my pace up a bit more, feeling strong and knowing that we’d soon pass by Heyward Field again before circling near Pre’s Trail and onto the finish.  

Everything adhered to my plan until the “check engine light” flashed with about two miles to go.  I felt that tell-tale ache building outside my left knee.  Decision time. I could push through the IT band, maintaining my pace for a stronger finish. Downside would be a potential injury impacting two races in the next five weeks. With the next one being a relay only thirteen days away, I opted for "Plan B." That meant some long strides and finally stopping for around 10 seconds. Past experience told me that should just about buy me enough time to finish the race without another flare-up. Fortunately, that revised approach worked, although my legs couldn't resume as quick a pace as I wanted. 

End result, I crossed the finish line at 287/3926 and third in my age group.  Best of all, I heard Jim’s voice calling to me as I finished.  We soon found Mark and his wife as they waited for their daughter to finish.  It proved another wonderful opportunity to not only catch up, but also meet some of their friends along with someone from my hometown whom I hadn't talked with in years. 

A busy finish line area where a reporter had me comment on the race. Not exactly sure who I spoke with so I'll never know if they used my comments or not.

Post-Race Fun

As my wife will firmly attest, I’m much more fun once a race is over.  Case in point, Jim and I spent that afternoon evaluating IPA’s at a new ale house, treating ourselves to home-made ice cream and taking over a wine-tasting at a shop in The Fifth Street Market.  And being the old men we are, I believe we were both asleep by 9 pm that evening.

Following a hearty Mid-West style breakfast that next morning, I said my good-byes to Jim and Mark before heading north towards Salem to see Chris, a former teammate and roommate from Western Oregon State.  We also surprised another former teammate named Tim at his workplace.  This other guy had helped me secure a position on Western Oregon’s Cross-Country team way back when.  Within a few hours, I’d found another winery and ale house, this time with Chris, his girlfriend, Karen, Tim and another Tim whom I’d also known at Western.  Once again, despite the gulf of years, those friendships scarcely missed a beat from where we left off.  I hated being the one to call an end to our reunion.  But I needed to get back to my hotel for an early flight the next morning.  Honestly, I could have stayed there for far longer.  

Typing this on the flight home, I’ve several predominant thoughts.  One being how truly fortunate I am to have friends such as the one’s I’ve described.  Two, that I cannot allow too much time to go without seeing them again (hey, none of us are young anymore!).  Three, I am also grateful to the friends I have in Iowa and could be better at demonstrating that.  And lastly, that I just may take up my old teammate’s offer to have Amy and Karen start up a wine-tasting business in a small town not far from Salem.

Now all I have to do is convince Amy.  I’m open to suggestions on how to accomplish that!

A view of Hayward Field as a spectator.


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1 Comment

Sounds like a great trip, and you were so lucky to see so many old friends in such a short time. Hope the two Tims and Chris are doing well.

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