The Thrill of the Chase

The sun began to cast its first glimmers of pink and orange across the Willamette River. I rummaged through my sock drawer until I found what I was looking for: my white knee-high compression socks, reminiscent of those made famous by local Olympian Shalane Flanagan. I told myself I wasn’t going to race in the Portland Shamrock Run that day. I would run the 9.3 mile course, maybe at a slightly-faster-than-usual pace. I had missed out on some winter training after pulling my hamstring in January. I had already registered though, so I might as well earn my commemorative bottle opener for finishing, right?

I donned my running gear, took a look in the mirror and frowned. I was in layers since I’d surely get too cold if I wasn’t racing racing. However, the long sleeve shirt under my singlet looked frumpy and out of place. I tried again with just the singlet. Much sleeker. I reached for my lightweight training shoes but then a pair of low-profile racing flats that I had acquired on a recent trip in Japan, the adidas Takumi Ren, caught my eye. I mean, it would be a shame to have bought these cool racers and not even take them out for a spin, I thought. I grabbed them instead.

I stepped out my front door and jogged along the river until I reached the staging area of the race. I took my place among the thousands of runners lining up toward the start. From my standpoint, the floating arch over the start line seemed awfully far away. Maybe I should get a little closer to the front… after all, people can get so jumbled up in the first mile. I inched my way up and found two friends I knew through the running circuit. We asked each other about our race plans; they were both going for a time of under 60 minutes, a pace of 6:26 minutes per mile. I told them I’d be happy with anything under 7:00 pace. We nervously shuffled around, shivering under the occasional peek of sunlight through the clouds, until we received a 30 second warning that the race would begin.

We took off and I tucked in behind my two friends, who both (lucky for me) started on the conservative side. We sailed through the first mile in 6:56 and I didn’t feel too bad! From there, they began to pick up the pace but I just went into cruise control, hitting the second mile on a gradual uphill at 7:03. Up and up Barbur Boulevard I went, finding my stride with a few runners in the familiar red singlets of the Team Red Lizard running club. I didn’t worry too much about pace, but every time I looked down at my watch I was pleasantly surprised. 6:48, 7:17.

After a scorcher of a hill cutting up to Terwilliger Boulevard and cresting to the glorious drone of live bagpipers, I did a quick assessment. My breathing was calm and my legs felt fresh. I dashed down the rolling hills, catching glimpses of the sparkling Willamette and snow-capped peak of Mt. St. Helens between the Douglas firs lining the road, when I heard a spectator calling out, “12th woman… 13th woman… 14th woman…” 14th place, not bad! The woman up ahead of me wasn’t too far out of reach. I thought, what if I just catch up and run with her a little? I threw in a little surge and closed the distance between us, but I couldn’t help myself and continued to blow on by. Even after 10+ years since running in high school, it’s been ingrained in me to “pass with authority.” After making that little move, it was as if a switch flipped and I went into full-on competitor mode. 6:15, 5:38.

I then focused on not only reaching the next woman ahead of me, but another woman way ahead of me, who happened to be one of the two runners I started with! In the seventh mile the course led the runners up one last gradual hill, which felt torturous so late in the race. I passed the first woman and we told each other, “Good job!” We came up on a hairpin turn, and it was then I could see just how much my friend had on me, maybe around 30 seconds. I kept trying to close the gap between us, but every time she had a little more to give. 6:19, 6:13.

One mile to go. The last four had started to take their toll on my body. I could feel my stomach churning and legs revolting. When I looked back on race photos, I could tell which were taken in the later miles because my eyes were closed in almost all of them- a dead giveaway that I’m pretty much toast!

I’m not here. This isn’t real. It’s all a dream!

I reached the last straightaway toward the finish on Naito Parkway, the finish line looming in the distance. I opened up my stride and tried to keep myself together. The woman I had passed earlier moved up alongside me. She said something along the lines of “C’mon, let’s go!” and I wheezed something like, “You got this!” She passed by me and I just tried to hang on. Soon after I heard cheering and cowbells ringing and realized it was coming from a group of my Volée teammates alongside the race course. Knowing there were people rooting for me, I pushed back and strode past the woman again. I could hear her footsteps behind me for a few seconds, but soon they faded. I pumped my arms harder, gasped for air, and powered to the finish line. Last mile, 6:09. Finish time, 1:01:07. 12th woman overall, 1st in my age group! I turned around to cheer on the next woman but was swiftly overcome by the urge to puke. It was a close call. We congratulated and thanked each other for pushing one another. As we walked down the finisher shoot we were greeted by several other women that had finished just ahead of us. While we may have been competitors on the course, I felt such a camaraderie among everyone that had just given their all.

The Portland Shamrock Run was four days ago and I’m still over the moon about it. The string of seemingly random injuries, time off, and low mileage this winter had me feeling a bit hopeless about what the future held. I was convinced I had lost my speed and wondered how long it would take to get back. It turned out that residual fitness is quite real, as my coach has told me over and over again. This race to me was confirmation that I’m not crazy to keep shooting for big goals. It also reminded me of how much I love to compete. The thrill is far from gone… I’m back, baby!

9 responses to “The Thrill of the Chase”

  1. Karen Jantzi Avatar
    Karen Jantzi

    Congratulations…not just for the win but for running for the joy of running.

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thank you, Karen!

  2. Sara Avatar

    I was so excited when I saw your results on Strava! This is certainly a lesson about how much past training cycles still help you. I also know that a race like this can be even more glorious than a PR after having everything go right in training. I have no doubt you will accomplish your big goals!

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thanks, Sara! It’s totally true about past training cycles. I know you’ll accomplish your big goals too!

  3. Melissa Avatar

    Inspiring story. I didn’t start running until 43. I’m 45 now and I haven’t been as committed as when I first started. I’m a bit overweight and slow and have such a far way to go now because I haven’t ran all winter really. However, with your story and warm weather approaching I’m going to make a plan. Thank you.

    1. Liz Avatar

      Hi Melissa, so awesome to hear you’re running! Winters can be so tough but I’m glad to hear you’re feeling motivated to get out there again. Keep taking it one step at a time.

  4. Leslie @ TriathleteTreats Avatar

    You are such a bad-ass!!! You’re race…what a morning!!!! I loved your thought before the race. The socks, the shoes, i’m just going out for a 9.3 mile run!!! Love it!! I’m so excited for you!!! Sometimes an injury just makes you come back faster and better than before!! Congrats on a super hard course and first in your AG!! You are setting yourself up for a great season!!! What did you think of the new course?

    1. Liz Avatar

      Haha, the things we tell ourselves! Once a runner… :P Thanks so much! And congrats to you for a great race! I liked the course, though I did miss the old course out of tradition. I kind of liked the crazy downhill last three miles of the old course! The new one is tame in comparison, though that little offshoot from Barbur to Terwilliger was nuts!

  5. Roots and Blossoms – Running Liz Avatar

    […] Zilch speed work. On the other hand, I’m feeling optimistic after running a solid 15K at Shamrock earlier this month. Part of me wonders if I can match that pace in the half. Just another 3.8 miles. NBD, […]


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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