I signed up for the Portland Marathon knowing that it was only a month out from my biggest adventure to-date, a seven-day stage race through the Alps called the TransAlpine Run. Unsure what the recovery time would be, I told myself I could always drop down to the half if needed although truthfully I’m not entirely sure if that was an option since the half had sold out early in the year.
The race has two distance options: full marathon or half marathon. You can currently register for the 2017 race for $130 USD for the full and $115 USD for the half (plus taxes and fees I presume). After the half sells out there is a charity entry option available that costs more (I think in the $200 range). Both are walker friendly with the caveat that the course closes after 8 hours.
I didn’t train for this race per se, but I did do a lot of training. Over the four months leading up to the race, I ran about 860 km with a total of 55,000 m elevation gain. Since I was training for a race in the Alps, I focused more on elevation than distance and since it was mainly trails, it adds up to a lot of time on feet for what it’s worth. I also did some yoga throughout the summer and forced myself to go to the gym for a little strength training.
Package Pickup & Swag
The package pickup and expo was located in the Hilton Portland which was right downtown near the race start and finish lines. You had to descend a couple floors into the depths of the hotel to what looked like a parkade or basement to where the bib pickup and official race store were located, however, we were then directed up to a banquet room to get our “souvenir bag.”
I’m still not clear on if the bag itself was supposed to be a souvenir as it was just a blue plastic bag with a Portland Marathon sticker on it. Or maybe it was just a bag for holding any souvenirs that you bought. It didn’t come with anything in it (except safety pins) and it seemed odd that you didn’t get it at the same time and location as your bib. At least you could have used it to hold your bib as you wandered around the race store and up to the next room.
Other vendors on the upper floor included Altra Running and Nuun hydration, two of my ambassadorships. I also partook in a couple beer samples and some apple slices.
I realized that I didn’t get a shirt so I asked a volunteer about it. He informed me that the shirts were for finishers and that I would get mine at the finish line. Interesting! The TransAlpine Run was the only other race I’ve done that gave out coveted finishers shirts but I had figured it was a stage race thing.
As we left the expo I was slightly disappointed about leaving with only a plastic bag containing only my race bib and safety pins, but the race would later make up for that with amazing finish line swag! Even though my bag contents were lacking, I did appreciate that the race did a “virtual goodie bag” that contained online discount codes and promotions for their vendors rather than loading up the race package full of promo items that would end up in the recycling bin.
All runners received a medal, a rose, one of those light cloth ponchos, a commemorative coin, a pendant, a long-sleeved shirt, and a little tree sapling after crossing the finish line. The medals were gorgeous. I had seen an image of them before the event and that’s when I first decided I HAD to finish this race. Run, walk, or crawl. The commemorative coin and pendant were designed very similar to the medal – very cool.
Course & Aid Stations
The route starts and finishes in downtown Portland. The half and full runners complete two out and backs along the river: the first one to the south and the second to the north before splitting. At 11 miles, the marathoners hang a hard right while the half marathoners continue straight back to the finish line. The marathoners then head further north to the St Johns Bridge at 17 miles where they cross over to the other side of the river and run back along it heading south. At 24 miles, marathoners cross back over the Broadway Bridge into the downtown core again. This is the homestretch.
Historically, the Portland Marathon typically has great weather but of course the year I run it, it rains non-stop. I’m from the Vancouver, BC, area so I’m fine with a little rain but the visibility was not great and everything was grey so I missed out on my views of Portland. I could barely even see the river when crossing the bridges.
Like most major cities built around rivers, much of the waterfront is industrial and port facilities. Most of the route skirted the line between that and the residential areas behind it.
The race had many aid stations with water and some with electrolyte drink as well. I saw a couple that had gummy bears and one that had pretzels. I wore my pack with a 500 ml bottle and some snacks because sometimes aid stations just aren’t enough for me. There were so many hydration stations that I don’t think it was necessary to carry water, however, I was really glad I brought food. I went through a couple Honey Stinger gels, a couple packs of Honey Stinger gummies, and a honey Stinger waffle. I also ate some of the aid station gummy bears.
There were so many spectators out on the course despite the rain cheering everyone on. My favourite part of the whole race was having my name on my bib. SO MANY people cheered me by name. I may have benefited from having a short, easy to read name and from being fairly spaced out from other runners. The whole race I was waiting for someone to make a cheese comment, but no such luck.
I made my way through the finishing chute, grabbed all my swag, and then found my husband, Jesse, in the “reunion area.” By this point I was cold and shivering so we went to a nearby Starbucks for a hot chocolate and to put on my warm, dry BibRave hoody. There were still a lot of people around the finish area but we decided to go somewhere for lunch instead of hanging around.
My husband and I made a weekend out of the race. We left early Saturday morning and drove down arriving in Portland mid afternoon. It was a long weekend for us Canadians due to our Thanksgiving holiday so we stayed until Monday.
Now I haven’t had great luck with the marathon distance thus far. My first and second marathons were the BMO Vancouver Marathon (May 2014 and 2015). I was the most trained for a road marathon than I’ve ever been and they were still so tough. It was like my legs just freaked out at the thought of a marathon and turned to lead for the whole race. But I made it to the finish line in the 4:20 and 4:22 respectively and soon forgot the pain and suffering.
The next marathon I ran was the Ventura Marathon (September 2015). Over the past year I had made the switch from road running to mainly trail running and had completed my first trail ultra, the Squamish50 (km), just three weeks prior. The Ventura Marathon did not go well for me probably due to a few factors: I was not fully recovered, I had a pre-existing hip injury, I sat in a car all week while driving down to California, I was not properly trained, and I was definitely not prepared for the heat and humidity! Yet I still made it across the finish line with a time of something like 5:45. I basically walked most of the second half. It was miserable but I was so proud of myself for not giving up.
I had the opportunity to run the Boundary Bay Marathon (November 2015) which would have been my fourth marathon had I finished. Unfortunately, I had not resolved my hip issue and in fact it had now screwed up my knee so I bailed halfway through the race. It wasn’t a goal race and wasn’t worth it so I made the tough decision to take my first DNF.
Portland was my redemption marathon. I knew that I wasn’t in a position to PR but my goal was to enjoy myself and get to the finish line. I had the last two marathons hanging over my head and desperately hoped that this one would go better.
The forecast was for rain and sure enough it was right. I wore my BibRave tank top, Oiselle roga shorts, neon yellow Nike compression socks, and a trucker hat and layered my BibRave hoody and Arc’teryx Norman Goretex jacket on top for the start line.
Jesse and I arrived at the start just after 6am, an hour early as recommended by the race. We met up with Tim Murphy, cofounder of BibRave, to say hi and snap a quick photo. He was also nice enough to bring me some arm sleeves to borrow for the race. It was getting close to start time so I gave Jesse my extra layers and ran around to find my corral.
Our corral started about 13 minutes after the gun time. I felt good starting out which is more than I can say of most of the marathons I’ve done. My plan was to go slow and steady and finish in under 5 hours, which shouldn’t be a particularly difficult goal for me.
The 4:25 pacer caught up to me at about 14 km. I must have been going faster than I thought I was. I wanted to see how long I could keep up with the group but I saw a free outhouse and had to make a pit stop. Despite trying to make up some time after, I didn’t seen that pacer again.
I finally got to the first of two bridges at around 27 km. Lots of people slowed down or walked on the hill approaching the bridge but I powered up it. I was getting cold and that helped warm me up. Shortly after the bridge, around 32 km, I hit the wall. It was a struggle for the last 10 km.
We crossed the second bridge going back into downtown Portland just before the 40 km point. I was so excited to almost be finished and I pushed my pace on the homestretch. Unfortunately I was briefly stopped for a train along with a few other runners. I jogged on the spot worried if I stopped completely that my legs might not start again.
As I ran through the finish chute, I high fived the announcer and the crowd cheered me on by name. It was seriously so amazing! I received my medal and rose from an adorable young girl after crossing the finish line.
Runners also received a poncho which almost everyone put on immediately. It was thin but at least it was something. We were all soaked to the bone and the moment I stopped running I could feel my temperature start to drop. I learned from Bradley to keep my poncho because they are great for staying warm at the start line of your next race and it’s something you are not worried about ditching.
I almost missed the coins and pendant but saw someone holding little cloth bags and she pointed at a table I had passed when I asked where she got them.
Runners were given a choice of the classic blue or 45th anniversary purple for their finisher shirt during registration. Although I prefer blue, I picked the purple shirt because it sounded special. I have to admit, I do like the colour. The shirt design was nice and the quality seems okay although I have seen reports of some shirts having holes where the stitching didn’t line up right. I’m sure the race would replace those.
The last thing to grab before exiting the finish chute was a sapling. I didn’t get one unfortunately as I assumed I wouldn’t be able to bring it back across the border. It’s such a cool idea though!
After the race, I got a hold of Tim and we met up with him for lunch at 10 Barrel Brewing. He was sitting with Jen A. Miller, writer for the New York Times and author of Running: A Love Story. She had also just finished the marathon. As an amateur running blogger, it was interesting to hear first-hand experience from someone who has made a career from writing and running – the good and the bad.
Fairly early on in the race I noticed that my watch was almost a kilometre off from the distance markers. It’s typically quite accurate but it does occasionally glitch out so I didn’t think too much of it. I finished with a distance of 43.3 km (26.9 miles).
Later on I was scrolling through the hashtag #pdxmarathon on Instagram and came across a post by another runner comparing a section of the course on the route map to her GPS map. Something was definitely not right. Within the first mile, she had missed the first turn and ended up looping around to get back on course. I looked at mine. Yep, I had done the exact same thing.
It sounds like the race had not properly marked the turn and did not have anyone directing runners at that corner. Reportedly, some or all of Corrals C through F went straight through. I have no idea how we got back onto the course but someone at the front must have realized the mistake and corrected it. But not without running an extra ~0.6 miles. It was so early in the race and the crowd was so thick, most people (like me) had no idea that they had even gone off route.
I read at least one post about how it may have caused that person to miss their BQ by 30 seconds. Others were miffed that they did not achieve a PR because of the add-on. Some had safety concerns about having run through streets that were open to traffic. But the biggest issue seemed to be that the race was initially fairly silent on the issue despite a number of posts to their Facebook page wondering how they could let this happen.
The race posted a couple responses saying “One small group of runners/walkers may have been lead by a pacer the wrong way for a block or two,” which only infuriated runners who knew it had affected many more people than that. Eventually the race director did post an apology to their Facebook page three days later and offered to correct runners times but not before being quoted in the media as saying “It’s not a big deal.”
But it is a big deal to some. Runners train rigorously for months to run a marathon or beat their PR by even just a minute. They pay a race registration upwards of $100 and spend money on gear, nutrition, and travel. You don’t expect a mistake to occur on a big marathon like Portland but the fact is that they can and do.
Unfortunately the Portland Marathon had a few other issues as well including awarding the 1st place marathon trophy to the 3rd place runner, having totally missed the winner. I also read complaints about the course being packed up while walkers were still out there, potentially leaving them without directions, aid stations, and traffic control. I’m not sure of the details of this but I believe I read the course is supposed to be open for 8 hours as it is a walker-friend marathon.
In spite of the weather and other challenges, I had a great race. I felt like I had redeemed myself on the marathon distance and got some great swag to boot! I also enjoyed spending time with my husband exploring the community and meeting new running friends.