Another long trip was in store for me when I added the Portland Marathon to my schedule of races for this year. I think that many people who travel long distances to do races will agree that getting to and from the race is often harder than actually doing the race, and that was certainly true of this trip to Oregon. But there were no mishaps, no canceled flights, no untoward incidences – just very long distances to cover. My adventure began early Saturday morning (VERY early – I was up at 2 am) to make the 1.5 hour trip to the JAX airport so I could catch my 6 am flight to Atlanta. After a brief hiatus, just long enough for a cup of coffee, I was on my way to Portland. I arrived at 12:30 Pacific time, caught the Blue Star shuttle to the host hotel, the Hilton, and attempted to check in. My room wasn’t ready yet so I left my bag with the concierge and headed to the expo. Since packet pickup and the expo were held right inside the Hilton, I only needed to figure out exactly where to go.
The hotel was bustling with people and everything seemed at first to be quite chaotic. Fortunately there were several volunteers directing traffic flow and helping guide people through the check-in process. I managed to get my bib and chip, found my way to the tee shirt table, then on to the displays and vendors. While I appreciated the convenience of having the expo right at the host hotel, it probably would have been better to have a larger room so everything could be in one place. Instead, I had to visit 3 different levels to make sure I didn’t miss anything; after all, I didn’t want to come all that way and not visit every booth! The upper level was the location for various talks about the race, and I enjoyed listening to a review of what the course was like and the location of the several hills. Jeff Galloway, Amby Burfoot, and Bill Rodgers also spoke, offering good advice, telling stories about their earlier running days, and answering questions from the audience.
The Portland Marathon has long been known for its walker-friendly atmosphere, with a generous time limit of 8 hours. Walkers of all stripes are encouraged to participate and that was one major reason for adding this race to my bucket list of marathons that should not be missed. This is the 41st year of the marathon and the number of entrants continues to climb, with a total of over 6500 finishers. There is also a half marathon but this is a relatively new option (this was only its 3rd year). In Portland, however, the marathon is king and most people opt to run or walk the marathon distance. I found that to be very rewarding and a nice change.
Since I used to live in Oregon and had been to Portland several times in the past, I was not here to do much sightseeing. My main goal was to enjoy the race itself. Since my husband stayed home to cheer for the Gators at the football game on Saturday, food and drink were not a primary focus either; he is usually the one to seek out good restaurants and meals. I am content to find something close to my hotel and eat lightly. As a result, I attended all the lectures at the expo, soaked up as much pre-race excitement as I could handle, and then tried to relax before race day morning.
The next day was race day and I was up early, had my bread and coffee, and got dressed. I was ready to go by 6 am but since the race did not start until 7, I went down to the hotel lobby and watched and listened to the excited chatter of runners and their supporters. Around 6:20, I decided to find my corral and began to work my way through the now-crowded but still dark streets to wave G, the last corral for runners. Behind G was W (for walkers) and I had purposely signed up as a runner so I could run the downhill sections. I also did not want to be slowed down by the leisure walkers who were planning to do only the half. As I waited in G and listened to the music and announcements, I saw my friend Jerry Lopez. We have been together at numerous races (Myrtle Beach, Eisenhower, and others) and it was so good to visit with him again and catch up on things. Jerry is a runner who usually sprints by me at the beginning of a race and then tends to do a slow jog to the finish line. As a walker who just runs downhill, I watch him take off quickly. Very soon he is well ahead of me but often by the midpoint of a race I overtake him as I continue on with my usual consistent walking pace.
Promptly at 7 am, we were encouraged to sing the national anthem and then the first corral headed out. I was a bit concerned that with so many people and so many corrals, it would take forever to get started. Since the temperature was a brisk 45 degrees, I was not eager to stand still for a long time just waiting. It did take at least 20 minutes for our corral to wind its way to the actual start and by that time my teeth were chattering and I was extremely cold. There was a separate countdown for each corral, led by Bill Rodgers, and then we were off.
There were a number of high points and only a few low points about this race:
• For the most part, it was exceedingly well-organized, probably 2nd only to Little Rock in that category. I admire the way management and volunteers were so helpful and knowledgeable about the race both before, during, and after the event. I have only wonderful things to say about the organization and the volunteers for this race
• The marathon is very walker-friendly and walkers are treated like first-class citizens all the way. This was a great change from the usual marathon atmosphere and I liked it a lot!
• Emails were sent out on a regular basis with last-minute information and details
• The race booklet had a lot of intriguing information; in addition to the usual maps and hydration facts, there were articles on people who tried to cheat on the course, an occasional problem with train crossings, and a feature about a couple who re-ignited a relationship at the 2007 Portland Marathon at mile 20 and decided to exchange vows during the 2012 race at the same spot.
• There is a lot of great stuff given to finishers at this race. I had heard from past participants about the rose and the pine seedling – as well as the attractive medal – but in addition we were also given 2 shirts (for more about the shirts, see below), a poster, a commemorative event coin, and a pendant. The coin has a rose on one side and an image of the state of Oregon on the reverse, with seals of Oregon and Portland. The pendant is a smaller image of the finisher’s medal (brushed gold for the full, brushed silver for the half, same as the medals), with a rose on one side and an image of Mt. Hood on the other. I can hardly wait to find a chain for the pendant so I can wear it
• There were markers at every mile and at every significant kilometer distance
• Aid stations were plentiful and seemed to come every 1.5 miles or so. They had water and Ultima for fluids and several had gummy bears and pretzels. One kind lady was handing out candy corn – yum!
• Music and bands of all persuasions were out in force and they stayed out for at least as long as I was on the course. While this is sometimes more of an annoyance to me than a help (most bands are way too loud), I find it is good to have the music to pump up my gait.
• There are so many people doing the full that I was never worried I would get lost – there were always people around me and yet it never (except in the very beginning) seemed so crowded that I felt overwhelmed
• My favorite part of this otherwise nondescript course was the trek over the St. Johns Bridge at mile 16. The bridge spans the Willamette River, an attractive area that reminded me of parts of the Quebec City Marathon. To prevent bandits from running the race (an occasional problem), there is a “Checkpoint Charlie” at the base of the bridge ramp and only runners and walkers with bibs and timing tags are allowed to cross. Unusual and makes one feel kind of special
• Age group awards go 15 deep. That’s a nice touch and very welcome, giving some slower walkers and runners like myself a good chance at getting an award
• Portland’s citizens seemed to be very friendly and enjoyed talking about the races. I had people come over to me on the street after the race, in the hotel restaurant, and at 2 airports and ask me about the race and my experience in Portland
Cons (there were not many):
• My biggest complaint was the course itself. One word tidily sums it up: boring. While Portland has a number of attractive places, most of the course follows a rather mundane route through lots of industrial areas and humdrum streets. This was really the only flaw in an otherwise excellent race
• Tee shirts run extremely large. I had requested a medium, since experience has taught me that if I order a small, it will often be tiny enough to fit a child. At least with a medium, if it is too large, I can give it to one of my sons. But I was disappointed to see that a medium here was enormous. And I would be getting two shirts, not just one. The good news, however, was that volunteers at both the expo and at the finish line took pity on me and allowed me to exchange both shirts for a small size. Since the shirts are attractive, I was extremely thankful. The shirt from the expo was a black short sleeve tech shirt while the finisher’s shirt was a long sleeve tech shirt, white with a red and blue design.
My finishing time was 5:49:22, just under my 6 hour goal, and I placed 12th out of 22 in my age group. After a shower and nap back at the hotel, I had a delicious cheeseburger (with Tillamook cheese), sweet potato fries, and a locally brewed microbeer in the Hilton restaurant. The next day I began my long trip back to Florida via Salt Lake and Atlanta. I was fortunate to be upgraded on all three legs of my journey (thank you, Delta Airlines!). All in all, the Portland Marathon was an excellent experience and highly recommended for walkers.