Another trip to the west coast so soon? Yes! There are so many great races in the Pacific Northwest at this time of year, it is hard not to try and do all of them. This time I selected the Vancouver USA Marathon in Vancouver, Washington, right across the river from Portland, Oregon. Although I had lived in Oregon for two years and had visited many cities in Oregon and Washington, I had never had the good fortune to visit Vancouver so this race seemed like a good choice.
Our first flight didn’t leave until late afternoon, so we had most of Friday to complete our packing. After a brief layover in Atlanta, we arrived in Portland around 9:30 pm. A taxi took us over the Columbia River to the host hotel, the Vancouver Hilton. This was a great hotel – immaculate, modern, and attractive – plus it was conveniently located right near Esther Short Park, site of the expo and Summer BrewFest, and across the street from the start and finish lines. After we checked in, we quickly readied ourselves for bed; exhaustion from traveling all day had caught up with us.
Saturday morning dawned cool and dry (unusual for this area) and Darcy and I watched as both adults and kids were finishing up the Freedom 5K that had started at 8 am. We decided to walk to Joe Brown’s Café, a decent breakfast place that was filled with locals. Darcy relished his hash brown egg concoction while I ate my usual bagel. Since the expo and packet pickup opened at 9 am, we walked a couple of blocks from the restaurant to the park and wandered around the outdoor expo checking out all the booths. I picked up my bib with chip from the registration table – no lines – and my short-sleeved orange tech shirt. I really liked the shirt because it had the name of the race on the front in big black letters and ‘Finisher’ on the back, again in large print. It was also a textured fabric which means I might actually wear it – the very smooth fabric used in many tech shirts feel slippery to me. Then we visited several of the booths, including the Marathon Maniacs table where I chatted with ‘Ray the gear guy’ (he was doing the half marathon) and bought a new yellow Maniacs cap and a Maniacs sticker for my car. I really didn’t need another marathon sticker since I already have at least half a dozen plastered on the back of my car, but those stickers sure help me pick out my Honda from all the other dark blue cars in a parking lot.
A Farmer’s Market was held on the far side of the park so we walked over to see what goodies we could find there. I was still full from breakfast but that didn’t stop us from buying a loaf of sourdough chocolate bread, a miniature strawberry rhubarb pie, and a walnut crusted sticky bun – for later nibbling, of course. Darcy even bought an enormous corn dog and, of course, we sampled all kinds of other yummy treats.
The Summer Brewfest is held in the park right next to the expo. It is a 3 day event and runners received free entry plus a commemorative mug and 4 tokens, good for 4 ‘tastes’ or one mug of beer from the 50 choices from 25 local breweries. Darcy paid $25 for his entry, mug, and 10 tokens, and we made our tokens last the entire weekend. For beer lovers like us, this was a lot of fun.
After spending some time at the expo, market, and Brew Fest, we walked around town, down by the river, and to nearby Fort Vancouver where we saw the Old Apple Tree, planted in 1829 and the oldest living apple tree in the Pacific Northwest. We had an early dinner at the Brick House Bar & Grill – I had sliders and Darcy had a burger – and then Darcy went back to the room to relax and watch the College World Series and I returned to the expo to listen to Bart Yasso give a seminar on motivation followed by a course presentation by Race Director Brian Davis. Both talks were worthwhile and my usual ‘getting lost’ fears were allayed.
I returned to my hotel room and readied my clothes for the next morning. It was early evening and I was all set to spend my time finishing my library book (Philomena – excellent) and trying to get some sleep. Unfortunately, the downside of having a room right across from the expo and Beer Fest was the noise and music that permeated the walls of the hotel until 9 pm. I decided to put on my headphones and just deal with it – and fortunately I was able to finally fall into a sound sleep.
Even though the marathon did not start until 7 am, I was up and ready for my pre-race meal at 4. I studied the course map, read and reread the race literature, and tried to qualm my usual race anxiety. According to the RD, there were 1000 people signed up for the full marathon and at least twice that many for the half, which was to begin at 9 am and covered the last half of the full course. At 6:30 Darcy and I left the hotel and joined the other racers heading to the start line. Temps were in the mid-50’s and I clutched my handwarmers. After a welcome message and the national anthem, the first group of racers took off. We were lined up loosely by pace and I was in the 10+ minute area. We only had to wait a minute for each of the 3 earlier groups to take off and then it was our turn. We headed north for a block and then west for a long out-and-back to Frenchman’s Bar Park. This section of the course was flat and paved, although there were lots of pesky little rocks and some of them managed to get inside my shoes by mile 2. I resisted stopping to shake them out, however, but why didn’t I wear my gaiters?
Around mile 14 we were headed back towards town and then east to Fort Vancouver, past some beautiful stately homes and the grounds of Clark University. The weather stayed cool and cloudy all day and during this section of the course it began to drizzle. The last couple of miles followed the Columbia River and downtown to the finish line. The second half of the course is prettier than the first but it also has several hills. Bart Yasso announced the names of finishers as they crossed the finish line and when he called out mine, he noted that ‘there are some hills out there, huh? not like Florida, right?’ and I agreed, nodding my head and giving two thumbs up. A volunteer put a huge gold medal around my neck and I picked up several bags of chips and some fruit. My chip time was 6:03:26, good enough for 2nd place in my age group. Darcy met me at the finish line with our beer mugs and we ate and drank and talked with other finishers while standing under some trees. Around 1:30 it began to rain in earnest; I really felt for the few people still on the course. We finished our beer and went back to the hotel so I could shower and get into some dry clothes.
It was still raining when we were ready for dinner so we ate in the Hilton restaurant‘s bar – clam chowder and a grilled salmon sandwich for me and salad and chicken sandwich for Darcy. Everything was filling and tasty. Since our 3 flights home did not begin until late in the day, we had all morning on Monday to sleep in. Breakfast was at the Rosemary Café, a neat old-fashioned kind of place, with unique salt and pepper shakers on each of the wooden tables and several antique radios displayed around the room. The food was good too. We left for PDX around noontime for our very long trip back home.
Like the Windermere Marathon, this race is very worthwhile for walkers as long as they are comfortable being by themselves for occasional long stretches of the course. I didn’t worry about getting lost because there were directional signs at every turn and arrows marked in flour on the road. Most of the course had few spectators but volunteers were cheerful and served as very vocal supporters. The volunteers were also dedicated and they stayed at their posts for the generous 7 hour time limit. Aid stations were plentiful and well-stocked with water, Gatorade, and some had gels and blocs. Vancouver is a beautiful city, clean and friendly and well worth the visit. The marathon is memorable as well.