Luckily it didn’t, and my friend who I’d badgered for weeks to sign up finally did. Don’t get me wrong: being new to the state, I’m accustomed to running alone and training for long distances with only electronic training partners. Nonetheless, as a slower, chatty runner, I prefer to have war buddies along for the ride.
After months of anticipation and weeks of gearing up in holiday spirit, including one downtown Portland test run with a green-and-red velvet elf hat, race day finally arrived. Though the weekend before had been the coldest in Portland in nearly fifteen years, the air had warmed slightly on race morning to a balmy 39 F. As I folded my cold, sleepy body into my friend’s tiny Jeep for the short drive to the Adidas Campus in North Portland, I tried to cheer myself awake with the thought of carolers on the course and hot soup at the finish line. Wearing an elf hat and knee-high striped socks with furry tops, I already looked a mismatched Christmas mess. To top it off, I was wearing a muddy, retired pair of Grands– i.e., running shoes with over 1,000 kilometers on them. They deserved their rest as much as I did, but having forgotten my current running shoes at the office, I was left with no option but to keep positive and make due.
As we waited for the start, I noticed a few flakes of– was it snow? I was absolutely thrilled for a moment and thought that perhaps a Christmas miracle had occurred and the laws of physics had been abandoned for this festive race– that snow would fall in Portland, and on a day far above freezing temperatures. Alas: the snow fell from a cannon–not the clouds–but huge kudos to the race directors for planning such a fun perk.
Five or ten minutes after the race was supposed to start, the race finally did in fact start. The crowd had grown so cheerful and rambunctious that almost no one noticed the person with the bullhorn pleading with runners to push in and move back so the race could begin (sorry, RD!). The race start was uphill, but wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be at first glance. The course itself was fast and flat, with no long or steep hills anywhere in sight. If you’ve run the second portion of the Portland Marathon or run with Coach Jim’s Saturday group, you’re familiar with this gentle, scenic part of the city that offers runners a great workout among beautiful homes overlooking the Willamette and the West Hills.
I quickly sank into an easy rhythm, and concentrated more on talking with my friend than speed: just a few days previous, my kidneys had decided to part ways with common sense and reason, and I felt lucky to be outside running at all instead of at home in bed. In any case, it was my friend’s third half marathon since she started running this year, and she was experiencing runner’s knee for the first time. Today, the race was about friendship– not fast times.
The course lent itself well to this end. While I normally hate out-and-backs, I’m also a 70th percentile runner on my best days. Out-and-backs are the only way I get to see my speed demon, fellow bloggers and friends like Maryalicia Verdecchia and Joe Dudman. At a holiday race like this, that course style increases the sense of community and inclusion; in short, I loved it. The downhill finish was a huge plus as well, and lent itself well to my traditional, foolish sprint finish that usually (and did) end with me holding back a series of dry heaves as I took my medal from a nervous volunteer.
As I waited at the finish line for my friend whose pain had overtaken her, I watched the faces of women and men crossing the finish line, many for the first time. One such woman crossed at the 2:37 mark, and I watched her face dissolve before me as she slowly came to a walk and openly wept. Her friend– who had finished before her– came and embraced her. A few moments later, my own friend crossed the line, and I wondered if we would have a similar moment between us. Perhaps one day we will, but not this day– instead, chili, trail butter, snow machines, and pints of beer awaited us in a nearby heated tent. It was more than I could ever ask for– the perfect amount of holiday spirit, without being too gaudy or overwrought.
The Holiday Half is my new go-to December race: A+ on all accounts. See you next year, Portland!