The first time I ran the Heartbreaker Half Marathon was the first week I'd ever stepped foot into Oregon. It was February 2011-- the inaugural running of the event-- and I had a lot to prove to myself. After graduating law school in May 2010, sitting for the Arkansas Bar Exam in July, and finally finding out that I passed the Bar in September, my career had languished. Despite great grades and a good work background, I was-- nine months after graduating and five months after getting licensed to practice law-- still waiting tables at a small dim sum restaurant instead of litigating cases. In November, I decided the devil be damned, I was going to take control of my unemployment and my career, despite the fact that the American Bar Association said that I'd graduated from law school in the worst year on record. The ABA said that due to the new career prospects in our field, half of us would never practice law a day in our lives.
Well that wasn't going to be me. In November, I signed up for the Oregon Bar Exam and the 2011 Heartbreaker Half Marathon. Signing up for another Bar would double my odds of gaining employment, and running the half would give me a chance for redemption from my awful first half marathon experience. I would land at PDX on Friday night, run the race on Sunday, and take the Bar on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'd never been to Oregon before, let alone Portland, but I figured that if I could love the city during the worst time of the year, I would love her at her best as well.
My experience at the 2011 Heartbreaker Half was in fact so redemptive, that I wrote about it in an essay that will be published this fall in the second edition of Night Running: A Book of Essays About Breaking Through. Needless to say, after finally moving to Oregon last year after years of planning, I was ecstatic when I saw registration for the 2014 Heartbreaker Half Marathon open up. It was my chance to both re-live my first moments in Oregon and meditate on how far I’d come in the last three years.
The night before the Heartbreaker Half– the first race in the Baker’s Dozen Series— I checked the weather. My iPhone foretold brutal race conditions of low-40s temperatures, 25-35 mph winds with gusts up to 40 mph, and constant, soaking rain. I shared a screenshot of the bad news with Run Oregon’s Matt Rasmussen, who was also slated to be there that day. His response: “A true heartbreaker.”
Of course, I’m never one to skip out on a race just because of bad weather. I’ve run races with the flu, with kidney infections and temporarily bum joints and tendons. I’ve run half marathons in hail and temperatures so hot that elites were laid out on the road with IV bags dripping above them. Race money paid means I will be there on race day, no matter the conditions.
On Sunday, I showed up to the Hillsboro race in a long-sleeve shirt, a pair of plum pop shorts, and a clear drycleaning bag over the whole kit for water protection and extra warmth. As a galing wind ripped through the cloudy blue skies over my bare calves, I immediately regretted not wearing tights or at least compression socks. This felt nothing like the reported 44 F, but at least it wasn’t raining. Under the most generous interpretation, the temperature felt like 30 F, on the dot. Despite getting to spend the time leading up to the race in a heated gym expo at the huge and obviously expensive Liberty High, I was now freezing and couldn’t wait to start the race.
At the start line, they reminded us that the course was a series of three loops– one loop that would be done once (and included the mile-long, separately timed Heartbreak Hill), followed by another loop that would be done twice. Normally, I’m not a fan of running the same territory twice in one day– that includes out-and-backs and loops. That said, the weather ended up being so temperate that day after it warmed up a bit, and the scenery was so lovely, that I hardly minded the repetition at the end. Near the 2:00 mark, a strong wind blew in from the south, signalling the inevitable light rain that was to come. Prior to this, it was perfectly still, quiet, and dry– so quiet that you could hear sheep bleeting in the distance and electricity crackling in the transformers overhead.
As you can see from the picture above, the course was mostly asphalt. There were also some navigable, well-packed muddy/gravel areas and best of all, the road to the finish line took your battered feet on a victory lap around the soft Liberty High School track.
All in all, it was a very quiet, peaceful race through beautiful countryside. Because Matt has already regaled you about his own experience on the course, I’ll keep my own recap short and give you the highlights of my thoughts:
- Having access to a large, heated gym with expo-style gear and food options was fabulous
- The medals were large and lovely on a screenprinted satin ribbon
- Post-race food was AMAZING. In addition to the usual bread, government ration peanut butter, and orange wedges, there was strawberry shortcake and an oatmeal station with maple syrup, chocolate chips, and milk.
- Near the end, one of the high school volunteers on the course (who apparently has a very bright future in entertainment) was making cracks that were actually funny and doing dramatic, karaoke-style reinterpretations of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” (“Whoa! You’re halfway there. Whooaa!! Livin’ on a pra-yer!”)
- Gorgeous course on a nationally designated scenic route
- Extremely cooperative weather, especially considered the foul forecast
- No toilets on the course, due to a failure by the supplier to deliver them – race organizers had them ordered and confirmed and they were simply not delivered. (Strange thing: the dumpster for the Hagg Mud Runs the same weekend was also not delivered.) This was not a problem for me, but Hillsboro residents can expect something other than cow pies on their property.
- No food/fuel/electrolytes on the course (I kept asking, no one had anything for me)
- When I arrived at the Liberty High School track for the home stretch of the half, the volunteer at the gate didn’t know whether to send me clockwise or counterclockwise. There were a gaggle of wild children running the Kids’ Dash clockwise, and eventually we figured out that I was supposed to be running against the flow of the children on the outer ring of the track, which as you can imagine resulted in a half dozen near-misses.
- Medals were not at the finish line– they were inside, and there were no volunteers to inform me of this fact (I had to ask another runner where she got her medal). Had I not known that there was a medal, I would have assumed that there wasn’t one at all and that it was just time for me to go home.
THE HEARTBREAK HILL
- Hardly heartbreaking at all. When someone warns me that there is a one-mile long hill and it’s called “Heartbreak,” I expect a Category 5 hill like what we experienced at the 2013 Mustache Dache. After I crossed the second timing mat (the hill was timed separately), I remarked to the stranger beside me that I was impressed that there were so many timing mats out on the course. Stranger politely reminded me that the timing mats were for Heartbreak Hill, and that we had just finished said hill. I was shocked. Sure– there was a hill– but it wasn’t anything much more substantial than the constantly rolling hills over the entire course.
Were any of you readers out on the course on Sunday? Let us know if we forgot anything in the comments.