Large races; you love them or hate them. Luckily, I love them or else I would never have dragged myself out of bed at 4am on Sunday May 18th, 2014 to run Portland’s third annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. It felt like Deja-vu though, because just one week earlier I had also drug myself out of bed super early to go to another race that promised to rain and possibly thunderstorm. I always get out of bed though, or else I would never race in Portland due to threats of rain. As always, I am glad I did. The energy of the 10,000+ participants, the costumes, and the largeness of the race always remind me why I love to run.
Rock ‘n’ Roll is one of the largest races that comes to Portland and I was eager to run my first Rock ‘n’ Roll that was part one of the Pacific Peaks medal. I also wanted to try out a 30/15 Run/Walk ratio to see just how fast I could push it and what time it would put me in. I listened to the race officials, woke early, and was downtown and parked by 5:15am. I was excessively early. There were no signs of traffic, or racers for that matter. However, earlier is better than late when it comes to races. I had the VIP band, so I went to the VIP area and they were kind enough to let me come in and take advantage of the Port O’ Potties and sit down near the heater. At $65, this is one of the cheaper VIP prices I have ever seen (Run like Hell is about $75 and my Disney Race Retreat was $185(/shudder)). It rained before (and after the event), so I was so grateful for the warm tent to huddle in and keep dry as long as I could. They also had food, a charging station, and a bag check that I took advantage of before the start. At 20 min till race start, I went to Corral 9.
I put in my time of 2 hours and found myself in the same corral as the Red Lizard pacer of that time. As always, there are so many people going into the corrals at the last minute, people sneak into higher coralls than they are assigned. I know some get moved up with a sticker – these are not the ones I am talking about. I noticed bibs with 15, a 17, and a 20 in my corral to name just a few. The rain continued to come down as we waited, so I kept on my extra shirt to stay warm. I need to just suck up the cold though, because I always take it off by mile three and I am carrying my race shirt (or jackets) for the majority of the race. The race started a little late due to a train, but spirits seemed to be fine for those around us. I was able to try to chat with a fellow Soldier, Jen, to pass the time. (I do say try because the speakers were right by us, intensely loud and reverberated something fierce).
Soon we were off! The race starts downtown at Waterfront Park and then takes off towards the Industrial District, u-turns and heads back down Naito Parkway. This is a well run section in Portland, and I love seeing the people before my turn and after. I stayed with Jen for a little bit, but it was obvious she was much faster than a 2 hour finish time (she ended up running a 1:52). I told her to go on without me because I wanted to take it easy and start my intervals. after she left, I had to constantly slow myself down and not get swept up in the energy of the crowds. I listened to my gymboss and eased into the run.
At mile two we were stopped by a train for about a minute. I thought we had avoided that with the late start, but looks like not completely. I took advantage of this and stripped off that shirt. I am not going to lie, I was a little annoyed by the stop. People who know me, know I am not one usually bothered by trains or stops, but I was told there would be mats for runners, and there were none to be found. It’s hard to keep track of stops when you have runner’s brain and no pen or paper.
At a little less than mile five, we crossed the Hawthorne Bridge. This is one thing that makes the Portland Rock ‘N’ Roll unique, is running a route that touches both sides of the river of downtown Portland. The views are amazing. At mile 6ish, the hill starts. It always seems to bother people, but it is a nice gradual hill, and the three steep ones around 9-12 bother me more. The aid stations were great, the volunteers amazing, and the costumes just outrageous. People in Speedos passed me; I passed several rockers, Elvis, lots of neon, and a guy in ‘depends’! (Unsure what the latest Depends craze is..hmm)
All throughout the race, I was able to keep a consistent pace, improving my speed from 9:30 average to an average of about 9:20. Around mile 10, I really started to pick it up. I was a little more annoyed to be stopped two more times for traffic and slowed once (the rest I sprinted to pass the ‘traffic stops’ whenever I saw Police at the roads). Soon, I was heading up the third, and final, mini steep hill at mile 12, which brought me to the Steel Bridge. My goal at this point was to run the last mile without the walk intervals, but the intervals were feeling good between my fast 30 second bursts of speed, so I continued those walks until ½ mile from the finish.
I leapfrogged several people throughtout the race, and a couple of gentleman for almost the entire course. This one man was so determined to finish ahead of me. I did not have the heart to remind him that he was in corral 8 and I was in corral 9, so we were not on the same timer anyways. I always chuckle at the people determinded to not let a ‘walker’ finish ahead of them.
Soon, the finish line was in sight, and I caught up and passed the ‘Doctor Dribble’, a racer who dribbled two basketballs the entire race! I finished at 2:03, but that was with three stops, so sure I was around the 2 hour mark. Again, I was told that there would be mats at the traffic stops and train stops to step on, but none were to be found. We were told we could keep track and adjust them with the timing company as well. If you were caught by this, be sure to send in your best estimate. To me it wasn’t that big of a deal, and it wasn’t a PR, so I thought about emailing them, but in the end I figured it wasn’t a big deal. However, those stops were the only thing keeping this race from being awesome. I love running, and anyone who reads my blogs knows that I am a very positive person, but I must warn you that if you run in downtown Portland, you risk being stopped on the course. It is not the Race’s fault, the city permits limit them, but it is something you must be aware of. To get a fun and unique downtown race course, the traffic stops are our price of admission. (One other thing -it would also be really neat if they gave us a bag to carry all the stuff we get after the race (Chocolate milk, Gatorade, water, banana and more)).
All and all a great race to me, especially if you purchase early. Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland has a big city feel while still keeping the race fun and organized. I thought it was awesome they had well supported Volunteers everywhere, aid stations were plentiful, and tons of entertainment on the course. G.Love and Special Sauce were this year’s headlining band, but I did not recognize their music. In fact I really enjoyed the band AFTER them. Lol I do not know who they were though but they were awesome doing a fun mix of old favorites. If you know who they were, can you please comment?
In the end, as I said before, if you understand the limitations of the race, you will get a great experience. Yes, I was annoyed by the stops, but I was able to enjoy a race after party that lasted for hours, meet up with my family under the easy to find waiting areas, and enjoy even more booths after the race with some fun bands. I had to wait two hours for the massage, but I had plenty to do and enjoy while waiting for it. I relished the VIP tent with food, Mimosa’s, and finally the massage. A great race, a great medal, and another Half Marathon (#43) complete! Now to get that Pacific Peaks medal at the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll. There is still time to sign up!