Finally at Home in Portland: The 2014 Cinco de Mayo Half Marathon (Race Recap)

cinco-de-mayo-half-4 I've struggled a lot over the last year since my epic move across the diagonal of most of the United States. I tried running alone, tried various Saturday group runs and local shoe store runs, raced alone, raced while chatting with strangers, and joined MeetUp running groups that I never actually met. Strangers on Nike+ challenged me to meet mileage goals each month, and new electronic acquaintances "trained" with me as ghosts that I would not meet until we were hours shy of the marathon day itself. While every race has its ups and downs-- literally or figuratively-- and I have enjoyed the outstanding number of races offered in the Pacific Northwest, I always felt like a bit of an outsider in my new home state until the 20th Annual Cinco de Mayo race in Portland, Oregon, hosted May 4, 2014.

When I ran my first half marathon for Run Oregon and got so lost in the woods that I sobbed bitterly and contemplated swimming across Hagg Lake to the finish line, I finished alone– second to last– and felt intensely isolated and defeated. It was my worst half marathon time ever and by the time I got back to Portland to give FH his car back at work, the cab driver who took me the rest of the way home gave me my ride no charge out of sympathy for the fact that I looked like I’d been torn apart and only partially reassembled.

cinco-de-mayo-half

After this experience, there would be many more races to come where I felt left behind, whether or not I actually was. But as the races piled up, I started seeing familiar faces each time. The turkey-costumed woman I ran with at the 2013 Turkeython around Washington Square was the same woman holding up a “You make my heart beat” sign and cheering on runners at the 2014 Heartbreak Half Marathon in Hillsboro. With each race, the familiar faces accumulated, and three weeks ago I felt like I saw my entire extended running family, even though I’d never exchanged many words with any of them. For the first time ever, Pioneer Square– which like me celebrates a 30th birthday this year– truly lived up to its moniker of “Portland’s Living Room.”

Because Geli, Matt, and Marilyn have already shared their own tales of the Cinco de Mayo race this year, I’ll keep my comments to the highlights:

THE GOOD

  • Two free Lagunitas beers and a vegetarian Pepino’s burrito for all participants– the lines were crazy short and I had my beers and burrito in less than five minutes. Portland’s Living Room was filled with tall two-top style tables and all the runners hung out afterwards to nom on the delicious nosh.
  • Effortless bag check– I checked my bag in in seconds, picked it up with only one or two people in front of me.
  • Race day packet pickup was a breeze; I don’t recall waiting at all.
  • The start line on SW 8th Avenue between Taylor and Yamhill was super cool– I can’t explain why, but starting a race on a normally busy, downtown street really amps me up.
  • Sliding scale entry fee is really progressive. Would have loved this option three years ago when I was broke and lusting after a race that was just out of financial reach.
  • Really fun course with an extraordinary amount of opportunities to see your faster friends. Having a course where the street is split in half and the Speedy Gonzaleses of your crew are busting back to the finish while you’re still heading out into Alphabet District is surprisingly awesome. I got to say hi to a bunch of people I normally wouldn’t get to see at all.
  • Having a race that starts and finishes at a major Trimet hub is HUGE. Pioneer Square is literally sandwiched between both the westbound and eastbound red and blue lines.
  • Beautiful custom medals for all half-marathon finishers. Of the four halves I’ve finished this year, this medal is my favorite so far.
  • A++ on the RED v-neck tech tees. Great job, y’all.

Marilyn Tycer took this great shot of the finisher medal– she blogs for Run Oregon and her own Lipgloss and Spandex.

THE “MEH”

  • The weather wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. Some of the world’s tiniest pieces of hail fell, but that’s typical in Portland for this time of year and happened at the Hop Hop Half as well. The after-party probably would have been a lot rowdier if the weather was a little more cheerful.
  • A lot of people complained that this course was a repeat of many other courses in downtown Portland, but what are you going to do about that? There are very limited options for routes in a small downtown/Northwest industrial area if you’re trying to avoid train debacles like some races have battled in recent history.
  • Yes, you will have to run up Terwilliger Hill. No, it does not suck as much as you think it will. Deep breaths.

THE RACIST

  • Sombreros and mustaches were available at all the aforementioned standing-height two-top tables for runners to partake in. PRO TIP: If you get a little weird feeling about something in your stomach and have to ask “is it racist?“– then it probably is. Am I allowed to dress up like a racist caricature of an ethnic group because it is a minor drinking holiday guised under the veneer of another person’s culture? No. No, no, no, and hell no.

Did we forget anything or miss the mark? Let us know in the comments.

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