“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream
The streets of North Portland were buzzing with the energy of almost 520 runners at the 4th Annual MLK Dream Run this past Sunday, August 3. I signed up late, but was really interested in taking part in the celebration of the event, as well as experiencing a new and unique running route in Portland.
There were plenty of great things about the event. Obviously there was a lot of passion on the theme of the event. Dr. Martin Luther King shirts and signs littered the starting/finishing area at the corner of MLK and Alberta (As a local brew junkie, I knew it as the area just south of Old Town Brewing). The mileage signs had quotes from Dr. King and other inspiring messages.
I am also not a “swag” guy, and I am pretty easy to please (I’m fine with receiving nothing to be quite honest), but the bibs were pretty high quality (if you are into that) and the shirts, while cotton t-shirts, were actually pretty nice Nike quality. I have enough tech shirts to last me til the end of time, so I can appreciate a cotton shirt every once in a while if the quality is good.
I mentioned that my initial interest for this race was piqued due to the unique area of the race. North Portland does not seem to be a real hot bed of race activity, though they do have some amazing cultural areas, great parks, and cool neighborhoods begging to be ran through. This race incorporated all of those and offered three distances to take it all in. Overall, I appreciated and truly loved the cool course. There were a A LOT of street crossings along the route, but I luckily did not have much issue with traffic. There were some police and volunteer activity to stop of slow cars at a few of the major intersections, but it would have been impossible to have someone at every crossing. I just did my due diligence in checking both ways before venturing out. It was a little nerve-wracking crossing MLK Blvd without an escort, but luckily I didn’t have any real issues. I’m sure the 7am start time helped keep traffic light for most everyone.
As with most races, there were some minor race day issues (that are easily correctable) and one more significant personal issue that caused a problem for a group of us. The first minor issue was the aid stations. I want to be clear that there was PLENTY of water along the 15k course. However, there was only one station (that I noticed) that had water available in cups. Instead volunteers were handing out new 16 ounce water bottles. I completely appreciate the generosity of individual water bottles, but this was not overly convenient for the faster runners. It was hard to drink from a bottle and I felt guilty for only needing a few ounces before depositing the rest of the bottle in the trash or leaving on a bus stop bench. Just having a mix of bottles and cups would be great to meet all runners’ needs.
Another minor issue with a simple fix was some small discrepencies in mile-marking signs. I tried to familiarize myself with the course beforehand, but I knew I would be relying on mile markers more than I typically would, since I was relatively unfamiliar with the area. However, I found that mile markers along the 15k quickly seemed to be significantly off . I don’t live and die by own GPS measurements and I am not one to get frustrated by measurements not being exact. However, by mile 3, my GPS and the mileage signs were different by a good quarter-mile. I am not sure if some of the issue was the fact that the course had to be changed from year’s past. The course on the website was from 2012 and featured a few treks around Jefferson High School track. However, the track is under construction, so it appeared possible that some liberties may have been taken and perhaps the markers were adjusted appropriately. Whatever the case, I am sure this can be fixed.
Speaking of that, the major blow (and SO EASILY FIXABLE) was being directed incorrectly – or most specifially not being directed at all. As us 15k runners returned near the starting line at mile 6 or so, the requirement was another loop of Alberta, through the PCC campus, and along Rosa Parks before finishing up once again on MLK. The problem is that I was never directed exactly when to turn. I was zoned in on the runner about 20 seconds ahead of me. There was a volunteer at Kerby Ave, and as I reached him, he just stood there as I nodded and continued my pursuit of the runner ahead. I figured that since I was not acknowledged, that we would be directed to turn when we reached the next volunteer.
After passing over I-5 and hitting Interstate Ave, I caught up to the runner ahead of me as we slowed to a stop. I was concerned. Did we miss something? Are we idiots? However, as 3 other runners came in behind us, it became evident that something was more amiss. We all had a little gathering and I ventured a guess that we missed a turn somehow, as we were already at mile 8 and I knew we still had to complete the loop. Sure enough, when we hit the same volunteer at Kerby (albeit running from the opposite direction now), other 15k runners were turning in for their second loop. As a result, we were left playing a game of catch-up and knowing we were going to have an extended run by the end of the race. The 5 of us bonded over a 11.3 mile race – and in the spirit of Dr. King, we agreed that it was better to let it go and know that our mileage totals for August were already off to a better start than we anticipated going in! I also spoke with another runner in the refreshment line who I recognized as being much further ahead of me. He admitted to feeling as if he was misdirected at a different location, as he ended up running 10 miles.
While I did have a few technical critiques of the race, I will acknowledge that my experience would have looked entirely different if I had been steered correctly. It’s probably unfair to throw it all on the race, and when you get past the additional 2 miles I ended up running, it was actually a very nice race and morning all things considered. The post-race festivities brought out the best in the race, with complimentary grilled cheese sandwiches (Tillamook and Dave’s Killer Bread) and a Widmer beer garden. There was also wonderful live music on site and local vender booths. The atmosphere was just fantastic and I am happy I got to experience it.
At the end of the day, putting in an extra 2 miles will probably be more of a positive on my monthly mileage count than it ever was a negative at the race. I am planning on returning next year to get an accurate measure as to my speed on this great course and take in the wonderful festivities once again.
Race results can be found here.