On Sept. 6th, I had a lot of anxiety as I arrived to run in the Gateway To The Gorge Half Marathon, which was held in the beautiful, as well as historic, part of downtown Troutdale.
For starters, I assumed that there would be parking attendants or signage to let me know where I could or could not park, which there wasn’t. I did notice other racers walking out of the Troutdale Outlet Mall area, and made a decision to park there and hope for the best. It was actually quite a walk from where I parked to the race starting line, and it took me a while to even locate it. At the intersection of 257th and downtown Troutdale, there was a sign that stated there was an event in the area, and to slow traffic, but there was no volunteer or signage (again) to direct me to where the festivities were. Fortunately, I asked around and was able to locate it.
My other anxiety was in trying to find out how many aid stations there would be during the course of the race. I had attempted to find out from their website, to no avail. I also messaged the race directors on their Facebook page and event page asking about it but received no reply. You see, my hydration belt and I have been fighting a lot lately and I’ve come to the conclusion that we just really hate each other and need to part ways. I knew it would be a hot day, and even though the race began at 7:45am, it was already turning out to be a warm morning, so I was concerned about becoming too dehydrated during the race. I found a cheerful volunteer who was working hard at the registration tent, who seemed approachable, so I asked her if she knew about the aid stations. She told me there were 5 stations, but she didn’t know if that was for the entire half distance or just the 8 mile race, or if there would be any gels or gummies. Hmm…what to do. I decided to take a chance and leave the hydration pack, but I DID decide to become some-what of a chipmunk and stuff packets of GU in my sports bra and pocket in my capris. My thinking was that as long as their was water, electrolytes, and the standard misc. fruits to choose from at those 5 aid stations it would all work out just fine. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
At the sound of the horn, we all trotted under the balloon start canopy eager and in high spirits as we paraded through downtown Troutdale. Sadly, those high spirits lasted all of a few minutes, as we all made a turn onto 257th St to discover our biggest hurdle of the race started now. Dashing my dreams of having an easy run was a massive and long hill up to Cherry Park Rd. I knew this area well, as my father was a retired Lt. with the fire dept on Cherry Park Rd. and I knew what many other runners around me didn’t…that the hill didnt end soon. Despite this, I was actually pretty happy that the race directors set up to get this monster out of the way first hand…better to exhaust myself and recover from the beginning then see this hill at the very end!
The half marathon course was nice enough, but not nearly as scenic as I had assumed from their website. More than half of the race was done through residential neighborhoods, though they were pleasant enough. I even managed to have a 2 second conversation with one of the local residents, who wanted to know how far I was running. When I shouted behind me that it was 13.1 (yes, you know a runner can’t leave out that .1!), the young man was shocked, and thought I was some sort of super woman. Hmm…I should have asked him how far he thought a full marathon was..he might have had a heart attack.
Bathrooms….I really hope you don’t have to use the bathroom a lot before, during, or after a race because you’d be in a lot of trouble. I didn’t see any bathrooms near the start/finish line, though I DO want to say that it doesn’t necessarily mean there wasnt any. I didn’t ask for one, but I did look around the vicinity for a porta- potty and never found one. I did have one aid station tell me that if i make a detour down a side street up ahead, there would be a porta-potty to use, but that was around mile 4, and I don’t recall seeing another one the entire race…AGAIN, there may have been some that I didn’t see..I was pretty focused on whatever water I could get my hands on by that point and a bit unobservant.
Ok, back to the aid station issue. The first few aid stations were well spaced (it seemed roughly about 3 miles apart, which was fine), and the volunteers were very helpful and encouraging. However, several aid station ONLY had water, and as usual, the cups are filled to less than half capacity, so I had to take several as by now the heat was radiating up from the cement of the street. None of the aid stations had any food of any kind either..no bananas, no orange wedges, no watermelon, no gummies, and certainly no energy gels. It’s a good thing I brought my own, but with hardly any water to wash them down with, my body seriously started to feel the effects. I felt the last water station was spaced WAY too far from the last one, though.
A runner who had been pacing with me began to desperately ask me if there was another one coming up, which I sadly couldn’t answer. My mouth was terribly dry, and I had slowed down to a snail’s pace by this point. At what seemed like eternity, we finally came up to the very last aid station, which, sadly…had no electrolytes. That pretty much did me in. I ended up walking most of the last mile as I began to get a small headache and was fighting off a cramp that was sure to set in right before the finish line. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that it was my responsibility to bring enough water along to meet my needs during a warm race, and that aid stations are there as our extra assistance. I just wish I had known that the aid stations would not be stocked with the standard aid that most runners have been accustomed to. Still, its’ my fault and I’ve learned a very valuable lesson here. As much as my hydration pack and I hate each other, I still need him.
As usual, when my exhausted and defeated eyes focused in on the finish line, I sprinted like a mad woman. Most of the half marathoners had already finished, and they just started announcing the top winners. I have to admit, hearing them interview and announce the winners right in front of the finish line as I was trying to cross completely deflated me and took away much of the climax of my race. I was not the last runner by any means, but I was on the back end of the race, but I felt a bit like I was treated as if I wasnt a “real” runner because I didn’t finish under 2 hours. I didn’t even receive a “congratulations” from the finish line volunteers. I was simply handed my medal and almost shooed out of the way so spectators could see the winners with an unobstructed view.
I do want to end this review on a positive note, though. I met several AMAZING people along the way. I spoke to one gentlemen who shared with me that he had just returned from the midwest after losing a loved one in death, and how this was his first race since that event. I also met another young woman (who I helped finish the last 4 miles) who told me that today was her very first half marathon, and it was thrilling to see the excitement and nervousness in her eyes. If you’re a runner and you’re reading this, then I know you have had similar experiences during a race. Somehow, you always manage to have a few minutes to talk to the person running next to you, and now you have a bond that somehow has made you instant friends.
I also want to say, finally, that even though my review sounds as if I didn’t have a good time, that’s not entirely the case. The neighborhoods and back roads along the river where the course took us was very pretty, The volunteers were all very kind and supportive, and that can go a long way when it comes to the overall experience of a race. I have every intention of attempting this race again next year, and now that I have a better idea of what to expect, my hydration belt and I will find a way to work together to finish the race strong.
(race photos provided by Marilyn Tycer and Mechell Orr)