Race recap: Oregon Half Marathon

One year ago, local race organizer Uberthons unveiled its first Marathon, along with its first Half Marathon, on the Vernonia-Banks trail about 30 miles west of Portland. The inaugural race went ahead despite a massive and cold rainstorm and has come to be known as the Typhoonathon. This year, the race moved to Mt. Angel, site of the Oktoberfest, and the contrast was about as stark as you could imagine. No rain, no cold (well, not once the race started), no forest trail.

First things first: in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that the folks at Uberthons invited me to join the Advisory Board for the Oregon Marathon, and as a result, I received a comp entry to the race, as well as an Oregon Marathon jacket. The funny thing is, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to run a half marathon again; I really prefer the 5K and 10K distances, and last year’s half left me achy and sore for a couple of days afterward. I agree with pro runner Lauren Fleschman when she says that the 5K is “freaking awesome” because “[y]ou can race one every weekend and still be able to walk normally.” However, after attending the Advisory Board meeting with the Uberthons crew back in the summer, I got really psyched about the 2014 Oregon Half Marathon. The location of the race was certainly inviting: we got an early peak at the half and full marathon routes, complete with pictures of the surrounding fields and hills in the distance.

I changed my mantra from “if I ever think about running a half marathon again, remind me not to” to “I think I can manage one half a year.”

Packet pickup: This took place the day before the race, at the Grand Hotel in Tigard, with a generous 6 hour window from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. I picked up my bib (#428), slid over to the next table to get the race shirt, and then over again to get the jacket. The jackets were also on sale, along with a variety of race shirts from previous races. I was mildly tempted to buy the Spring Half Marathon shirt, which I’ve thought looks great:

Uberthons Oregon Spring Half Marathon race shirt

But . . . I have too many running shirts as it is. Anyway, racing bib, race shirt, race jacket in hand, I got home with just a bit of time to spare before the Back to School BBQ at my kids’ elementary school. This is probably not the best source of carbo-loading, and I’m pretty sure two hot dogs, some cornbread, and cole slaw is not what Runner’s World has in mind. Oh well, I did have some beet salad as a night-time snack.

Getting there: The next morning, I got up at 5:30 a.m. and checked the weather forecast again. It would hit 90 degrees during the day, but from 7 to 10 a.m., it was going to be sunny and low 50s. That sounded pretty perfect! I put on a Columbia Sportswear Omni-Freeze Zero tech shirt, shorts, and Injinjin toe-socks.Then I put on sweatpants and a fleece pullover, because it looked dark and chilly outside still. For breakfast, I had a small carton of mango yogurt (mmm, Trader Joe’s yogurt) and a slice of toast.

The drive to Mt. Angel had its scenic moments once the sun started to rise. I’ve driven through Mt. Angel a few times before, always on the way to Silver Falls park, so the town seemed somewhat familiar as I arrived a little bit before 7 a.m. Now, this happened to be smack dab in the middle of the annual Oktoberfest, so the entire town seemed to be equipped with plenty of porta-potties. And Oktoberfest-themed food carts. And of course the town was built with that kind of look in mind.

Mt. Angel getting ready for Oktoberfest

Uberthons had arranged with the town to provide free parking for registered runners. All it took was showing my racing bib to the attendant at the designated lot (basically, a field at the edge of town). I parked, took off my warm sweatpants and fleece pullover, and headed toward the amplified sound of race director Darwin Rasmussen’s voice.

It was COLD!!! What happened to low 50s??? I began to wonder if I should have worn a Columbia Sportswear Omni-Heat tech shirt instead. (Yeah, I’m a sucker for Columbia Sportswear products. I suppose I should probably disclose that I own a little bit of COLM stock. Like, two shares. Seriously.)

A large portion of the racers were gathered at the start of the Marathon. Darwin was really in the spirit of things, dressed in a lederhosen outfit. (Darn, I really should have taken a picture!) The two most important points that he raised were (1) find the corral with the number range in which your bib number falls, and (2) half marathoners, get ready to follow him to the start of the Half Marathon.

I greeted Run Oregon blogger Brian Bernier and his new wife, who were both running the Marathon. I also chatted with another half marathoner, who’s the mom to a soccer teammate of one of my sons; and fellow Advisory Board members Ross and Kirsten Crowley.

After the singing of the national anthem (by a singer in a lederhosen outfit, the irony of which only just now occurred to me), we half marathoners followed Darwin a short distance toward the center of the town, just below this building:

The Glockenspiel Restaurant in Mt. Angel

The road was blocked off by two lines of yellow tape along the edges. Darwin told us to stand on both sides behind the tape, so that the marathoners would be running through a human tunnel. Shortly after, the marathoners started coming through to our cheering and clapping. When the last of the marathoners had gone past, it was our turn.

Now, about those corrals and bib number ranges. As far as I know, this was the first time that Uberthons has assigned bib numbers based in part on projected finishing time. All half marathoners had bib numbers 401 or higher, but 401-600 were given to fastest runners, 601-800 to the next fastest group, and so on. This was a clever way of avoiding too much clogging of the course early on. In addition, Uberthons went back to the old tradition of starting waves of 10-20 runners at a time, with a short pause between waves, further spreading people out among the course. Yea for bringing back that tradition!

Finally, it was time for my wave to go. By this time, around 7:37 a.m. per RunKeeper, I wasn’t feeling cold any more. Maybe it was race adrenaline, or the sun rising in the sky, or whatever. It was definitely welcome.

Oregon Half Marathon race route

At this point, I should confess that I did not train specifically for a half marathon in any systematic way, like following any of the readily-available half marathon plans on the Internet or in running books like Daniels Running Formula (which I even have!). I have a running base of 35-40 miles/week, which isn’t terribly high but probably enough for a reasonable (i.e., neither elite nor sub-elite) finish. About the main concession I made was that the last few weeks, I ran more threshold runs (3-5 miles at half marathon or 10K pace) to try to get used to feeling in control of that kind of pace.

The Half Marathon: Unlike the Typhoonathon, where I got a boost from the first downward incline of the first 7 miles and then slowly ran out of gas over the last 6 flat miles, so that my average pace kept getting slower and slower, I seemed to have been able to find a consistent and (mostly) sustainable pace today. My mile times: 7:38, 7:37, 7:40, 7:52, 7:38, 7:40, 7:40, 7:51, 7:50, 7:44, 7:17(!), 7:53, 7:46. (Miles 1, 4, 12, and 13 had overall elevation gains.)

The first mile had the most elevation gain, but race-fueled adrenaline made the rise seem quite manageable. Besides, with close to 800 runners in the Half and Full Marathons, the race route was well-populated, so to speak, for about the first four or so miles before it started to thin out. Even then, I never felt like I was alone at any portion of the race. I can only imagine what running in one of the giant Portland-area races is like….

Something else I tried in this race that I normally don’t do was to stop at the water stations. It turns out that I could definitely use some practice at drinking while running. I didn’t stop completely, but I did slow down, and even then, I managed to get only a few sips of water down while spilling about the same amount on my shirt.* This probably also explains why my even-numbered mile times seemed to be slower, as a group, than the odd-numbered ones, since the aid stations were located every 2 miles. I didn’t, however, try any gels, even though those were available at every water station too.

* As I mentioned, I was wearing a Columbia Sportswear Omni-Freeze Zero shirt. This is the shirt with little rings that absorb water and use body heat to expand, producing a subtle cooling effect. So spilling water on myself was just accelerating the cooling process, a nice benefit of my clumsiness, as it was starting to warm up.

The route took us through a wide swath of farmland around Mt. Angel and nearby Silverton. Like I said earlier, it was very different from the Vernonia-Banks trail from last year. This was wide-open land with the rich blue sky encompassing the entire horizon.

I had my smartphone with me, with RunKeeper’s audio cues (time elapsed, distance traveled, and average pace) set to every quarter mile. I wasn’t wearing headphones, since Uberthons had discouraged (but not forbidden) their use, so when the audio cue came up, it would just announce it openly. Somewhere during the fifth mile, another runner twisted around and said, “Oh I thought that was mine.”

I said, “I’ve always wondered where Ms. RunKeeper goes when she’s not giving me information.”

“She’s not very faithful,” the other guy said.

“Ha ha, I think it’s more charitable to say that she’s very giving,” I said.

Just before the halfway mark (okay, halfway for the Half Marathon), Darwin, still in his lederhosen outfit, was there to greet us with a high-five. Well, more like a sideways high-five, no doubt so that we wouldn’t have to deviate much from running form. It’s always a cheerful boost to see Darwin on the race course.

The Gallon House Bridge, pictured in the inset in the race map above, arrived at the 7.5 mile mark. For some reason, I found myself thinking about “The Bridges of Madison County,” which is weird because I neither saw the movie nor read the book; my nearest connection to it is that it was set in Madison County, Iowa, and I lived in Iowa (though not Madison County) several years ago. I would chalk it up to how your mind just wanders when you’re on a long run with no music, TV, or audiobook to listen to.

Why is it called the Gallon House Bridge? According to Wikipedia, which is never wrong (ha ha!), “The 84 foot (26 m) long bridge derived its name during prohibition when it was a meeting place for bootleggers and moonshiners. The bridge was swept off its footings in the December 1964 flood, but was restored immediately after.”

Miles 8 and 9 were, for some reason, not good miles for me. They were among my slowest the entire day (and mile 12 had the excuse of an elevation gain), and several people passed me. I had been thinking that once past the halfway mark, it would be downhill mentally, but that seemed not to be the case. When I passed the medical aid station in that area, I yelled out, “Do you have anything to make me run faster?”

One of the volunteers yelled back, “ENTHUSIASM!!!!”

“Okay, I’ll see how that works,” I said.

I started doing math in my head, as in, how fast do I have to run the last 3.1 miles if I want to finish under 1:40:00 (my happy goal)? After all, a half marathon is just a 5K after a 10 mile warm-up….

That seemed to help a bit, as miles 10 and 11 felt a lot better, and I caught up to most of the people who’d passed me. In fact, mile 11 ended up being my fastest mile the whole day. If only I could’ve kept up that pace for the rest of the race.

We came back to Mt. Angel halfway through the 12th mile. Do you want to know the happiest moment of the race for me? It wasn’t finishing, though that was pretty awesome too. It was this:

Where the Half Marathon split from the Full Marathon

Yep, I was thinking, thank goodness I don’t have to run that distance AGAIN! From this point, it was about another 3/4 of a mile to get to the shiny new high school track and finish most of a lap. I did not quite reach my happy goal, as my smartphone recorded my time as 1:40:33, while the official chip time was 1:41:20, which is an oddly large discrepancy. [UPDATE: Apparently I might have blocked the RFID chip with my arm at the start of the race, so the reported chip time was actually gun time. Race director Alan Rasmussen has since corrected my time by checking the video image of my actual start to 1:40:30.]  Either way, it was slower than last year’s time, but a more consistently paced one. Plus, I did not seem to have incurred any injuries, like the purple toe I picked up last year, or the strained Achilles tendons from the NewYearathon; and in fact, I ended up taking 9660 steps during the day, not counting the 5,999,876* from the race, so I couldn’t have been that achy. All in all, I’d consider that a win.

* Not a real estimate, obviously.

Oh yeah, the race medal. It’s another one of those big heavy ones with a removable pin. Afterward, while walking through the town to get back to my car, I kept getting asked by people, “Did you win the race?” Well, it does look like a winner’s medal.

Race review: From a logistical standpoint, this race measured up to Uberthons’ usual high standards, with parking, good course markings*, lots of enthusiastic and cheery volunteers, ample aid stations, and quality goodies (shirt and medal). The course itself was just varied enough to be interesting visually, and it worked well with the mild weather.

* The one mild oddity was that several times, we had to switch from one side of the road to the other side. Some of the time, there was a volunteer to tell us to make the switch. But on a number of other occasions, I switched because the runners in front of me were switching, and presumably they switched because the runners in front of them were switching.

Some statistics:

Finishers: 523

Oldest: 103(!)

Youngest: 11

Female: 324

Male: 199

Overall Half Marathon results available here.

[UPDATE] Pictures:

One of the participants in the race, Larry Hunt, took pictures all along the marathon and posted them on Facebook. Go take a look at race director Darwin Rasmussen in ledershosen!

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