Have you ever found yourself wondering, Why do so many people look for mostly flat races? Why aren’t there any really hilly races? (Well, there was this year’s Cause + Event’s “Hillaceous Half Marathon,” recapped by Annette Vaughn here.) That must have been what I was thinking when I signed up for the Volcano Race PDX using the Run Oregon comp entry. In fact, I must have been longing for hills so much that I signed up for a double dose, i.e., the 10K race instead of the 5K.
First of all, it’s worth noting that the Volcano Race PDX was put together by Young Audiences: Arts for Learning, the local non-profit organization that provides enhanced opportunities in music and arts for Oregon kids. Young Audiences also puts together the annual “Run for the Arts” fundraiser in local schools. 100% of the race proceeds go toward Young Audiences’ programs. Having seen the value of YA programs in our local school, I was delighted to be able to take part in this race.
There was an early packet pick-up on Saturday, a day before the race, but I wasn’t able to make it. Between the need to pick up my packet on race day and the knowledge that parking was going to be limited to side streets outside the park, I had planned to arrive at the race a bit earlier than I normally would. With a 9:40 a.m. start for the 10K, however, I didn’t think that would be difficult.
As it turns out, parking was much easier than I expected. I arrived around 9:20 a.m. and found a spot right outside the park entrance on Salmon and 60th. From there, it was about a half mile hike up the road to the staging area for the race. I was dressed pretty simply, just shorts and a short-sleeve tech shirt, as this weekend seemed like it might be summer’s last gasp in 2014. However, it was on the chilly side of cool when I stepped out of my vehicle. Fortunately, the hike uphill warmed me up and stretched out my legs. Yea for dynamic stretching!
Check-in was a breeze, just a couple of people of ahead of me, and two volunteers staffing the preregistration table. I got my racing bib and safety pins and moved over to the next table to pick up the goodie bag and race shirt. I don’t judge races based on the goodies bag (if there is one), but I did want to say that the Volcano Race PDX had a bunch of neat stuff. There were samples of different mostly healthy fruit leather-type snacks; a free Jamba Juice drink; a free entree at Veggie Grill (which if you haven’t tried, is definitely worth checking out); stickers and a Young Audiences pencil; and a couple of Zupan’s 2-for-1 coupons on pasta and fresh halibut. That’s on top of the race shirt, which bears the distinctive race logo. (I’ve got more than enough race shirts, so I passed on the adult size tech shirt and received instead a kid’s shirt.)
I didn’t want to carry all that neat stuff with me during the race, though, and I also didn’t want to hike back down to my car (and back up for the race). Fortunately, there was a complimentary bag check on the other side of the parking lot for the Mt. Tabor Park Visitor Center.
While waiting for the race to start, I noticed something that I thought at first was supposed to be a teepee. I walked around looking for the entrance. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was an arts and craft volcano, and it was spewing smoke! And red lava streamers . . . Hmm, how dormant is Mt. Tabor, anyway?
Besides the paper volcano, there were a couple of booths set up for kids to make paper masks and other arts projects, and there was a nearby playground. Farther up the hill, near the start/finish line was an ice cream truck. In other words, this was a very family friendly environment.
Soon, the race organizers called for the 10K runners to approach the start line to go over the race course. (5K runners weren’t due to start until 10 a.m.) I was definitely eager to hear the directions, because I had looked at the published race course on my own and found it to be extremely confusing:
“First pass,” “second pass,” “third pass,” and lots of arrows. . . . Yikes! I had a vague recollection of what the roads on Mt. Tabor were like because I had run an Uberthons event here about two and a half years ago, but the Volcano Race map left me feeling quite addled.
Race organizer Julie Hammond came prepared with a big blow-up of the race course mounted on poster board, and she traced the entire route for us. Seeing it outlined like that was helpful, but this was a course with many turn offs and multiple sections that were to be crossed two or three times during the day, so there was only so much that I could remember. There were handouts of the race course available, but I didn’t want to carry a map with me on a race.
(This is the sort of race where it might be useful to have a bicyclist lead the runners on the route.)
Around 9:40, we got a 10 second countdown, and then we were off. This was not a chip-timed race, so I had positioned myself near the front. The first half mile was a half mile uphill ascent (total climb, 75 feet, or six stories). I found myself surprisingly in the lead, running at a 7:30 min/mile pace that I didn’t think would be sustainable, not on the uphill stretches, but that’s the way races usually start for me.
This portion of the race topped out at the highest point on Mt. Tabor, which is also a roundabout for Harvey Scott Circle road. After completing the short loop atop the hill, I was directed by a race volunteer to take a short stair segment to the Power House trail, which paralleled the road we had taken up to the peak. All downhill, the trail connected to North Tabor Drive at the 1 mile mark, and another volunteer directed me to take a sharp right turn to continue downward.
That’s when I started to get chased down. Apparently, I am better at going uphill than I am at going downhill. In fact, for much of the race, the guy who eventually finished a few seconds ahead of me kept trading places with me. He’d pass me on the downhill stretches, and I’d catch up and pass him on the uphill parts. At one point, I had just passed him when the route started to angle down again, so I held my hand out in a please, after you gesture.
As you can see from the course map, there are three water reservoirs in Mt. Tabor Park, and we ended up going around all three, though we didn’t circumscribe the oval one in the middle as tightly as the other two. Those were about the only flat parts of the entire course. The rest of it was up and down, up and down, up and down. About those reservoirs: as I looked upon the pristine water, I couldn’t help but think, this is why we periodically have to boil our water….
There were two water stations on the course, although I’m not sure if the one near the start/finish was actually manned. The one near the middle reservoir had two volunteers, one on each side of the road, and it was a stretch that we crossed twice. I’m not normally a water drinker during races, but I decided to slow down both times. Here’s what it looked like just past the water station:
Yep, it’s actually fall, but on that Sunday, it still looked and felt like summer, and it’s pretty hard to beat Pacific Northwest summers.
The last mile ended up being the worst for me, and I resorted to walking up one uphill stretch and the last flights of steps. At that point, I’m not sure it slowed me down all that much….
I finished in 49:44, fourth overall out of 86.
Review: Although the race course looked hopelessly confusing on the screen, it ended up being mostly clear due to the combination of signs and volunteers. The only time I had a moment of uncertainty was the first pass around to the top of the map (near the start/finish), when the volunteer there had momentarily stepped away to see the 5Kers off on the beginning of their race. However, she hurried over quickly and directed us to keep going straight. I might have preferred a more intuitive course, possibly 5K x 2 given the 5K walk/run option, but I also get that Mt. Tabor doesn’t offer a lot of clear options without a lot of backtracking or doubling up as it is.
On the most important measure, so to speak, of a race, this one scored well: RunKeeper measured it at 6.22 miles. Chip-timing would have been nice, but for a 100% charity race, I definitely understand keeping expenses down as much as possible.
For full 10K results, click here.
1. Jeff Britain, 48:25 (7:49 pace)
2. Theodore Stenmark, 49:38 (8:00 pace)
3. Tung Yin+, 49:44 (8:01 pace)
1. Rachel Murphy, 49:08 (7:56 pace)
2. Stacey Hanf+, 50:12 (8:06 pace)
3. Kalini Cummings+, 50:33 (8:09 pace)
+ denotes Masters runner
1. Mike Wilke, 50:01 (8:04 pace)
2. James Deforest, 53:03 (8:33 pace)
3. David Morrissett, 53:47 (8:41 pace)
1. Kari Greene, 53:47 (8:40 pace)
2. Kimberly Bessette-Martinez, 57:03 (9:12 pace)
3. Melissa Robertson, 1:00:30 (9:46 pace)