About a year ago, one of our bloggers ran in the 2013 EWEB Run to Stay Warm race. She had raced the event a few years prior and her expectations for a smooth, seamless event were quite high. Following the race, I distinctly remember having an internal discussion about her experience, as she felt disheartened with some aspects of the race that fell flat for her. After some discussions (both internal and external sources), there appeared to be some barriers working against the race that year.
Fast forward 365 days to the 2014 event, which was held on Sunday, November 23. I tried to bury any preconceived thoughts about the 8th annual race, though past experiences are sometimes hard to shake. I told myself to just enjoy things regardless of the outcome and try to have fun. But what I didn’t really expect was to be BLOWN AWAY by the 2014 race and CRUSH any figurative dark clouds hanging over the event.
I am going to highlight a few differences that were noted between the two years. Please note that I ran the half marathon, as opposed to the previous blogger running the 10k. This compare and contrast is NOT to rehash the past, but instead to bring to light just how much work had been done to bring this race back to prominence.
2013: Our blogger had a hard time finding parking even showing up an hour early.
2014: I showed up at 8:06 for the 9am start, expecting to be relegated to the street a mile away. Color me surprised when there were numerous parking spots still available near the start line in the main lot. There seemed to ba a variety of other lots available as well. I don’t know how crazy it got as the races drew nearer, but I always say show up early and you wont have to worry. In this case, I didn’t.
2013: From the 2013 recap: “Loving races that have same-day packet pick-up available, I was quickly struck at the longer than normal pick-up lines. To pick-up your packet, you had to visit one table to obtain your bib number, then proceed to another table to collect your race chip. This added an undesireable amount of confusion, for both novice and seasoned runners alike.”
2014: This was easily remedied for this year, and pick-up was a cinch. Sure the room was crowded, but that was mostly due to the number of runners who were hanging out in the small area, and had no bearing on the race. I got my bib immediately, was graciously shown to the shirt table, and was out of there in about 2 minutes tops.
2013: The half started a bit behind time (the 10k and 5k about 20 minutes behind) and the first half mile to mile was spent jostling for position due to walkers and slower runners towing the front positions.
2014: I can’t speak to the starting times for the 10k and 5k, but the half started right on time. There were no pace signs, but that didn’t seem to be an issue for me. Maybe slower runners and walkers at the front was an anomaly last year.
I will admit that first half mile or so was definitely a challenge to pass people. If you didn’t achieve getting way our in front at the start, once you hit the trail, there were runners 3-4 wide for a bit. It definitely yielded slower times, but I was still able to achieve a 7:40 first mile without having/needing to push myself. And I have been in races where the congestion was MUCH worse, so this was really no big deal.
One of the coolest part of the race took place within the first .15 of the race too. I was too busy stretching and warming up to notice, but when the horn sounded and we took off, we were flanked with spectators until we hit the trail. They were cheering, ringing cowbells, and shouting encouragement. It was pretty awesome!
2013: While there was a lot of praise about the course and those manning aid stations, the recap highlighted that the last two aid stations were located about a quarter-mile apart from each other, so a lot of people skipped it.
2014: Believe it or not, I have never ran this area before. I have run in Alton Baker Park on a few occasions (mostly from my experience at the 2012 Race for the Cure and the 2013 Eugene Half Marathon), but never along the paved trails that flank the river. With 50+ degree temperatures and a light overcast sky, the leaf lined trails provided the most ideal spot for an Autumn race.
The race itself was essentially broken into two halves – what I call the Eastern half and the Western half. The “Eastern” is the first 5.5-ish miles of the course in the more woodsy and quiet backdrop while sending runners into Alton Baker Park, under I-5, and near Autzen Stadium. The second “Western” half is leaving Alton Baker Park and taking to the more urban and “busy” trails along the Willamette. The trails were not congested, but were not closed so there was some non-race foot traffic in this portion – nothing major however. This part of the race was entirely new to me and running in and out of parks was really fun. It was like a surprise at every turn.
2013: From the 2013 recap: “Crossing the finish line, there was a backlog of racers trying to get their race chip clipped off, their bib torn off to record placing, and half marathoners obtaining their finisher medal. If you received an age group or overall race award, the awards ceremony was occurring off-site at The Bridge Bar and Grill, located about 3/4 of a mile from where the finish line was.”
2014: I experienced no issue with a backlog of racers. I even finished relatively close to some of the 10k runners and walkers, but had no issues with feeling cramped. It was a quick bib rip and we were on our way to get “fitted” for our new medals. The awards and post-race gathering was once again off-site, this time at the Tap and Growler.
For those who know me, I am a big craft beer guy. There could not have been a perfect setting to relax and decompress. It was merely 1/4 mile from the start and the quick little walk helped me work out some tightness. It was a tad cramped to get beers (we got to choose one of 4 select beers for free or we could have paid for any other beer on one of their 81 taps). There were made-to-order pancakes being cooked up, and the atmosphere was definitely rocking with amped up runners, football, music, and libations. I loved this and wished that more small and medium-sized races took this idea and partnered with nearby bars, restaurants, or breweries.
All-in-all, the 2013 review highlighted just how great this race would be with a few changes. Whatever happened in 2013 to have our blogger leaving wanting more was completely dissipated this year and the race blew way past all my preconceived ideas and expectations and left me with a supremely positive experience. Great work!