I found the friendliest half marathon. It’s a little drive out from the Portland area, but completely worth it. The Reindeer Run in St. Helens is definitely worth the drive.
This time of year is always super hectic, so I might have read the race details in a bit of a hurry. I read the half marathon started at 8AM, but failed to see that start time was for walkers and runners who wanted a little extra time. I was a little surprised it wasn’t more crowded when I arrived just after 7:30, but, still oblivious to all the surrounding signs, hustled to get my race belt on and hit the bathrooms one more time.
No lines at packet pick up and no lines in the bathroom should have been the first signs, but it was early on a Saturday. I finally realized, as the lines got longer and the church foyer filled up, that 8AM was the early start, and the half marathon would begin at 8:30AM. This posed a problem, since I had made plans with my boys and needed to get back in a hurry.
The Reindeer Run crew was extremely accommodating and allowed me to join the early pack. I knew I loved this small town run before I even lined up at the start. I also knew that starting an event early, might mean that I’d hit certain spots along the course before volunteers, increasing my risk of taking a wrong turn or two. They told me the course would be easy to follow, but I know that if there’s one spot to go off course, I’ll find it.
The run begins in the parking lot at the Columbia County Foursquare Church and heads towards Highway 30, easy enough. It’s a big parking lot and I turned right instead of left to head to the highway, but that was the only section of 13.1 miles that I questioned at all, which is pretty impressive. Each mile had a reindeer marker and there were still plenty of volunteers, or as they call them ‘volundeers’ all along the course, even with the early start.
As if the friendly race directors and cheery volunteers weren’t enough, the official on the motorcycle was incredibly friendly as well. I chatted with him a bit, laughing about my minor wrong turn. Instead of laughing at me, which I totally deserved, he asked if they could improve their signs. This little town run genuinely listens to their participants and it shows. I would have chatted longer, but he turned into a bit of a coach and reminded me I was running, not talking. He made me laugh, gave me a warning when the speedy guys were catching up and, most importantly, made sure everyone was staying on course.
I assumed the run would be flat; I have no idea why because the elevation chart on their page had noted some definite rollers, but I don’t always find those reliable. However, they were accurate; this course is not a flat one. There aren’t any major hills, but there are enough rollers along the course and slow steady inclines, that you feel it. Since it was an out and back though, it made it easier knowing you would have some downhill coming back and also helped you plan for a hill or two on your return.
I think the other thing I like about out and backs is getting to see the runners ahead and behind you, an opportunity to cheer on and support each other and see more of the participants. The course was pretty. Once you are out of St. Helens there are all sorts of farms, old farmhouses and livestock to see along the way. Plus it’s a huge bonus to have limited traffic along the course. The roads weren’t shut down, but there were very few cars along the way and the cars I did see I think were spectators. The Reindeer Run didn’t have trains or traffic to stop you, like some of the runs in town.
Chip timed by Uberthons, you could get your time and stats printed as soon as you crossed the finish line, no waiting for numbers to be posted. Runners received a fun reindeer finisher medal, stuffed reindeer toy and technical race shirt. With indoor flushing toilets and a warm spot inside to eat post-race goodies, it was almost impossible to find something negative about this run.
The worst part about this event was the rain and considering we live and run in Oregon, I don’t think that can even count. We had a bit of drizzle at the start, but for a run in December, it was mild. I have to run this one again. I will be making the drive again next December to run the Reindeer Half Marathon. Truly the friendliest run I’ve done and I’ve done some super friendly events. Plenty of water stations and volunteers, organized, well-marked and inspirational quotes along the course, the Reindeer Run is worth a trip. I loved seeing all the families making a morning out of it. There were plenty of people pushing strollers, lots of kids running with parents and tons of friends running and walking together. Even with this busy season, they took the time to make some memories. With a 5k, 10k and Half Marathon, there’s a distance for everyone, just make sure to double-check the start time.