Race Recap: Shamrock Run Portland Half Marathon 3/14/2015

Saturday evening, after running in the Alsea Falls Spring Fling 10k trail race earlier in the day, my husband and I zoomed on up to Portland. The rain from the morning continued, and the drive was a grand, white-knuckle adventure. I-5 from Eugene to Portland is one of the dreariest drives on a sunny day, let alone when the rain is pelting your vehicle from every direction.

Jessica (me!) at the starting chute for the Shamrock Run Portland inaugural half marathon ... and sporting my ORRC hat!

Jessica (me!) at the starting chute for the Shamrock Run Portland inaugural half marathon ... and sporting my ORRC hat!

Alas, we made it safely to our hotel downtown Portland. The streets were hoppin’, alive and full of lots of people. Granted, two big things were occurring this weekend - St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all over downtown, as well as the Portland Shamrock Run, which brings in 35,000+ participants, let alone all of the spectators, volunteers, and race related personnel that come into the downtown to support the race. Knowing this beforehand, I was (thankfully) prepared for “mad-house” style conditions. We met my parent’s at Huber’s for dinner, imagining it had nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day so it might be quiet, right? Wrong. But we had our dinner, and I was fueled with turkey, stuffing and bread pudding as my pre-race carb load (which I don’t normally do to whole carb loading thingy … but it’s bread pudding! Come on, you have to “eat all the bread pudding!”).

So, full disclosure – I have never participated in any of the Shamrock Run events. Ever. I am a 100% newbie for racing Shamrock Portland. The events taking place for the Shamrock Run were the 15k, inaugural half marathon, 8k, 5k, and a1km kids run.  Fellow Run Oregon Blogger, Geli, participated in the 15k (read her race recap here), and I was one of the lucky 2,500 people to be able to race in the inaugural half marathon event. Run Oregon Bloggers Joe Dudman and Brian Bernier both participated in the 5k race.

The 15k runners were the first to hit the streets, with their start time being 7:30 a.m. Half marathoners were next, and it was a mass start (no wave system of spacing groups apart by about 20-30 seconds) for us getting out of the starting chute. Race officials wisely held runners back about 5-ish minutes to let a train go through. I appreciated this very, very much, as we would have been running, then have to hit the breaks for the train to go by. Not cool – not fun – but that is the way it goes with downtown Portland racing. During this lag-time of waiting, the race announcers were letting late 15k runners zip through the starting chute, which I am sure they appreciated.

The first ~6 miles of the course was an out-and-back, taking participants along Naito Parkway and NW Front Avenue, which could be best described as an industrial area with some fancy condos scattered about. It isn’t what I would call an ideal area to race, not for the lack-of sights, but due to the road dipping, and not being able to find a flat stretch of pavement. When the roads are cambered, it really knocks my gait out of whack; one foot has to travel further than the other to hit the pavement. I do enjoy an out-and-back portion of course, however. It allows participants to witness the speed and grace of the super-fast runners, and cheer on participants both in front of, and behind you, in the pack. I’m a fan, generally speaking.

Inaugural Shamrock Run Portland finisher medal is beautiful!

Inaugural Shamrock Run Portland finisher medal is beautiful!

When we made it out of the industrial area, participants zipped onto the streets of downtown Portland. Yes, we were already running in downtown Portland, but now we were in the heart of the Rose City. After some zig-zagging and passing fantastic shops and restaurants that I added to my mental list of places I must return to, we headed straight south on Broadway. Wow – what the race officials had to do to get Broadway closed off amazes me. There were a lot of street closures throughout the entire race, but some of the streets, such as Broadway, surprise me that they can be temporarily closed for runners! Woohoo! 

After passing the Portland State University area, we crossed overtop I-405 and began the journey through the Terwilliger Curves. Huge shout out to all the police officers who were managing traffic, as it really started getting backed up here. Us runners really appreciate all you do to keep us safe as we participate in these races. An aid station was strategically placed after one of the climbs up Terwilliger, approximately the 8 mile mark. Thankfully, energy gels were provided, as I was in need of one seriously bad.

The climb up Terwilliger is steady and gradual; it’s not super steep, but it is “unrelenting”, so you are just climbing, and climbing, and climbing. We reached the Veteran’s Hospital exit in the middle of our climbing, and, unfortunately, were directed by the police to stop to let traffic go. The hold-up was 4-5 minutes, and I was super bummed as we all came to a halt right in the middle of the hilly section, where it’s difficult to get that momentum back if you had it prior to the start. I did have it, and due to this stop, I lost the momentum to get to the top at the speed I was going. One plus to running a bit slower was I could hear the bagpipers playing. As this was the first time I have ever participated in the Shamrock Run, Geli let me know that when I heard the bagpipes, I was getting close to cresting the Terwilliger Curves. Sure enough, about 5 minutes after hearing the bagpipes, I was to the top, which is signaled by arriving at the Chart House restaurant. There was a big group of cheering spectators and that was awesome to get some kick and energy back in my step to take on the descent to the finish line, which is about 3 miles all downhill. There were more energy gels available at this stop, too, which was sincerely appreciated.

The ~3 mile descent to the finish line was gradual; nothing too quad busting down Barbur Boulevard! We passed a restaurant that is on my ‘must try’ list, Caro Amico, which was awesome; I always wondered where it was located. Again, lots of very friendly police and volunteers keeping us safe and hydrated. About 1 mile to the finish, after passing an aid station, there was a group of highly energetic spectators, dressed in pajamas, offering racers “carb loading” treats. They had quite a selection to choose from, and it was great grabbing some of their energy to power through across the finish.

Nearing the finish line, half marathoners stayed to the right, and 5k participants were streaming in on the left. This was unusually well managed to get us all across the finish line in a sense of order and not chaos. Half marathoners were handed their inaugural finisher medal, which is absolutely spectacular looking. After exiting the finisher chute, I proceeded to the LifeWise tent to collect my Shamrock Portland half marathoner finisher towel. Wow, I never thought I would love a finisher towel, but I truly do! Thank you LifeWise for this unique finisher item. A lot of 15k’ers were in line trying to collect one, too, but they were only for half marathon finishers. The volunteers handing them out were being extraordinarily friendly about checking to see who needed to receive one.

Post race refreshments were set-up, and included salmon chowder from Stanford’s, and a beer garden open to those with a valid ID over 21. I did not bring my ID on the race with me, so I did not experience the beer garden. It was certainly packed with people at the finish line area, and after grabbing some post race food, I exited the park to get back to our hotel as quickly as possible. The roads getting back to the hotel proved blocked by the course, but I was able to maneuver through downtown to make it safely back to the hotel.

At this point, too, the rain was letting up and the wind storm was kicking in! Glad I was off the course during the high winds. For a first time participant ever in the Shamrock Portland Run, I had an enjoyable time. It is definitely a race that you must experience once. With 37,000+ participants, and so many distances to choose from, it is easy to see why so many people come out to run or walk in any of the events. And, I have to say – going up Terwilliger was fantastic, beautiful, and challenging. I loved every second of that portion of the course.

Pros: Highly competent and energetic volunteers and police directing traffic, delightful finisher medal for the inaugural half marathon and finisher towel from LifeWise, excellent event tech shirt, well managed for 37,000+ participants.

Cons: Not a lot of post-race food options available, at least that I saw around 10 a.m. when I finished, packed starting line chutes with no staggered start for the half marathon, somewhat ‘overwhelmingly’ chaotic simply due to all the participants and people in such a small area at the start/finish line.

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