Race Recaps: 2015 MLK Dream Run by Joe and Robin

Robin: To say it has been hot lately would be redundant, but weather was pretty good for the MLK Dream Run, on Aug. 2nd.  I registered for the 5K distance and enjoyed the sun dipping behind some clouds while I ran the course.  It even sprinkled a few drops before the sun came back out and Portland started to warm back up again!

The course wound through some neighborhoods I had not run in before and I enjoyed the new scenery. I even passed one of those little book exchange “libraries” where you leave a book and take a “new” one home to enjoy. That made me smile. The race has a lot of character and charm. The volunteers were above and beyond with cheers and encouragement  If there was ever any doubt on where to go, simply keep on chugging forward until you see a sign directing you when to turn or a volunteer will be present to give you verbal directions  Despite this great enthusiasm and well-marked course, it is important to know your course map.

As I passed the 1 mile marker (complete with inspirational quotes) I could not help but notice my Garmin was not keeping up with the course markers. I figured that perhaps I was having satellite issues with the cloud cover or…. worse, I wondered if I had forgotten to remove my watch at the pool or some other water-type disaster. When crossing the finish line, Huber Timing informed me that the course was short (2.6 miles) and that a sign must have been turned the wrong way. As a “back of the pack” runner, I am not as affected as someone who could be first overall or first in their age group. I did hear some frustration from runners who had completed the full distance of the race they had signed up for but their time reflects otherwise. If there is any questions, the timing company did make a note on their webpage to contact them.
Despite that hiccup in the course distances, the event is put together with a lot of heart and a whole lot of soul. Before the first wave of runners started their journey, everyone was encouraged to join a local running coach in a warm up drill and then the 15K was off and running, the 10K was sent out next and then me with the 5K group.  When participants crossed the finish line, the after party consisted of lively music, fantastic grilled cheese sandwiches, cold beer, water and other post race type foods.   Among the many  vendors to visit were not one, not two, but THREE different types of massage clinics available.  What a nice treat, even with a race not quite as long as I was hoping for. Overall, the race obviously had an issue with the course distances, but the event has a lot of heart and I hope to only see improvements in the event in the future and the great cause they support.

Joe: Two things stood out about this year’s MLK Dream Run in NE Portland: The nice early start time (7:00a), and the overcast skies and relatively cool temperature. Both factors contributed to a nice respite from the usual hot and sunny 2015 summer Portland race scene, and made for great running conditions. I arrived at the race site at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Alberta St. to the sound of energetic music, a small village of sponsors’ and donors’ tents, and friendly volunteers helping runners with registration and packet pickup. I passed the time before the start talking with fellow Run Oregon blogger Robin and some other friends.

The start and finish scaffolds were set up on the grass, so I tried to figure out the logistics that represented, until I saw race officials moving the start arch out onto Alberta St. This race is careful to obey traffic laws and disrupt neighborhood streets as little as possible, so they waited until right before the start to set up. Runners were called to the line, and at 7:00 the 15Kers took off east on Alberta. Soon after it was time for the 10K runners to head off in the same direction. Finally it was the 5K runners’ turn to listen for the air horn and accelerate west on Alberta.

Actually, we were only on Alberta itself for half a block, as we were quickly ushered onto the sidewalks for the rest of the race, another effort to keep us safe and avoid shutting down the streets completely. Running on the sidewalk, with its uneven slabs and low trees took a little more concentration than the wide open, smooth spaces of the middle of the street, but the added focus required made it fun in its own way. There were signs at each turn, and volunteers gave verbal instructions about the course and upcoming details about the route. We crossed several streets, but with the early start times, traffic was very light, in fact virtually nonexistent for most of the race.

Unfortunately, at one point volunteer instructions and signage contradicted each other, leading to the one major snafu in the 5k. As we approached a cross-street, a volunteer said “5k turn left, go one block, and turn around”. At the next street there was indeed a turnaround sign, but it said “15k straight, 10k turnaround”, with no mention of the 5k. I was afraid we were cutting the course short, but I went with the verbal instructions and made the turn. (This brings up an interesting philosophical discussion for a future post: During a race, which should you trust more, volunteer instructions or signs? It probably depends on the individual circumstances, but I tend to trust the volunteers, since signs can be moved or placed incorrectly).
Some of the leaders had continued straight, so after the turnaround I found myself running with a pack of two or three other runners. We made a quick left along a park thaen a right, and headed back east toward MLK. At MLK we turned right again and began a gradual uphill for several blocks, during which a couple of the leaders caught up and passed us again, slightly assuaging my conscience for cutting the course short (which I was now sure we had done, since we were approaching the finish much too soon). Sadly, even having run only roughly 2.6 miles, my time was still not a 5k PR (though it was close).

After exchanging information and commiserating with fellow 5k runners as well as head timer Jeff Huber, I grabbed a banana and an apricot, and got in line for a delicious Dave’s Killer Bread / Tillamook cheddar grilled cheese sandwich. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech played over the speakers, putting the insignificant course error in perspective. An excellent slow blues band took over the stage as 10k and 15k runners began to finish. Soon it was time for the top finishers to be recognized on stage, and very generous and coveted raffle prizes to be awarded to lucky recipients in the random drawing. Perhaps with 5k, 10k, and 15k races, it might make sense to have a single 5k loop that can be run multiple times for the longer races. While not as interesting as longer individual courses, it would help cut down on confusion about the different races and their respective routes. But other than the course issues, this is a festive community event and a great celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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