Hood River is a bit of a drive for a run, so I made sure to head out extra early since I had no idea how long it would take to get out there on a Sunday morning. Fortunately, there weren’t a lot of crazy people up at that hour and even fewer on the road to the Gorge so I got there in decent time. The event tent was set up for packet pick up, a long row of port-a-potties were lined up outside and the shuttle buses were making the rounds. The race start was a short ride from the event tent. Because there wasn’t parking at the start, near the Tom McCall Trailhead in Hood River, participants were bused up to the race start while cars were parked near the finish line. The marathon started at 9am and I waited for the last shuttle at 8:40am, so I wouldn’t have to wait in the cold for any longer than necessary. I am not a fan of the whole shuttle thing, mainly because I’m a wimp and don’t like getting cold and you never know how long you’re going to be standing around waiting for a bus. This was the most pleasant shuttle experience I’ve ever had, the bus was a comfortable temperature, the ride was short and there wasn’t a line since they were coming so frequently.
Most marathons you can blend in with the crowd and just do your own thing. Columbia Gorge Marathon isn’t one of those. A smaller race means you will run into friends, plus make some new ones along the way. I met some nice girls from Oregon City who let me know this was a hilly course, another guy who reminded me that marathons are just a training run for ultras and played leap-frog with a guy I didn’t actually talk to until the finish line. I even got to run a couple of miles with a new friend I met running the Gorgeous Relay.
Runners are easy to like and you’ll find those at any marathon, this marathon is special because of the course, hills and all. You are climbing from the start and I just kept telling my legs that it meant there would be some downhill. I started off with sunglasses and kept my fingers crossed the rain would hold off until the afternoon, as was rumored. It was brisk, but dry as we headed out and words can’t describe the views.
Much of the course is lined with trees and because the run is in October, the leaves are glowing. With leaves just starting to drop, some of them bigger than my head and in more shades than I can list, it was a true celebration of fall. Besides the foliage, there were spectacular views of the Gorge area, as we made our way to the small community of Mosier. The quaint little town had a whimsical metal art piece next to the road, a cute little coffee shop and made me feel like I had traveled back it time. Besides the few spectators lining the street, it was quiet and peaceful.
The course is an out and back, as runners make their way to the Rowena Crest Viewpoint. I love out and backs for a couple of reasons. It’s nice to know what you’re going to experience on the way back in and it’s even better to get to see all the other runners in front and behind you. We had orchards, fields and the Columbia River to look at along the way, but my favorite view was at the turnaround. I have never wanted a camera more than I did at the Rowena Crest Viewpoint. It was peaceful and majestic and I honestly wanted to just stop and take it in.
The clouds were moving in and it was pretty windy, but the course was still all sorts of gorgeous. The hills hurt, but the views made it worth it. The mile markers came a little slower for me the second half, but I always am grateful for a well-marked course. It was all paved, every mile was labeled and there were plenty of volunteers at each aid station. Those volunteers were tougher than the runners as the rain moved in and the temperature dropped.
I regretted my decision to not pack arm sleeves around mile 23 and by mile 24 I was cranky I hadn’t worn a hat. The last 3 miles were wet and cold and I couldn’t wait to get back to the tunnel. Besides just being fun to run through the tunnel, it was dry in there and, even better, I knew we were getting close to the finish. There was quite a bit of downhill the last couple of miles, on tired legs that can be brutal and it makes it more challenging to stay warm. Still, I prefer that to a steep climb at the end of a marathon.
Volunteers were guiding us through Hood River and I’m sure the cars in town that day hated runners, since there were long lines of stopped cars and trucks. I stared at the pavement and made sure to not make eye contact. I was also trying to dodge the puddles along the way, but I could see the event center in the distance and knew we were getting close. There was a little gravel section towards the end, I think because the area is under construction, but it was pretty level. Between it being a smaller event and the rain, the finish line was a little quiet, as the announcer called out names, but all that matters is that you cross that line.
The medal was created by a local artist and is a unique ceramic piece tied to a ribbon. The tent was warm as people were recovering and enjoying local food and beverages. I saw apples and bananas and heard there was a taco bar, but I was too cold to wait in line. My clothes were soaked. I put on my new Columbia Gorge Marathon beanie, since I had officially earned it, and headed out. I’m no longer a skeptic of the most scenic marathon out there, I would have to agree it’s the Columbia River Marathon. The course is gorgeous and the event is well supported and organized. I will definitely be back to run this one again and will pack my phone for some pictures.