When I want to make my friends who live in other parts of the country jealous, I tell them about how awesome Oregon summers can be. But sometimes they can be a little too awesome, as the weather forecast for race day was a high of 101 degrees. With a start time of 9 a.m., I figured it wouldn’t be deathly hot, and it wasn’t, but it was already bright and warm when I arrived at Portland Meadows about 15 minutes ahead of time. As would be expected given the venue, parking was a cinch.
Normally, I wear a tech shirt that corresponds to how I got the comp entry to the race (if I got a comp entry at all), either Run Oregon or Uberthons (who comped this race for me). For this race, though, I broke with tradition and opted for a super-reflective white Columbia Sportswear Omni-Freeze Zero tech shirt and running shorts from Four Athletics (which I reviewed here.)
As I walked in from the parking lot, I marveled at the expansiveness of the race track. I’ve done my share of running on a 400 meter track, but the mile lap gives an immediate appreciation of the actual distance. You don’t have to perform the mental gyrations of trying to unfold a 400 meter track into a straight line and then multiplying it by four; you just stretch out the oval-shape into a line.
I also noticed that the track was sand. Because I did some quick warm-up sprints on a dirt path cutting across the field in the middle of the course, I didn’t really notice how hard it would be to run on the track.
No Uberthons event would be the same without Darwin Rasmussen’s pre-race reminders: fast people start in front, good-looking people go in back, and “if you don’t like your time, run it again until you get one you like.” Today, Darwin went ahead and seemingly assigned some of us, like me, to the front. Hey, wait a minute….!
The rules for the race were simple: the first lap would be on the outside of the track, the second lap would be on the middle of the track, and the last lap would be on the inside, with the different lanes marked by plenty of orange cones.
At one point, the plan had been for all racers to start in the actual gates that horses start from, but apparently the heat might have caused problems for Portland Meadows, so we just got the “Go!” from Darwin….
….which led to that first step on sand. Dry, soft, and thick sand.
It didn’t take long to realize that this was going to be a s-l-o-w course. Within the first 1/4 mile of the race, I was already slowing down to my usual 10K pace (and the slowing down was not over), and the others around me seemed to be affected similarly. I think my recovering Achilles tendon thought “great!” about the soft surface, but the rest of me was struggling to find the right pace to match the higher effort level that this race was requiring.
I soon discovered that some parts of the track had tire tread marks, and that some of these tread marks were compacted enough to provide more solid footing. Running in these grooves felt kind of like running on one of those moving paths at the Portland Airport. Of course, just as the moving path eventually ends, so too did these tread marks. And so too did my short bursts of “speed.”
As we headed back toward the start line to begin the second lap, Darwin was calling out the numbers of the approaching runners, and in the spirit of the venue, noting the “number of lengths” that a given runner was ahead.
The second lap seemed more even than the first one. The group of four or five runners that I had settled in with started passing runners, but because of the staggered lanes, there was no clogging at all. I think the main reason the laps were staggered was to add enough distance to make three laps work out to 3.1 miles, but it had a nice effect also of spreading everyone out. On this lap, I saw one runner pushing a stroller in the outer lane. Wow, that must have been some incredible workout!
It had been 72 degrees when we started, but of course the summer sun often makes it feel warmer than it actually is. It did feel warm in the sense that there wasn’t the feeling of invigoration that you get from the cool air during fall races, but it wasn’t oppressively hot by any means.
When I reached the last lap, I moved right next to the rail, where the sand seemed less poofy. I started to speed up about 1/4 mile into the lap, and when I reached the last straightaway, I tried going even faster (i.e., getting back to my 10K pace….). With about 1/8 of a mile left, I told myself, “Hey, Usain Bolt takes less than 20 seconds to finish the remaining distance.” (Of course, Usain Bolt is an Olympian and I am a mere mortal, and he’s running on a track for humans, not horses.) So it took me considerably more than 20 seconds to cover that ground….
After crossing the finish line, I was given a bottle of cold water and a finisher’s medal by race volunteers. There were also towels soaked in ice water available; I took one and covered the top of my head and let the cold water drip down my back. (The Columbia Sportswear Omni-Freeze Zero shirt is supposed to suck away heat when it gets wet.)
Wolf Meetings, the winner of the Battle of the Doctor Bands, was performing on the stage in the activity area in the middle of the field. There was also a big bounce structure for kids to play on, and a basketball net with a small trampoline at the base for the Rip City Slammers to show off their array of basketball trick shots.
Besides guzzling water and checking the instant results, I decided to check out the food options. Post-race food has been common at Uberthons races in the past couple of years, including catering from places like Qdoba and Dave’s Famous BBQ. For the Scrub Run Derby, however, there were three food trucks – and each race bib came with a tear off coupon good for one item/meal. The food trucks were Koi Fusion, Moberi Blends (sans bike blender – after that tough course, I don’t think I could have pedaled much anyway), and Altengartz German Sausage. I first narrowed it down to food instead of a smoothie, and then decided on the brat, mostly because there’s a Koi Fusion not too far away at Bridgeport Village.
The food coupon was good for one regular bratwurst, which was quite tasty with catsup* and spicy and sweet mustard. The race bib came with a second tearaway coupon, which was good for a beer courtesy of Griksen Brewing Company. I don’t drink, so I gave mine away to my friend and fellow Uberthons Ambassador Eileen Kuffner.
* Yeah, I spell it “catsup,” not ketchup. I’ll admit objectively that ketchup looks like the correct spelling variant, but I kind of like the way catsup looks. And we just got a new cat, so “cat’s up” is something that gets said anyway.
There was a quick award ceremony, where the male and female winners of the 5K received checks for $125, and the first, second, and third place overall, 45+, and 65+ finishers, received gold, silver, or bronze trophy medals respectively (and courtesy of Athleta). And to top off the available bling, there were age group winner pins (first, second, third). So everyone walked with at least a finisher’s medals and a full stomach, and many others got pins (with just under 150 finishers in the 5K, there were lots of age group winners).
Obviously, this was a tough race, easily the most challenging Uberthons one since the Game Day Rival in 2012, which took place on Mount Tabor. I wouldn’t want to run this course regularly, but I think it would be great to run it once a year because it’s so different from other race courses. It was completely flat – my Garmin noted 0 feet of elevation gain – but so hard…. The logistics are perfect for a fun event with post-race activities: the venue could easily accommodate a thousand or more runners, I think.
For full results, click here.
Disclosure: I am an Uberthons 2016 Ambassador and I received a comp entry for this race.