The Shamrock Run is one of those perennial Portland races that seem to have been around forever, and I’ve certainly run my share of them. I’m pretty sure I’ve run the race as far back as the 1990s, but my Shamrock shirt collection begins in 2001. The Shamrock Run is also one of those races that puts a lot of care into their T-shirt designs, coming up with a bold and distinctive logo that changes each time, yet usually retains common elements like a clover leaf and often the colors of the Irish flag. I also appreciate the fact that they include the year, one of the crucial elements of a solid race shirt design.
The Shamrock Run is a rare race that draws together the full spectrum of the running and racing community, from the top local speedsters toeing the line at the front of the pack, to the year-round regulars you see at all the races, to the occasional runners who just hit the big events, to the non-runners who are drawn to the big crowds once a year. And a huge percentage of participants in each of these categories wear costumes to celebrate the festive atmosphere.
One of the most famous features of The Shamrock Run is the weather. Everyone talks about the Shamrock weather! It’s usually cold, wet, and windy, or at least a strong combination of two out of three. One year I finished the 5k in rain and howling winds, and then stood shivering in the median, attempting to take photos of my club-mates finishing the 15k in a horizontal downpour. Most of the resulting photos were blurry figures obscured by drops on the lens. I vaguely remember one year in the mid-2000s that was warm and sunny (I have a photo somewhere of me sitting on the curb in a singlet after the race, and I hardly ever wear singlets, let alone in March in Portland). But that was definitely an exception. Still, the conditions rarely “dampen” the spirits of the participants.
The Shamrock Run is also well-known as awarding the best age group prizes around: Adidas backpacks or duffle bags. If you run quickly and frequently, you can put together your own set of Shamrock Run logoed luggage. Just remember to put some identifying pin or keychain on yours if you travel to another event or run a relay with other Portland area speedsters, as Shamrock Run bags are a popular item of running travel gear.
Though the courses have been adjusted this year, The Shamrock Run is also famous for its hills. The race began as an stand-alone 8k, and the Broadway hill was the big one, a steady climb with false reprieves at the intersections. Several years in, the 5k was added, and the new little brother also featured a solid portion of uphill on Broadway. Later, the old Cascade Run-Off 15k course was added and Terwilliger made Broadway look like child’s play (although some will argue that Broadway is still actually worse. At least Terwilliger has curves, and a few slight downhills mixed in.) Finally, the half marathon joined the family in the past few years, also making use of Terwilliger. While the Shamrock Run has certainly seen fast times, runners have had to work for them!
My personal memories of The Shamrock Run include several “doubles” in which I succumbed to the lure of the schedule and ran two of the races in the same day, usually the 5k, along with the 8k or 15k. Running the 15k after racing the 5k full out is quite an experience and an excellent example of running on fumes! Still, it was a nice sense of accomplishment, and I even managed to come away with two Adidas bags on a couple of occasions. Luckily, my mother’s birthday was later in March, and she was an avid hiker, so it worked out well. This year, the “double” has become an official part of the Shamrock Run, with the “Double Down Challenge”: Runners who register and run both the 5k and 8k will receive a very cool-looking metal beer cup!
Aside from the rain, and the one sunny year, two particular Shamrock Run memories stand out. The first was in 2008, when I found myself running alongside Olympian Marla Runyan in the 15k. Because she was legally blind and unfamiliar with the course, she asked me some questions as we began the climb up Terwilliger. I was able to tell her how much longer we had until the top, and keep her from going off course. It was fun to have a friendly and supportive conversation with a famous and outstanding runner, and be able to help her out too. Eventually she put on the afterburners and pulled away from me down Barbur and Front Avenue, but it was a great memory.
In 2014, my friend and Red Lizard teammate Raghav asked me to pace him in the 5k in his attempt to get a seeded entry in the Lillac Bloomsday race in Spokane later that spring. I wasn’t in top shape, but I agreed to help. We ran the first mile at just about his target pace, but then my wheels came off and I had to tell him to take off on his own as we crossed the train tracks near 9th Ave. I could see him rapidly disappearing through the crowd as I gasped and sputtered my way through the last two miles and made the climb up Broadway. I staggered across the line and met up with Raghav in the chute, disappointed to find he had missed his goal time by a mere 10 seconds! I felt bad that I hadn’t been able to stay with him longer, but he assured me it wasn’t my fault, and it ended up feeling a little like a passing of the torch, as we joked that maybe he should start pacing me!
History, community, a festive atmosphere, nice shirts, “interesting” weather, coveted awards, challenging courses, and supportive teamwork and cooperation are all things that make The Shamrock Run a pillar of the Portland race schedule every year.