Race For The Roses: A brief history

“Great Cause, Great Race”

Portland’s Race For The Roses has been a fixture on the local running calendar for many years, and has become one of my favorite events. The race is an important fundraiser for Albertina Kerr, a non-profit organization that supports people with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges. Unlike many big Portland area races, Race For The Roses is an independent event, and that means that Albertina Kerr has been able to devote a great deal of time and effort to making it stand out, with excellent organization and attention to detail.

Some of the unique aspects of the race are the east-side start and finish, and the warm, dry, and roomy staging area in the Oregon Convention Center. Everything is laid out well, and large signage makes it easy to locate packet pickup, bag check, post-race results, etc. Food and drinks are plentiful and easily accessible, reducing and speeding up the lines after the race. The finishers’ medals are handmade by members of one of Albertina Kerr’s employment programs for adults with developmental disabilities. In short, Race For The Roses is an extremely well-organized event that supports a great cause.

The start of the 2015 Race For The Roses 5K

In the early years of the race, the course began on 7th or 9th Ave., turned down Lloyd Blvd., and headed over the Steel Bridge, providing runners with a fast downhill start. Sometimes the shaded canyons of the Lloyd District proved to be a very cold place to wait for the starting horn! In those years, post-race activities were held outdoors in a courtyard several blocks east of the Convention Center, where runners were given a finisher’s medal and a long-stemmed rose. Although those were nice venues, the move to the warm indoor expanse of the Convention Center itself is a welcome evolution.

Although I have run Race For The Roses many times, each one a great memory, there are three years that especially stand out. One year when the post-race celebration was held in the outdoor courtyard, an abundance of Nike products was offered in the raffle. Several tables were festooned with running gear bearing the swoosh, so much so that the random drawing went on for what seemed like a couple hours. It was cold, and people began to give up and head home. Finally only a friend from Salem and I remained, clutching our raffle tickets in our shivering fingers. At last the announcer took pity on us and invited us up to choose something. We each selected a very nice set of Nike running sunglasses with interchangeable lenses. Mine are still highly prized and frequently used today, and whenever I run into my Salem friend on a sunny day, we reminisce over the time we stuck it out and hit the raffle jackpot at Run For The Roses.

I usually run the 5k, but in 2001 I had just run the Boston Marathon, and figured I should take advantage of my distance training and keep the momentum going by running the half marathon. Only six days removed from Heartbreak Hill, my legs were still a little sluggish, but even so, I managed to maintain a workman like pace. Somewhere in the last few miles, a familiar figure who was watching the race from his bike cheered me on, and yelled “Nice recovery from Boston!” That gave me a nice, well-needed boost, and I was able to tough out the final stretch despite rubbery legs.

I keep the finisher’s rose from the 2011 Race For The Roses in my sideboard in honor of my mother.

For many years, finishers received a long-stemmed rose. I used to rest mine carefully on the dashboard on the way home, or place it in my leftover bottled water to preserve it. Later I’d give it to my mom, who would place it in a favorite tall vase. In 2011, I ran the race and presented my red finisher’s rose to my mother later that day. She died unexpectedly that night, and I have kept that rose in the sideboard in my dining room ever since. But rather than having a sad association with Race For The Roses, I think of her whenever I run the race, and each finisher’s rose means more than ever.

This year’s Race For The Roses is set for Sunday, April 2nd.

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