Race reviewed by Erin Hayes Burt
I’ve been running road races for 15 years now, but Revel Mt. Hood was only my third marathon. Like many Revel participants, I had one thing on my mind when I signed up for the race: a BQ time. My first attempt was Eugene, and I was 2:00 short. With that in mind, I decided maybe Revel Mt. Hood and its more than 4,000 feet of elevation drop might just push me over that line. So after Eugene, I took two weeks off and started the Hanson’s Marathon Method training plan for the second time this year. BQ or Bust!
If you’re aren’t familiar with the Revel Brand, it began in 2012, right when Boston instituted the rolling entry process that made the race so much harder to get into. Revel was basically founded on the fact that people want the prestige that comes with qualifying for Boston, and they are willing to spend big bucks and travel to do it. They began in Salt Lake City and now run races in seven locations all over the West Coast, from Oregon all the way down to Tucson.
What this means for runners is that these races are professionally run, are tightly organized, and geared towards those who are traveling to the race. At the start of Mt Hood, the race director said 80 percent of the participants had traveled from out-of-state. There were runners from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and New Jersey on my bus alone! But this also means that if you like the unique feel and crowd support of a local race, you won’t get it here. This is much more like a Vacation Races production than your hometown marathon.
From the moment you sign up, you get a taste of how well-run Revel races are. The website is slick and user-friendly, and you get a lot of options as you go through the registration process, and you get informative emails but not race spam. There are also some convenient add-ons you can purchase during sign up, such as race-day packet pick-up for those who can’t make it to the expo, and a round-trip shuttle from Downtown Portland to the starting line.
Instead of corrals based on finishing time, Revel races start in waves that begin at 5:15 am and leave the starting line every 15 minutes. The starting waves are nice because they keep your group small and eliminate the need to fight the crowd at the beginning of the race. It’s also necessary because runners get the shoulder and right lane for just the first five miles of the race, and then it’s shoulder-running only on an open course.
One point about the waves, however, is that it’s not immediately obvious during registration that if you need a certain pace group, they aren’t available in every wave. I chose a wave that did not have my preferred pace group in it, but once I realized that, I emailed the race and asked to switch and they did so quickly and with no problem.
I also chose to use the Downtown Shuttle to the start so I didn’t have to get my husband and kids up at 4am to drive me to the start. That was a convenient option. However, if you choose the shuttle, you have to be at the Doubletree Downtown Portland between 2:30 and 3am to leave. That means virtually no sleep. I really don’t know how they could make this any easier, since we didn’t get there with a ton of time to spare before the start, but it’s definitely a logistical factor to consider. I didn’t stay at the Doubletree. Instead, I stayed four miles away and took and Uber to the shuttle departure. ($11) In retrospect I think it would have been better to stay closer to Sandy and get some extra sleep.
The busses had plenty of room but no bathrooms, and were clearly marked with “Full” and “Half.” A race employee checked twice to make sure everyone was on the correct bus, since the half and full started in different locations. We even made a short stop in Sandy, Oregon, so one runner could switch busses because they got on the wrong one, and I was pretty impressed that they allowed it.
Once we got to the starting line, there was a corral set up with plenty of port-a-potties, water and Powerade. They also had a U-Haul truck parked for the gear bags to be tossed in just before your wave began. It was quite pleasant, temperature-wise, to me, although Revel provides gloves and an emergency blanket for every runner, and I noticed many were using them. The views were amazing as the sun came up behind us and lit the Valley below. A full moon also added to the dramatic views.
Behind us was a dormant ski lift and the Timberline Lodge, which had guests, so the race organizers were unable to use a loudspeaker. But race employees walked through the crowd to announce each wave line-up, so there was good communication and no confusion. Because of the noise restrictions, the race start was pretty anticlimactic compared to other marathons I have done (Eugene and OKC). No announcements, no National Anthem, no gun start. Our small group got to the line, the race director gave us a few last instructions, and we took off after a crowdsourced countdown.
This was probably the part of the race I was most nervous about, because on the course description, Revel lists the first five miles as the fastest part of this course. It absolutely was, but it wasn’t so fast that you felt out of control. I’m pretty used to the first 6 miles of any race being the worst, but because of the massive downhill, the first five miles felt amazing. The grade was manageable and was fast but pleasant, and I flew alongside my 3:35 pace group, many of whom were chatting happily as if we were on a casual long run. Many folks weren’t using any music because of Revel’s restrictions on headphones (no in-ear headphones allowed), which made this a great race to meet folks and chat along the way if you’re running a conversational pace.
We all had plenty of space, and there was enough space for others to pass as well. Between the grade and the views, it was easy to relax and enjoy myself instead of experiencing the early-race panic that usually sets in when you’re in the crowd still and your adrenaline is tempting you to redline early.
Aid stations occurred every 2.5 miles along the course, which was frequent enough that many in my pace group didn’t carry any water on them. Aid stations offered water and Powerade at first, and later included Honey Stinger gels, bananas, oranges, and volunteers who would slather your legs with a product similar to Biofreeze. All stations had three to four port-a-potties as well.
By mile six, the course flattened a bit before making another descent, this one less intense. We dipped into pockets of cool air as we ran, passing mini waterfalls and running in the shade thanks to the towering Firs. The fact that there were no spectators made this feel more like an adventure relay than a marathon. At this point, the course narrows to the shoulder only, so our pack was a little tighter and you had to watch to avoid intermittent Cat tracks to your left. There weren’t many cars at that hour, and what few cars there were stayed in the far lane. I also saw quite a few cops out enforcing speed limits.
I reached the halfway point right at 1:45, so I was happy with my pace and willing to grin and wave wildly at the camera crew that shadowed us in a Revel vehicle for a few tenths of a mile. There were race photographers along the course as well, taking the photos that are provided free of charge after the race—another perk!
By mile 18, I was starting to be aware of the rising temps, which were supposed to reach 68 by 10am. Several runners in our pace group had shed layers. The course had really flattened at this point, and we were done with the fun part. At mile 23, you get the one and only hill on the course, which is quick and pretty flat at less than 100 feet. Still, after all that downhill running it feels like a personal insult this late in the race.
Just after mile 25 you turn off the highway and onto the paved road that leads to Rainbow Trout Farm. The road is scenic and cool, and you can hear the finish line even though you can’t see it until you’re in the chute. At the finish, they announce your name, you get your medal and there’s plenty of amenities, including several large backdrops with signage to take your photo in front of, free pizza, donuts, soda, and massages.
I stopped my watch at the finish but didn’t look at the time, because at Eugene my GPS had tracked fast, and I was super disappointed when I realized what happened. So this time I went straight to the results tent, where they type in your bib number and print out a personalized certificate with your time and place. I was ecstatic when she also handed me a travel tag that said “Boston Bound” and congratulated me on my Boston Qualifying time! “You didn’t know?!” The volunteer laughed in excitement with me as I cried happy tears and she yelled at the other volunteers, “She’s going to Boston and she didn’t even know!”
I tried to take everything in for a moment and then decided to go find food. I was a little unsteady, understandably, after 20+ miles of downhill, and bumped into someone as I made my way through the crowd. But when I bumped into my third of fourth person, a race volunteer appeared and asked me if I was OK. “I don’t know…I can’t find my family,” was all I could manage. I was pale and my heart was still racing, so she steered me toward the medical tent and got me some more Powerade, a wet towel, and had the medic check me out. I sat in the tent until I regained color and then took off to meet my family.
All in all, I enjoyed my first Revel Marathon. I like that there is only a half of full, the wave starts, and the effort they make to celebrate your BQ. The only downside for me was the super early start (which can be mitigated by staying closer to Mount Hood) and the lack of an energizing crowd along the course.
On the bus to the start, I overheard a gentleman behind me talking to some other folks about his experience running Revel races. He was telling another couple that typically he needed just a day or two of rest after a marathon and was good to start running again, but after these races, he needed a week. Although I did push myself hard to make my goal time, recovery has been much more intense after any other marathon I have run. But for a BQ, it was totally worth it!