The Columbia Gorge Marathon declares itself to be “The most scenic marathon in the country”, which you have got to admit is a pretty high expectation when there are marathons all over the United States. As a first-time finisher of the race this past October 21st, I am 100% in support of their claim.
It. Was. Gorgeous!
The event is an out an out and back, east of Hood River with views of the Columbia River off and on throughout the course. All participants parked at the finish line, where you got an early preview of the venue for the later taco bar feast and after-party. After a quick trip to one of the porta-potties, I was on a school bus with the other marathoners for the short drive to our starting line (and with a significant downhill near the end of the course, I was so grateful to not have run up that beast at the beginning).
The starting line of the marathon was as well marked as the other area, and even had a small shelter to help keep warm. I was grateful for more porta-potty options and an easy bag check, so that I could hold on to that sweatshirt until the last possible moment. And those views from the starting line area were lovely as the clearing fog allowed us to see down to the river, over to the Washington side, and into the woods we were about to journey through.
With approximately 300 marathoner and 1,000 half marathoners, the field was the perfect size to get the energy of other runners and walkers without feeling lost in a crowd. It was nice to not have a traffic jam to get to water or Gatorade at aid stations.
Shortly after the starting horn went off, someone behind me shouted a reminder that “Everyone knows the turtle wins.” That cheerful connection to the story of “The Tortoise and The Hare” was one that would come back to me many times over the following miles. Sometimes with some colorful language thrown in (like around mile 19, basically because it wasn’t mile 26).
The race began on a paved path for only pedestrians, and after a few miles shifted to the side of a generally quiet highway. The marathoners would travel out just short of 12 miles before turning back to our starting line, and then (sigh) 3 more miles to the real finish line. Along the way there were crunching leaves under foot, clear skies over us, and a chilly morning that eventually warmed to around 60 degrees.
Oh, and there were hills. All the hills. I have no idea about the actual elevation changes along the way, but it sure felt like we were constantly going up or down hill. The promise of an out and back is that every up will eventually mean a down. And the Facebook reviews of the event had said it was harder on the way out than back. This running turtle sure hopes those reviewers were truthful.
Aid stations were well placed and stocked with plenty of water and Gatorade. The food options were limited to only Gu’s and occasional Gummie Bears. Around mile 20 I was feeling in need of some salt or at just a piece of bread to help balance with all of the liquids. The aid station at our starting line was still up with graham crackers and a few other bread products. My one suggestion to the amazing race leaders would be to add some pretzels or crackers to the aid stations, but other than that it was a homerun.
The feast at the finish line was as amazing as promised: taco bar, soup, apple cider, and a local IPA for sale. My stomach cannot handle real food right after a race, so I happily picked up a piece of 10th Anniversary Cake and sat down for the first time in hours.
Well organized, beautiful, and a 20-minute PR. Loved it, recommend it, and have already signed up for 2019.