Like most people, I prefer to sleep in my own bed, especially prior to a race. But there is one race on my yearly schedule that is about a two hour drive from home that is worth changing the routine. Located in Hood River Oregon, on the Columbia River Gorge, this half and full is a destination race, with a great location and friendly vibes all around. I believe this was my fourth time at this event, though I missed last year. Having only done the half, it was not a new experience. The course is challenging, but very scenic. Minimal time running on the road really makes this a good run for the head and body.
Due to lack of planning, I was not able to get a room in Hood River, instead staying in The Dalles about 30 minutes away on I-84. With the 9:30 half start, it still did not require an early waking even though my nerves had me out of bed by 5:30. The upside of an early waking was more freedom in regards to breakfast choices, allowing me to fuel for success without worry of an upset stomach. Previous experience with this event led me to be comfortable with utilizing the day of event packet pick up, collecting my bib and assorted goodies after standing in line under a large tent for five minutes. With the weather in the Gorge being notoriously unpredictable, it was fun to enjoy no wind and temperatures in the low 50s prior to the race start. There was fruit for sampling on the tables and music playing as people started to congregate and go through their pre race routine. This was my first half since the spring so I was approaching it as a longer tempo run. The key was to run comfortably without aggravating recently subsided injuries. I kept this in mind by staying warm for as long as possible and keeping my warm up to a half mile easy jog around the parking area.
When it was time to line up I got into the chute, walking to the front of the start. There were a couple competitors that looked challenging and it was a task to keep my race strategy in mind. It would be too easy to succumb to the excitement, charging off the line with an aggressive start and burn out far too early. After the gun went off several runners got in front, most notably one in a Lewis and Clark singlet that I was pegged for a challenger at the start. By the time we got into Hood River, he was the only one in front of me, and slowly increasing the gap. I passed on the challenge to chase him and instead got comfortable. The first three miles of this course are a climb, starting with sweeping curves and then settling down into a gradual rise. It’s a challenging start and my approach was to climb at moderate effort meaning my muscles would feel it but I would not breathe heavy.
From about the two mile mark to the turnaround I ran alone. The forest is rather quiet (for a half deaf guy), with occasional bird calls and sounds of the interstate far below. The fall foliage is amazing, as is the regular views of the river and sights of the Washington side of the Gorge. It’s easy to get distracted by the views and forget how many miles have passed. There were two water stations before the turnaround, with the attendants cheering us on. The most unique part of the race is the portion spent in a tunnel just prior to the end point, as we experience it twice. Once heading back, it was fun to exchange cheers and thumbs ups with those heading in the opposite direction. The support here is something else, as it is unique and empowering to hear participants yelling and cheering, which spurs me to hit speeds bordering inadvisable as the last 5 miles are nearly all downhill.
The last section is the steepest and it is easy to get carried away. The crashing reality hits once the course enters town, leveling out and then climbing for a block. I didn’t feel as bad as I have in years past, but those last three climbs in town may be the worst due to their location. After traveling under the interstate, the finish takes us back to the park and into the welcoming finishing chute.
Recovery was aided with strawberries and bananas before the cool down run. Then it was time for more hearty fare, including tacos and chocolate. There were plenty of tables and chairs for everyone and it was fun to chat with friends as they came in. There was a station in the corner with the live race results to check before the awards ceremony.
Columbia Gorge Half Marathon and Full Results
Find the full results here
Women’s overall leaders
- Jamie Gibbs 35, 1:23:58
- Hope Hill 26, 1;24;06
- Jen Lillemon 33, 1:25:18
Men’s overall leaders
- Blake Slattengren 22, 1:10:54
- Brian Bernier 35, 1:15:39
- Brian Arfman 26, 1:22:09
Women’s overall leaders
- Laura Bauer 39, 3:14:59
- Leah Brown 31, 3:16:44
- Tamara Starr 36, 3:17:36
Men’s overall leaders
- Scott Voyles 34, 2:55:25
- Hiromitsu Namba 49, 2:56:19
- Tom Stadelman 36, 3:03:12