Note: No, you haven’t pulled a Rip Van Winkle … this post is being published at the end of 2018 as runners and hopeful race organizers wait to see what happens with the latest effort to create a new Portland Marathon. It’s just one runner’s perspective on what would make an ideal race to represent our hometown.
It had been a while since I ran a marathon, but when the registration opened up for the 2020 Portland Marathon, I acted on impulse and signed up. And it was everything I’d hoped it would be … even my time was better than expected!
This was the first big year of the new Portland Marathon. A few years ago, when the organization was shut down and its leader outed for stealing money from the nonprofit, I was hopeful that Portland would earn a spot among other world-class marathons like London, Chicago, Berlin, and New York.
What I think the new organization really nailed is that the race remained accessible for your so-called “average runner” like me, but brought in world-class talent that made the race a little more exciting. Overall, more than 22,000 participants crossed the finish line, with another 12,000 in the half and more than 4,000 kids in the city-wide Mini-Marathons.
The new course, which weaves through all five of Portlands quadrants (yes, I know that sounds funny – but we’ve got SE, NE, N, NW, and SW), was well-supported thanks to community and local business efforts to get neighbors out to cheer. Many neighborhood associations declared the day a block party, with activities, passport programs to win prizes for visiting their local businesses, and food and drink at their storefronts.
We also got to see a number of the Portland Mini-Marathons — these were along areas of the course where there was space to hold kid’s runs in parks along the route, and the little kids racing and cheering may have been the best motivator of the day (especially at mile 14). The fact that some proceeds from the race would go to neighborhood associations must have been a huge factor, as the spectators near these areas were loud and really made for a fun race experience.
I also appreciated how the course’s aid stations seemed to respond to the paces and volume of runners. A friend of mine was cheering near mile 15, and she described how the elite runners’ water tables were set up for the leaders, then broken down and more volunteers moved in for the citizen’s race. When I came through, I was about mid-pack, and had no trouble navigating the aid stations, since they were in really wide areas. Another friend, who finished in 5:45, said the energy level was just as high when she ran through.
At the Expo, the race organizers had handed stickers out for runners to stick on their bibs to indicate where they were from, and around mile 18 I found a woman with an Iowa sticker, with whom I ran with for the last miles of the race. I thought that was nice to have as an icebreaker since a lot of people were from out of the area, and they knew who was a local to ask about restaurants and other things to do in town.
Speaking of the Expo … it was better than most marathon expos (maybe I’m biased) because of the variety workshops runners could attend, and the race sponsors offering fun activities in their booths. My favorites were the cooking demonstrations by Elyse Kopecky and Shalane Flanagan, and the “Quiz Show” with some local celebrities who were going to run in the race. The Expo was an experience on its own.
Anyway, back to race day itself. I arrived about 45 minutes before race start, having been dropped off so that my walk to the start corrals would take me past a few of the mapped-out porta-potty stations. That was really nice – you could plan your warm up to include the inevitable without having to wait in line for 15 minutes just to go to the bathroom. The weather was amazing, so I checked my gear early in one of the gear-check trucks. These were parked on various roads leading to the corrals, so if you wanted to dress down before getting to the start line – or maybe just wanted to check dry clothes for afterwards – you could offload your gear quickly. A volunteer put a sticker on my bib so that they’d be able to find my bag at the finish (which was helpful because I don’t think I would have been able to as quickly as they got it for me).
Excellent signage led me to the right corral, and the way they were set up, I was able to see the elite start and the first citizen’s wave. It reminded me of the way Bolder Boulder runs their wave start – not a ton of waiting around, with a just-in-time model to get everyone to their start on time. I also appreciated that the start areas were pretty much lined with potties and there was ample room to stretch and prepare mentally.
Leaderboards along the course kept the field updated on how the elite women’s and men’s races were unfolding, and I almost wished I was in the finish area to watch the leaders’ races unfold on closed-circuit TV. I’ve ridden on the press truck before and it’s really something else to see the turn-by-turn action. My mom was in the viewing area, and she said later that even with as little as she knew about marathoning it was really exciting (and the coffee bar didn’t hurt her willingness to go downtown so early on a Sunday).
The coolest part of the race for me was definitely when Molly Huddle popped into the race for a mile with my pace group. I don’t know if that was planned, but she’s an amazing runner and to hear her give the runners encouragement may have made me tear up just a little bit. I may also have been a little starstruck, because she is awesome and I am a nerd. (Besides, doesn’t everyone get super emotional at mile 23?)
After the race, I was doing okay walking around with my sweet finisher medal and shirt (I didn’t need one of the space blankets) for a few minutes and then I started to feel a little nauseous … maybe not enough water with that last Gu … so I headed to one of the medical areas and just sat for a while. A volunteer brought me some Nuun and my favorite snack (Lays potato chips, thank you) and thanks to the timer (the local company, Huber Timing), my mom and husband knew I’d finished. It was then that someone brought me my checked bag, and I was able to text my family quickly to let them know I was okay but needed to sit for just a little longer. Luckily, I was plenty recovered to attend the post-race awards ceremony and concert that night at the Timbers Stadium.
All in all, this race was so much more than I’d expected. From the awesome Expo to the beautiful course, the race swag and the post-race food (not to mention the beer at the concert), I’d recommend this race to any and all thinking of running a marathon. We’re lucky that Portland has finally lived up to its potential and I’m proud to call the new Portland Marathon my hometown race.