When I first started doing races, I did the big ones because I didn’t know any better. The smaller races never claimed the spotlight and I honestly didn’t think about searching for them. As I got older and started doing more and more races, I found myself seeking out the smaller ones, as they had a more intimate feel to them and there were a lot smaller crowds to battle at the starting line.
But this year I decided to do the 2019 Helvetia Half Marathon, admittedly one of the larger well-known races in Portland, and one I had done more than a decade ago but never since. Some things had changed since then. The race shirt was no longer cotton but tech material. The race wasn’t a Run With Paula event back in those days, and it had a decidedly different feel now than it did then. The route seemed to be the same, lots of rolling hills and one more challenging than the rest. We were still surrounded by beautiful countryside views and cows, and we still passed by the Helvetia Tavern and wished we could stop right there for a pint. The best parts of Helvetia have withstood the test of time (19 years and counting now!)
There are many reasons why the Helvetia Half Marathon is a good race pick. Here are a few:
- It’s a Run With Paula event. Have you ever done a Run With Paula race? If not, go check out her races and sign up for one after you finish reading this. The races have grown in popularity over the years, and for good reason. They are the most well organized races around and you feel loved every inch of the way, from tons of aid stations to wonderful volunteers, good quality swag, (a shirt and a beautiful medal about the size of my head!) food, and lots of fun at the after party. This race, which starts at the Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, has a very fun vibe, lots of vendors to check out, and a ton of room to stretch out before and after the race.
- You’ll have a well marked and supplied course. Here’s the thing about smaller races .. You could get lost out there. Many of them are well marked but some are not. This is never a problem at this race. There are huge mile markers and there’s never any question as to where to go. If you’re out there pounding the pavement and getting really tied, you don’t need one more thing to worry about. Having to think too hard when you’re exhausted is No Bueno. Not only is the course fairly obvious, there are tons of water stations. If you’re always wondering whether you should leave your hydration vessel of choice at home or bring it to the race, this is one race where you’d be pretty safe leaving it.
- Leave the City Behind. This was the tagline for the race, and its easy to see why. The course meanders through the countryside, and though it’s most definitely a challenging route on textbook “rolling hills,” it’s pretty gorgeous. You’ll see cows, you’ll hear horses, and you’ll smell that good ol’ country air. You’ll also get to start and finish on Ron Tonkin Field, (home of the Hillsboro Hops!) which Is kinda fun and exciting. Also having free, easy parking for a race at Ron Tonkin was great too. Some of the Portland area races generate a bit more stress over where to park. It was in and out here, despite it being a larger race.
- Surrounded yourself with friends. You’ll never be alone out there. Some of the bigger races are so packed that you’re elbow to elbow with other runners while others are so small that you’re often alone out there. Helvetia is a decent sized race, but I never felt like the route was clogged with people. There are always a few people somewhere nearby though, and I got to have several pleasant conversations with some new friends. All the volunteers at the aid stations were efficient, and it didn’t feel like a huge cluster at those locations either, which can often be the worst part of a race. There’s also a great out and back loop where you get to encourage all the runners both in front and behind you.
- Post race food and festivities! Let’s face it, we are all in it for the food. I know I justify stuffing my face by telling myself I’ve earned it after a race, and after Helvetia, you’ll get more than a cup of water and half a banana. After I cooled down from this half, I grabbed a cold chocolate milk (the BEST after a long run!) and got my veggie burger. They also had regular burgers and all the fixings, (plus chips) courtesy of the Helvetia Tavern. And to wash it all down, there was the well-deserved and always refreshing beer from Rogue. There were also plenty of booths to check out and best of all, a great post-race live band, Hit Machine. They were fantastic and several people were dancing. It was a great party!!
If the Helvetia Half Marathon (or 5k or 10k!) is a race you’ve considered in the past, do it in June 2020 and you won’t regret it!