My very first marathon was the 2006 Portland Marathon. I didn’t love the course, especially the long stretch through the industrial depression that leads to the St. John’s bridge. Afterwards, I told myself I never needed to run that course ever again, and I didn’t. I ran marathons in Victoria, Seattle, San Francisco, Eugene, and Vernonia, but had no desire to run Portland ever again. Then 2019 came, and the marathon came under new ownership by Brooksee, which was already known for their well organized Revel Race Series. Soon after that, a new course was announced, and gone was the industrial section, replaced by what appeared to be a solidly “Portland-proper” course. I found myself doing something I hadn’t anticipated ever doing again, which was signing up to run the 2019 Portland Marathon.
Bloggers at Run Oregon are often given opportunities to run races in exchange for fair reviews and/or recaps of those races. I was not given anything to run this race, nor to write a recap. I felt compelled, as a runner in Portland, to write this recap because I want to let runners on the fence about the Portland Marathon and all the controversy surrounding it in recent years that it’s a whole new ballgame now. The Portland Marathon is FINALLY worth writing home about. It’s FINALLY a race I feel proud of our city for. It’s FINALLY a perfect representation of our city. Yes, FINALLY. Here are some reasons why.
- The Race Expo: The Portland Marathon requires you to visit the expo the day before the race (unless you pay extra to get it mailed to you,) and I honestly get annoyed by many races that do this. Let’s be honest, some expos feel like a waste of time and energy. But the Portland Marathon expo felt like an extension of the marathon itself. It was nice to take my time traveling through the expo and visiting all the booths, and it made me more excited for the following day’s race. There were no long lines and it felt pretty casual and fun. There were lots of photo opportunities, signs and backdrops to take pictures in front of, and even a free photo booth. There was even a detailed discussion regarding the course, which I skipped most of because I prefer not knowing all the details. Walking into the expo, the first thing you see is a very long counter with alphabetical lines to pick up your race bib and cool Portland Marathon goodie bag. The volunteers even rip the drop bag tag off your race bib for you and tie it to your bag, which can conveniently be used for gear check the next day. After this, you step forward and travel over a mat that enables you to check your bib chip and then onto the line to get your shirt, which is equally as fast and easy as the bib pick-up. After this, you can easily navigate to all the booths that are laid out before you. There was even a beer check area, so you could show your ID and get your beer garden bracelet before race day. In one of the many pre-race day emails, we had been given access to a scavenger hunt of sorts, and at the expo we could visit several booths and get a code to be entered for prizes. Foot Traffic, Portland Running Company, Fleet Feet, US Outdoor, On Shoes, Power Bar, Nuun, OHSU, and many many other great sponsors were there, handing out samples and discounts and adding to the race weekend excitement. Deschutes was even handing out beer samples, as was White Claw.
- The Race Swag: Many races aren’t providing as much race swag as they used to, yet the cost of races is getting more and more expensive. I’m not saying I NEED another race shirt, but if I’m going to run the race, a nice one that I’d actually wear is like icing on a $100+ cake. Not only were there lots of nice coupons and samples available in my race bag and at the expo, but the shirts looked nice and were of good quality. There were a few options available in different styles and fabrics. Honestly, I’m still confused about how one got one shirt over another since I don’t remember there being so many options when I registered many many months ago, but I opted for a long sleeved and was super happy with my choice. We also received really nice stainless steel water bottles and even a couple of fanny packs in our swag bags.
- The Stellar Course: So this is the most important aspect of the race. All the pre and post-run stuff is great and all, but if the course sucks, forget the rest. By the time I arrived to the start line, I was feeling pretty good based on what I’d seen so far. Pace groups were well defined, and there were two side-by-side areas for the full and half marathoners to start from. Yes it was crowded. It’s the Portland Marathon, it’s going to be. But I didn’t feel claustrophobic or annoyed or stressed in the least. I’ve been to far worse starting corrals. Everyone was in a great mood and the weather was phenomenal. There was a great energy all around and we were ready to go. We started in downtown Portland because what better place to kick off a race of this stature? There are three bridge crossings on the course, the Broadway, the Sellwood, and the Burnside bridges. We got to meander through lots of simply gorgeous neighborhoods in Sellwood, Eastmoreland, and the Pearl District. There was so much support in those neighborhoods, so many people outside of their houses cheering and holding signs. It really helped push me along. Running through the Reed College Campus and by the Moda Center was great too. This course is NOT flat. There are lots of rolling hills. But it’s certainly not boring and it completely captures the heart of Portland.
- Signage and Aid Stations Galore: With the expo being so organized, I wasn’t surprised to see that the signage out on the course was also on point. I never felt like I didn’t know which way to turn, which is saying a lot since both the full and half marathon started in the same place at the same time. There were lots of loops, and maybe some people didn’t like all the turns, but I felt it broke up the course more, which was great. I also heard, as the media probably informed you, some people took wrong turns, but I didn’t think there was any possible way I could have gotten lost out there. Then again, I was in the middle of the pack. Not only were the course markings in all the right spots, but the signs meant to simply encourage us were something to look forward to as well. These signs said things like “WTF (where’s the finish?”) and “Remember you paid us to do this.” as well as more inspirational quotes like “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re finished.” There were also aid stations EVERYWHERE. They were all labeled alphabetically (station A through P) and they offered water, Nuun, and some also had fruit and Power Bar gels and shots. I personally wished for something salty, but this wasn’t a trail race, so I wasn’t expecting it.
- Post Race Perks: After the race was finished, we got really nice finishers medals and cooling towels. The design this year is slick and the medal itself is heavy. We also got a rose and a seedling, which is a great tradition of the old marathon that I’m glad the new one embraced. There was also free ice cream from Salt & Straw, free pizza from Pizza Hut, free VooDoo Donuts, free Grilled cheese from Franz, and free beer from Deschutes, to name a few things. I wish I’d brought a bigger bag to carry everything in!!
All in all, this was an excellent race from beginning to end. I unfortunately had some major stomach troubles and spent a large portion of miles 16 and 17 trying not to vomit and walking a lot, but I’d still say it would be one of my favorite marathons for the course alone. I think this race will continue to be a “big deal” in Portland and I’d be proud to recommend it to anyone.