The Helvetia Half Marathon/10k/5k is a right of passage if you are a runner in Portland. There are clearly a lot of races to choose from, but Helvetia is iconic. And if you know me, you know that I’ll praise Run With Paula Events with my last running breath.
I’ve run Helvetia several times, starting in the early 2000’s when they handed out cotton tee shirts. I did this race last in 2019, not knowing a pandemic was coming to shut down live races. It felt so good to return in 2021, right after the requirement to wear masks was lifted. Fully vaccinated and feeling extra grateful for the running community, I was feeling joyful to see some return to normalcy, finally.
It was 63 degrees and rainy at the start line. I debated wearing a jacket but it really didn’t feel cold enough for that. As always, it was a smooth entry into the race, with volunteers pointing cars into the ample parking lot and an obvious lead to the start area. This is where things began to feel pretty amazing .. I was able to join runners WITHOUT a mask. I still wore a buff around my neck, but it was not required, and I never felt that it was unsafe. I turned in my Covid Health Screening Form, met up with friends, and got so excited about the race that I lost track of time and I ended up in the bathroom line a bit too late. By the time we headed down to the start line, we were greeted with pre-race stretches, the National Anthem, and Dave Harkin’s announcement to the 10k start. Whoops. We were there for the half marathon start, but we’d missed it! No worries.. the timing chip is there to help with that.
Off I went into cow country. There were wide open roads and scenary to enjoy, as well as plenty of fresh air. Despite taking off with 10k runners, we got to see the fast runners, both 10k and half marathoners, at several spots along the course on their way back from the out and backs. I personally always find this very inspiring, and even more so now, with the return of live races. You don’t realize how lonely you are until you’re back with “your people,” even if those people are worlds faster than you.
Helvetia is hilly. It’s good to know that going in because it can mess with you mentally, and even more so out in the country. The Helvetia Half in 2021 was not my best race, as I began to falter around mile 4. Not a good sign. I took off too fast, due to the excitement of runners all around me, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that walking was in my future. Maybe if I hadn’t run 6 miles of hills the day before, or gotten more sleep or more water or any number of other things, I could have performed better. But if running has taught me anything, it’s that every day is a different day, and some are good and some are not. There was a lot of struggling through this race for me, a lot of moments where I couldn’t catch my breath, and even moments where I didn’t feel like I was going to be able to finish.
But. Run With Paula races ALWAYS have your back. If you are struggling like I was, thank the heavens that you don’t ever have to THINK out there for this race. It’s well marked with encouraging volunteers and aid stations in spots when you need them the most. It would be difficult to not follow the correct path, and I am a directionally challenged person. To a runner, these things mean EVERYTHING. No one wants to waste any energy doing anything that is not a part of the master plan on race day. And thankfully, you don’t have to with a Run With Paula race.
The rain was consistant, and it was humid. We were actually super grateful for the liquid sunshine, because that course can be really difficult on a sunny day, with very little shade on the roads. Pavement and hills are a challenge that some might love, but on this particular day, I was happy to have any reprieve I could find.
Finally, after a long slog, the Stadium was there, and I could hear the cheers encouraging me to keep moving. After getting some needed cheer from my Sunstone Running Club friends, I rounded the corner to the chute and ran it in, despite wanting to collapse. I gathered my medal, said hello to many friendly faces, and made my way to the best part after a hard race.. the food. But not before Paula came over with her beautiful smile and asked me how my race was. Paula genuinely wants to know that every last runner has had a good experience at one of her races, and it’s evident in every part of the process, from the moment you register until the time you leave the parking lot.
This year, we got grab-and -go meals from Baja Fresh (THANK YOU for a vegetarian option!!!!) and some Rogue beverages to take home. I love getting to take my meal home, because it hits the spot right after I have showered and the relaxion commences.
Perhaps next year, we’ll have more of an after-party again, because Paula is really good at that too. Until then, I’ll be looking forward to more races, especially the Run With Paula Events. The Independence Day Half/10k/5k at Champoeg State Park is up next on the 4th of July!!