Friday, October 12, 2007

Portland Marathon 2007 Report

I went to the expo on Friday night, deciding that I'd check it out before my friends got there. There were no crowds or lines and I was able to pick up my bib immediately. I had forgotten that "Go Amy" would be written on the face of the bib, so there went my anonymity out the door. It's the same big bib they've used before (in a different color) with the complete directions on the front in small letters (the same as on the shirt). I got my chip and was sent on down the hall and the ramp to get the rest of my stuff.

Because of the street construction and some other excuse (projected storms?) they were giving out the "finishers" shirts before the race. This year the long sleeved tech shirt was offered in white or bright blue; I of course went for the blue. These are good shirts for running, I've worn my other one (in a hideous yellow color) several times for night running in the winter.

To get to shirt pickup you had to pass the counters filled with race branded merchandise, and there was plenty of selection there. Men's clothing, women's clothing, hats, gloves, bottles, bears, blankets, scarves; you name it, they had it for sale with their logo. Since I've been wanting a navy blue running hat, and they had a nice one, I bought it. I was chatting with the clerk who was saying the usual "I could never run a marathon" and I mentioned that if I could, anyone could! Then I told him how many I had run, and that this was my second time for Portland. He was astounded and tossed in a bumper sticker for free. Very friendly! I continued on, checking out the booths, then went back up the ramp, down the other corridor and got to the main expo room.

This is where they had the goodie bags which were ok, nothing special. Loaded with the usual ton of papers, an energy bar, a chapstick. And the big size safety pins for the bibs. I'm glad I had small one with me. I wandered up and down the aisles, checking out the booths and merchandise for sale. A couple of the tables were closed for the night since it was getting late. I picked up a container of Ultima which would be served on the course (too bad for those who really detest the stuff), and a bottle of Sport Shield since I don't see it too often. I stopped at the Cold One Therapy Wraps booth selling form-fitting ice packs and pre-ordered one; they were going to keep in the freezer for me and I'd pick it up Saturday to ice my heel before the race.

It wasn't a huge expo but it had all the necessities and lots of extras. Not too much in the way of freebies but who needs another bell or pen or bottle. Wait, I like the bells! And I use the pens! But if you had forgotten anything of almost any product line you would have been able to get it, without walking for hours amongst the booths.

I returned to the expo on Saturday with Bree, Sandy and Pam and it was much more crowded than it had been the night before. Number, chip, shirt and goodie bag pick-up went quickly and efficiently. They still weren't asking for any id to pick up bibs which I thought was strange. I was able to pick up Bree's sister's race stuff for her 5 mile run with no questions asked.

We wandered through the expo, looking and tasting and having fun. The only bad part was they had sold my ice pack to someone else and they were out of them! They offered to ship one to me after the race and I agreed since with all the races coming up I'm sure I'll be needing it. Because they had sold my pack they said they'd include a couple of beverage wraps for free. What a deal! [I received the wrap yesterday but there wasn't anything extra included. Hmmph!]

Saturday night I made the final clothing decision. The forecast was still for rain and probably cool weather throughout the race. I decided to go with a long sleeved shirt. That way I could push up the sleeves but if the wind got bad or the rain got heavy I could protect my arms. I also decided on capris instead of shorts, thinking that keeping my knees warm would be good while allowing for cooling on my lower legs. I pinned my number on my shirt, set a couple of alarms and settled in for the evening.

I slept decently but woke up before my alarms (oh! what a surprise!) and looked outside but it was too dark to tell if it was raining. I did the whole morning-of-the-race thing and then Bree and Sandy came up to my room to wait for a while. They told me it wasn't raining so I decided to wear the throw-away poncho and gloves for warmth and to put my sunglasses on my head just in case.

We met Pam downstairs and joined the rest of the people heading over to the start area. It was just a few blocks away and the crowds got thicker as we got closer. We decided on one last trip to the porta-potties and found one block of them that didn't have long lines. After that Pam wanted to check her sweatshirt and I decided to give her my gloves; it wasn't cold enough to need them. I did keep the poncho on until race start though.

The corral system was set up so that walkers, those with red bibs, would be behind the runners. After all, the course would be open for 8 hours so it didn't matter if it took a while to start. Although I guess it did matter to lots of them since they were seeded as far up as I looked, well into the sub-5 hour finishing areas. Bree and I lined up behind and to the side of the 5:30 pacers and Pam and Sandy went on ahead. There was the usual wait, more wait, the gun, more wait, lalalalalalala more waiting. They were apparently sending the groups off with a pause between them which was supposed to relieve congestion. I'm not sure if it worked up ahead but it didn't really work too well with us.

Finally we walked forward, got to the line and started running (it took about 9 minutes after the gun). It was pretty crowded but most of the people right where we were, were running the same pace. We chatted with a few people and ran along easily. The weather seemed good: overcast, light breeze, cool. I didn't remember too much of the early part of the course from the last time I ran it (2003) and I don't remember a whole hecka lot more now. Just a gradual uphill for a couple of miles, then a downhill when we turned around and ran back again. As we ran down Front Street there was sizable crowd support and the 5 mile race going the other direction. With the river on on side there was at least something pretty to look at. That ended at mile 7 and for the next 4+ miles we ran an out-and-back along an industrial street with freight cars and tracks. Uuuuugly. The best part here was we could see the faster runners going the other direction and saw Pam streaking easily along. We finally made the turnaround and started back the other way and were able to see the slower runners. Hey, someone is slower than we are! This part was hard since the wind had picked up and was blowing smack into our faces. We tried to find some big people to run behind but when you're run:walking nobody goes your pace.

Oh, did I mention? We started our pattern 14 minutes into the race, doing a 4:1. I like the 9:1 better but it's true that we did run a little faster with twice the walk breaks. At first. We continued the 4:1, sometimes adding in a short walk at the water stops if they didn't coincide with our regular breaks. We were doing well, easily on pace for a sub-6. We crossed the half marathon mat at about 2:50 which was perfect; not too fast, not too slow.

The course took a jog through a cute neighborhood but all too soon we were on St. Helens Road. This is a commercial stretch with lots of traffic and exhaust spew. If we only looked to our left, up the hill, the view wasn't too bad. Looking anywhere else we saw freight yards, traffic and industry. Almost 4 miles of that and we weren't impressed. Until we saw the rooster just strutting along the side of the road. That was pretty funny. I don't know how he managed not to become roadkill.

Then we got to the dreaded uphill towards St. John's Bridge. In my mind it had taken on huge proportions and I was hoping my memory had exaggerated the length and incline. Nope. It was as bad as I remembered. I told Bree to take it at her pace and we'd meet at the top since I walk faster than she does. We saw absolutely nobody trying to run that hill; what was the point for back-of-the-packers to give everything they got in one quarter mile stretch. I made it to the top and walked on verrry slowly so that Bree could catch up. I couldn't stop at that point, my heart was pounding and I didn't want to fall over. She caught up and we decided to walk to the top of the span and then go back to our run:walk. At this point Bree started getting quite quiet.

We continued along, down the hill, through a nice neighborhood along a cliff. This was the prettiest part of the race. Unfortunately the wind had really picked up and it looked like we'd have a fierce headwind for the remainder of our miles. Bree's hat had already blown off once and I had to keep tugging mine down.

The wheels had come off for Bree. She wanted nothing more than to stop, rest, throw up. She had been drinking Ultima, which she wasn't used to, and it think it was a bad decision. I told her to just drink water and I gave her a salt tablet instead. She told me to go ahead but there was no way. My only goal for this race was to make sure she finished under 6 hours. I wasn't going to cut any slack, be forgiving. She was moving along whether she wanted to or not.

We saw Bree's family at about mile 20. Her adorable little niece Tilden started to run with us (and almost tripped Bree a couple of times) (which I'm not sure Bree wouldn't have minded if it meant she could lie down for a while). Four year old Tilden actually ran with us for a good quarter mile before deciding it was walk time and luckily our watches agreed. It was great seeing them there and I think it gave Bree a mental boost.

So we kept running, headwind and light sprinkles notwithstanding. At this point I was running well below the effort I could have expended because Bree just didn't have it and uh uh, I wasn't leaving her. Somewhere in the last 5 miles we switched to a 3:2 which seemed to ease Bree's running a bit. There was one uphill and we walked that. All along I kept looking at my pace chart to make sure we had a cushion to get us in on time.

We crossed the Steel Bridge with such a wind blowing that we both just took off our caps and held them. It was nice to know that we were finally back at the elevation when we'd be finishing and except for a slight incline there were no more hills. I kept nagging Bree along and I was starting to get afraid that she'd hate me after the race. I don't normally let out my inner nag but hey, she bought her ticket! Heh.

Finally we were down to the last mile. We took our last walk break and Bree kept walking. I tried to get her to go, telling her we had to hurry, but she had a watch and knew we had a couple of minutes to go. I didn't tell her then that my goal was to finish by 5:58; hey, that was more information than she needed right then.

We passed the Fat Lady at a run, saw her family cheering from behind the barricades and ran it in. We lifted our hands together like the champions we were and lookie that - 5:57 exactly! One minute before my goal and a huge 20+ minute PR for Bree. We staggered to the chip removal boys, had our medals placed around our necks and got wrapped in our space blankets. We were handed glasses of water and I downed mine immediately. Then another. We moved through the restricted area and saw Sandy who had waited for us after finishing her race.

Even as late as we finished there were tables full of food. Bagels, cookies, fruit, candy, chips, more water. They even had ice cream bars. I snagged a Haagen Dazs chocolate covered ice cream cookie thingie and started eating it. It was delicious but I knew my stomach would rebel and since I didn't want to puke it right up I only had a few bites. I got my little marathon pin and my rose but decided I had no use for a Douglas Fir; it wouldn't fit in my yard.

I was very impressed with the organization of this race. I didn't like how the only mile markers were on pieces of cardboard leaning on or taped to post and poles; there were marks on the streets but many were covered by vehicles. There were sufficient water stations with good volunteers handing out the drinks and they all seemed to have the drinks in the same order. The Ultima was actually mixed to the right consistency and I didn't use my own packets at all, I just filled my bottle with theirs. They handed out packets of honey instead of gel and that stuff is even sticker to run over than anything else. They also hand out gummy bears which as far as I can tell is a waste of time and money since (1) they were stale and very hard to chew [I eat gummy bears and know what consistency they should be]; (2) it was a waste of cups since the bears were placed 4 in a cup; (3) of the 4 or 5 places that were supposed to have them, only one had any left when we ran by: and (4) we ran through gummy bear graveyards where they literally covered the ground after a water stop so I think more got tossed than eaten. But these are really just picky things. The course was marked correctly (when you could see the markers), there were more than enough fluids, the traffic enforcement at crossings was well done, there were plenty of porta potties along the route and at the beginning, the expo was fine, the shirt nice, the medal very shiny, the extras (pin, rose and tree) unique. The volunteers at the expo, the course start, along the route and at the finish line were all cheerful and friendly and helpful.

Too bad the course is just so butt ugly! I guess if they wanted to show the prettier parts of town they'd have to put in more hills and turns and it would slow down the course. Maybe it's just me but I'd give up 10 seconds per mile to have something more scenic. The only relief to the ugly industrial areas were the brilliant colors of the trees in the fall and it was just dumb luck that the colors were so bright last weekend.

After we left the secured area we found Pam - amazing in that crowd! She had already gone back to her room and showered and changed. Lucky girl. She keeps getting faster and faster and it's a joy to see. We hobbled back to the hotel and got the car keys so Bree and Sandy could leave.

I was thrilled, as usual, to just take off my shoes. I was worried about further damage to my toes and worried about blisters since I'd had a couple of stones in my right shoe for about half the race. It turned out that I had a seed, about the size of a small safety pin, floating around while I ran. A little pebble fell out of my shoe too. But except for sock-seam blister on the side of my big toe I sustained no further damage. I was sore and stiff, sure, since I'd just run 26.2 miles. But I felt amazingly good.

Would I do this race again? Probably not. Would I recommend it for someone else? Probably. As long as they keep the numbers of runners manageable it's still a good run, even if not scenic. Some people don't even care how the route looks. The organization and amenities are above average, from what I've seen.

The Gratuitous Bear of the Day makes a second appearance; heeeeeeeeere's Johnny with his second medal!

A few days later and I can say that running those last 6 or so miles as easily as I did was just the thing I needed to ensure a good recovery. Except for stiffness after sitting a long time I felt as if I only did a long run. Today I'm feeling back to normal. Yippee and I'm looking forward to the next race!


  1. Nice race report and awwww you are such a good friend to help Bree out. I teared up a little :o)

    23 Days til NY!


  2. thanks for the report! it's pumping me up for nike!

  3. Have I mentioned to you lately, thank you. I'm glad that you convinced me to keep on going.