WTF Where's the finish at the Portland OR Marathon

Marathon Recap – Portland 2011

WTF Where's the finish at the Portland Marathon

Does this pic make me look tiny? (St. John’s Bridge in the background)

I wrote a looong race recap after Portland in 2011 (yep, this recap is 2 years old already).  I wish I could feel this good in every marathon.  I think the race went so well because I ran two 18-milers and one 20-miler in preparation (unheard of for me).  Also, I don’t even know where I found phone books in 2011.


By now you know I survived the Portland Marathon, but what you might not know is that despite a less-than-ideal amount of training and some nerves about the weather, it ended up being the physically easiest and most enjoyable marathon for me so far.


I’m always trying to get people to do races with me, and back in December 2010, in a fit of holiday spirit and gingerbread cookie-induced sugar high, my mother agreed to do the Portland Marathon with me.  She would walk the half, and I would run the full.  Of course, we signed up for Portland before I even signed up for New Jersey, and before all of my many knee-injury woes.


Indeed, my injuries have plagued me since the New Jersey Marathon – I didn’t run a single step for 7 weeks after NJ.  In fact, my knee was so damaged I was walking funny for weeks, stepping off of curbs with stiff legs like Frankenstein (I now believe he had joints donated from a runner).  I visited another sports doctor who diagnosed me with Chondromalacia Patella (aka patellafemoral syndrome, aka “runner’s knee”), and prescribed physical therapy.  So, I began going to physical therapy twice a week and doing the various exercises at home with therapy bands and phone books.  Eventually I had so many exercises that it took a full (sweaty) 30 minutes every day just to do them.


When I started running again, I could only run a single mile — but what a mile it was!  When I’m healthy, all I want to do is sit on the couch, watch TV, and eat kettlecorn.  Apparently, only when I’m physically not able to run do I actually want to do it.


So, I started running again.  My distances were short, and my speed was nonexistent, but at least I was doing it.  I was only 12 weeks away from the Portland Marathon and I could only manage 6 miles for my “long” run when it should have been 12, but I was still oddly optimistic.  After finishing NJ despite my injuries, I thought I’d be able to finish Portland, even if it meant I would walk a lot of it.


I stopped going to formal PT, although I did the exercises at home when I remembered.  I kept increasing my distances and icing my knee, and at some point even the morning pains went away.  I ran longer and longer, and except for my knee swelling like a marshmallow after an all-day horseback ride at a dude ranch, my knee kept me pretty good company.  I did my two 18-mile runs and one 20-mile run, and it was all downhill from there.


Although she wasn’t worried, I assured my mother that I would be able to finish Portland with her, even if it meant she would have to wait at the finish line for me for hours.  I bought my airline tickets and sent threatening emails to her warning that she better get on top of her training, too.  She was coming to NYC for a long, three-week visit, and I told her I expected her to complete her training while here.  I inserted as much gravitas into my voice as I threw out the mileage I expected her to walk – “Seven, eight, TEN miles, Mom.”  And she did!  It was great.  We even went out shopping for new walking shoes and outfits for the marathon.


But then she returned home, and suddenly the knee she tweaked while we hit a few tennis balls was bothering her, then hobbling her (I heard from my dad that she was using a cane).  So, with much regret, she dropped out of the marathon only three weeks before the big event.  I hope we can finish a race together again sometime in the near future (I have lots of stockpiled threatening emails ready for future “encouragement”). [Ed 2013 – She ended up having a partial knee replacement and is now walking without a cane, but says there’s no long-distance walking in her future.]


So then it was just me and 26.2 miles again, but this time my parents would be watching from the sidelines.  I chose an outfit they could not miss – a bright pink top and a sequined Kelly green skirt with a glittery turquoise flower on my hat.  I think they could see me from outer space.


But once I arrived out west, “Occupy Portland” was all over the news, threatening to disrupt the starting and finishing area of the marathon.  (I thought I had left those losers back on Wall Street!)  While the “organizers” of Occupy Portland said they would move because they believed “the athletes and volunteers of the Portland Marathon represent the 99%,” they did not in fact move (eventually the race directors put a fence around them and it was a non-issue).


The real worry for me was the weather.  The forecast called for rain, and I had never run more than 3 miles in the rain.  I didn’t care about being wet, but I feared for my feet – I didn’t know if they could take the pounding and friction of 26 miles while soaking wet.  I also made some last-minute changes to my wardrobe, ultimately deciding on a different shirt and risking the run without my rain jacket.


Despite my short training schedule, I had tapered well, I had slept well, and I had been eating well.  I couldn’t ask for a better final few weeks before the race.  I still was always tired at the end of my long runs (which were still 6-8 miles short of a marathon), but I hoped my taper had taken care of that (even though it never really had before).


The Race

When I got to my starting corral it was still pitch dark.  There were terrible lines for the porta-potties, and in fact the gun went off while I was still in line.  But the waiting time did allow me to chat with two other runners who had both run Portland the year before (the woman said it rained so hard that year that she wrung her socks out at the end).  The guy told me that at the neighborhood section last year there were people passing out beer.  My ears perked up at this, since as of August I’ve been a beer drinker (maybe it had something to do with the free Fresno beer?).  I promised myself that if I didn’t feel ill I’d snag one of those beers (“nothing new on race day,” my foot!).


By the time I got out of the porta-potty, my corral was deserted.  I jogged through the streets to catch up to the actual starting line but I didn’t see a starting clock so had no idea what time I actually crossed the line.  I assumed I’d get the time when I passed the first mile marker, but when I reached the first mile marker sign, there was no clock and no time-caller.  I thought maybe there’d be someone at mile two… Nope.  At some point I resigned myself to having no idea what my pace was. [Ed 2013 – This was before I wore a watch or a Garmin.]  I’d run by feel, and just hope I wasn’t going too fast or too slow.


While I train with headphones and my ipod, this was my first marathon actually wearing them.  I hoped that would help me keep pace, but it didn’t help me with estimating my time since I didn’t know how long my songs were or how many miles I should be at a certain point in my playlist since it was new.  Even though I could hear my music, I could also hear everything around me, and I’d take my headphones out if there was a particularly good on-course band.


The hardest stretch was miles 6 through 11.  It started raining pretty heavily at mile 7, and at mile 9 I started to feel my socks getting soaked.  It was also the least geographically interesting stretch of the course – railyards on one side, low buildings along the other, and it was flat, long, out-and-back, and narrow (it was still very crowded and you had to dodge people left and right).  Luckily, it was also where I overheard the two funniest things along the course:


Funniest joke overheard on course (while passing by a restaurant called “DotCom Bar & Restaurant”) –

Guy (laughing): “Remember when that bubble burst?”

His friend: “What?”

Guy: “You know, the DotCom Bar & Restaurant bubble?”

His friend:  (silence)

Had me laughing for miles. Guess you had to be there.


At another point two guys were running near me and saw someone running the other direction (it was an out-and-back turnaround situation, so there were runners going in both directions).  The first guy said to his friend, “Hey, there’s Ben!” and then shouted out, “Hey, you weirdo!  Wooo!!”  Second guy said, “That wasn’t Ben, that was just some big guy with a beard.”


But eventually the rain let up, the loops ended, and the full marathoners peeled off from the half.  We were entering the industrial section leading up to the bridge.  I overheard another woman say, “this is the place where I had all that trouble last year – it gives me nightmares.”  It was miles 12 through 16 — an isolated stretch along a highway ending in a fairly steep and long hill that’s rewarded by a run across St. John’s Bridge.  I was knocking off the miles and still feeling good.  It wasn’t raining anymore but it was totally overcast, with fog rolling over the hills.  I suddenly realized that I would have been running for miles without shade if it weren’t for the rainy weather, and I thanked my lucky stars for the rain.


After churning up the long hill to the bridge, I had my greatest marathon moment – running across the St. John’s bridge.  The bridge is a green steel suspension bridge with two 408 foot tall Gothic towers and a 1,207 foot center span.  At the time it was built, it had the highest clearance in the nation (a 205 foot navigational clearance).  Both the bridge and scenery were breathtaking, with fog cascading across the treetops and the city in the distance.  To top it off, at the start of the bridge my ipod started playing “Pumped Up Kicks,” which is currently one of my favorite songs.


After the bridge came Portland University, where my parents were planning on seeing me.  I passed mile 18 (when it started to rain again), then 19, and then the school.  I scanned the crowd incessantly and saw the best sign of the day (“99% of people cannot do what you are doing.  You are the 1%!”), but didn’t see my parents.


WTF Where's the finish at the Portland OR Marathon

Feeling no pain

After the campus was well behind me, I gave up thoughts of seeing them and just hoped they would find me at the finish.  But then, out of the blue, I heard my mom yell my name.  My dad has his camera and my mom moved to embrace me, but I was wet and disgusting so declined.  I handed her my bandana and told them I felt great.  “See you at the finish!” I yelled, and took off again with a huge smile plastered to my face.  I did feel great, and it was shocking.


In my previous marathons, I have always wanted to stop around mile 18, if not sooner.  The last 6 miles have always been killer, with me fighting my legs and body not to stop, not to walk, and to keep on shuffling.  This time I had hit mile 20 and felt amazingly fresh.  Part of me still feared that suddenly I’d hit the wall, but meanwhile I felt great.  I kept on running steady, eating my Gu and gummies to stave off hunger pangs, and basically thinking about how amazingly good I felt.


After a long, gentle downhill, just past the mile 23 marker, there it was – a group of people passing out free cups of beer.  I took one from a girl (less chance of getting roofied), noticed the cup was totally full (!) and drank it all.  I considered using it to wash down my final Gu, but decided against it.


I ran up another small hill to cross the Broadway Bridge and head back into downtown.  At mile 25 I almost got stopped by a train, but luckily it was short and the path was clear by the time I reached it.  The crowds grew thicker, I hit mile 26, and I pushed harder to the finish, still full of energy.


Even when I crossed the finish line and saw the clock, I had no idea what my real time was because I didn’t know when I crossed the start.  I walked through the shoot, collecting an amazing array of food and gifts (heat sheet, medal, OJ, yogurt, grapes, bananas, bagels, Doritos, peanut M&Ms, commemorative coin, pendant for a necklace, long-sleeved technical t-shirt, rose, and seedling).  If I had known I’d be getting all that stuff (jewelry?! and an unguarded candy station?!), I would have run Portland years ago!


I’ve never felt so good during a marathon. If they were all like this, I’d do one every month. I had almost no pain during any of it (had a few knee twinges around mile 15 but they went away) and I felt fresh and strong even during the last 6 miles.  I found my parents past the finishing area, burdened them with all my swag, and we headed home to eat piles of rice and keema and, yes, a beer.


The Internet later told me I finished in [about] 4:20 and that I hit amazingly even splits the entire way, despite never knowing my time between miles.  So, it was slower than my Fresno time, but faster than NJ, and about 15 minutes faster than I had ever hoped.  Today (the day after), I feel a little stiff but not uncomfortably sore, and I’m fantasizing about November marathons to knock off another state…  Instead, I’m going to take a little time off from long-distance running, and instead improve my speed and try to PR in my 5K and 10K times.  But don’t be surprised if I end up running another marathon sooner than later…  And, as always, you’re more than welcome to join! [Ed 2013 – I totally did not improve my times and instead ran another marathon a month later.]


Thinking of running Portland?


I definitely recommend the Portland Marathon.  The course starts downtown, runs along the river for quite a bit (although you can’t see the river very much), then the full marathon splits off through an industrial section (a lot more beautiful than you’d think, with lush green hills that reminded me of the hills just north of the Golden Gate Bridge), and across the St. John’s Bridge (beautiful!).  Then you’re treated to several nice miles high above the city and the river, past Portland University and through a nice neighborhood.  After that, you head down a long hill, up again across another bridge, and back into the city for the finish.  It’s not a flat course, but definitely not very hilly, either – easily doable with no special hill training.


The volunteers were great, and overall it was very well-organized with plenty of aid stations.  The only two downsides was the bathroom situation at the start and the lack of clocks or time callers at the mile markers (but you could just wear a watch, I suppose).  The expo was pretty nice, decently sized, and well-organized (although you had to wind through a labyrinth to get there).


This was the 40th Anniversary of the Portland Marathon, so we might have gotten more swag than usual.  I left with a short-sleeved tech t-shirt (with no sponsor logos), a long-sleeved tech t-shirt, a nice medal, a pendant (that looks like a mini-medal) for a necklace, a commemorative coin, a tree seedling and long-stemmed rose, and a reusable bag.  Portland had more food at the finish than I’ve ever seen – they had juice, yogurt, bananas, grapes, bagels, peanut butter, frozen fruit popsicles, a huge assortment of chips and candy, flatbread with cheese, and turkey sandwiches.  There was so much food even I passed up a lot of it!


And while the full marathon runners got gold medals/pendants instead of silver, and a different finishing shirt (I think), the half marathon runners still got all the same stuff and all the food, so if you’re not up for a full, consider the half.


All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.


  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 7/10 – PDX is consistently rated the best airport in the nation.  That said, it is pretty far from the east coast, although they have added some non-stop flights from the NYC area to PDX.  Once you’re there you wouldn’t technically need a car if you stayed downtown (Portland is a pretty walkable city with lots of public transit, too).  My parents dropped me off near the start so I’m not sure how easy it was to park and walk, but there do seem to be a lot of parking garages in the city.
  • Staying There – N/A – Sorry, I always stay with my parents so have no idea of the hotels in Portland.  But they do have them…
  • Cost & Registration – 9/10 – Registration is simple, no lottery, and the value is great considering all the stuff you get (and you get to run in a fairly major city).
  • Organization – 8/10 – Well done, except needed more bathrooms.
  • Course – 8/10 – Beautiful, as described above.
  • Crowd – 7/10 – Pretty good, plus there will probably be free, non-roofied beer available from generous spectators.
  • Other Factors – 8/10 – If you’ve never visited the Portland, OR, area, this is a great excuse.  It’s a fantastic city and there’s a lot to see in the area.
  • Overall Rating – 9/10 – I know it’s skewed high because I felt so good and lucked out on weather, but that’s what I’m going with.


Have you run Portland?  Share in the comments!

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