Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Portland Marathon

"A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step"  -Ancient Chinese Proverb

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Ready to begin this crazy adventure!

Okay, so I only ran 26.2 miles, not one thousand.  That's still a really, really long ways.  And anyone who's ever tackled a marathon will tell you, the race in itself is a journey.  Sunday's Portland Marathon felt like that, and so much more.

Waiting for the race to start

Race day finally arrived!  Cami and I made our way into downtown Portland, joining scores of other sleepy, zombie-like runners emerging from the early morning darkness. We found our designated corral, shed warm-up clothes, and huddled together in the predawn chill.  At seven o'clock sharp, the first group of runners were released.  Our corral was fifth in the starting order.  With over 13,000 registered for both the half and full marathon, I expected it would be awhile before our turn came.

Running through the China Gate

But the marathon organizers had things down pat.  Before I knew it, our group was being led through the empty streets of Portland towards the starting line.  A mere thirteen minutes later, Cami and I crossed under a large "Portland Marathon" banner and over the timing mats.  Our journey had begun!

Morning light on downtown Portland

The mob of runners snaked through the heart of downtown Portland.  Spectators lined the streets, cheering wildly.  I was surprised to see so many people at 7 am on a Sunday morning watching a race.  

The Portland Marathon is known for its plentiful course entertainment.  In the first mile alone, there were five musical acts.  Every time I turned a corner, there was a drum corp, a singer, or some musical group making merry noise.  At the China Gate, runners were treated to Chinese dancers, complete in lion and dragon costumes .  What a great way to start a race!

Jammin' DJ

Although the day began cool, the sun was up soon after the start.  I quickly shed my arm warmers.  The early morning chill made for wonderful running conditions. The weather couldn't have been more perfect - sunny, with highs predicted in the low 70s.  Cami and I chatted, people-watched, and of course did "the wave" at each mile marker.  The first few miles passed quickly. 

Arrrrr!  Pirates!

The course first did a loop south of downtown Portland, then turned north and led runners back through downtown, and north into an industrial district.  The road through the industrial district was an out-and-back, so participants got to see runners heading both directions.  Along this stretch, the great entertainment continued.  Cami and I passed a van with a DJ sitting up top jammin' away.  He was great! 

Turnaround at mile 8.7

Then we came upon a group of pirates.  Dressed in traditional costumes, they lined both sides of the road.  One was shooting off a pistol, a group of them were playing in a band (fantastic music!) and still more were hanging along the curb, high-fiving runners.  They were awesome - my most favorite entertainment of the marathon.

High-fiving pirates

Soon after we passed the pirates, Cami started having foot troubles.  Her feet were already getting blistered.  I'd noticed the water stations had people passing out Vaseline to ailing runners.  I suggested stopping at the next aid station and taking advantage of the free lube.

Perfect sunshine day

Around mile 10.5 we made a pit stop to take care of business.  Cami removed shoes and socks, and slathered her feet with Vaseline.  While Cami tended to her wounds, I took the opportunity to snap a couple photos.  The sun was climbing high, and it was a lovely blue-sky day.  I was surprised and pleased that the above photo turned out so well.  It certainly captured the perfect weather conditions.

One of my favorite signs

Not far from our stop, the course turned and made a quick jaunt through NW Portland.  It was here that we passed a bunch of spectators holding the funniest signs.  The one in the photo above made me laugh out loud.  But my favorite was from a guy holding a sign reading "Smile if you're not wearing underwear."  Underwear or not, you couldn't help but chuckle.

We reach the St. Johns Bridge

After winding through NW Portland, lined with lots of cheering people, the course dumped the runners out onto Hwy 30.  This highway stretches through another bleak, industrial district.  Out here, spectators were few and far between, as was on-course entertainment.  Heavy traffic, much of it large trucks, sped by at a distance too close for comfort.  It was a long, difficult stretch.  And to top things off, Cami's feet started hurting again.

The beautiful St. Johns Bridge

Not only was Cami having foot issues, her tummy wasn't too pleased either.  She took another Vaseline break, followed by a trip to the port-a-potty.  At this point, we were over halfway into the race, and Cami, feeling like she was holding me back, suggested I go ahead without her.

But I'd already made a decision before race day.  The marathon is a long race, and I knew there was a chance one of us might have issues.  I asked myself what my goal was for this race.  Although I always shoot for an improvement in time, first and foremost my aim is to finish.  And not only finish, but finish with my friend.  So I told Cami, no, I was sticking with her 'till the bloody end.

Willamette River view towards downtown Portland

Cami patched up, we were back on the road again.  The long 3 1/2 mile stretch down Hwy 30 led runners to the next stage - crossing the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River.  This lovely old suspension bridge is a Portland landmark.  It's high, graceful steel towers are works of art.  I love bridges, and was looking forward to running over this one.

First we had to get to the top.  That meant climbing a steep roadway ramp.  During training, we'd run our share of hills and had certainly prepared.  But a hill at mile 16.5 of a marathon is not fun.  Starting up the ramp, I noticed most people around us walking.  I'm proud to say Cami and I didn't - we powered up that hill and ran the entire thing.  Take that bridge ramp!

Belly dancers

Then it was time for our reward.  A trip over Portland's most beautiful bridge.  Seeing those steel towers close up was amazing!  Several runners stopped for photos, as did I.  The views of the Willamette River, far below, and back towards downtown Portland were stunning.  Definitely a high point of the race.

Cute little kid at an aid station

Then it was back down the other side into the residential neighborhoods surrounding the University of Portland.  Coming down the bridge, we were met with a loud rock band, and a huge crowd of cheering spectators.  We passed by a bunch of ladies (and one man) dressed up as belly dancers.  They were riotous fun!  After the relative silence and isolation of Hwy 30, the entertainment was most welcome!

Beer stop!

The people living along N Willamette Blvd were amazing!  On every block were throngs of spectators holding signs, ringing cowbells, and shouting encouragement.  Some homes appeared to be having parties - their front lawns lined with chairs and tables of food.  In one stretch, the neighbors manned an aid station, with the cutest little boy handing out water cups.  And the scenery here was great - large broad-leaf trees lined the roadway, framing beautiful old homes.  It kept the mind off my body, which was beginning to feel the effects of running almost 20 miles.

Cami "hits the wall"

Poor Cami was hurting.  She stopped and doctored her feet a third time and then visited the honey bucket.  An aid station by the University of Portland was handing out gummi bears, and boy did they ever taste good!  That seemed to revive us both for the next couple of difficult miles.  At one point, Cami stopped to stretch against a building face, and I teased her about hitting the wall.  Cami laughed and posed for a photograph.

Approaching the Broadway Bridge and the new streetcar line

Leaving the University district, we passed by the Adidas Headquarters.  And then we were back into dull, boring industrial wasteland.  Again, entertainment and spectators were scarce.  And my body was hurting.  From my previous two marathons, I knew that things got tough around mile 23.  It was time to start gutting it out.  I spotted one lone family with some young kids standing on the side of the road, and commented to Cami "Hey kids, let's go watch people suffer!" 

Broadway Bridge scenery

But a wonderful surprise awaited us.  At one of the previous aid stations, I'd jokingly asked a volunteer "where's the beer?"  The volunteer (the only grumpy one I encountered all day) sourly remarked it was at the finish line.  Now, three miles later, stationed under the Fremont Bridge, were people holding Dixie cups.  All right - another water station!  But those cups didn't contain water.  It was beer.  The Widmer Brewery across the street was graciously providing liquid energy to flagging runners.  I grabbed a cup and Cami asked "Are you going to drink it?"  I reasoned there was only 2 1/2 miles left, it couldn't hurt that much.  So both Cami and I downed a cup.  The friendly guy passing out drinks teasingly asked Cami if she was 21.  Ha!

This sign was a welcome sight!

On the road again.  The final two miles were a struggle.  Cami was battling extremely sore feet and an unhappy stomach (the beer probably didn't help - sorry Cami!)  We crossed over the Broadway Bridge, back into downtown Portland.  I was never so happy to see the 25 mile marker. 

Almost to the finish line

Weaving the final mile through downtown Portland, all I could think about was finishing.  We'd been on our feet for hours and I was ready to sit down.  We passed the 26 mile marker, and I spotted a large sign of an opera singer proclaiming "It's almost over!"  Now the barricaded streets were lined deep with cheering people.  It was an amazing, electric scene!  One final turn, and there ahead was the most wonderful sight of all - the finish line.  Cami had a great surge, and I had to struggle to keep up.  Before we hit the timing mats, she grabbed my hand, and we crossed the line together, our journey complete.

We did it!

There's nothing quite like the feeling after you've just completed a marathon.  It's a combo of elation, pride, euphoria, and relief.  Although not my fastest, it was certainly the most fun.  I was impressed with the organization, crowd support, lovely course, and the entertainment.  Great job, Portland Marathon!  

When running a race of this distance, the trip is always better with a companion by your side.  Sharing this experience with my friend and training partner definitely added to the fun.  To Cami - we worked hard for this day, and I'm glad we got to experience the entire thing together.

My ultimate goal?  To have fun and finish the race with my friend.

Mission accomplished.


  1. What an exciting day! And such good friends you 2 are to stick together thru thick and thin. Nice job on the race!

  2. Awesome job!!! I hear Portland is a great race:) So fun that you could do it with your friend.

  3. Thanks for sharing! Great pics. Love the "almost over" sign!
    You almost have me contemplating a longer distance race,...hmmm....

  4. I continue to be amazed at anyone who can do this - I simply can't imagine! But I love your passion, enthusiasm and loyalty. Congratulations on a terrific accomplishment.

  5. My husband, brother, and cousin all did marathon's last weekend. I would like to try one, but don't think my knees would agree.

    I do think you all have me ready to try a half-marathon next year though!

    Congratulations! My cousin's goal was much like yours...finish with her friend...

  6. Great recap and what a friend. It's all about the journey. Thanks for sharing some sights around portland
    headed that direction tomorrow Wohooo

  7. You actually made this sound like fun! ha. What a precious memory you will always have of doing it and especially with a dear friend.


  8. Great job!! Congratulations!!! Great recap.


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