Even though Rock ‘n’ Roll Pasadena was my first half marathon, RnR Portland was actually the first half marathon I signed up for. This is because on June 8th of this year, Meghann will make an honest man out of me and I decided Portland should be my bachelor party/run destination.
I’ve loved Portland ever since my first sip of McMenamins’ Nitro Terminator Stout back in 2010. Walking friendly downtown, great eccentric shops, breweries in every district and no sales tax! It is the one place I can see luring me away from Southern California. I got in Friday and left on Monday so I had plenty of time to see the sights, I’ve added a few pictures from that part of the trip in the Photo Gallery section below but for now… to the race recap!
The day before the race it was mid 60s and rainy. To my surprise on race morning the sun was shining (well… the Pacific North West version of sunshine) and the temperature would reach the mid 70s, perfect day for a run! It was a crisp morning but I’ve had colder runs at the Rose Bowl, including RnR Pasadena. I stayed at the McMenamins Crystal Hotel in downtown Portland which was a quick walk to the start at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Robert met me up at the hotel and we made our way to the start.
We found the gear check easily, stretched and made our way to the start for a quick warm up run. I have to say that every Rock ‘n’ Roll race I’ve been to has had a great starting area. All of the sections are well-marked and the guide they give you at the expo makes it easy to plan your morning. As we started the warm up jog I noticed the corrals were well into the 20s and stretched way back into the city…. this was going to be a packed course.
As with every race, my brain started to panic and worry about everything that could go wrong. I injured my foot the week before (lame injury and best told over a beer) and it flared up with all the walking we did the day before. I worried that it would prevent me from even finishing the race. At the expo I watched the course preview video and hills on the second half of the race looked brutal. Thankfully just as my brain was going off the deep end…
Woman: Hey are you from Pasadena?
Me: Yeah! I run with the pacers. Do you?
Woman: No but I’m from the area and know who they are. How was the last run you guys did?
Me: The Unity Run?
Woman: Yeah! That looked great.
Me: It was awesome. We had great turn out from other clubs as well. Like the Gritty City Track Club & Pasadena Tri.
This lead to more interaction among my fellow runners and quickly got me to ease up. She was talking about the Unity Run we did after the Boston tragedy. It was a great run that reminded me I should be thankful to just be able to get out and run.
I took a deep breath, said a prayer (with special request for my foot), and got back to focusing on the run. As each corral was released, I started to think about what lay ahead. Running across two more bridges. Seeing new parts of Portland. Hearing words of encouragement from strangers. Yeap, just going for a run in my favorite city in the Pacific Northwest!
From the get go we got into a good pace and weaved our way through the traffic. The initial 5k was an out-and-back on Nieto Parkway along the waterfront. I’ve only enjoyed one out-and-back and that was over the Golden Gate bridge at RnR San Francisco. This one wasn’t very scenic once you went under the Fremont Bridge. The road was also just as rough as we saw a few runners trip in potholes. The crowd, as with every RnR, was quite diverse and provided some entertaining people watching. We noticed a caveman, Chiquita & banana, some poor bastard running in a powder bottle suit, plenty of Elvi, and a barefoot runner. Just Portland keeping it weird.
The rest of the first four miles of the course weren’t very memorable. There was a nice section around a few parks that included my favorite type of course band, Japanese Taiko Drum group! A similar group had provided a nice boost during RnR Pasadena so it was nice to hear those drums before the steady climb up to Hawthorne Bridge. I glanced at the clock at mile marker 4 and we clocked in at just over 36 mins!
Running across Hawthorne Bridge crossed off Portland from my “Run Across a Bridge in Favorite Cities” list (click here for full list) but it wasn’t as great as I hoped. For starters they laid down a carpet to even out the bumpy road… well in certain places it wasn’t laid properly and there were bumps, some big enough that we had to hop over them. There was a nice breeze on the bridge that felt amazing 5 miles into the race. We didn’t admire much of the view since we were on a mission to finish below 2:15.
After crossing the bridge the course made its way through an industrial part of town that totally reminded me of downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District. There were some nicely remodeled loft apartments, recording studios and heavy manufacturing. Just a few residents were out there but as with every RnR race there was plenty of local bands and cheer squads along the way. One of the bands was a two piece group that reminded me of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, I loved the diversity of the bands at this race.
Finally, just past the six-mile marker we had our first walk break. While I did hit a new PR for best one hour (10.64 km) it came a heavy cost as we were feeling winded and the mile climb still lay laid. We took a few sips of water and I chewed on some GU Chomps to refuel for the second part.
As we turned the corner back to Hawthorne Blvd, that one mile climb looked very daunting. I could see groups clumping up near the middle and just walking the entire way up. It is a steady climb so the incline isn’t harsh. Just the thought of running for ~1.5 miles uphill caused my muscles to ache but on we charged. Every step was a victory and I didn’t dare look back. The only band I remember on this climb was the School of Rock kids, they performed Gorillaz’ “Feel Good”, the music was great but the death metal vocals made me run just a bit faster to get out of sound range.
For those of you unfamiliar with Portland, Hawthorne Blvd is filled with shops, bars and restaurants. There were plenty of people lined up along the street cheering us on… including some with beers. It took about 3 walking breaks and 10 mins to beat that hill but we made it. We were at mile marker 8 with 1 hr 14 mins on the clock. Not too bad and definitely on pace for a PR, set at RnR SF 2 hrs 17 mins.
The course then looped back into neighborhoods and for the most part flattened out. We picked up the pace and felt we could definitely hit sub two hours. Along this stretch of the course we saw plenty of families lining up the road and kids holding out hands for some sweaty high-fives… including one who give a sticky high-five to a runner, afterward she frantically tried to wipe off the unknown substance on her tech shirt. Note to self: avoid high-fives from kids along the course.
At mile 9 we hit Laurelhurst Park and another walk break. It was a great spot to take a breather as the park had plenty of people cheering us on and a few just enjoying the park. I saw a runner (not in the race) running through the park with his dog by his side… I really want to get a dog so I can do the same. This was the first time I had been so far east in Portland. The neighborhoods in this part, with plenty of tree cover and single-family detached homes, seemed like just home. Again, I can totally picture myself moving up here. But enough about my love of Portland.
My familiarity with Portland would be a hindrance at Mile 10 as I thought the last 5k would be downhill and mostly after the bridge. In actuality, miles 10-12 were still on the east side and were rolling hills. I checked the clock at mile 11 and were at 1 hr 46 mins… which meant two sub 7 minute miles if we were to finish under 2. We kicked it into high gear. The Lloyd district was pretty plain so we did not miss anything by running at full speed.
We came across the Rose Quarter at mile 12.5 and gave it a one finger salute for Hugo/Lakers. Steel Bridge and its sweet breeze was just one turn, and slight incline, away!
Now running across the Steel Bridge was much nicer than Hawthorne. We had great views of downtown Portland ahead of us, the scenic waterfront park to the south, and the Broadway bridge to the north. There also wasn’t a carpet to trip us up. I had hoped the MarathonFoto people had taken a nice picture of me on either bridge but looks like I missed both cameramen. Maybe for the best since I never look great during a race. Every photographer at RnR Pasadena caught me during a walk break.
Mile 12-13 was a nice downhill coming from Steel Bridge. Because of my weak left knee I tried to limit my speed. Even with my brace I can feel every shock my left knee takes. While my knee felt great it was my injured right foot that was starting to become an issue. I could feel the top of it scraping against the shoe. It wasn’t enough to slow me down but ice and Meloxicam would be needed once I crossed the finish.
The line of spectators started just after the last band stage, some Journey cover band that was on a break when I passed, and stretched well past the finish line. I began to look around to try to spot Hugo and Mario, who had kindly joined me on my Bachelor weekend. Just before the finish I noticed them looking behind me so I ran to their side and let out a “SURPRISE MOTHERFUCKERS!” à la Doakes from Dexter.
That picture sums up the last stretch. Seeing strangers cheer me on and hearing the band at the final stage always motivates me to give it my all. With a new PR in sight and a scenic final mile I said prayer and thanked the old gods and the new that my foot had held up so well during the race. I managed to shave off another ten minutes and clocked in at 2 hours and 4 minutes!
We didn’t stay very long at the post race concert, headliner was Andy Grammer. My swollen right foot made the walk to the gear check seem like another mile. I definitely needed to pop a few pills, have some beers and rest in the soaking pool. I checked out the merchandise tent but found nothing new from the expo. The finisher shirt just a rehash of the earlier ones and I plan on buying a RnR Pasadena finisher shirt to commemorate my first half. Though as you can see in the photo gallery below I had a nice haul of souvenirs.
Post Race Comments
I had an amazing time at Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland but didn’t sign up for next year. Though this is only due to the timing of the race, it would be during my second semester of grad school. I highly recommend this race to anyone and especially to those who haven’t been to Portland. There are plenty of things to do before/after the race and the course is challenging. As always Competitor group put on a top class event and remains my favorite series.