Monday, May 26, 2014

When a Race isn't really a Race - Rock 'n' Roll Portland 2014

A year ago we were standing on stage at the Rock 'n' Roll Portland Expo talking to a crowd about the social aspects of marathoning. And by 'stage', I mean the space between two speakers and by 'crowd' I mean 8 people including our friends Kevin, Wendy and Ann who we pretty much begged to show up. Race day weather a year ago is cool and dry. Ron and Kevin, starting 6 corrals apart, both PR though the times were tainted because of a few police stops during the race to let traffic through. Wendy makes her best effort to finish the half marathon with a short training season and has a great moment with Ann at the finish line.

RNR Portland 2013. Honored to be sharing the stage with some of the legends of the sport.
Fast forward a year. There are no speakers at the Expo for RNR Portland. The weather forecast was for 70% chance of rain (and climbing by the day). Wendy took advantage of the new 10K distance with her niece Crystal. There was a race that weekend, but for some reason, it wasn't the thing that really stuck in our minds. Sometimes we travel and the race is the most important thing we look forward to on the weekend. For some reason, this trip was different. 

For short weekends like this, we barely have enough time to catch up with all of the friends we've made on the circuit. We stayed with Wendy about 15 miles east of the race start/finish. She's been having a pretty turbulent few years and we were really happy to see how much her life had gotten better since 2013. Her niece was doing her first RNR 10K and after talking to us and Al, I think she's gunning to be a Half Fanatic really soon. 

We picked up Al and Ann at the airport on the way into town on Saturday. It was a quick 20 minute drive to the expo with the five of us packed into a Prius and it was great to catch up with Ann since we knew her schedule gets crazy as soon as she hits the expo. She was so excited to see us that she forgot she had a rental car reserved. Oops.

Ron's favorite time of the weekend was actually just catching up with friends at the expo. We spent a while with Al, Shayne and Ann just talking about non-race stuff. We heard all about Shayne's engagement on her trip to Maui and she asked if she should wear her ring while she was giving out iced water bottles at the finish line (NO!). Shayne is also prepping for Rock 'n' Roll Seattle, her first half marathon in a while, as she tries to get back to Boston. Ann filled us in on her trip to Rome with her mom and a bunch of other parent-child pairings from church. She and Ron were dancing to "Shout", distracting Al who was trying to make a point (and failing miserably). 

Jennifer told us about how it felt to have front row seats to watch Meb win in Boston and how proud she was since she knew him when he was in high school. Susan gave Lori a travel foam roller, something she can really use since she'll be running RNR San Diego after recovering from a tight IT band. Somehow we missed Darlene this trip. We'll have to seek her out in San Diego for sure. We met up with Kevin at the Expo an hour later. This was the first of three straight Rock 'n' Roll weekends for him as he was headed to the Inaugural RNR Liverpool between Portland and San Diego. 

Our first look at the new Cascadia Heavy Medal. Pacific Peaks is earned by racing in Portland and Seattle. Cascadia completes the northwest trio with the inaugural Rock n Roll Vancouver race in late October.
As for the race? The 70% chance of rain didn't actually happen until after we picked up our medals (including the Rock Star Heavy Medal for the fifth Rock 'n' Roll race of the year. woot!). Ron and Kevin raced together and finished right around 2:29 with Susan hot on their heels at 2:30:17, her second fastest race ever. All three of us were totally smoked by a friendly race walker who passed us going up a hill at mile 7 on a sub 2:15 pace.

We said hello to Ann and John Bingham at the start, but some of us missed them at the finish with the rain closing in on us. We somehow missed Joe again this trip. Having to find shelter from the rain before the race limited our time in the starting area.

The Half Fanatics (and honorary members) always come out in force for the northwest races. Crystal joined us for the picture as a future member. Gary, Kevin, Al, Susan and a whole bunch of crazy people represent probably a few thousand half marathons for the group.

We were able to catch up with Kamika after his week of 5 half marathons in 5 states. Most races on this trip were smaller east coast races.
Sometimes the race is the reason we travel. We prepare for the event and shoot for a target time and it becomes the highlight of the trip.

But sometimes its everything else about the weekend. And the race really isn't a race.


2014 was the third year for Rock 'n' Roll Portland. It's one of the few races that Ron and Susan are legacy racers. There were 7035 finishers in the half marathon (median finish time of 2:16) and 1809 finishers in the new 10K distance (median finish time of 1:10). Total finishers was up from 2013's numbers 8087. Weather this year was in the mid 50's at race start, warming to the low 60's with drizzle and rain. Basically, it's Oregon. None of that should surprise you. 

This year's course had some slight modifications from 2013. In 2012 and 2013, local police stopped traffic in several points to let non-emergency vehicles cut through the course, frustrating runners even in the 1:30 - 1:40 pace groups. They were doing a better job letting only a few vehicles through at a time, minimizing the amount of wait time. The start was delayed for about 5 minutes due to a train crossing later in the course. At least two bloggers reported having to stop for a minute after the gun sounded (one for a train, one stopped four times for cars). Pre-race press mentioned having timing mats on both sides of the tracks to help runner adjust for stopped time, something we had seen The Biggest Loser implement in Springfield 2013. 

The course is reported to be a bit hilly, but the total ascent/descent is less than 700 feet. Most of the climbs are the approaches to the Hawthorne bridge (CGI did the usual good job carpeting over the mesh on the roadbed just before mile 3, the Steel Bridge at mile 12 and along slow painfully annoying hill on Hawthorne Boulevard at mile 7.

Public transit is excellent in Portland. In addition to the Trimet Max light rail system that opens as early as 5 AM on race morning, Go By Bike offered a bicycle valet where participants can ride in and park their own bikes.

We signed up for the North American Tour Pass 2015 (somehow we never got the email!), Rock 'n' Roll Arizona 2015 and of course, Rock 'n' Roll Portland 2015. 

About the town:

Nonna:  ($$$)
Pre-race dinner was at this small, tavern style eatery next to it's upscale sister restaurant DOC. DOC has only two seatings (6:30 and 8 PM) and the early seating was booked. Our delicious dinner at Nonna included roasted brussels sprouts, chili flake and lemon cream appitizers, trout cioppino with squid, mussels, tomato, parsley; traditional spaghetti polpette (meatballs!); farro, green garlic, maitake mushrooms and hannah; grilled focaccia; and linguine, olive oil, vegetable broth, mint and snap peas. Portions were medium sized and the food was absolutely delicious. The menu is seasonal.

Taco's and Cream: ($)
Chester runs a couple of of food trucks - a Portland staple. Susan and Wendy happened by one on a shake out walk on Friday night but forgot to bring cash. We drove back just as he was ready to close up at 9 PM and got three orders of mango habenero gelato. The cool burn and fresh flavor sticks with you for about an hour. Chester will go on about his theory of how he prepares his meats to remove the fats and toxins. While I don't know that I believe all of it, he has a loyal following. He calls his customers 'family' and greets everyone with a hearty "Welcome Home!"

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