First of all, it almost didn’t happen.
Second of all, despite this being the race’s 46th year, there were some definite issues that the organizers need to figure out before I can recommend this race to any other runners. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The course took an extraordinarily long time to be finalized. As in, we didn’t find out where we’d be running until a month before the race. Apparently, the reason for the delay was that the race organizers were having trouble securing a permit from the city . . . which none of us knew about until Runner’s World published an article claiming the race might be cancelled. I have two words for that: poor communication.
- Along similar communication-related lines, I received more emails from the Chicago Marathon—which I wasn’t registered to run—than I did from the Portland Marathon. This is not only a lost opportunity for Portland (after all, they’re the hometown of running apparel behemoths Adidas and Nike . . . neither of which sponsors the race!), but also a point of stress for runners accustomed to bigger races with lots of professional communication. It’s okay to be a little slow getting the details of the race together, but please, be more communicative next time (so us runners don’t go into full-on panic mode), okay?
- Next up: nutrition. Now, I understand that this is a small and only moderately sponsored race, but if you’re going to provide something other than water on the course—which is very important in a marathon, and for which I am certainly grateful—why in the world would you choose a beverage that has zero calories? Marathoners need calories!
- Then there's the course itself. It’s an out-and-back route, which would not be a problem, except for the fact that the half and full marathon courses are pretty much on top of one another and start at exactly the same time. This means that any marathoners who run under four hours wind up colliding with the half marathoners who are walking on the “back” part of the out-and-back course. Speaking from experience, this turns into one big game of Frogger, but a whole lot less fun, given that everyone is fatigued and therefore much less agile than they might otherwise be. Let me tell you: there is no turning on a dime at mile 25. And if you add in some rain and uneven train tracks . . . collisions will happen. (Luckily, Portlanders are really nice about this sort of things; see below.)
- Speaking of train tracks, my final grievance is based on something that didn’t even happen to me, but it is the primary reason I cannot recommend this marathon. My friend L___ was on pace to run well under 3:30 when she came to one of several sets of train tracks at mile 25. However, she couldn’t carefully step over these tracks because . . . there was a train on them. She and all of the runners around her had to stop and wait—again, at mile 25, when they were all sore and fatigued and dying to be done—for a train to pass by. L___ still ended up running under 3:30, but who knows how much time that interruption cost her? I'm pretty sure I'd have thrown a fit.
- The people. And not just the spectators—who were wonderful and supportive, don’t get me wrong—but the runners, too. Because the course was out-and-back, I found myself facing a lot of other runners after I turned at the halfway point and began retracing the course. Not only did these other runners smile at me, but they actually cheered for me while they were running their race. I was astounded. These people had no idea who I was, but nevertheless were shouting, “Go girl,” and “Stay strong,” and “Go get her [the lead woman].” It was amazing support and kept me smiling for a vast majority of the race.
- The swag—the tree seedling in particular. Every marathon gives its finishers a medal (which typically gets put in a shoebox) and a T-shirt (which eventually gets thrown away), but how many people can, twenty years down the road, point to a giant tree and say, “See that? I won that in a marathon!”
- The weather. Of course this varies year to year, but the 2017 weather was perfect: fifty degrees and overcast. We had a sprinkle of rain about an hour into the race, which made the footing a bit slippery, but a short shower was by far preferable to torrential downpour or blistering heat alternatives.
- The terrain. Apart from my grievances (above), the course actually played to my strengths. Being forced to run generally uphill for the first half of the race forced me to stay controlled and attentive, and running downhill for the second half made it that much easier to negative split (my preferred way to race). Also, while a good chunk of the race follows empty industrial roads (read: no spectators and no scenery), these roads are straight (i.e., no turns, no tangents) and they’re fairly well kept. Ultimately, I’d say that any runner who has run and enjoyed the Brooklyn Half Marathon course would like this course, too.