The Shamrock Run is the second largest running event on the West Coast and for those that haven’t done it before, it’s really more of a run about having a good time and most folks make it one of their for first race events. You get a lot of folks are dressed up and really it’s about being part of the event and enjoying the music, drinks, food, and people. That being said, you would be remiss if let all this fun disguise what are two of the more challenging road races we have in the Northwest, the 15k and half marathon distances. I missed last year’s inaugural half due to an injury, but this year I would not be swayed, so here is the recap from Shamrock 2016.
The evening before a race I like to set up my gear as a pre-race ritual and this year I found it harder than ever. The weather had been flip-flopping all day and the news was reporting potential cancellation due to high winds and heavy rains. My first thought was, this is Portland, what are the odds of this thing really getting canceled. I had just run the weekend prior in at similar temps, basically the low 40s, so I planned my gear accordingly. I found myself checking the weather multiple times that night and when my alarm went off the next morning I did it one more time. The chance of showers went from the 20 to 30% range to almost a definite. I grabbed my light Brooks rain shell as an extra layer and I was ready.
I somehow suckered my brother into running the shorter 8K and despite the fact he isn’t a huge runner, he agreed. A few things I forgot to mention to him was the forecast and the fact that daylight savings hit that night so we also lost an hour. When I opened the door to a slight drizzle, total darkness, and dropping temperatures I’m sure his visit from sunny Southern California seemed a little untimely. He went with it though and soon enough we were parking my car and hopping on the MAX, headed into downtown Portland. As we pulled into the Oak and 1st stop, we could see the 15K runners headed out. I still had 30 minutes before the half start time and he had another hour before his. We made our way through the masses all standing around in a light rain and ventured toward the Morrison Bridge where we all huddled for protection from Mother Nature.
Onto the Course
The time passed quickly and soon enough I lined up in my 7 to 8 minute pace gate hoping to get out with the quicker runners. We then got a stirring rendition of the Irish national anthem which was then followed by the sound of the airhorn and the start of the half. I found I settled into my pace fairly quickly, sticking right around the 7:30/min mark. I wasn’t going for a PR, really just trying to enjoy it and experience the race at a decent pace. I could see that the pace wasn’t going to be an issue as much as it was the course and the weather. The first 5 miles or so took us on a northbound route along the Willamette River on Naito Parkway, basically an out and back which is coincidentally the same course the 8K runners use. When you hit mile 6, you are now back downtown headed southbound through the city on Broadway, passing Portland State University and inevitably up into the Southwest Hills.
Here is where things get interesting as the course from about mile 6.5 to mile 10 is basically a 5 to 600 foot climb. I have actually ridden this course before, but never run it and when I made the left into the Terwilliger curves I was struck by the fact I knew exactly what the next few miles held for me and I wasn’t looking forward to it. At this time however, the weather turned and not in the good way you would expect. The rain had picked up substantially. Most of us were drenched to the core, shoes were now feeling a lot heavier, every article of clothing I was wearing now felt like it added pounds to my body. However, this actually really seemed to help because at a time where things got tough, the rain and cooler temperatures really kept my body heat down, so I could focus on the climb and not keeping my heat regulated. I also found a couple good pacing partners to reference off and without words, we tackled it together. Several times throughout we might exchange knowing glances as we stayed with each other, but as much as this climb scared me as I approached it, I found myself attacking it and this really carried me to the top.
At mile 10, the course turned downhill and honestly this was the thing that killed me. The decline was heavy and we lost elevation very fast. It was very difficult to keep my legs under control and the more I tried to slow myself, the more challenging it was for my quads and hamstrings, so it was easier to just let the legs go. My pace picked up and I found myself bombing down those last 3.1 miles all the way into the finished so definite plus on the negative splits, but my legs paid the price. My overall time was 1:41:27 which put me right at around 7:45 a minute, something I am happy with given the amount of elevation we had in there and the calf recovery I had been working on.
Overall, the race was a good time and while I would say the 8K and 5K distances are great for the fun runners and recreational crowd, the 15K and Half Marathon courses are challenging for all. They are also a lot more scenic than the shorter distances and the run through Terwilliger is beautiful. I hope next time for better weather though because Shamrock is really about the after part. Tom McCall Waterfront Park is just not conducive to 30,000 people marching around in the mud soaking wet and freezing cold, so I do feel like I missed a little bit of the experience.