This year’s Portland Holiday Half was not something I was first planning on attending as most of our team was engaged in holiday travel or planning, but a last-minute cancellation from a friend lead to an extra bib and me getting the call. I had never participated in this event before and had always been really curious, so I was definitely looking forward to it. The Holiday Half is usually full of costumes and characters as well as some decent running on a relatively easy course. The highlight of this year’s event was Galen Rupp’s participation in what would be his first real test at the half and then full marathon distances in anticipation of the Olympics. I was eager to see him in action and be able to say that I stood at the starting line… somewhere near him.
Adidas is the main sponsor of the Holiday Half and I arrived at the Adidas corporate headquarters early to check out the setup. They had tents out with food and coffee and also opened up their gym area to give the fitness fair hawkers a place to setup shop. The weather was much colder than I anticipated and while I think I dressed appropriately in tights, short sleeve, light jacket, gloves and hat. However, there was a definite still a bit of a nip outside. Thankfully, the fine folks at Adidas had planned for this and had small fires and heat lamps set up to keep us warm until the start.
There are definitely a lot of participants in the event and this struck me more than anything else, I mean its cold and the holiday season, shouldn’t we all be at a beach somewhere. There were definitely a few thousand people at a minimum and I made sure to get myself into my faster pace group quickly. I ended up lining up with the 6 to 7 minute group which is just slightly above my pace, but I was hoping for a good showing. As the race kicked off, the initial 6 1/2 miles took us out along Willamette Blvd, passing the University of Portland, and into the St. John’s neighborhood. The course is relatively flat the entire way with only a little up-and-down near the St. John’s bridge. Parts of it were the exact same route I had followed for the Portland Triathlon, so I knew exactly what to expect. The high point here was seeing Rupp on his way back just soaring down the road, it was effortless and truly inspiring.
The turnaround came just around the 7 mile mark and this is when we first noticed it. A massive black column of smoke had arisen from what looked like the other side of the St. John’s bridge. I think some definite worry went through most of us, but we all knew if something was up they would stop the race. As we got closer and turned back along laminate toward the finish line, we got a much better view of the loading docks on the west side of the river and could see the fire burning in full force. Smoke was starting to cross the course and you could feel it in the air and almost taste it, but it was still pretty light at this point. They would later cancel the remainder of the race and bus people still on the course back in, but I got in with plenty of time to spare. The finish is a nice downhill and your pace cab drop a minute or two as you approach and move into a full sprint. Its actually a great finish with some great cheering fans and a nice huge welcome from the event staff.
Overall, the run felt great and I had no real complaints. I put in a great time of 1:37:39 and felt like I had a solid race. The course itself was beautiful with views of the city and winding through the little neighborhood of North Portland. The event management team put on a solid controlled race and made a great, yet difficult decision about canceling. Looking forward to doing it against next year!