Marathon Shopping

With less than a week left in 2013, I’m looking forward to 2014 and all that it will bring… which includes races! I’m already registered for the Newport Marathon in late May and need to pick a fall marathon. If I don’t qualify for Boston at Newport, which is unlikely (and I’m trying really hard not to sound pessimistic, but I have to be realistic), I want to pick a fast race to run in the fall. I have my sights on two October races and I’m really torn between them.

The first is the Chicago Marathon.

Capture - chicago 26.2

I was supposed to run Chicago this past October, but an injury forced me to drop out. I was thrilled beyond measure to grab a registration spot because of the major problems that had managing the flood of registrations requests. The Chicago Marathon has been first-come, first-serve up to now, but I’ve heard that the marathon is moving towards a lottery system in 2014 because of the problems experienced with the registrations in 2013.


Chicago is known for being a fast race because it has such as flat course. I would say “pancake-flat” except I’ve heard there’s a hill just before the end of the race. There are long straightaways and you get to run through various neighborhoods, so there are interesting sights all along the course.

The crowds are supposed to be great (like New York), too, and–c’mon–it’s Chicago! I love Chicago. Recently I had a conversation with my husband and a friend where we discussed that, if a foreigner could visit only one U.S. city, we would recommend Chicago because it’s such a good representation of our country. The people are friendly and look out for visitors. It’s a very diverse city. There are world-class museums (Art Institute of Chicago, holla!) and it’s an architecture-buff’s dream come true. There are incredible restaurants–from low to high end–and practically everything you want to see in the city is accessible by public transportation. Plus, I have friends that live there and it would be fun to not only visit with them, but have them cheer me on at the race.

Evernote Camera Roll 20131227 155407

Eating, drinking, and hanging out with friends in Chicago. What could be better?

Simply put, I love that place.

There are negatives to running the Chicago Marathon, however. First and foremost, the weather. In 2013, temps ranged from 46 to 65 degrees on race day–not too shabby. But the weather in October is unpredictable and can be brutally hot for running 26.2 miles. In 2007, the temperatures reached the upper 80s, causing hundreds of marathoners to get sick and one runner to die; the race was halted and about only 2/3 of the runners finished the race. Temps reached the low to mid 80s in several other years recently: 2008, 2010, and 2011. Other years, it has been really cold. Usually, though, it’s somewhere in between. But variability is not my friend: extreme heat and humidity would basically destroy any BQ effort on my part. I cannot tolerate racing in heat.

Another negative is that it is a large race. Yes, New York was huuuuuuge this year (over 50,000 runners!) but I wasn’t running for time, and I certainly wasn’t trying to nail a sub-3:45. In 2013, 40,230 marathoners ran Chicago. While that certainly adds to the street party reputation of the race, it can also means crowds, tight spots, and slow-downs. (My coach, Kris, told me this–and I believe her).

Finally, there is the cost of traveling to a race like Chicago. Not only would I have to pay for the steep registration fee (I think it was $175 in 2013), but there will be airfare, hotels, and entertaining expenses to pay for. Fortunately, O’Hare is a hub so it’s not difficult to find reasonable airfares, and thank God for Airbnb, which provides affordable (and nice!) alternatives to staying in hotels. The entertaining expenses, though, are hard to skimp on–especially in Chicago.

2013-10-10 08.52.36

Oh–and I have a tendency to fall down and get hurt in Chicago.

The alternative is the Portland Marathon. As in Portland, Oregon (not Or-eh-GAWN, but OR-eh-gun).

Capture - pdx 2012

Ugh. That photo.

I have run the Portland Marathon twice before. It was my first ever 26.2 (2011) and then my second (2012). It’s a mid-sized marathon (or a large marathon by regional standards): around 6,900 people ran the full in 2013. The race is well organized, with a multi-wave start and little crowding along the course. Course support is pretty good, too–probably the best in the PNW.

Because I’ve run it twice, I know the course and I know what to expect and when. There is about a 100-foot hill climb in the second or third mile of the race, followed by a long decline and then flats for until about mile 16, when there is about a 175-foot climb to the St. John’s Bridge. That hill at mile 16 is fine if you run with even effort (my hill mantra) but that can mean a slower pace for that mile. As in 60 to 90 seconds slower. After that, though, the course is basically downhill or flat until the finish line. (More on that “basically” qualification later.)

Portland is very close to home and it wouldn’t be expensive to run the race. The registration fee is a slightly more reasonable $130 (although I think that’s high, still), the only transportation cost is gas for the family roadster, and lodging means $185 a night at the Embassy Suites (free cocktail hour every night at 5:00!). The fact that it’s so close and inexpensive means it’s easy to bring my kids along, and I do love seeing my kids on the course. Plus they’re pretty fun to hang out with otherwise.

Portland, while much smaller than Chicago, is also a great city. It has fantastic restaurants and they are very affordable. You can eat at some of the hottest tables in Portland for less than $30 per person including alcohol. Try that, Chicago!


And this is the kind of reward you get when you finish the Portland Marathon: the world’s best Bloody Mary. Yummy.

So, the negatives: first, I’ve already run it twice! Boooring. There is something to be said for predictability and trying for a BQ, though.

Also, it is not a flat course. As I mentioned above, there is a major hill at mile 16. After that, you think you’re running downhill or on flats to the finish and, in 2011 and earlier, you would be right! But in 2012, the race director decided to tweak the course so that you have to run up a relatively short, steep incline (really, an on-ramp–but it’s steep, damn it!) onto a bridge at mile 25 or so. Evil, I tell you. Not what you want to see at that point in the race, especially when you’re expecting it to be flat.

Capture - portland 26.2

Finally, and I realize this is going to sound bitchy and high maintenance, but oh well, this is my blog: I hate, hate, hate the Portland Marathon logo, font, marketing, and its emphasis on swag. The logo and font look like they were designed in 1987. Time to move on; the running-man and block lettering aren’t cool anymore. And the website sucks–which should go without saying merely for the simple fact that the offending logo and font are all over it.

I also don’t like that the race director makes the race’s swag it’s best feature. When you run the Portland Marathon, you get not only a race t-shirt, you receive with your registration fee a finisher’s shirt, a commemorative coin, a pendant to hang on a chain, a sapling (baby tree, for the uninitiated), and a red, long-stemmed rose. Personally, I would be much happier if I paid just $75 and received a race shirt. I don’t need all that crap–especially when it has that lame font from the 80s emblazoned all over it.


Only part of the swag.

Wow. That felt good! Apparently I had a lot to get off of my chest. Serenity now…

So now I have to decide. Which will it be? Should I just try to get in to Chicago through the lottery, and-if I fail-run Portland as my fall back? Or should I opt for the smaller race close to home? Decisions, decisions.

4 thoughts on “Marathon Shopping

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