Race Report – Vernonia Half Marathon & Marathon

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Starting line – Vernonia Marathon

My most recent event (last Sunday) was the Vernonia Half Marathon & Marathon near Portland, Oregon. The race is held on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, Oregon’s first Rails to Trails project. I’ve been interested in the Banks-Vernonia Trail for the past twenty years – ever since becoming involved in the OC&E and Woods Line State Trail in Klamath Falls, Oregon (Oregon’s second Rails to Trails project).

It was nice to final get in a run on this trail.

As I stated earlier I had originally signed up for the full marathon but I decided to switch to the half marathon because although my training was going fairly well, I was having problems with my longer long runs. Anything up to twelve or thirteen miles was okay but for some reason I was really getting fatigued one longer runs like sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen milers. Eighteen was my longest run – and thought, “If I feel like this after just eighteen miles I don’t want to know what twenty-six feels like.”

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Pre-Race Motel

I didn’t think it’d be a good idea to proceed with a marathon without a few twenty mile runs under my belt. (Keep in mind I’ve done about twenty marathons previously so I didn’t feel too bad about the downgrade).

In the past I’ve always tolerated my longer runs well – and even though they were taking my forever I enjoyed them. This time something has changed. Is it attributable to aging or is my atrial fibrillation becoming less stable? I dunno. I have an routine appointment with my cardiologist coming up so I guess I’ll find out.

Anyway – as far as the race was concerned overall it was a nice event.

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Packet Pick-up Chaos

The packet pick-up was in Banks, the runners were bussed to Vernonia and ran either to Banks (full marathon) or half way to Banks (1/2 marathon) and were bussed to Banks.

There were a few problems. They had packet pick-up the night before but also the morning of the race. Since there are no motels near the packet pick-up most people decided to pick up the packets right before the race. Evidently there were problems with the busses as well so we got started a little late – like at 1000AM instead of 930AM. That’s the latest starting marathon I’ve ever been involved with and I imagine it became a little hot for the slow people running the full marathon. The half marathon was nearly all in the shade – but the full marathon had several miles near the end with full sun. The race director sent a great email accepting responsibility for the late start and promising to fix the problem for next year’s event.

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Back of the Pack Starters – Vernonia Marathon

The early start people started on time (830AM) and in retrospect I think I should’ve opted for the early start – I’m certainly slow enough to have been early start eligible!

But honestly . . . I hate doing early starts – it’s discouraging to me to be passed by all those fast people – I’d rather start in the back and stay in the back.

The trail was delightful – it is a paved rail trail that primarily goes through verdant forests. Green trees, moss, ferns – nothing like the OC&E Trail (Klamath Falls) or the Bizz Johnson Trail (Susanville, California) which are both in much drier, browner ecosystems.

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Early Along the Course

As far as the course was concerned the last four miles or so of the half marathon were a consistent uphill grind – relentless. Not steep but relentless. At the half way point of the full marathon the course changes to downhill for most of the return to Banks.

I knew it was a bad sign when for the last three miles of the race I encountered a steady flow of bicyclists whizzing by in the opposite direction – none of whom were pedaling.

The race director emailed that he was considering starting the half marathon at the current half marathon finish and having a common finish line for both races. Yes – sign me up – that would be a lot more fun!

I had a slow day and felt poor during the final three or four miles of climbing. I have been finding that if I take a carb gel every 45-60 minutes during a long run I do well but if I try to run without calories I bonk. I read the pre-race instructions the night before the race and saw that there was going to be carb gels at the water stations so I FOOLISHLY decided not to carry and carb gels with me. That was a huge mistake. There were zero carb gels at any of the water stations. The last water station wasn’t even manned! I think there may have been carb gels for the faster people – I saw several empty Hammergels packets along the course – but I should know better. Never count on there being any gels left by the time the back of the pack runners like me arrive. Actually I would bet that if there were carb gels the early start people got all of them – one more reason to choose the early start.

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Vernonia Finish Line (1/2 Marathon)

But seriously – that is completely my own fault. I should know by now – I’ve only done about thirty or forty of these things. I brought plenty of gels with me and was just too lazy or cheap to stick them in my pocket.

Never again will I make this mistake – the slow runner needs to be more self reliant than the fast runner – that’s the truth. Once Margo and I finished the Pear Blossom ten miler at the very back of the pack (not because we were slow – we had locked our keys in the car and gotten to the race a half hour late) and they were completely out of finish line water by then – ouch!

If anybody is reading this race report scoping out the race for future consideration I would like to go on record as highly recommending this event. Yes – there were frustrating issues for the 2014 race but I think they will be corrected by 2015. The course is lovely and the people are terrific.

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SOB Trail Run – Ashland, Oregon

By the way – my next event is the SOB Trail Run at Mount Ashland near Ashland, Oregon. I’m already signed up for the 15K. There is also a 50K and a 50M. SOB stands for “Siskiyou Outback” and the race follows the Pacific Crest Trail at certain points. More later.

More Photos From Vernonia Marathon

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