It’s May. Traditionally May is when race season really heats up, at least here in the Pacific Northwest with our mild summer weather. Just this past weekend, there were back-to-back 5k races in Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. I’m feeling a little bummed out when thinking about all of the cool races coming up because I’m not running any of them (not right now at least). Last year I ran and walked in a ton of them and it was so much fun!
My running journey began in 2013 when I ran my very first race; the Portland Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon. I ran another in 2014 and two half marathons in 2015. It’s a lot of work to train for 13.1 miles, especially when you add fundraising to it. I ran my half marathons with support from Team In Training which meant raising money to fund research for blood cancers. I wouldn’t change anything about the experience but in 2016 I decided to take a break from fundraising and longer miles. At the same time I didn’t want to stop participating in these events. I also wanted to keep up my exercise regimen. So I made a resolution. I would run a 5k or 10k race each month of the year. It was tricky to find races in January and February but a little easier in March and April. Once May came around, I had to be discerning and picky because there were so many to choose from.
Here’s an overview of the races I did participate in and what I thought of them. I hope any aspiring runners or walkers or those considering these particular events find it helpful!
Sunday, January 31: Race for Warmth in Vancouver, Washington
This event has both 5k and 10k options and a free kid’s dash. I choose to do the 5k since I hadn’t run much at all in the three months leading up to the race and didn’t want to overdo it. I registered on-site the day of the event and therefore didn’t get a T-shirt. Normally, you’d get a long sleeved shirt (cotton blend) but no medal. There was a pretty fun set up in the starting area with booths giving out free coffee, hot cocoa, snacks and whole pieces of fruit. Yum! The route started at Clark Public Utilities, just north of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Our 5k route went down into the Fort, over the land bridge and along the Columbia River waterfront for a short while before heading up into downtown Vancouver and back to the starting point. It was a great course and although I skipped it, there was an “after party” with actual food and a beer garden.
100% of proceeds from this event support Operation Warm Heart, a program that provides funds to low-income families in Clark County who have trouble paying their electric bill.
Saturday, February 27: Polar Plunge in Portland, Oregon
The Polar Plunge has a 5k option but is much more well known for the “plunge”, a dip in the Columbia River… in February. So, it’s very cold! Some people do the run and plunge together. I decided to just do the run. This race offered a long sleeved shirt (tech fabric) for an extra fee and no medal. There were additional prizes for teams that had fund raised at high levels. The registration tent had snacks for people to enjoy before the race. I remember seeing peanut butter toast and mini-donuts. The race took place along the path by Marine Drive in NE Portland, very close to the Portland International Airport. This was both good and bad. Good because you got some nice views of the Columbia River but bad because there wasn’t much change of scenery and we moved in a fairly straight line out to Broughton Beach. The set up at the finish line was excellent. There were lots of food options and several vendors with activities and giveaways. I won a CD from a local radio station (which happened to be a band I love). Since the finish line was removed from the starting area, shuttles were available to take us back there and to our cars. I decided to walk back, technically making this a 10k for me, although in two parts.
100% of proceeds from this event support Special Olympics of Oregon.
Recommended with caveats. I would participate again if I had someone to run with and it was forecast to be a very nice day.
Sunday, March 13: Shamrock Run in Portland, Oregon
This is a HUGE race here in Oregon. The Shamrock Run is billed as the largest running and walking event in the state and I believe it. The race has grown in recent years to include a 5k, 8k, 15k, half marathon, 4 mile walk-only “stride” and the Leprechaun Lap for kids. I ran the 8k in 2015 and the 5k in 2016. Registration included a shirt (tech fabric) and there were lots of goodies worth picking up at the race expo. 15k and half marathon finishers receive a medal. Both years I ran the Shamrock it poured buckets and buckets of rain on us. It is March after all (but strangely both my January and February races for 2016 were dry). For me, the large crowds, being downtown and the rain have made this an unpleasant race to participate in. The crowds and location necessitate arriving early and parking far away from the starting line. The smells that arrive at your nose while running through rain soaked city streets are not the best. The after party at Waterfront Park would be amazing (bands, beer garden, clam chowder, etc.) if it were covered or indoors. I didn’t stay after either time because I didn’t want to stand in the rain. Yeah, I’m a wuss. This is an event that many people love and I think it can be a great experience if factors are in your favor. I did not do the Shamrock Run this year and of course it was a mostly clear day. Still, I’m not upset about missing it.
The Shamrock Run is put on by Adidas and a portion of the proceeds benefit Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
Sunday, April 17: Race for the Roses in Portland, Oregon
Race for the Roses has a 5k, 10k and half marathon option. I decided to do the 5k. Registration did not include a shirt (although one was offered for an additional fee/donation) but did include the cool wooden medal you can see me wearing in the photo below. These medals are hand made by participants in Albertina Kerr’s Port City Program, making them extra special and meaningful. The registration area and after party was indoors at the Memorial Coliseum, with the start and finish line just outside. It ended up being a very beautiful day out but I was thankful for the indoor location because even April in the Pacific Northwest can be pretty iffy when it comes to the weather. This current year in particular. The course took us over the Broadway Bridge (I enjoyed that) but otherwise was pretty similar to other races I’ve done in downtown Portland. The more races I do, the more I realize I prefer suburban or rural routes. Albertina Kerr handed us a rose at the finish line and gave us a commemorative photo. There were nice snacks at the after party and mimosas for those 21 and over. The indoor location and extra perks (medal, complimentary photo, etc.) help set this race apart from other downtown events.
100% of the proceeds support Albertina Kerr, a nonprofit that provides programs and services to children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges.
Saturday, May 7: Walk/Run for the Animals in Vancouver, Washington
This Walk/Run for the Animals is a unique 5k because of all the dogs you’ll see! The Humane Society for SW Washington is not as large an entity as the Oregon Humane Society and this event isn’t as big as OHS’s Doggie Dash. But I liked that about it. There was a really nice community feel here. I did not a have a dog with me (many people ran or walked with theirs) but I did have a friend. We choose to the “walk option” (not timed and without a medal) and were given “doggie bags” with treats and coupons for pet-friendly businesses. If you choose the “run option” you get a shirt and a medal. The Walk/Run for the Animals follows the most common route events in downtown Vancouver take. It started at Esther Short Park, cut down to the riverfront just under the I-5 bridge and followed the Waterfront Renaissance Trail just beyond Beaches and McMenamins restaurants and then back to the park. It’s a beautiful route even if it’s overused. The Humane Society for SW Washington put on dog agility show after everyone returned and there was a very nice beer garden with a Italian soda bar for those who didn’t want to drink. I don’t remember there being much in the way of snacks or food though and all of the vendors were pet-related.
Proceeds from the Walk/Run benefit the Humane Society for SW Washington.
Recommended with caveats. This is a great race to do with your furry friend(s) but worth skipping if you’re only human.
Sunday, June 26: Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival in Sunriver, Oregon
This series of events has been the highlight of my year every year since 2014. My family rents a cabin and we all participate in different events within the festival. I grew up going on vacation to Sunriver so there’s a lot of nostalgia for me in that place as well. If I could, I would move to Sunriver and live there every day of the year. That’s how much I love it! Okay, enough waxing on about Sunriver. The Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival is a beast for athletes of all kinds. There’s a long course triathlon, duathlon (bike/run), aquabike (swim/bike), marathon, half-marathon, 10k, 5k and kids dash. There are also multiple distance options for the tri/du/aqua ranging from a 1/2 mile swim with a 5k and 28 mile bike ride to a 1.2 mile swim with a half marathon and 58 mile bike ride. I did the half marathon in 2014, the 5k in 2015 and the 10k in 2016. I enjoy swimming and biking leisurely but have decided to stick just to competitive running for now! When you sign up for any race, you receive a shirt (tech fabric), medal and goodie bag with coupons and snacks. The after party has tons of great food in a festival setting, including a robust beer garden. Unfortunately 3/4 of the beers offered were IPAs and I happen not to like those. That’s not much to complain about though. Sunriver’s large network of trails makes it the perfect venue for these races. I would try the full marathon but sadly it’s a double loop of the half and that’s very unappealing to me. Sunriver is a resort town and very under-developed. People do live there but all houses are painted dull browns, greys and tans that blend into the natural forest around them. People don’t cut down trees unless there’s something wrong with a tree. Yards are natural scrub-brush with native flowers and no fences. The Deschutes River is right next door along with Mt. Bachelor. You don’t see either while running the 5k or 10k but you do get excellent views of both river and mountain in the half and full marathon course. I have seen deer, ground squirrels (which are similar to prairie dogs), field mice, osprey, hawks and cranes during my runs there. The air in Sunriver is crisp and fresh and the course gives you nice twists and turns throughout the property with only gentle rolling hills. It’s breathtaking and I will continue to participate in the future.
WHY Racing Events puts on the Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival and donates a portion of the proceeds to local charities like the Three Rivers School.
Very much recommended.
Saturday, July 9: Twilight Half Marathon in Vancouver, Washington
The Twilight Half isn’t just a half marathon but includes a 5k and 10k. Also, this race is in THE EVENING. All of the other races I’ve reviewed started in the morning just as the vast majority of all races do. I like that the Twilight is different and so did my husband Tom, because he ran the 10k with me! He has a strong preference for night races. Registration for this event includes a shirt or tank top (cotton blend) and a cute medal cut in the shape of an owl. The route is really something special too. All three races start at Vancouver Lake Regional Park and head off down different trails. It’s not as rural as Sunriver but the second best thing to it. You get great views of the lake and the Columbia River during your run or walk and the course is very flat. The after party provided free beer or hard cider and burritos. This year they’re providing tamales so I think we can safely expect Latin cuisine each time.
The Twilight Half Marathon is put on by Good Sport Promotion and a portion of the proceeds benefit the Children’s Cancer Association.
Sunday, August 28: Alki Beach 5k in Seattle, Washington
This was the only race I traveled for in 2016 and I’ll just say now that it was worth it. It’s a simple 5k with no other distance options. The starting area had a wide variety of vendors, which means lots of goodies and giveaways. Registration included a shirt (tech fabric) and they encouraged everyone to place a sign on their back noting who they were running for or in the memory of. All of the races I ran at this point in the year were either directly benefiting a charity or giving a portion of proceeds to one. But out of all of them, the Alki Beach 5k was the one where that mission seemed most front and center. Race organizers gave moving speeches on the importance of what we were doing and about what NW Hope & Healing, the nonprofit that puts on the race, does. I ran in honor or my aunt Susie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer but is now in remission as it was caught *very* early, and my mother-in-law Lynne, who lost her life to ovarian cancer in 2012. The course was in West Seattle, along the waterfront trail that connects Alki Beach Park and Anchor Park. You could see downtown Seattle (including the iconic Space Needle) while running but the beach setting and distance from the city core made it feel much more rural. The suburb (is it a suburb?) of West Seattle felt really quaint and reminded me of towns I’ve visited along the Oregon Coast. There was no beer garden or food at the finish line but the scenery and feeling that you were there supporting an important cause made up for that and more. I can’t tell you how much I adored this race.
100% of proceeds from the Alki Beach 5k support NW Hope & Healing which provides financial assistance to women undergoing breast, cervical or ovarian cancer treatment at Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, Washington.
Recommended. And it’s worth traveling for too!
Sunday, September 25: Run for Recovery in Salem, Oregon
I traveled for this race as well but only 45 minutes out of my way. The Run for Recovery includes a 5k and 10k option and was the smallest race I attended in 2016. There were only about 200 people there, compared to 1k or more for the other events I participated in. The route was a nice quasi-scenic loop around Minto Brown Island Park in Salem. Parts of the park, and the route, passed the Willamette River and were quite scenic but others were not as much. This location is less scenic overall than either Vancouver Lake Park or Sunriver. Registration included a shirt (tech fabric) and a goodie bag with snacks, swag and coupons. The finish line area included a loaded baked potato bar and fruit. There was no beer and that’s not surprising as the race is put on by an organization that provides counseling and health care for addicts. There were some memorable speeches heard here, similar to the Alki Beach 5k. This was the least polished of all the races I did in 2016 but it felt good to support this organization and help grow a new event. Still, there was nothing that really stood out to me as worth doing a second time around.
100% of proceeds benefit Bridgeway Recovery Services, who also puts on the event. Bridgeway provides integrated health care services for mental health, chemical dependency, and/or problem gambling.
Sunday, October 23: Run Like Hell in Portland, Oregon
I know A LOT of runners who love Run Like Hell. It’s a Halloween themed event with costumes galore so who wouldn’t? There’s a half marathon, 10k, 5k and half-mile kids dash option. I decided to run the 5k. Registration included a shirt (cotton blend) that had a really cool comic book motif on the front. Those doing the half marathon got a free medal. I could have purchased the medal for $10 but decided not to. I actually love the shirt I got though and wear it often (Tom loves it too). It looks like they’re giving everyone a medal this year though, and according to their website 2017 will be the 15th anniversary of Run Like Hell. This is yet another race that takes place in downtown Portland which means taking extra time to find parking ahead of the race and walking to the starting line. I did have a lot of fun checking out everyone’s costumes. I also saw lots of photographers on the course, those with the race organization and the local media. But I didn’t find a single photo of myself on the race website or anywhere else. This was a little disappointing since I did find photos of myself at other races I ran alone. I wore purple running leggings, a long sleeved purple tech shirt, purple hat and my lilac purple fairy wings (that I wore in 2015 for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon). I noticed a lot of people ran in groups and had themed costumes. Luckily this Sunday was nice and dry and I did stick around in Pioneer Courthouse Square after the race to check out the vendors and grab snacks, giveaways and have some celebratory beer! There was no food for us but plenty of bananas and cliff bars.
Run Like Hell is organized by Terrapin Events, a running event company that puts on half a dozen races throughout the year in the Portland Metro Area. I did not see anything on their website about beneficiaries.
Recommended with caveats. I would do this race again if the forecast looked good and I had someone else to run with who was interested in doing themed costumes.
Thursday, November 24: ORCC Turkey Trot at the Oregon Zoo
This was SUCH a cool event. The Turkey Trot is a 4 mile race (a little more than a 5k) that starts just outside the Oregon Zoo in Washington Park, an area that encompasses the zoo, the World Forestry Center, Portland Children’s Museum, Portland Japanese Gardens and the International Rose Test Gardens. It’s an amazing course. The halfway point was just outside the rose gardens (with some great views) and after looping back towards the zoo, the race finished INSIDE THE ZOO. Yes! The Oregon Zoo is closed on Thanksgiving but those running the Turkey Trot can hang out and visit the exhibits from the time they finish until noon. There was a shirt available for an extra fee/donation but registration only included participation in the race and entrance into the zoo for those few hours. I get so many shirts from all of these races that I decided to go without it. The only downsides to this race were how hilly the course is (if you’ve been to Washington Park you’ll understand) and the fact that this particular Thanksgiving was extremely wet. I was about as soaked as I was after the Shamrock Run. When I pulled into the finish line area, I was handed a chocolate turkey and some animal crackers. There was also water available for us. Sadly they had run out of bananas… unfortunate. There was nothing else for us food or snack-wise. It was so wet that I spent the majority of my time after the race in the indoor area for the elephants. I would have loved to take advantage of our access to the zoo and visit more animals but it was pretty miserable outside. I was already fighting off shivers while I waited for my husband to pick me up. On the plus side, I had a really nice appetite for Thanksgiving brunch (my family eats at noon) and I didn’t feel guilty about indulging in an extra slice of pumpkin pie!
The ORCC Turkey Trot is put on by the Oregon Road Runners Club (a membership organization of runners) that puts on dozens of events throughout the year. Approximately $25,000 of entry fees from the Turkey Trot goes to benefit the Oregon Zoo Foundation
Recommended. Personally I would wait to see how the forecast was before doing this again. I wouldn’t want to get as soaked. Even so, it was worth it.
Saturday, December 31: First Run PDX in Portland, Oregon
Yet another race in downtown Portland… only this one is very unique! Technically the “First Run” is in January since it starts at 12:00 a.m. sharp on January 1 but I am counting it as my final race of 2016. There is a 1-mile, 5k and 10k option. Tom ran this one with me (another evening event) and we decided to do the 1-mile together. Registration included a long sleeved shirt (cotton blend) that Tom grabbed but I passed on. I did spend $5 on a medal though, which wasn’t included in registration but looked awesome. It feels a little lame to have a medal for running 1 mile but not enough for me to feel bad about it! There was some snow/rain mixture coming down for most of the evening but luckily the starting line and finish area (at the World Trade Center) was indoors with additional covered outdoor (along with heat lamps) seating. Tom and I ran into my friend Pam, who was also my very first mentor with Team in Training, while out on the course. Unlike the Shamrock, Race for the Roses and Run Like Hell, the First Run is entirely along the Portland waterfront. By the time the clock struck midnight and we hit the course, the snow and rain had stopped and we got to enjoy some spectacular nighttime views of the Willametter River. Our 1 mile loop took us downriver past the RiverPlace Hotel and south waterfront shops and restaurants. We made our way back to the finish line and were treated to lots of candy, chicken noodle soup, bananas, toast and more. No beer though… this is a dry New Years Eve event. Perfect for those who don’t want to drink and would like to celebrate in a different, more healthy way. There were no photographers out along the course (too dark) but there were some fun kitschy photo ops in the finish area, complete with an inflatable snowman and fake “bubble” snowflakes.
AA Sports organizes the First Run PDX. I’m not aware of any charity beneficiary.
Recommended with caveats. If you don’t have to work the next morning and you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate the new year without drinking… then this is a good choice!
To recap, my favorite races were The Pacific Crest 5k and 10k, The Alki Beach 5k and the ORCC Turkey Trot. The Race for Warmth, Polar Plunge 5k and Turkey Trot were not timed. All of the other races were chip timed. The Race for the Roses, Walk Run for the Animals (run participants), Pacific Crest and Twilight Half included medals for their 5k and 10k participants. Run Like Hell and First Run PDX offered medals for an extra fee.
I’m not sure which races I’ll be doing this year. But I am interested in doing either Portland to Coast or Hood to Coast relay events. Next year my goal is to run a full 26.2 marathon to celebrate my 30th birthday. I don’t know which marathon I’ll choose (open to your suggestions!) but I would like to join Team In Training to help me accomplish this big goal. Wish me luck!