A Users Guide to the Portland Marathon

A Users Guide to the Portland Marathon

By Patti and Warren Finke

Whether you are walking, running or racing, a marathon can be a challenging experience, There are some secrets that can make any marathon easier and some specific things you can do to make your Portland Marathon experience successful.

Goal Setting

Set multiple goals, both outcome (eg time), and performance (eg finish strong). The first two goals for any marathoner should be to finish and feel good! Always set yourself up to win. That means if you are racing for a time goal that you have a finish goal no matter what the conditions (acceptable), a what you think you should be able to do from your training (primary) and what youíd like to run if everything worked perfectly (ultimate). These should not however, be too far apart like 3:30 acceptable, 3:00 primary and 2:30 ultimate. A better suggestion is 3:30 acceptable, 3:20 primary and 3:15 ultimate!

Set multiple and midcourse goals and goals such as to stay healthy, have fun, drink at all of the aid stations, run the hills well etc.

Course Strategies

Here are some strategies gleaned from running the Portland Marathon many times and coaching more than a thousand others who have run it.

  • Before the Start - If you have a chance, run, bike or drive the course n the days or weeks before the race. The Marathon provides bus tours from the expo the day before the race.
  • Night Before - Make certain you are well hydrated. Eat dinner more than 12 hours before the start. Avoid alcohol. Pack bag with all clothing options for race morning conditions. Lay out running outfit, any self carried aid, (eg gels), shoes and water bottle for the morning. Attach number, chip etc. Retire early and set alarm to allow for pre race nutrition and transportation. Don't worry about sleeping well.Mentally rehearse course and pacing plan.
  • Race Morning - Get up on time, eat a light carbohydrate breakfast along with 2 glasses of water. Drink 1 cup of coffee if usual. Get dressed and double check your bag to see that you have everything you might need. Apply sunscreen and chafe prevention if needed. Mentally rehearse the course and your pacing plan. Leave early enough to arrive about 1 hour before race start. Take about 1 pint of water in a disposable container to drink before the start.
  • On Arrival at the Start - Locate porta potties if needed. Locate your starting position or corral. Warm up 30 minutes before start by 5-10 minutes of walking or light jogging followed by some short 50 yard runs at your perceived race pace. Make last porta potty stop. Remove warmups and check them in your corral. Drink last water 10 minutes before start. RELAX and visualize running easily and fluidly the first mile.
  • The Start - It is very easy to start out too fast on this course because the start is downhill. The start is narrow and downhill for the first mile. For a clean start stay in the middle of the street. Run the first mile very easy and relaxed like it is a continuation of your warm up. Your 1 mile split should be no more than 5 seconds faster than the pace you want to average.
  • Mile 1.75 - The Market, 1st Ave, Lincoln Street Hill is a major feature of the course. Although the hill rises no more than 120 feet from mile 1.75 to mile 3, it is quite steep at its start and it is easy to run it too hard early in the race when your emotions are high. Running too hard here will use up those muscle glycogen reserves you will need after mile 20. Shorten your stride as you turn onto Madison and take it easy on the sttep parts of the hill. As it flattens out after Lincoln, you can speed back up. Stay at a level where you do not feel like you are pushing it until you reach the downhill run past mile 3. A heart rate monitor can be very useful here. Only allow it to go up 5 beats on the uphilluphills.
  • Mile 4 and 5 - The Downhill. A good place to loosen up your legs and get into an easy stride for the rest of the race. Donít hold back on the hill but donít push it either. All this time you should feel like youíre very comfortable and easy. You should feel as if youíre not working hard enough.
  • Mile 6 to 11 on Naito Parkway - This is a straight flat out and back section along the docks fronting the Willamette river. You must do several things on this stretch. First you must work at getting into a comfortable sustainable pace, hopefully, the one you want to run for the entire race. Second, the wind often blows up the river in the morning. Find someone large or a group to run behind. If you can feel wind it will be twice as strong on St. Helens Road after 13 miles. Make sure you have someone to draft. In experiments we have made with pulse rate monitors on St. Helens Road, runners had heart rates 5 beats lower when they were running behind someone into the headwind. The last thing you must do on Naito Parkway is handle the long and normally boring out and back. Fortunately, on race day you can entertain yourself by watching and encouraging runners coming the opposite direction and enjoying the entertainment.
  • Mile 11 - Run up to 26th Street. This section about a mile long is a gradual uphill that doesnít really show on the course topo maps.
  • Mile 13 to 16.5 - St. Helens Road. Besides protecting yourself from the headwind mentioned above, this section can be hard mentally because you can see the St. Johns Bridge which is 4 miles away and not getting any closer. Just concentrate on your pace and the bridge will come. Remember, from the bridge you only have a little over 8 miles to go and its mostly flat and downhill.
  • Mile 16.5 - This is the second and last uphill of any consequence on the course. It consists of the approach ramp and arch of the St. Johns suspension bridge. The top of the bridge is the highest point on the course. The strategy for running this hill is the same as Market Street. It is steepest at the start of the rather long ramp. Shorten your stride and take it easy on the ramp. For a thrill, spit off the bridge at its apex and then head home down the other side.
  • Mile 18 to 21.5 - The Bluff. After dropping off the bridge there is a short steep down and up over several blocks and then you are on Willamette Boulevard passing through a nice residential section and past the University of Portland. After you run past the University of Portland you have a nice view of the river and downtown Portland on the other side in the distance. You have some potential for a headwind here on days when it is cloudy or raining. Near mile 20 there is a slight uphill grade which you may feel. Donít worry, you arenít failing. There is a rise there.
  • Mile 21.5 - The Greeley Street Downhill. This is the last prominent feature - a downhill about a mile long. Although it is downhill, this section may not feel all that great if your legs are tired or your form is gone. If youíve been training on hills and can run smoothly downhill, you will have an advantage. It is often the place where the race is won or lost by the leaders.
  • Mile 24 - Broadway Bridge Approach. This can be a warm section since it is exposed and on concrete. Make sure you are not dehydrated before you get here.
  • Mile 25 - On Broadway on the West Side of the River. From here you have a little over a mile to go and spectators to help you along. Now you can get excited. Youíre going to do it!
  • The Finish - Make sure you pay attention and go into the finish chute. Make sure you get your medal, space blanket, tree and rose. Congratulations!!! Keep moving so your blood pressure doesnít drop precipitously. If you need medical help ask someone. The first aid tent is straight ahead as you come out of the chute. Donít be afraid to ask for ice for that sore knee or foot. First aid now can save you an injury next week. Sample the available food and drinks. Pick up your warm ups and your finishers shirt. Reward yourself with a meal of whatever sounds good to you, If you have a beer, be certain to follow it with water to rehydrate.
Course Map

A detailed Google couse map and Google Earth Viewer can be found here: HERE

Things to see and do along the way

There are 72 entertainment groups spread over 53 locations. Look for the bell choir, the cheerleaders, salsa, rock, jazz, and groups of all kinds. Watch for the Chinese Gate, the Keystone Cops, the Belly Dancers and the Widmer Micro Brewery among the landmarks.

Tips for Looking and Feeling Good

How To Dress: Pin your number on the front so that is visible to course marshals and finish area announcers. Under dress: Wear a singlet and shorts unless itís under 50. You may want to start with a throw away T shirt or light weight jacket. If you feel chilly at the starting line, you know you are dressed just right.

How and what to drink: Take advantage of all the aid stations. There are 19 aid stops along the way with Ultima Replenisher and water. Drink some at every stop. There are also Gummy Bears at 6 places. Bring your own Gels, Blocks or bars if you want something special. Beginners: take a walk break as you drink. It will insure you get it down, give you a rest and make it easier to finish. Use the aid stations as sub goals within the marathon. You can always walk or run 2 miles.

How to feel good: Things are never as bad as they seem or as good as they seem during the marathon. Your mental state can change rapidly. You can control feel good by thinking positively. If you pretend and practice looking strong, you can fool yourself into feeling strong.

Remember: Always look good at the Finish!


Warren and Patti, an exercise physiologist, are founders and directors of the Portland marathon Training Clinics and RRCA Certified Road Running Coaches and coaching instructors. Between them, they have run over 150 marathons, 150 ultramarathons and numerous short races. Warren is a two time winner of the masters division of the Portland Marathon and was 2nd in the Veterans Division in the 1992 Boston marathon. They are the authors of Marathoning Start to Finish and numerous articles on running, walking and training.

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