Thursday, July 18, 2013

Old Port Half Marathon Race Report (or, An Excellent 4 Mile Run with a 9 Mile Cool Down)

Every summer, I take the boys to visit my parents in Vermont. They spend a week at "summer camp" on Lake Fairlee, they swim, they ride in the boat, they build things with my dad, and big times are had.

This year, we scheduled it to coincide with the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine. A trip to New England and a half marathon with my mother? What could be better?
My mom's a badass. She started running when she was 51 and has done a marathon and a bunch of half marathons. Including one with a broken arm in a sling. BAD. ASS.
So, after a quick visit to Vermont (and a glorious 5 miles around their lake), we headed off to Portland. We arrived Saturday afternoon with just enough time to check in to our AirBnb place a couple miles from the starting line, scope out the start/finish area and parking, and eat stupendous tacos at El Rayo. (The roasted veggie one was particularly mind blowing). The air was cool and crisp, we wandered around the Eastern Promenade a bit, and then off to bed early. Like, 8:30 early. It was awesome.

Race morning! Up at 5:30 after a mostly-decent night's sleep. Coffee provided by our gracious hostess Martha, Mom had a PB&J sandwich on a hot dog bun (hey, I guess if it works...), I had two hard boiled eggs, leftover roasted cauliflower and carrots, a handful of almonds and half a sweet potato. Got dressed, messed around with water bottles and snacks, and out the door by 6:20 or so.

It was a quick drive down to the starting line at the Ocean Gateway Terminal, and parking was free, close by, and super easy. Yay! Huge plus for this race. I did hear traffic got worse a little later in the morning, but we parked like rockstars.

Check-in had been available the previous two days at a local running store, but only from 4-7 Friday and 10-2 Saturday (too bad, we would have loved to check in Saturday late afternoon). But race day check-in was easy and efficient, and the lines moved fast -- even the line for the (very civilized, indoor) bathroom! There were also several dozen porta-potties and the line for those also seemed to move well.

The view from the starting line was pretty awesome.
Tugboats to the west...

... rising sun and piers to the east.
It was already pretty warm by the 7:30 start -- I would guess 70 degrees, but with a little breeze in the air. The sky was clear and nearly cloudless. It was going to be a beautiful day, as long as you didn't mind a little strong sunshine and heat (yes, this is dramatic foreshadowing).
Colorful, well shaded, well organized starting line.
The race started a few minutes late, and we were off! The route goes through some incredibly scenic areas of Portland -- first west to the Western Promenade (high bluffs with mansions and beautiful neighborhoods), then east to the Eastern Promenade (similar, even better views), up around the Back Cove, and back to the start.
The one downside to the course is that stretch in between the start and the Western Promenade, along Commercial Street. Long stretch of flat paved road, full sun, and you get to run it twice. It's right along the waterfront, which is nice, but there's traffic on either side of the marked-off path, it's pretty hot, and some of the waterfront businesses handle fish, so the smell, especially at the west end, was not so great.

Pretty soon, though, we were climbing the Western Promenade and taking in the awesome views and water and Gatorade at the well-staffed water stop.
Great day for a run!
It was a mile or so later, around the 4 mile mark, that the sun, the heat, and the fact that Mom hadn't run more than 5 miles at a stretch for six weeks (Achilles/plantar injury) began to take their toll. We took some more frequent walk breaks and focused on running the downhills. Soon, we were back on Commercial Street, heading the other way.

The next leg of the run climbs up to the Eastern Promenade, one of the most scenic parts of Portland. We tried a little more running, but eventually settled into a good steady walk. After a great first 4 miles, it was clear that it wasn't Mom's day to run a great half marathon.
Still felt pretty good, though. Dig the sharp INKnBURN gear!
Oh, hey, did I mention that Old Port provides race photos for FREE? Another BIG plus for this race!
Eastern Promenade has some pretty glorious views too.
We tried hard not to violate the speed limit.
After a cruise along the bluffs, the course drops to near water level again and runs along the coast, up and around the Back Cove. There was a section with two-way running traffic and it was fun to cheer on the speedy folks coming back from their trip around the cove.

The views weren't bad here either.
You don't see a fully rigged schooner every day.
Back Cove was a 3.5 mile, flat, crushed-limestone path around a big round cove. Quiet, by the time we got there. Peaceful. Nice place for a walk.
Most of it looked like this...
... though we also passed the baked bean factory!
Then back onto the two-way trail for the last mile and a half. We were ready to be done! We'd already been out longer than we expected to. I was glad I'd brought a bag of dates and a Larabar, and wished I had some S-caps. Mom was still eating Shot Bloks, but told me her stomach felt full and sloshy -- I think she could have used some S-caps too.

Instead of climbing back up to Eastern Promenade, the return route goes along a railroad grade at sea level. A nice flat finish! We broke into a jog as we approached the finish area, and finished together with a time of 3:20. Not bad for a splendid 4 mile run and a leisurely 9 mile cool down!

The post-race party was a good one. Lots of pizza, two (pretty good) beers per finisher, coconut water, Kind bars. There was ice cream, but only banana flavor when we got there... meh. Live music, cool age group awards (boat buoys), and a really nice finisher's medal. Oh, the race shirt was pretty cool as well.
Good color, good fit. $12 extra -- good if you don't need another race shirt
This was a very well run race. I was especially impressed by the volunteers, who were numerous and who were doing good work at the water stops and the many turnings the course took. They were also cheering, encouraging, and thanking the runners for being there. There were firefighters cheering in front of a fire house near the Western Promenande, and around mile 12, some of them had opened a fire hydrant and were spraying water that runners could go through to cool off. Race support was pretty good -- water stops every two miles or so. One (mile 11) ran out of water, but the rest were well stocked and the volunteers were very helpful.

Would I do this race again? If I were guaranteed a cool, overcast day, I'd do it for sure. The scenery was great, the support was good, the shirt and medal were great, and it was fun. Plus, I love having an excuse to visit Portland, which is a great city. But after this and the Minnesota Half Marathon, I'm thinking maybe half marathons in July are asking for trouble, for runners who don't love the heat. Maybe I'll stick with shorter runs or trail runs in the woods during summer months next year.

It was great to run with my mom. All the races we've done together have been really special, and it's always a joy to run with her. As someone who came late to the running party, she runs with a special joy in every step. It's great to share that energy. I hope we can do another one soon. Maybe the Polar Dash would be cool enough?


  1. You're too sweet! Actually, I started running at age 56:-) And any run with you is wonderful! As you said, not my day for racing. I'll be ready for a fall or spring race. Let's get one on the calendar!

  2. I finished roughly a minute after you! I agree with all you had to say, and it was a rough hot day, but am happy and proud to have complete it! They did a great job doing all they could to keep us all happy and cool-ish, haha. Definitely looking towards a cooler half marathon in the future!

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