Race Recap – Vernonia Half-Marathon

Sometimes you sign up for a race on a whim.

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I’ve been focused on The Vancouver USA Half-Marathon in June as my spring “goal race.” That was going to be the race where I was going to PR my half-marathon time and hit 2:30 or less (my previous PR being 2:40:10 at the 2015 Oregon Spring Half). However, after how great I felt after the Shamrock Run 15K in March, that 2:30 mark seemed too…boring? Not lofty enough? With my current level of fitness, getting to 2:30 by June would be too easy. SO I decided a tune-up race was in order, and started searching around for a half-marathon in April, a race where I could confirm that I could run sub-2:30 NOW, and a race that would help me develop a better goal for June. If I could hit my goal without expressly being trained for a half-marathon, I could definitely do bigger and better things with an additional two months of training.

So I stumbled across the Vernonia Marathon and Half, a race organized by the Oregon Road Runners Club that takes advantage of the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. The Banks-Vernonia trail is an old railroad track that has been converted into a multi-use hiking/biking/equestrian trail that stretches 21 miles from the small town of Vernonia, out in the coast range, to the other small town of Banks, which is about a 20 minute drive from Portland. I’ve been out there a few times before, and knew that it was a nice, paved trail. With the half course advertised as 7 miles of downhill and the race fee only $35, I knew I had found myself a great spring race. I roped BRF Angie in on the antics as well.

The course was point-to-point, so I picked Angie up at 6:45 to make sure that we were able to get through packet pick-up and onto the bus to the starting line. We picked up our bibs in what seemed like record time; I hadn’t ordered an optional race shirt, but Angie did, and we were both impressed with the quality of the long-sleeve half-zip with the race logo as an emblem. We hopped on a bus full of people who were WAY more awake than us, and headed out on about a twenty minute drive to the half-marathon start at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. I’d not been to Stub Stewart, one of Oregon’s newest state parks, despite the fact that it’s less than an hour drive from our house, but it was nice and peaceful, and seemed to have a lot of options for camping, RV-ing, or yurting. There was even an off-leash area for dogs, so camping dogs could let their wiggles out in a safe place.

Chilly morning but great views!

Chilly morning but great views!

Considering we were on one of the first busses, we ended up at the starting line a full hour before the scheduled start. Luckily, ORRC had a convenient bag drop up there, so we were able to keep our over layers on until right before the gun went off. Another bonus of starting at a great, newly developed state park? REAL BATHROOMS! They had additional porta-potties as well, and I found it odd that more people lined up for those than the nice flush toilets, but I didn’t complain because it meant a shorter line for me, and a hand dryer that helped ebb away the morning chill.

Angie's spontaneously got to represent her old area code!

Angie’s spontaneously got to represent her old area code!

Ready to run (ish)

Ready to run (ish)

The first mile of the course was an out-and-back hill to another parking lot at the state park, before we headed to the Banks-Vernonia trail head near the park’s entrance. There were a surprising number of cars coming in and out of the park, but the ORRC volunteers did a great job of keeping everyone safe as we entered the trail (which is closed to motor vehicles). After that, it was incredibly peaceful for the next 11 miles, until we got into Banks proper and neared the finish line at the local high school.

The first marathoner didn’t pass me until about mile 7, so it was otherwise fairly quiet on the course. There are only a few trail heads, so that’s where the aid stations were found. We wove in and out of the trees and it is SO QUIET until you near banks, it was great to just listen to podcasts with my headphones in. I was feeling good for the first 8 or 9 miles, and I cruised along, monitoring my pace on my Fitbit. I wanted to come in with an 11:30/mile average or better, but although I couldn’t really feel the downhill while I was on it, it showed in my pacing. A lot of my first miles were under 11, and I knew I probably went out of the gate too quickly, but it was hard to hold myself back when my legs felt fresh. Each aid station had water, Gatorade (which became my FAVORITE running treat during marathon training), and sweet and salty snacks. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade and walked through each aid station, but I skipped the snacks because I had a fresh sleeve of Mountain Berry Shot Bloks in my handheld.

There was a sign near mile 6 that warned of a photographer up ahead. I definitely appreciated the warning, because, as evident by race photos past, I need all the preparation I can get in order to not look like a hot mess. They stationed the photographer in the perfect location, in the middle of a rebuilt train trestle that I was super excited to run across.

Oregon Road Runners Club Vernonia Marathon. These photos are free for personal use of the participants as a benefit of the event.

Oregon Road Runners Club Vernonia Marathon. These photos are free for personal use of the participants as a benefit of the event.

Aside from the pictures from the Southwest Hope 5K, this is definitely the best race photo of me ever taken. I tried so hard.

Mile 8 is where I feel like I started to fall apart a bit. The course becomes a bit more…farm-ey? Less picturesque trees, more manure smells. Also, the downhill levels out. Though I couldn’t feel the downhill while running it, I definitely noticed the change when it occurred. I took a few walking breaks and it got harder and harder to start running again.

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A particularly sparse stretch of trail around mile 9-10.

Miles 11 and 12 were both over 13 minutes, which I was not happy about, but I knew that my average pace was still on track to hit 2:30. Coming off of the trail in downtown Banks, there were other people who had already finished sporting shiny medals which renewed my drive and, looking at my watch, I knew I was cutting it close to my desired time. I picked up the pace as much as I could through the empty main street. We were diverted across the street at mile 12.5 due to what looked like a recently extinguished house fire…thankfully everyone seemed to be ok (the house was literally less than a block from the fire station) but still, some unforeseen and unfortunate excitement added to the race. I was directed into the finisher’s chute that runs through the parking lot of Banks High School and spits you out for one lap around the track into the finish area. It was here that I heard my mom yelling “GO MARGE!” I had never heard if she was going to come or not, so I was so excited to see her!

Mom snapped this pic of me running into the finish. I'm smiling because I'm almost done.

Mom snapped this pic of me running into the finish. I’m smiling because I’m almost done.

As I neared the actual finish, I saw that the clock was just about to hit 2:30. Though I knew that, adjusting for chip time, I had probably met my goal, I still tried (and failed) to cross before the clock time of 2:30. But after receiving a medal (with the cool train logo on it) and hugging my mom (who knew I wanted to finish within 2:30), I was able to get an instant print out of my official time – 2:29:19!

Angie came in shortly after me, and then we picked up our drop bags and snapped some parting photos:

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My #1 cheerleader/she birthed me.

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Thankful that this lady says yes to all my crazy last minute race ideas.

The Good: I was so happy to PR by more than 10 minutes. It was my first time doing this race but I would sign up again in a heart beat. The ORRC knows what’s UP when it comes to race organization, and I love how it was inexpensive yet still a great race experience. The volunteer brigade was super friendly, the course was scenic, the weather was perfect, and there was plenty of finish line food, though I chose not to partake in any (I just wanted COFFEE).

The Bad: Nothing, really. Despite my PR, I wasn’t thrilled with my pacing (or lack thereof), as I keep thinking that maybe I could have done better on the back half if I restrained myself in the first 8 miles. But that’s on me. Race wise, everything was great. I would probably take a later bus to the start next year…there’s not really much to do at 8 AM in a state park parking lot on a Sunday morning. One can only do so many pre-race stretches.

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