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Wendy Bumgardner

Walker-Unfriendly Race Experience

By October 22, 2012

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Run Like Hell Starting LineI wanted to walk an October half marathon. The Run Like Hell half marathon had a time limit of 3 hours, 30 minutes, which I could make with 16-minute miles. They encourage racing in a costume and it sounded like a blast. I timed myself the weekends before to be sure I was up to speed. I checked the final race instructions and took a glance at the race map online. Because I was going to be near the time limit, I wore my Camelbak Marathoner hydration vest and packed my own Clif bar snack, in case the water stations were closed up when I came through. While they started off being walker-friendly by greeting us as "runners and walkers," things swiftly went downhill.

I wasn't prepared for the announcement at the starting line that you had to maintain 12 minute miles, which is a running or racewalking pace that I simply can't do.
Pace Calculator
I heard no explanation of what those of us who registered as walkers were supposed to do. Drop out? Join in the 10K run/walk instead? I asked the policeman in the sweep car and all he knew was he had heard about the 12 minute mile pace. From what I remembered of the course map, I plotted my strategy and just headed out. There were only a few other people on my walking pace on the course. By Mile 4 they were asking us to move to the sidewalk (where there was one, which wasn't continuous). The course then headed into familiar territory of Portland's beautiful Terwilliger Boulevard. I made my plan to follow it to where the course turned onto busy high-speed streets and then retrace my steps on Terwilliger.

That had to be the plan because by Mile 7.5 they were closing up the water stop and had removed any course direction signage. There was no volunteer at the cross street to tell me whether it was a turn or to continue, and I didn't have a course map with me to check (other than trying to find it online with my iPhone). I turned back, as did the two women behind me. Terwilliger is a beautiful walk, so it was no hardship. But I know this area well -- what of racers who didn't? The finish line was literally being rolled up when we finished 15 minutes before the official closing time. We had to hunt down the finisher medal. Two other women finishing who said they almost ended up on the wrong side of the river because of the lack of course directions. But the party was still going at the finish line with delicious chili and cold beer and the costume contest. That made up for a lot.

Where to complain? I posted on their Facebook page and sent a message to the race director's email. I tried to be courteous, as I've been a race director myself for over 20 years. I know that the unexpected happens. That's why I carry my own water and snacks and usually carry a course map. In this case, I couldn't remember whether there were sidewalks on the road we were to walk back on, and I didn't want to risk that danger. The runners would have been running in one of the lanes of the street itself, closed off to traffic.

Lessons Learned:

  • Carry a course map
  • Carry your own water and snack
  • Carry a cell phone to call for help
  • Don't register for supposedly walker-friendly events hosted by this event organizer without explicit reassurance that this won't happen next time.
  • I had a great day walking despite the problems, because I had a plan on how to turn it around into a beautiful day of walking.
  • Superhero is an excellent race-friendly costume choice. That was the theme of this Halloween-oriented race. Running tights, a cape, a superhero t-shirt and you've got it! Tell us about your race costume.

Photo Wendy Bumgardner

October 22, 2012 at 9:42 am
(1) Janice says:

I had this experience with a race organizer in Portland before and will not participate in their races any longer as a walker. It was difficult finding the finish in downtown Portland when there were no more people telling us what way to go. Unfortunatly, they are one of the major organizers in the Portland area.

October 22, 2012 at 9:58 am
(2) walking says:

I checked the map this morning and yes, if I continued on the course I would have turned immediately on the Capitol Hwy ramp to Barbur Blvd. That is a completely unsafe stretch if it isn’t closed to traffic. As it was, there was no sign to turn there and I was unclear as to whether the course continued on Terwilliger to Barbur further on. That would have added over 2 miles to the route.

October 22, 2012 at 10:55 am
(3) Katy says:

This kind of experience is why I turned to Volkssporting…got tired of poorly marked routes (if at all) and lack of encouragement. There are races that are supportive of walkers but it’s not easy to find them in advance of the event.

October 25, 2012 at 10:32 am
(4) owlpoet says:

Volksmarches can be fun but they are not races. They do, usually, have some gorgeous routes. The actual “marches” are well marked but the year-rounds are not. I have taken some wrong turns on them as their maps are not always updated.

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