Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon - Review

Hood River, Oregon

Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail
Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Wendy Bumgardner © 2012

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The Columbia Gorge Marathon and its half marathon are walker-friendly races held in late October in Hood River, Oregon. This is a moderately-sized event of about 1000 racers. As of 2014, the marathon has a time limit of seven hours for on-course support, with an early start for those who will be over six hours. The half marathon has a time limit of 5.5 hours. They also offer a team half marathon, with team mates switching at the half way point.

Walker-Friendly in Gorgeous Scenery

I stumbled across this friendly event after searching for an October half marathon to replace my entry in the Portland Marathon's half marathon. The Columbia Gorge Marathon is held in late October.

Most of the course is on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, which is closed to traffic in this stretch, and it passes through the Mosier Tunnels. Hood River is located 64 miles east of Portland, Oregon and getting there via I-84 takes you past waterfalls and treats you to amazing vistas.

The route logistics change from year to year. In 2012, the marathon participants got shuttled up to the Mark O. Hatfield State Park West Trailhead. The half marathon participants started from the same location as the finish line, at the Hood River Marina, and therefore had a significant uphill climb in the first three miles to get up onto the Historic Highway.

Both routes are out-and-back.

The trail is wide and paved in asphalt. It is a very pleasant walking and running surface. Along the way you are walking or running through forest of Douglas Fir and Vine Maple, and at times break out to a vista of the Columbia River Gorge.

Water stops with water, sports drink, energy gels and chews and a portable toilet were provided approximately every 2.5 miles along the route.

Registration and Goodies

Registration prices in 2014 were $100 for the marathon ($115 after Oct. 1) and $85 for the half marathon ($100 after Oct. 1), with discounts for registering early. Registrants get a beanie cap and a handmade ceramic medal as well as food before and after the race. A technical race shirt is an extra $25.

Packet pick-up was available in Portland on Friday and in Hood River on Saturday and the morning of the race. But there is no race-day registration available.

The pre-race offerings were bagels, coffee, cider and fruit. The area is know for its apples and other fruit.

The lunch buffet at the finish line is provided by Taco del Mar with a build-a-taco buffet, soup, cider, bread and more. It was a very satisfying buffet. Friends and families can purchase entry into the buffet tent, and there was plenty of covered seating out of the weather.

I found it very easy to drive to the start from Portland in the morning, as the start time for the races is 9 am and 9:30 am. There was no traffic jam getting into the marina and parking. Lodging is also available in Hood River, Cascade Locks and other nearby towns.

Hills and Weather

On the half marathon route, you climb almost 500 feet in the first three miles, and there is another pitch of 5% incline near Mile 6.

Participants should train for hills and long climbs and descents.

The route is mostly paved except for a stretch near the start/finish which is on a gravel road for about a quarter of a mile. You can wear your usual running shoes rather than needing trail running shoes.

The weather in late October is often rainy and can be windy and chilly. In 2012, we had a little shower but balmy temperatures in the low 60's.
Tips for Racing in the Rain

The event provides a covered food tent for pre-race and post-races, right next to the finish line.

With the timing near Halloween, some of the racers wear costumes.

Bottom Line on the Columbia Gorge Marathon

This is a beautiful and walker-friendly event. Although it is smaller than many half marathons I've walked, it draws a large number of walkers in addition to the runners. At a 16-minute mile pace, I always had other walkers nearby, although the entire route was uncrowded.

I was a bit disappointed that the registration price didn't include a shirt. But the $25 for a long-sleeved technical quarter-zip shirt was very reasonable.

All of the shirts and the medal say marathon, none say half marathon. I have walking friends who have an issue with that.

The route up to the trail was well-marked and separated from traffic with cones.

If you want to add a half marathon to a vacation in the Portland area or the Columbia River Gorge, this is a great choice. Having done it once, I plan to return as often as I can.

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