It's often a big risk to sign up for the first year of a half marathon, but I couldn't pass up the Bridge of the Gods Half Marathon on August 10, 2014 in Cascade Locks, Oregon. In fact, I was one of the first to enlist and so I earned a special pair of socks. When the socks transformed into a hat on race day, even better, as it's a great walking/running cap. After I signed up they also announced it would be part of the Gorge Triple Crown and so I walked the Waters Edge Half Marathon in the Dalles back in May as the first jewel in the crown. The final one will be the excellent Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon in Hood River in October.
The event promised a walker-friendly time limit of five hours and an attitude that people should enjoy the route at the own pace without stress. It was limited to 1000 runners and walkers.
A little stress was added in by assigning shuttle bus times to take the racers to the north side of the bridge where we would start. That made it important to know how long it would take you to get to Cascade Locks, Oregon on race morning, if you weren't staying locally. We had to choose times at packet pick-up.
But my gang arrived with almost a half hour to spare before we had to catch the shuttle across the bridge. The day promised to become hot, but the morning was very pleasant in the low 60's. An earlier start time of 7 am might be better for August, but I say that as somebody who usually gets up at 4 am anyway.
As promised they had bananas, Heed drink and portajohns at the starting line. The Bridge of the Gods sign functioned as the starting line arch and everyone enjoyed taking photos.
At the starting gun, we proceeded across the bridge. It has an open grate deck, which is guaranteed to give you the willies if you glance down. This is where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia River and packers often blindfold their horses to cross it. It was a slow start for me across the bridge, and for many others who wanted to enjoy the moment and take photos.
Once we were off the bridge, we circled down to pick up the Historic Columbia Gorge Highway and follow it west for six miles, turn around and return to the finish on Thunder Island. The highway/trail was mostly shaded with only a couple of short stretches in the sun. That made the day do-able. But this is not an easy half marathon by any means, there are rolling hills throughout and even a very tall set of stairs to navigate. I would say it is very similar in difficulty to the Columbia Gorge Half Marathon route, only 40 degrees hotter.
The race provided water and sports drink every 2 miles, with porta-johns at a few of the stops. They also had oranges, bananas and gummy bears and had enough even for us slowpokes at the tail end. It was a beautiful day with only a light breeze, which was very welcome on the return.
The path is paved through the whole route. There are several great vistas worth stopping for to take photos of Bonneville Dam and Locks, Beacon Rock, and the river in general.
The most grueling section is the final half mile through Cascade Locks in full sun, although everyone is there to cheer you on. Finally you round the turn into Marine Park and over the bridge to Thunder Island and the finish line. The ceramic medal is lovely and the finish line volunteers were attentive even for us final finishers. They had lots of bottled water available in a big ice tub. I scooted to the food tent which was still well-stocked with Subway sandwiches. Then on to the Thunder Island Brewing booth for a $5 beer. There were plenty of tables and chairs to sit all around the island, both in the sun and in the shade. The festivities were still very festive for those of us finishing in over 3.5 hours.
I can attest that the racers really felt the warm weather and hills, but it was a gorgeous route.
Congratulations to Breakaway Promotions, LLC for doing a great job with the inaugural event. They were very quick to give responses to questions before the race via their Facebook page for the event.
This is a race I would do again, although I'd prefer an earlier start because of the time of year. For those who want a similar route, the Bridge of the Goddess Half Marathon & 10K on September 13, 2014. It is a women's event produced by Run With Paula.