The Providence Heart Breaker Half Marathon is a newer race, and they made a good move from being a typical Portland waterfront route to moving out to the Helvetia area near Hillsboro for February 9, 2013.
It's a smaller event, with under 500 half marathoners and another 700 in the 10K and 5K. I checked with them before registering for time limits and was told there was no time limit for walkers. My usual speed is 3 hours, 45 minutes, so this sounded good.
The registration price included a long sleeved cotton shirt, but a tech shirt or medal was extra. The course began at Liberty High School just off Cornelius Pass Road. It was great to have check-in and expo indoors at the school, with access to lots to restrooms. They also had several portajohns out at the starting line. Unfortunately, I thought at least some of the expo would still be happening when I finished, so I didn't snag any freebies before I started.
The route was beautiful farmland with plenty of hills. Most of the route was on quiet country roads, including about a mile of gravel road, and included three loops. On the first 8-mile loop, the walkers got overtaken by the 10K runners who started only 15 minutes after the half marathon. But the roads were wide enough to accommodate everyone, which won't the the case if the race grows to thousands in the future. The half marathoners got an additional loop that included a Heart Break Hill timed mile. That was a fun addition, and the scenery with February fog and very light drizzle was lovely.
We also got to see an amazing railroad trestle. We passed sheep, horses, llamas, chickens, and a fairly smelly pig barn.
Water and portajohns were provided every two miles, and AA Sports kept the volunteers and signage in place for the very last walkers. I know this as I was the last person on the route until the final turn to the finish line.
I appreciated the looping course design, as it gave you an "out" if things were going bad for you after the first seven miles. You could just follow the final mile back to the finish.
But the weather was fine, cool and a little damp but no wind. I felt perfectly dressed for the weather and I headed into the second loop knowing I was probably the last person on the route. No problem, as I love few things more than a solo walk on quiet country roads. Race volunteers and the local police ensured the route was safe for us. I was very impressed with the signage and service.
I finished with a 3:46 time, and the volunteers were taking down the finish line as I crossed it. The timing mats were still in place. My only real disappointment was that there was literally nothing left of the finish line expo inside the school. Everything was boxed up and taken away and the floors were being swept. Not even a bottle of water or sports drink for the walkers who paid the same as runners. It would be nice if they packaged up a few bags of goodies for the final finishers as many races do.
With that small disappointment, I still had a fantastic walking day. If you are a walker who wants to be in the company of more people your speed, then bring friends to this one or choose a larger walker-friendly race. I would happily do this same course again next year.