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Portland Marathon Course Preview
Portland Marathon
Aug. 20, 2019

The Portland Marathon course map page provides detailed descriptions of the entire marathon and half marathon routes, with notable landmarks and neighborhoods along the way. Paul Carmona, who coaches the RunPortland Online Training Programs, has added his course analysis to those narratives. Coach Paul has broken the marathon and half-marathon courses into smaller segments, with his race-strategy tips. Portland runner Wen Paez, who has run these segments many times, offers his observations about what you can expect on race day.

MARATHON COURSE

Marathon Miles 1-5: Downtown through Pearl District

The first three miles of the course should be your warm-up for the morning ahead. Crowds will be heavy as you run through the downtown streets, and you will have a lot of adrenaline pushing you to an enthusiastic start. Resist the urge to chase runners if they pass you and focus on your own level of effort. You need to dial into a race effort that you can sustain for the entire course, not just the opening few miles. You will climb gradually from the starting line for a few blocks, so take this opportunity to get your breathing going, your legs turning over, and your mind focused.

The race begins at the intersection of Naito Parkway and Salmon Street at Portland's famous Waterfront Park on the banks of the Willamette River. From the start line runners head west on Salmon Street to Lownsdale Square before turning right to travel north on SW 4th Ave through the heart of downtown. Crossing Burnside Street, the route loops around Old Town Chinatown before plunging back into downtown on SW Broadway.

There are six turns before mile two. Expect to slow down at every turn, as crowds of runners negotiate the downtown streets. Again, these first two miles are part of your warm up for the marathon. Relax and enjoy the historic neighborhoods and scenery!

Leaving downtown the route jogs west to the eclectic NW 23rd Ave where runners will enjoy the uniquely Portland landmarks of Salt & Straw ice cream parlor and the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium. Runners then return east and make their way through the revitalized Pearl District to the Broadway Bridge.

The longest climb of the day is on this “jog west” towards NW 23rd Ave. The hill ahead of you will be visible as you run towards the northwest neighborhoods. From mile 1.25 to mile 2.5, you will climb about 140’ overall. The good news is that this is still early in the race, so your legs are fresh, but you want to make sure that you do not push hard on this climb (or any climb). Maintain even effort, and slow down if you feel that you are working too hard uphill.

Once you have passed the highest point of the course around mile 2.5, you will start a long and gradual descent back towards the Willamette River. This is where your warm-up ends, and your race begins. Don’t be too enthusiastic as you run the 140’ downhill towards mile 5, but do take advantage of gravity and let your legs crank up to your race pace.

Runner Commentary: Stay patient, find a rhythm especially up the slight climb along Burnside towards NW 23rd. After turning west onto NW 23rd, feed off the spectators that you'll likely encounter as you run through the Nob Hill and Pearl District areas!

Marathon Miles 6-10: Broadway Bridge to South Waterfront

Just past mile 5, you will start the first of four bridge crossings for the course. Miles 6 and 7 both include the Broadway Bridge - you will cross both ways - as you make a quick jaunt across the Willamette and into the Rose Quarter. After the speedy stretch leading up to mile 5, you can expect slight slowing as you climb up and over the Broadway Bridge each time, so take a breather and enjoy the views from the bridge!

Crossing the Broadway Bridge the route enters the Rose Quarter, home of the historied Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Moda Center. Runners will get an up-close tour of the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers, as they run through the middle of campus on the famous Center Court Street. Completing the loop around the Rose Quarter, runners return to Broadway and head back across the Willamette to the Pearl District via the Broadway Bridge.

The climb from mile 5 to mile 6 is about 76’, but you will run right back down that 76’ as you cross back over the bridge and approach mile 7. Think of mile 7 and your opportunity to “catch up” for the slowdown up to 6.

From the Broadway Bridge runners wind through Old Town before traveling south on Naito Parkway, following the banks of the river along Waterfront Park and passing directly by the start/finish venue at Salmon Street just after reaching mile 8. The route then continues south on SW 1st Ave and Naito Parkway to access the South Waterfront on Macadam Ave.

After the start/finish near mile 8, the course starts another long, gradual climb of about 100’ for about a mile. By this point, you should feel well-settled into your race. Remember to maintain an even-effort pace as you work your way south past mile 9. You still have a lot of miles ahead, and you just want to get up and over this climb before you get another fast downhill segment leading up to mile 10.

Runner Commentary: Don't fret as you make your way up the Broadway Bridge towards the Rose Quarter (Go Blazers!). The even effort will be wise on your return over the Broadway Bridge and through the flats of Naito working your way towards the South Waterfront area.

Marathon Miles 11-15: Across the Willamette to Sellwood-Moreland

The first 5K of this section, from mile 10 up to the halfway point of the marathon, is another gradual climb up and over the Sellwood Bridge and into the neighborhoods of Sellwood. From Macadam Ave at mile 11.5 to the halfway mark, the course climbs 82’. After the broad streets and highways leading up to Sellwood Bridge, you will encounter the much narrower and quiet streets of Sellwood. This is where you will need to focus on the immediate miles, not on what lies ahead. Keep your mind on “this mile” as you run through the narrow streets.

At the right-hand turn onto Sellwood Blvd just past the halfway mark, look to your left to see a great view of the Willamette River below and Downtown Portland in the Distance.

Runners continue south on Macadam and use the beautiful Sellwood Bridge to enter the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood, where they will reach the half marathon mark while enjoying the breathtaking views from the bluff on Sellwood Blvd.

After the turn onto Sellwood Blvd., the course drops gradually about 60’ up to mile 15. This short “breather” comes at a key point in any marathon, where the second half of the race is well underway, and you want to maintain a consistent level of effort.

Runner Commentary: Find your rhythm again and embrace it before you start your Sellwood Bridge climb. Enjoy the view as you peak the Sellwood Bridge, and get your lungs back as you descend and enter the Sellwood neighborhood.

Marathon Miles 16-20: Eastmoreland and Reed College “Loop”

Mile 16 starts with a short climb up and over the railroad tracks that run below Bybee Blvd. The climb continues roughly 80’ total up to Crystal Springs Blvd, where the tree-lined streets level off towards Reed College Place and where the route turns north.

The route then uses Bybee Blvd to enter the charming and historic Eastmoreland neighborhood. Runners will follow the golf course to the south on Crystal Springs Blvd and then loop north on arguably the most enchanting road in Portland, SE Reed College Place. Engulfed by the towering trees and handsome homes, runners will continue north across Woodstock Blvd to enter the campus of Reed College.

Mile 17 is always a major point in any marathon, where the number of miles remaining are in the single-digits. Here, the course winds its way around Reed College with a sharp drop of roughly 80’ to the northwest side of the campus before looping back around and climbing 80’ back to the intersection of Woodstock Blvd and Reed College Place. From there, the course starts backtracking south.

Enthusiastic students ("Reedies") will cheer runners on as they loop through campus, passing the stunning Tudor-Gothic style architecture and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the most unique and esteemed colleges in the world. Finishing the loop around campus, the route returns south for another jog down the opposite side of Reed College Place before heading west to re-enter Sellwood-Moreland.

At mile 19, the course starts another gradual descent out of the Eastmoreland neighborhood, dropping another 80’ to mile 20 at the base of the bridge at Bybee Blvd.

Runner Commentary: After climbing over the train tracks on Bybee Blvd, enjoy the Eastmoreland neighborhood and feed off the energy from the Reed College community. You will appreciate the boost as the miles have added up at this point.

Marathon Miles 21-25: Brooklyn to Burnside Bridge

After several turns in the prior 5-mile section, this next segment has a lot of long straightaways as you work back north towards the last bridge crossing. Miles 21 and 22 include a 50’ up and down section prior to the long straight segment on Milwaukee Ave.

Just past mile 22, you will encounter the last sharp climb of the course, gaining almost 50’ on Franklin St to McLoughlin Blvd.

Runners then use SE Milwaukie Ave to travel north into the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood, where they will run underneath the Ross Island Bridge. The route then connects onto the beautiful Eastbank Esplanade and runs along the banks of the river as it passes underneath the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. While on the Esplanade runners will pass directly between the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI) and its famous submarine, the USS Blueblack, before passing under the Marquam Bridge and using SE Clay St to exit the Esplanade and travel north on SE Water Ave.

Mile 23 is another nice downhill of almost 100’ as you head back towards the Willamette River, and you will almost “feel” the river pulling you towards the finish.

Mile 24 has a terrific section along the Eastbank Esplanade. Before your last push up and over the Burnside bridge, the short 30’ climb to the start of the final bridge crossing will be the last climb of the day!

Runner Commentary: A good portion of this section is a very familiar and favorite running area along the East Esplanade. Recognize you have about a 10k at this point, and prepare for the final climb over the Burnside Bridge.

Marathon Last 1.2: Waterfront Finish

As you work your way across the Burnside Bridge towards Downtown Portland, you can look to your left and see the Morrison Bridge, knowing that the finish line is only about 300 yards beyond that bridge. Even better, the course drops roughly 30’ to the west bank of the Willamette River, making this a nice gradual downhill to the final stretch.

With just over one mile to go the route crosses the Willamette for the fourth and final time as it heads over the Burnside Bridge, running directly towards the iconic White Stag sign in the distance. Runners take a final loop around Old Town and then head south on Naito Parkway for the final sprint to the finish on Salmon Street.

Runner Commentary: At this point, save what you have left to make it over the bridge, then feed off the downhill stretch and let gravity help you back onto Naito for your marathon finish. Feed off the finish line energy of spectators! You did it!

Marathon Course Summary

The 2019 Portland Marathon course guarantees a scenic and diverse tour past some of the most iconic landmarks and neighborhoods of the Rose City. The course has a series of climbs and drops over the 26.2-mile route, but none of the hills are particularly steep or lengthy.

A solid course strategy is a must for this course. Runners will want to know what lies ahead of them on race day, and will want to measure their efforts both early and late in the race based on the course profile.

HALF-MARATHON COURSE

Half-Marathon Miles 1-4: Downtown to Sellwood Bridge

The first mile of the course should be your warm-up for the morning ahead. Crowds will be heavy as you run through the downtown streets, and you will have a lot of adrenaline pushing you to an enthusiastic start. Resist the urge to chase runners if they pass you, and focus on your own level of effort. You need to dial into a race effort that you can sustain for the entire course, not just the opening few miles.

The first mile has a climb of roughly 100’ overall, so you definitely need to start gradually and measure your effort. Take this opportunity to get your breathing going, your legs turning over, and your mind focused.

After mile 1, the course drops gradually all the way to mile 2. This is where your race begins, with a nice downhill stretch where you can open up your stride and let your speed increase.

Miles 3 and 4 head south as you approach the Sellwood Bridge.

The race begins at the intersection of Naito Parkway and Salmon Street at Portland's famous Waterfront Park on the banks of the Willamette River. After joining the marathoners exiting the start gait for a quick jaunt west up Salmon Street, runners head south on SW 1st Ave as they enjoy the sunrise over the Willamette to the east. The route continues south on Naito Parkway and runs directly under the Portland Aerial Tram to access the South Waterfront on Macadam Ave. Runners make their way through the heart of South Portland on this flat, tree-lined section.

The 4-mile mark is in the middle of a climb up to the beginning of the Sellwood Bridge, so you can expect a slight slowing as you prepare to cross the Willamette River.

Runner Commentary: Stay patient and find your rhythm, especially up the climbs along the way.

Half-Marathon Miles 5-8: Sellwood-Moreland

After the broad streets and highways leading up to Sellwood Bridge, you will encounter the much narrower and quiet streets of Sellwood. This is where you will need to focus on the immediate miles, not on what lies ahead. Keep your mind on “this mile” as you run through the narrow streets.

At the right-hand turn onto Sellwood Blvd just before mile 5, look to your left to see a great view of the Willamette River below and Downtown Portland in the Distance.

Continuing south on Macadam runners use the beautiful Sellwood Bridge to enter the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood, passing the area's charming homes while enjoying the breathtaking views from the bluff on Sellwood Blvd.

After the turn onto Sellwood Blvd., the course drops gradually more than 50’ up to mile 6.5. This short “breather” is a helpful way to gather energy for the second half of the race, where you want to maintain a consistent level of effort.

The stretch up to mile 8 includes another gradual climb of roughly 50’ as you head out of Moreland and into Brooklyn.

Runner Commentary: Enjoy the view as you peak the Sellwood Bridge, and get your lungs back as you descend and enter the Sellwood neighborhood.

Half-Marathon Miles 9-12: Brooklyn to Burnside Bridge

Mile 9 starts with a long, gradual descent of about 35’ through Brooklyn along Milwaukee Ave.

Just past mile 9, you will encounter the last sharp climb of the course, gaining 50’ on Franklin St to McLoughlin Blvd.

Runners then use SE Milwaukie Ave to travel north into the quaint Brooklyn neighborhood, where they will run underneath the Ross Island Bridge. The route then connects onto the beautiful Eastbank Esplanade and runs along the banks of the river as it passes underneath the Tilikum Crossing Bridge. While on the Esplanade runners will pass directly between the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI) and its famous submarine, the USS Blueblack, before passing under the Marquam Bridge and using SE Clay St to exit the Esplanade and travel north on SE Water Ave.

Mile 10 is in the middle of another nice downhill stretch of almost 100’ as you head back towards the Willamette River, and you will almost “feel” the river pulling you towards the finish.

Mile 11 has a terrific section along the Eastbank Esplanade. Before your last push up and over the Burnside bridge, the short 30’ climb to the start of the final bridge crossing will be the last climb of the day!

Runner Commentary: A good portion of this section is a very familiar and favorite running area along the East Esplanade. Recognize you have about a 5K left at this point, and prepare for the final climb over the Burnside Bridge.

Half-Marathon Last 1.1: Waterfront Finish

As you work your way across the Burnside Bridge towards Downtown Portland, you can look to your left and see the Morrison Bridge, knowing that the finish line is only about 300 yards beyond that bridge. Even better, the course drops roughly 30’ to the west bank of the Willamette River, making this a nice gradual downhill to the final stretch.

With just over one mile to go the route crosses the Willamette for the fourth and final time as it heads over the Burnside Bridge, running directly towards the iconic White Stag sign in the distance. Runners take a final loop around Old Town and then head south on Naito Parkway for the final sprint to the finish on Salmon Street.

Runner Commentary: At this point, save what you have left to make it over the bridge, then feed off the downhill stretch and let gravity help you back onto Naito for your half-marathon finish. Feed off the finish line energy of spectators! You did it!

Half-Marathon Course Summary

The 2019 Portland Half-Marathon course guarantees a scenic and diverse tour past some of the most iconic landmarks and neighborhoods of the Rose City. The course has a series of climbs and drops over the 13.1-mile route, but none of the hills are particularly steep or lengthy.

A solid course strategy is a must for this course. Runners will want to know what lies ahead of them on race day, and will want to measure their efforts both early and late in the race based on the course profile.

Author Paul Carmona is the Head Coach for the RunPortland Online Training Program and has designed training plans for runners across the United States and internationally for more than 15 years. Coach Paul has run 68 marathons and is a 9-time Boston Marathon finisher. He has also run ultramarathons, finishing in second place in a 100-mile ultra. Coach Paul paces half-marathons throughout the year.

Runner Commentary was provided by Wencesley (Wen) Paez, who has lived and run in Portland since 2005. Wen has been a pace mentor for Portland marathon and half-marathon training programs for over 9 years, where many of the training routes are the 2019 Portland Marathon course. Wen has run more than 20 marathons (while pacing several, including 4 PDX with the Red Lizards), and has run over 50+ half-marathons, while pacing dozens. He will be pacing the 4:20 group at the 2019 Portland Marathon.

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