Shamrock Run is a Portland Classic

Annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration marks 42 years in 2020

Residents of Portland come to expect a few things: Great donuts. Shorts worn with puffy coats. Tourists with umbrellas. Gray skies for a good eight months out of the year. And tens of thousands of Portland runners gathering on the third Sunday in March for the unofficial opening of the running season, the annual Shamrock Run.

In 2019, the event held special significance by falling squarely on St. Patrick’s Day. And the luck of the Irish rubbed off with smiles o’plenty and some of the best weather in the event’s four-decade-long history.

The running tradition, celebrating its 42nd year in 2020, holds a special place in the heart of Northwest athletes. With multiple distances, including 5K, 8K, 15K, and half-marathon races, there’s just about there’s something for everyone, including a 4-mile stroll as an “event within an event” for those who prefer to walk instead of run.

Families aren’t out of luck, either. The Leprechaun Lap, a kids-only 1k sprint displays the talents of a future generation of distance running superstars, who can watch their endurance idols from a front-row seat. A surprising number of youth runners under 12 enjoy dipping their toes into the waters of the accessible 5k.

To say the Shamrock Run is “just” a running event doesn’t take into account the festival-like feel of the weekend. Festivities kick off with a two-day fitness fair, where participants can not only pick up their bib numbers and official Shamrock merchandise but also sample the wares of a variety of sports and fitness-related vendors and event sponsors.

The courses themselves deserve praise both for their modern city feel as well as a throwback to running history: The longer distance routes include the iconic (in running circles) hills of Terwilliger Boulevard, featured for decades in the legendary Cascade Run Off, a bygone running event that began in the 1970s.

All of Shamrock’s routes offer sweeping views of Portland’s skyline, Willamette River waterfront, and at least seven unique bridges. And, mercifully, some flat stretches of pavement bordering Waterfront Park.

Sunday’s races are a mere prelude to the city’s biggest St. Patty’s Day party and post-event celebration, all rolled into one and held in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. Live Irish music on the mainstage isn’t just background music at this bash: A full-on green mosh pit and dance floor springs forth like an Emerald Isle underground spring. Tired runners turned revelers are fueled by Deschutes Brewery beer and a hot bowl of post-race goodness from Bob’s Red Mill.

Athletes from Olympians to the most casual weekend warriors can find their niche during the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. In 2019 for example, while world-class runner Jordan Hasay was wrapping up her victory in the 15k women’s race, 102-year old Robert Young was walking his way to a finish in the 4-mile Shamrock Stride.

In the middle of the Olympians and the centenarians are the heart and soul of the running and walking community. Coming from nearly every state and many foreign countries, the diverse field stretches as far as the eye can see from the vantage point of the starting line. Once underway–allowing for start times that span two hours–athletes commandeer downtown Portland in a massive pack of muscle, sweat, and effort.

Perhaps it’s in this diversity of revelers where the Shamrock event flexes its muscles. Portland, the little city with a booming metropolis feel, annually demonstrates to the running world that it doesn’t matter whether you run, jog, or walk…but whether you shed the winter blankets and simply get outside to join friends in springtime solidarity. One thing is for certain: You’re bound for a very fun time at Portland’s annual Shamrock Run.