Posted by: Joe English | April 5, 2008

Coach Joe’s Race for the Roses Pre-race Speech

Editor’s Note: Tonight I delivered a speech to a group of 72 runners and walkers participating in tomorrow’s Race for the Roses in Portland. I decided to deliver this speech in the form of a news story about the race as if it had already unfolded. The story is below. Keep in mind that the race has not yet happened yet and that many of the quotes may have been attributed to people at my discretion. I hope that you enjoy the story.

PORTLAND, ORE – Morning showers and cool temperatures greeted over 3,000 runners and walkers at the Race for the Roses this morning in downtown Portland. For a group of 72 of them, this was the culmination of a journey that began at the starting of January when they signed up to train for this event and raise much needed money to fund research to fight blood cancers.

Runners and walkers with Team in Training met at the DoubleTree hotel bright and early at 6:00AM, already having eaten their breakfasts and made themselves ready for their 13.1 mile journey. After some smiles for cameras and pep talks from coaches, the group headed out into the overcast morning just as the sun came up at 6:30AM.

Coach Joe English reminds his team to just do what they’ve learned. “I always caution people not to do anything different on race day than they do at any other of their training runs. They’ve done the work to get here, now they just have to go out and get it done on race day. They can — and will — do it out there today.”

The athletes dressed warmly in sweats and clothing that could be shed at the start, some were even wearing garbage bags with holes cut out for their arms and head to poke through. “Every once in awhile someone forgets to cut a hole for their head,” said assistant Coach Julie Hoffman, “but we help them out.”

Once at the starting line at the Oregon Convention Center, the Team in Training group joined the other 2,900 or so people that would be running and walking at their sides. It was a tumultuous line-up with little rhyme or reason, but this didn’t really matter to most. “Their times don’t start until they cross the start-line, so they don’t really have to worry about their placement in the starting line-up. The streets are wide and the traffic breaks-up quickly,” added Coach English.

Experienced marathon runner Deanna Ricci said before the race, “I always just keep in mind what Coach Joe has told us: take it easy at the start. Everyone will be going out too fast. I just try to put my blinders on and run without paying too much attention to everyone else around me.”

This course does have a fast start. A local runner recalled that in his last race at Roses, he clocked 4:55 in the first mile, which, as he recalled “was a dramatic error on my part.” He was just keeping up with the other runners around him, but he had to force himself to back off the pace coming down the Broadway Bridge, because he “didn’t want to pay for it later.”

Once onto the waterfront, the course heads south and is flat from about miles one to three. The first aid station on the course was at mile 2 and then aid stations would be spread along the course every 2 miles after that. Each aid station was stocked with water, and Gluekos energy drink, but no food or energy gels: runners needed to carry their own today.

Run Team Captain Karl Johnson told us, “I try to drink eight ounces at every aid station, alternating between water at one station and Gleukos at the other. It’s easy for me to remember to drink 8 ounces, because that’s ¾ of a beer.” He added with a smile, “I like beer.”

The first, and only, truly challenging hill on the course comes between miles three to four. Runners and walkers were urged to slow down and watch their breathing going up the hill. “Your breathing and heart rate should stay about the same coming up a big hill if you just slow down. If you’re pushing too hard, you’ll be panting at the top of the hill and you’ll pay for this later,” Assistant Coach Priscilla Shumate told us.

After the aid station at the four mile mark, the course turns downhill and runs mostly downward back into the city for the next 4 miles. The course snakes through a series of 12 turns on this section of the course, disrupting the rhythm of many of the good runners in the race. “This is a fun section of the course, because they are spectators and things to look at,” said Johnson, “but you need to try to keep your pace consistent coming into and out of the corners. You need to avoid making this an interval workout.”

Just after the aid station at mile 8, the course returns to Front Ave — first in the north-west direction away from the city. After a turn-around near mile 9 ½, the course heads straight back on the flat Front Ave for 3 ½ miles, passing the Steele Bridge, turning around after the 12 mile mark, and then crossing over the Steele Bridge toward the finish at the convention center.

“Coming up the little hill onto the Steele Bridge can be a challenge,” says English, “but once over the top, there are just a few blocks to the finish. Take a look at the River as you pass over it and then hit the gas when you make the sharp left turn onto NE 1st Ave into the finisher chute.”

“Don’t forget to smile,” adds TNT’s Hoffman, “and put your arms in the air and celebrate when you come across the line – you’ve earned it.”

Bringing up the rear today were a group of TNT sweepers, including Pam Freedman. She was out on the course behind the very last participant. “They are always in good spirits at the back. They may be the last ones, but they are some of the most important people out here.”

“People’s always ask me if they’ll be able to finish the race,” explains Coach English, “I just reassure them that they’ll be fine. They’ve done more work to prepare this than most things they’ll do in life. They’ll be rewarded for that, I’m absolutely sure.”

The greatest American distance runner – and the fastest – Steve Prefontaine, once notably remarked, “some people run races to see who’s fastest. I run races to see who has the most guts.”

Courage was on display in Portland today. From the front to the back and everywhere in between, a new crop of heroes were born. “It’s rare when people actually finish what they set out to do. this group of people set their sights on something big and they made it. Despite everything that may have been thrown in their way — by their lives, their jobs and the difficulty of fundraising — they made it to the finish-line today. That makes them heroes in my eyes.”

Congratulations to all of you for going through our program and I wish you the best of luck tomorrow. You’re going to do great out there.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon USA
For Running Advice and News



  1. Coach Joe…..this was fun to read. Lots of memories for me from last year. It is exciting to accomplish something that you thought was too big for you before.

  2. […] Advice & News from Joe English Coach Joe’s Race for the Roses Pre-race SpeechQuestion: Am I a candidate for on-line coaching?Body in Focus: The skinny on foam rollersCommentary: […]

  3. Nice speech Coach Joe!! You are such an inspirational speaker!

    I know I’m just one of MANY…but you, Julie and Karl all made such a big impact in my life and I feel lucky to be one of your runners!

    Thanks for all that you do!! =)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: