Soldotna’s Youngren perseveres through going off course, finishes 2nd at Portland Marathon

Soldotna’s Megan Youngren, 28, has big goals for her marathon running. Fortunately, Sunday’s second-place finish in the Portland Marathon was not a big part of those goals.

Youngren had already run four marathons since March, plus 50 kilometers in the Alaska Endurance Trail Run in Fairbanks, plus a few more unofficial marathons while training on the central Kenai Peninsula, when she decided to do the Portland Marathon.

She was going to Oregon for a pair of concerts and to see family and friends, and figured it’d also be fun to throw in a marathon. Youngren’s big goal is the California International Marathon in Sacramento on Dec. 8, when she will shoot for the Olympic “B” marathon qualifying standard of 2 hours, 45 minutes.

That time would qualify her for the U.S. Olympic Trials for marathon on Feb. 29, 2020, in Atlanta.

“Year after year, people had warned me about things that happen in this race,” Youngren said of the Portland Marathon.

This year’s marathon featured new organizers and a new route after state investigators found in 2018 that previous organizers had illegally borrowed $865,00 from their own nonprofit, according to oregonlive.com.

Just four miles in, the problems began for Youngren. She was leading the women’s race when she came to a guy with a microphone and speaker trying to rile up the crown, something Youngren said is common in marathons.

But she got disoriented by the sound and ran off course for about a quarter mile until a biker caught her.

She admitted the mistake was partially her fault.

“Mentally at that point it’s like waking a sleepwalker,” she said. “I fell out of my rhythm. The race was over for me. I was really frustrated at that point.”

There would be more frustration to come.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that at the ninth mile of the race, men’s winner Kallin Khan made a required right turn but was so far ahead that the next 15 or 20 runners missed that turn.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, Brooksee, the company that organized the marathon, said it failed to set up needed signs at mile 9.

Youngren said she arrived at that spot and a public transit worker told her to head right, but Youngren did not see any signs in that direction. She also saw a man she had been running with earlier in the race headed off in the wrong direction.

“We spent about 15 seconds yelling for him to come back,” Youngren said of her and the transit worker. “At that point I had to decide whether to chase him down or continue my race.

“I’d already been off course once and he would have been hard to catch at that point, so I continued my race.”

She said there were a couple other points later in the race where navigation was not easy, but she ran the rest of the way on the course and finished second among women and eighth overall at 2 hours, 53 minutes and 19.16 seconds.

Khan won at 2:25:15.83 — a full 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the field — while Jamie Gibbs was the top woman at 2:48:00.02.

“It’s super frustrating because there’s so many things this race did really well at,” Youngren said. “They got all the hard parts right but missed a few easy things.”

Youngren said she had a doughnut, ice cream and sandwich after the race, then went to a Portland Timbers game. She emphasized she still had a good time, while sympathizing with runners who trained hard and peaked for this one event only to have the race ruined.

As for Youngren, her focus is now back on the California International Marathon and getting that 2:45. At Last Chance BQ.2 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in September, Youngren said she was on qualifying pace for 15 or 16 miles before her legs gave out. She won the women’s race, and finished eighth overall, with a time of 2:53:02.33.

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