SEASIDE — When people see Matt Spear running, they sometimes yell, “Run, Forrest, run!”
While Spear didn’t run across the country like Forrest Gump, the character in the classic Tom Hanks film, the Seaside resident ran and won this year’s Portland Marathon.
Spear first entered the event in 2015. His most disappointing moment came in 2019 when he was part of the group of runners that went off course after following a biker who wasn’t part of the race about 10 miles in.
“There wasn’t someone saying, ‘Go this way,’” he said.
By the time they stopped, turned around and got back on course, they had added several miles to the run. “We did the scenic route,” he said.
While his chances for a win that year were gone, he still finished in the race’s top 10 and eyed future marathons. “I felt a little disappointed, but it happens,” he said. “You just kind of get ready for the next one.”
A running family
Spear’s parents were runners, participating in the Hood to Coast race in the early ‘80s when the relay finished in Pacific City.
Growing up, Spear went to Jesuit High School in Beaverton. He came to the coast in the summer to visit his grandparents, who lived in Seaside.
His first sport was soccer, which he said he knew he wasn’t very good at, but he found he had endurance and enjoyed running.
He switched to cross-country.
Spear was influenced by the high level of coaching and performance. “The winter of sophomore year I kind of started ramping it up and increased each year, just trying to do a little bit more,” he said.
The Jesuit team was so competitive Spear didn’t even make varsity as a senior, he said, but ran the varsity track district meet, where he took fourth.
He ran as a walk-on at Santa Clara University during his freshman year, then transferred to the University of Oregon. He joined the club team, using his junior and senior years to get into running shape. He ran at Hayward Field — the university track — and up to Pre’s Rock, the iconic memorial where the Oregon Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine died at the age of 24.
Spear started “adventure runs,” running at Black Butte in central Oregon and other outdoor locations.
After graduating, he began a career in systems development in Portland, still running four or five days a week.
Training and a victory
Spear, 32, moved back to Seaside four years ago. He lives with his girlfriend, who is a nurse at Providence Seaside Hospital.
Long-distance running is part of his regimen. He has a few favorite routes, from his home on N. Holladay Drive across Tillamook Head to Indian Beach and back, the Fort to Sea Trail and a 22-mile route that includes six loops 2 miles each around the Gearhart Golf Links.
For this year’s Portland Marathon in October, Spear started out with a decent night’s sleep, an early wake-up and a good breakfast. The day was clear with little wind.
At the start, one runner took the early lead. Spear was among a group of five or six behind the leader.
He was feeling strong. “I just focused on what I was doing,” he said. “I could kind of see the leader, so I thought that was a good position to be in.”
Around the area of Reed College, Spear began gaining on the leader. “People would say, ‘He’s a minute ahead,’ and we go another mile, ‘He’s 40 seconds ahead.’”
Another runner from the pack caught up to the leader, who was slowing down. “I held the pace, maybe picked it up a little bit. I didn’t feel tired. I just felt really energized,” Spear said.
As Spear crossed a bridge, about a mile from the finish, he saw his father and brother along the waterfront. Spear got to the finish before the tape was up and kept running.
“You’re pretty thrilled and excited about things, so I didn’t feel the exhaustion that I felt on the other times, when I could barely move,” Spear said.
His first place finish time? Two hours, 28 minutes and 47 seconds.
His family joined him for the celebration and interviews after the race.
Spear attributes his win to more training miles without overtraining.
Runners call it “the taper,” referring to the reduction of exercise before the race.
“I think the taper is always hard the last two or three weeks,” he said. “You don’t want to back off too much or you feel flat, but you don’t want to overtrain so you’re so tired at the start line you can barely run.”
In February, Spear will be setting his sights at a longer run: the 100K Black Canyon Ultras — 62 miles — in Black Canyon, Arizona. Spear will be running at a minimum of about 4,000 feet above sea level in mountains between Flagstaff and Phoenix. Temperatures could range from the 70s to below freezing with snow.
He’s run ultramarathons before, at Forest Park, Mount Hood and St. Helens, running for eight or 10 hour stretches.
“You take a bathroom break, but try to keep going. When you stop, it’s always hard to get going again,” he said.