Opinion

Marathon expected to draw 1,000 to San Juan Island | Running

Some will run. Others will walk. And an army of volunteers will make sure no one gets left behind.

The San Juan Island Marathon and Half-Marathon are just around the corner and organizers of the annual event are preparing for another banner year.

In fact, with pre-registration up 22 percent over last year, Clark Gilbert, chief organizer of the event, is expecting a turnout that rivals those of the past.

That’s even with the hurdles many participants face in getting to the island, and despite the economic meltdown that’s gripped the nation.

“We’ve been a little surprised this year,” Gilbert said. “We were thinking the recession might have a big effect on our numbers, but so far things are looking good.”

Which is good news not only for the marathon, but for the local economy as well. Participants from off-island, according to Gilbert, typically arrive with another 2.4 people in tow, such as family or friends.

If the event draws 300 or so runners from off-island, which it has in the past — though 2008 was an exception — that translates into an influx of roughly 1,000 people on San Juan for at least a portion of the June 6-7 weekend.

Still, the marathon, now in its seventh year, is one of many events which will take place during the annual Summer Kick-Off Weekend on San Juan Island. The lineup also includes the Kenmore Air San Juan Island Celebrity Golf Classic, the Artists’ Studio Tour, the Horticultural Society Garden Tour and the Health & Fitness Expo.

The marathon and the half-marathon get under way Sunday at 8:30 a.m. at the county fairgrounds. The event also features a children’s “marathon,” in which participants run the last 1.2 miles of the course and receive a commemorative T-shirt and a medal.

The 26.2-mile course is certified by USA Track and Field and runners can qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon or the U.S. Olympic Trials based on their finish time. For most, however, the odds of achieving a “personal best” are slim on the local course.

The popularity of the San Juan marathon has grown by leaps and bounds in large part because of its scenery, Gilbert said, not its terrain. The course features peaks and valleys, rolling hills, and climbs in elevation from 25 feet to over 250 feet above sea level. The hills are what first-timers generally remember the most, he said.

“There’s two things people definitely know about it now,” Gilbert said. “One, that it’s a beautiful course, and two, that it’s a challenge.”

Despite the hills, Orcas Island’s Randy Gaylord, a veteran marathoner, said the course, which includes a stretch of road along the west side of the island that overlook Haro Strait, is unmatched in terms of its scenery. On the heels of a 30-mile run in Bellingham on Friday, he’ll return to San Juan to run the half-marathon the following day.

“In terms of sheer beauty, it ranks right up there with the most scenic runs I’ve ever been on,” Gaylord said. “It’s one of the hilliest and that makes it hard to reach a personal best. But for those people comfortable with a hilly race, it’s just a great run.”

Not everyone, islanders in particular, worry about the time-clock.

For Carol Capps and friends, it’s all about camaraderie, staying fit and having fun. They train for the half-marathon all year long. As they did a year ago, Capps and several comrades of the Friday Harbor Walkers, who, collectively, adopt the name of Friday Harbor Hoofers for the day, are gearing up for that 13.1-mile walk across the island.

“It’s our goal for the year,” Capps said. “It’s beautiful. It really is a beautiful course and you see so much more when you’re walking than when you’re driving in a car. But it’s hilly, and, believe it or not, that’s always a surprise.”

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