San Juan Island Marathon, Half-Marathon is Sunday; sanctioned by USA Track & Field as a Boston Marathon qualifier

Joey Naylor, 39, of Newton, Wash., finished 10th in the 2009 San Juan Island Marathon.  - Journal / Scott Rasmussen 2009
Joey Naylor, 39, of Newton, Wash., finished 10th in the 2009 San Juan Island Marathon.
— image credit: Journal / Scott Rasmussen 2009

Australia. Great Britain. British Columbia.

No, we’re not talking about the Olympics, but rather the San Juan Island Marathon and its companion event, the Half-Marathon.

Odds are there’ll be more than a few hearty souls from overseas and north of the border in the field this Sunday when the starting gun sounds. Several are already registered.

An even safer bet is that the majority of those who brave the 26.2-mile course or test themselves on the 13.1-mile half-marathon will hail from somewhere other than the islands.

In fact, according to Clark Gilbert, co-founder and chief organizer of the event, off-island runners consistently make up more than 90 percent of the combined field and they usually arrive with 2.4 friends or family in tow.

“I’d say 93 percent is a pretty good guess,” said Gilbert, who expects a turnout that’s on par with last year. Now in its eighth year, the marathon and half-marathon will get under way at the San Juan County Fairgrounds at 8:30 a.m. Sponsors are King’s Market, Rock Island Communications and San Juan Island Fitness Club.

The two endurance events drew a combined 324 runners a year ago, although some, like the Friday Harbor Hoofers, opt for walking the 13-mile half. (That combined total doesn’t include 38 children who took part in the 1.2-mile Kids’ Race).

With decent weather, Carol Capps maintains it’s hard to beat a 13-mile stroll through the heart of San Juan Island. She and her fellow Friday Harbor Hoofers train all year for the event.

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

Gilbert said peaks and valleys are generally what those who run the local marathon for the first time remember the most. Sanctioned by USA Track & Field as a Boston Marathon qualifier, the marathon course climbs in elevation from 25 feet to more than 250 feet above sea level.

“They told me about the hills, but I wasn’t expecting that,” Andrew Pohlscheider of Oregon said after finishing the San Juan marathon for the first time in 2009.

Few dispute the hills are a challenge. However, Ellensberg’s Manuh Santos only complaint was about the amount of moisture in the air when he set a new course record of 2 hours 38 minutes back in 2008. Santos, 28 at the time, crossed the finish line a full five minutes faster than the old course record, set by Michael Lynes of Tacoma in 2006.

Gilbert expects the marathon might just be a bit more competitive than it’s been in the past.

“From what I’ve heard, they’ll be more people running in the full this year than we’ve ever seen,” he said.

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