The Portland Marathon Continually Improves

Portland Marathon

From Runner's World magazine to other national health and fitness publications, rave reviews of the Portland Marathon reverberate. So add this two-thumbs-up event to your racing resume on Oct. 5 and experience the "best people's marathon in the West."

Like the US Marines and the Olympics, the Portland Marathon has a motto, a guiding principle, if you will, in which its race organizers and its thousands of volunteers take great pride.

"All finishers are treated as winners" is not as well-known as "Semper Fidelis" (Always Faithful) or "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (Swifter, Higher, Stronger). But it's indicative of the character of the "best organized marathon in North America," according to the Ultimate Guide to Marathons. And the result is an event for runners and walkers, now in its 37th year, that, like high-definition TV, just keeps getting better.

"The Portland Marathon is a peoples' race," said longtime race director Les Smith. "Everything we do is geared to the runners and walkers so they will have an enjoyable event."

How does Smith and his race committee make the 26.2 miles enjoyable? Well, first and foremost, they don't rest on their laurels. Taking a you're-only-as-good-as-your-last-race approach to putting on the Portland Marathon, Smith and Co. are always searching for ways to improve every aspect of the Portland Marathon--from its website to the types of bands on the course to the awards ceremony.

Throughout the year, Smith and members of the race committee travel to races around the world, where they scout and study what works at races such as the London Marathon and Big Sur Marathon. Then they bring those good ideas back to the Pacific Northwest and use them.

"We are always trying to learn, always trying to improve our event and keep things current," Smith said. "Whether it's (observing) how a race does its registration, how it runs its expo, or what it offers for merchandise awards, we want to bring good ideas to our race and make it better each year."

And based on the Portland Marathon's Harry Potter-like popularity--this year's marathon is expected to draw over 10,000 runners for the first time. Runner's World notes, "Perhaps more than any other running event in the country, this race keeps evolving, keeps getting better."

Race Day

You know the Portland Marathon will be a well-run, well-organized event, but what should a runner or walker expect race day, Oct. 5, in Oregon's most populous city?

Let's start with the race menu. It includes a marathon run/walk, a 5-miler, a 10K Mayor's Walk and a Marafun Kids Run, an entree for everyone. Expect lots of music on the course--all different types including rock bands, brass fanfare, street performers, a mandolin orchestra and 18-piece big bands.

"In 2006, we had 78 different groups playing at 39 locations for the marathoners, the five-milers and walkers," Smith said, noting that different bands play throughout the entire race for everyone, not just the fleetest of foot. In addition, 15 groups of cheerleaders lined the course last year adding more enthusiasm to the event.

Expect lots of women finishers. Since 1998 more than half the finishers of the Portland Marathon (runners and walkers) have been female--nearly 58 percent in 2006. "That's the highest percentage of women finishers for any marathon in the world," Smith said. "It's historic."

Expect walkers. "Our course is such that we can keep it open for eight hours and there are lots of sidewalks," Smith said. He noted that about one quarter of the race's participants in the past two years have been walkers. "We encourage walkers; they are an important part of our event."
And as testament to that sentiment, Runner's World (Oct. 2004) touted the Portland Marathon as the "Most walker-friendly marathon in the US."

The marathon begins in downtown Portland at striking Chapman/Lownsdale/Schrunk Parks and covers a route through the finest areas of eye-pleasing Portland. Runners and walkers will enjoy the scenic riverfront, travel through residential neighborhoods and over the St. Johns Bridge, one of the nicest-looking suspension bridges in the world, and finish near the waterfront.

"The final eight or so miles are slightly downhill so the second half of the race is often run faster than the first half. We see a lot of negative splits," Smith said.

For a detailed description of the Portland Marathon course, including map and elevation, visit:

What Else is Happening?

Events preceding Sunday's races include an "Event Directors' College," a sports and fitness expo, bus tours of the marathon course and a pre-race pasta party. Following the races, there will be a post-race party and awards ceremony.

For a full schedule of events, including registration and information on the "Event Directors' College," go to:


The Hilton Portland & Executive Tower, at 921 SW 6th Ave, is not only the official host hotel of the Portland Marathon but it's also the epicenter of what should be a wonderful weekend. To make life even easier for race participants and their families, the Hilton is centrally located within blocks of the race start and finish and also within blocks of the city's best downtown restaurants. "You could throw a baseball from the race start to the Hilton; it's only about 200 feet," Smith said. "Everything is right there within three blocks. It's very convenient."

This more-than-three-decades-old race has not become complacent or forgotten the folks who make the Portland Marathon the race it is today: the runners and walkers. At the Portland Marathon, "All finishers are treated as winners!"

To register for the 36th annual Portland Marathon, click here . For all other aspects of the event, visit the race's website: .

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