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Whidbey marathon skips Coupeville

By Nathan Whalen and Tim Adams

What has become a springtime tradition on Whidbey Island will be noticeably different this year.

The seventh annual Nature’s Path Whidbey Island Marathon and Half Marathon on April 13 will end in Oak Harbor and not stretch down into Coupeville, which had been the finish line in previous years.

Instead, the finish line will be moved to Oak Harbor’s new Wildcat Memorial Stadium. The stadium will also serve as the starting line for the half-marathon.

The news of the route change came as a surprise to Coupeville leaders. The race more than doubles the number of people in the historic town. Last year, more than 2,400 runners participated.

“We’re very disappointed. We think we added a nice leg to the marathon,” Mayor Nancy Conard said. She added the town will be talking with marathon officials about the possibility of changing their plans.

Those thoughts were echoed by Mary Sterling with the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association.

“The nice part about it is that it finished in Town Park,” Sterling said. That allowed a place for families to wait and it was close to shopping and restaurants.

Sterling said she was surprised when she heard the news and hopes to also talk with race organizers to see if they can change their plans.

While the marathon produces a busy weekend where every hotel and bed and breakfast on the island is booked solid, Sterling said the event also provides a lot of exposure for the area. People who participate in the marathon often return and bring family with them.

“It’s huge exposure for people who are new to the marathon and discover Whidbey Island,” Sterling said, adding that local businesses feel the effects of the marathon in the months following the event.

While business leaders in Coupeville are disappointed with the course change, Oak Harbor business leaders are thrilled.

“We think it’s an exciting change to have it finish locally,” said Jill Johnson, executive director for the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce. She said it’s a chance for Oak Harbor to step up and showcase its hospitality.

Johnson said the marathon provides great national exposure because the event is publicized in such publications as Runners World.

While the marathon takes place basically on North Whidbey Island, it is an event that affects all of Whidbey Island.

“It takes island-wide cooperation to make it work,” Johnson said.

Last year, the marathon attracted a record 2,400 participants, many of whom brought family and friends along.

Organizers say the race course changes were brought about by safety and other concerns, such as construction projects, along Highway 20.

Race Director John Kaiser said there were some problems encountered during last year’s event.

“State Department of Transportation personnel said along a stretch of Highway 20 between Holbrook Road and Madrona Way, about a half-mile stretch, groups of walkers were observed going along three abreast and not allowing marathon runners to go through,” Kaiser said. “This resulted in the runners having go out into the lanes of traffic to get around the people who were walking.”

Kaiser said this section of roadway is completely controlled by the state.

“The DOT could have shut the event down right then and there as being a safety hazard,” he said.

Kaiser said another reason for the switch is the sheer growth in the number of runners entered in the event.

In previous years, the full marathon began at the intersection of Rosario Road and Highway 20 one mile north of the Deception Pass Bridge, and the half marathon stepped off from Olympic View Elementary School on Regatta Drive.

This year, the first half of the marathon will be virtually the same except for the starting point being shifted to Cornet Bay.

The last half and the half-marathon leave the stadium and proceed to West Beach via Heller Road, Swantown Road and Fort Nugent Road, then returning on Swantown/Heller to the stadium.

The complete course has not been finalized, but should be done in the next two to three weeks. 

Race organizers had considered using Windjammer Park in downtown Oak Harbor to start and finish the race, but opted instead to make use of the Wildcat Memorial Stadium facility, which opened last fall. 

Kaiser said the stadium will provide a first-class venue for the audience and finishers with covered stands, sound system, and showers for the participants, along with plenty of off-street parking. Everyone in the community is encouraged to join in the celebration and cheer the runners on along the course.

Being concerned about the environment has always been a priority of the Nature’s Path Whidbey Island Marathon, but race organizers have renewed the emphasis in this area for 2008.

This year, the marathon has been officially declared a Green Team event by Runner’s World Magazine.

An excess of 50 percent of the trash the event produced in 2007 was recycled and this number is expected improve in 2008.

Currently, only recycled paper is used for runners’ bags as well as brochures.

The 2008 Whidbey Island Marathon will be run on Sunday, April 13. For registration and other information visit www.whidbeyislandmarathon.com.

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