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Surviving the Whidbey Island Half-Marathon | Jenny Manning

A mob of runners take off from Cornet Bay during the ninth annual Whidbey Island Marathon Sunday, April 11. More than 2,000 runners participated in the full and half marathons last weekend.  - Jim Waller/Whidbey News-Times
A mob of runners take off from Cornet Bay during the ninth annual Whidbey Island Marathon Sunday, April 11. More than 2,000 runners participated in the full and half marathons last weekend.
— image credit: Jim Waller/Whidbey News-Times

Last October Jill Johnson, the executive director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, suggested I run the Whidbey Island Marathon.

I told her not to get ahead of herself, but half-jokingly agreed to run the half.

At that point in my life I’d run several 5K races in my home state of California as a pre-teen. Since then I danced, swam and hiked. I even cycled a little for recreational fun. But run? Eh, not so much.

Even with six months to get ready for the half marathon, I can’t say training started right away. After City Administrator Paul Schmidt announced my registration at a February City Council meeting I got serious with my mileage. My personal goal: Run the full course; don’t worry about time.

There really was no reason to worry.

I was totally unaware of the unbridled, infectious energy a pack of runners radiates. And the race-course conversations; oh yeah, there’s nothing to hold back some runners from chatting with — and cheering on — their fellow athletes.

The start of the half-marathon course felt like a bull run, and began with a horn blast from Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik. The pack lurched forward and gained speed as a mob of 1,347 half-marathon runners wound its way from Whidbey Avenue to Regatta Drive, right on W. Crescent Harbor Road, along the waterfront, back to Torpedo Road and into the city along Maui Avenue.

At the Seaplane Base Maui Gate, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Captain Gerral David and his wife, Ann, blared their car horn and cheered on runners as they left the base.

Easy flats and downhills made up the first half of the course and spectators armed with poster-board signs lined the waterfront trail through Windjammer Park.

The true test began at Scenic Heights.

Jill may have had one of the best spots, right at the top of that first Scenic Heights hill, which I reached just as I started to question my goal.

Her encouragement — coupled with the peppy water station folks shortly thereafter — restored my confidence.

With that said, the island community and all the runners’ family and friends who watched the race deserve some serious kudos for their support in the form of cow bells, blasting car radios, handmade signs, banners and cheers.

I didn’t know most of these people; they didn’t know me. But they cheered for all their worth and the runners fed on that energy. Their support was immeasurable.

The hills on the third quarter of the course were killer, but worth it.

The homestretch, that’s mile 10 through 13 in my mind, was absolutely awesome. My attention turned from the race to the panoramic views of Oak Harbor Bay from N. Scenic Heights as the pack descended toward town.

Jill gave a huge hurrah as I left Scenic Heights, cruised through Freund Marsh and into Windjammer Park for a time of 2:07.

A massive crowd lined the grassy finish as I was met with a hug and a finisher’s medal from Oak Harbor Councilman Jim Palmer.

My family couldn’t make the trip to cheer me on, but my Oak Harbor “family” more than supported me and the other 2,068 runners who ran this weekend. I can’t remember the last time I felt that good and I was happy to share it with the city, community and out-of-town runners who made the ninth annual Whidbey Island Marathon possible.

I’ll be back next year, although I can’t say it’ll be on the full marathon course. I just might leave that distance to the big dogs.

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