Whidbey Island Marathon makes world’s top 10

Participants run in the 2010 Whidbey Isand Marathon which was held this April. - File photo
Participants run in the 2010 Whidbey Isand Marathon which was held this April.
— image credit: File photo

Employees and elected officials in Oak Harbor got a shock this week when they learned that a premiere international travel company has named the Whidbey Island Marathon as one of the 10 best in the world.

The news was not only a surprise, but was humbling too. It was the only marathon in the United States to be listed and is being stacked up against events held in some of the world’s most famous locations, from the Great Wall of China and Antarctica to South Africa, where participants can run amid elephants and lions.

“We’re listed right behind Venice, Italy,” Mayor Jim Slowik said.

“It’s just humbling to see that,” he added.

The top 10 marathon list is being featured on Lonely Planet’s website and in its printed “Best in Travel 2010” guide book. The company appears to be more of an international guide service than a travel company, with offices in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

The online review credited the Pacific Northwest with being one of the country’s most beautiful regions, saying that Whidbey Island’s scenery “inspires at every turn with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, old-growth forest and rocky shores.” The marathon is close to Seattle, making it the perfect city getaway, and offers a course that “meanders through farmland and along the coast.”

“With the roads closed to traffic for the race, this is about as peaceful as a marathon can be,” the review said.

As with the mayor, the mention of the marathon by a major travel company came as a welcome surprise to those in the lodging industry. Dana Conklin, general manager of the Coachman Inn in Oak Harbor, said the marathon is an annual boost for the hotel. While its difficult to tell how the review will impact the marathon, she said it can only mean good things for overnight lodging on Whidbey Island.

“We usually fill up for the marathon but this could fill up outlying businesses as well,” she said.

A review in a major publication can have long-range impacts, she said. Even if it doesn’t draw people to the marathon, that doesn’t mean that those same people won’t decide to visit the island later.

“News like this is great, especially in today’s economy,” Conklin said.

Slowik said he didn’t know what exact criteria was used for the contest, but wasn’t surprised that the island’s scenery was highlighted. It’s the chief reason the marathon has been such a success and why the city decided to purchase it from event founder John Kaiser in 2009 for $50,000.

The marathon, which started in 2001, grew by leaps and bounds with about 500 participating the first year to a peak of 2,366 in 2008. That was the first year the course’s finish line was diverted from Coupeville due to restrictions imposed by the state Department of Transportation.

A section of the course on Highway 20 near Madrona Way, which was widely considered the most scenic part of the course, was deemed too dangerous. While some contend that the change hurt the marathon’s popularity, as participation in 2009 shrank to 1,617, other’s claim it had more to do with the economy.

Slowik said he believes the course still has a lot to offer, such as the segment on Ice House Road along the Crescent Harbor shoreline.

That section of beach has never been developed and looks the same as it did 100 years ago, he said. Event planner and coordinator Karen Crouch, who is also an Oak Harbor administrative assistant, confirmed that race numbers did grow in 2010 to 1,850.

Although she couldn’t say just what the review may mean for the marathon’s future, like Conklin, she surmised that it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

“The whole idea is to bring people here and this will certainly help,” Crouch said.

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