Half marathon runners confused

The throng of runners start up the hill on Heller Road, headed  through the intersection with Whidbey Avenue at  the start of Sunday’s  half  marathon race.  - Tim Adams/Whidbey News-Times
The throng of runners start up the hill on Heller Road, headed through the intersection with Whidbey Avenue at the start of Sunday’s half marathon race.
— image credit: Tim Adams/Whidbey News-Times

Scenic views, but course run backwards

Sunday’s running of the seventh annual Nature’s Path Whidbey Island Marathon had its problems right from the beginning of the race.

The start of the half marathon in front of Hillcrest Elementary School on Heller Road was delayed nearly 15 minutes due to “problems on the course,” but that was only a harbinger of things to come.

After Oak Harbor mayor Jim Slowik’s invocation, followed by the countdown, the throng of runners headed south on the highway and up the hill, following the shiny blue motorcycle complete with a sidecar that was displayed at the high school during Saturday’s registration, and billed as the “lead vehicle.”

However, someone apparently failed to inform the motorcycle’s driver of the way the course was laid out and he made a wrong turn.

That’s right, a wrong turn, and a number of runners followed right along behind him.

After that things got ugly, to the displeasure of some of the runners and volunteer personnel who were working the event and trying to make it go smoothly.

“It was a zoo out there, there were runners running into each other,” Sheriff Mark Brown said. “It was a real mess. We also had some complaints from people who said they couldn’t get home from church right away.”

Veteran distance runner Amy Bolles from Coupeville said she was one of the runners who went the wrong way on the course. “We ran the race in reverse and there were no mile markers,” she said. “I think the course we ran was a little bit longer, but I’m not sure. “I liked the new course, but that hill on West Beach Road was a killer.”

The weather took a turn for the worse, going from sunny and warm on Saturday to windy and chilly on race day.

The stiff wind prevented Nature’s Path staff and volunteers from setting up the traditional finish-line arch and the set up crew had a difficult time keeping the banner on the awards platform from being blown down.

On top of that, before the majority of the full marathon runners finished the race, the sky above Wildcat Memorial Stadium opened up and it began to rain.

Some participants commented it would have been nice if the event could have been moved up a day and started on Saturday, but it might have been a problem trying to contact all the runners to inform them the race date had been changed.

Despite the glitches most everyone said they had a great time running on the new course and three of four winners had never participated in the Whidbey Island Marathon before, so the course alterations made no difference to them.

First across the finish line in the half marathon was Michael Connelly from Seattle.

“I haven’t run the course before, this is my first time, and I enjoyed it.” he said. “It is a nice course, there were some hills and you didn’t quite know what to expect. I had a good time.”

Finishing second among the men in the half marathon was Issaquah’s Jim Elwell, another first-time runner.

“The course was hilly, very hilly,” he said. “It was scenic with a lot of things to look at along the way and I particularly liked the water views. The course was tough, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot.”

Finishing in first place in the women’s half marathon was Christine Knight-Hauger, who came over from Grangeville, Idaho, for the race. Knight-Hauger, who is half owner of a gym with her mother, was also running the race for the first time.

“Some of my girlfriends from Grangrville planned on doing it, so I told them I wanted to go to Whidbey Island. I pretty much invited myself along and they were gracious enough to let me come with them,” she said with a smile. “Right now, they are still out on the course kicking.”

Knight-Hauger, who does triathlons and dualathlons along with personal training with her job, said there were some beautiful views on the Whidbey Island course.

“It was nice, but I think they took us the wrong way I guess,” she said. “It was a nice course but I was confused because we overlapped together.”

Half marathon runners came from all over the Pacific Northwest and Canada, and some from as far away as southern California.

Suzanne McKinley and her friend, Laurie Hansen, flew in from San Diego to run the race. The veteran half marathon runners have competed in the Carlsbad Marathon in previous years, but this was the first time at the Whidbey Island race.

“My father-in-law lives here on the island so we decided to come up,” Hansen said.

“It was a great course with rolling hills and great scenery,” McKinley said.

Aaron Coe, who completed the full marathon in a time of 2 hours and 40 minutes to finish in first place, got intermingled with some of the runners who were still doing the half marathon.

A student at Portland State University, where he is completing his masters degree in history, Coe said this was his first time competing in the event.

Coe said he is originally from the Salinas, Calif., area and ran cross country when he was a student at Willamette University in Oregon.

“I’m 25 now and I used up all my eligibility, but I still do some running,” he said. “I like the Whidbey Island course very much. It was hard but very pretty.”

Winning the women’s half of the full marathon was Tacoma veterinarian Annie Thiessen who competed with her running partner, Russ Dierke.

Thiessen said in her practice, she specializes in treating cats and horses.

“Russ is a doctor, too, a neurologist. He works on my head and I work on his race horse,” she said with a laugh.

Thiessen said she ran the Whidbey Island Marathon two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the new course.

“I loved it, it was a very tough and challenging course,” she said. “It’s a difficult one but beautiful. I love it.”

Dierke said Thiessen has run in several other marathons this year.

“Last week, she won the marathon in Yakima and a few weeks ago, she beat me by over an hour in a 50k event,” he said.

Despite all the problems, the 2008 Whidbey Marathon had the largest number of entrants in history and race organizers expect next year to be even bigger.

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