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home > races/results > usa: oregon > the portland marathon continually improves

The Portland Marathon continually improves
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. 7 and experience for yourself the "best people's marathon in the West."

The Portland Marathon continually improves

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By Mark Behan
Posted Friday, 13 July, 2007

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 this "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 36th 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 the 70 or so members of the Portland Marathon race committee make pounding the pavement for 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 playing music 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 implement them at the Portland Marathon.

"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 or 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 - Team Smith's game-, er, race-plan appears to be working with aplomb. Runner's World notes, "Perhaps more than any other running event in the country, this race (the Portland Marathon) keeps evolving, keeps getting better."

Race day
You know the Portland Marathon will be a well run, well organized event (see above), but what should a runner or walker expect race day, Oct. 7, in Oregon's most populous city?

First off, 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 music on the course - lots of it, and all different types, too, ranging from rock to a brass fanfare to street performers to a mandolin orchestra to two 18-piece big bands and more.

"Last year 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 also lined the course last year adding even more festiveness 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. Last year nearly 58 percent of the marathon finishers were female, said Smith.

"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."

In 2004 nearly 32 percent of the marathon finishers posted a personal-best time. So, expect a fast time - you already know you are going to have a good time! - on a perfect day to run/walk (average temperatures 50-60 degrees) on a cool course.

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.

"There are some great views of the city, old railroads, the water and Forest Park, which is huge. And the St. Johns Bridge is beautiful," Smith said. He also said 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.")

The race's course records are held by Uli Steid (1997) 2:17:21 and Hiromi Yakoyama (1991) 2:36:39. Masters record holders are Larry Almberg (1987) 2:26:03 and Nancy Hinkel (1995) 2:49:30.

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, awards ceremony and more.

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. The Hilton will be home of the race expo on Oct. 5 and 6 and also the post-race party and awards ceremony on Oct. 7.

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."

To contact the Hilton, call 1-503-226-1611 or visit

A happening place
From the Pearl District, which "jumps," said Smith, with its thriving community of artists' lofts, urban parks, galleries and restaurants, to Powell's Books, a renowned chain of bookstores in the Portland metropolitan area, to a hip downtown, "The City of Roses" (named such for its many rose gardens) is a happening place and an easy place to navigate, said Smith.

"We are a destination marathon," Smith said. "This is a safe and wonderful city with so much to do."

And to see what Smith speaks of, visit the official tourism and meeting website for Portland, Oregon:

Come to the Portland Marathon
From the "friendliest, best organized, most family-oriented races in the country" (Runner's World) to "one of the top three marathons to do as a first marathon" (Ultimate Guide to Marathons) to "race with the coolest idea on its website's home page” (Yours Truly - check out the 'Where in the world did you wear your finisher shirt?' contest at, the Portland Marathon has received kudos, deservedly so.

Even with the rave reviews, 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. So come run or walk the Portland Marathon on Oct. 7, where not only a fantastic time awaits you but where "All finishers are treated as winners!"

For information on all aspects of the 36th annual Portland Marathon, including on-line registration, volunteer opportunities, and donating to charity, visit the race's website:



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