Top 6 Races in the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is a great place to run. If you can deal with a little more rain in the winter months, temperatures year-round are pretty ideal for training and racing. According to U.S. Climate Data, the average summertime high for Portland, Oregon is just above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while average winter low temperatures hang out in the upper 30s. The proximity to national parks, forestlands, and other green spaces also gives runners a plethora of choices for training runs.
Washington and Oregon also have a strong, runner-centric culture that has led to the development of large running clubs, a great selection of specialty running shops, and of course, iconic races. Here are the top 6 races in the Pacific Northwest that you won’t want to miss.
The Eugene Marathon is the quintessential Pacific Northwest race. Traversing much of Eugene’s beautiful urban green space, this course is fast and flat — many runners come here looking for a Boston Qualifying time. Usually held the first weekend in May, you can expect cool temperatures with highs in the 60s. The half marathon and full marathon combined draw over 5,000 runners each year, and both finish on the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field, where Steve Prefontaine once ran.
The finish festival is also unrivaled: Eugene’s sponsor, Krusteaz, serves up a giant pancake breakfast where runners can eat to their hearts content while listening to local bands perform on the festival stage. For those over 21, Eugene’s own Ninkasi Brewing sets up a beer garden for racers to quench their post-run thirst.
The race weekend also includes a 5k and kid’s fun run, a two-day Health and Fitness expo and evening yoga. This year race organizers also gave runners and volunteers complimentary access to the University of Oregon’s Twilight Track and Field meet at Hayward Field. Registration and information is available here.
The Tunnel Marathons
North Bend, Washington
The Tunnel Marathons are actually a series of three races held in June, August and September: Light at the End of the Tunnel, Tunnel Vision and Tunnel Light. Set in the mountains near North Bend, Washington (less than an hour east of Seattle) the course has a net drop of 2,000 feet of elevation. The course also takes runners through its namesake: a two-mile long train tunnel cut right into the side of a mountain. Don’t worry, there aren’t any trains here anymore – the tracks were converted into multi-use trail years ago. This is a notoriously fast course, too, so if you’re looking for a Boston Qualifier race or a race to chase after a crazy ambitious goal, look no further. On average, 30 percent of runners tend to snag a BQ here. More information and registration are available here.
The Portland Marathon was first held in 1972 and has been held every year since, though runners are just beginning to discover everything this race has to offer. Runner’s World has called Portland “The best people’s marathon in the West,” while Ultimate Guide to Marathons has listed the Portland Marathon as “The best organized Marathon in North America” and “One of the top 3 marathons to do as a first marathon.”
The beauty of the course is beyond compare: runners traverse Portland’s waterfront and the historic downtown, and then later cross the iconic St. John’s bridge over the Willamette River. The course is friendly to walkers, too, and has an 8-hour cutoff for those who want to walk the full 26.2 miles. Registration and information available here.
Beat the Blerch
Matthew Inman, creator of the popular online comic “The Oatmeal” loves to run. In addition to creating inspirational and hilarious illustrations about running, he hosts his own racess in Carnation, Washington every year. The Beat the Blerch races include a 10k, half marathon and full marathon and follow an out-and-back course that winds through tall, majestic evergreens and rolling farmland. All races are held on both Saturday or Sunday, so you can run either, or both. Runners who come to “Beat the Blerch” every year enjoy the goofy atmosphere, free race photos and cake – yes, cake – at every aid station. Inman also hosts a holiday fun run in Seattle’s Greenlake neighborhood in December every year. Registration and more information for both races can be found here.
Vancouver USA Marathon
This race is held in the “other” Vancouver in Southwest Washington, just north of Portland. The Vancouver USA Marathon is really a giant festival that happens to include a marathon and half marathon. Other activities include cycle tours, a weekend-long active expo, cycle tours and a three-day Oktoberfest celebration. This year’s event also includes an easy, fun run with the one and only Bart Yasso on the Friday before the festival.
The festival is held in mid-September, which means the weather is pretty much guaranteed to be perfect. If you register in advance, the marathon is only $85 (the half marathon is $70), which is a pretty good deal considering that also gets you three-day entry into the weekend’s Oktoberfest and expo. More information and registration is available here.
If you’re looking for a beautiful race that offers more of a challenge, consider the the Chuckanut 50k , which traverses the beautiful, tree-lined Interurban Trail in Bellingham, Washington. The middle 30k has made this race famous: it drags runners over 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss as they venture out along Chuckanut Mountain Ridge. The race just celebrated its 25th anniversary and is sponsored by some big name outdoor brands, including Patagonia, Vasque and Gore-tex. All sponsors contribute $500 to the race purse, which was $4,500 this year. Sponsors also contribute some awesome prizes for age group winners in each 10-year division including gift certificates, clothing, shoes, packs and more! And for the past few years, there’s been a photo booth at the start/finish line, where runners can goof off and have a bit of fun. More information available here.
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