The 26.2 mile race known as the
Seattle Marathon is held every year on the Sunday after
Thanksgiving. At this time of year, runners should be
prepared to be cold and wet, although they have a good chance at clear
skies too. I've run this race in 2003 and
2005. It was sunny both
years, despite rainy weather the preceding Saturdays. The wind is also
a big factor since much of the race is on the shore of or
on a bridge in the middle of Lake Washington. This year the wind was
mild, while in 2003 there was a brutally strong north wind.
The first Seattle Marathon was run in 1970. 38 crossed the starting
line, and 31 crossed the finish line. Now several thousand participate
in several events held on Marathon Day.
A 13.1 half-marathon race is organized
concurrently with the 26.2 mile marathon running race. One can
also get a head start if one wants to walk either course.
To get an idea of the turnout for a typical Seattle marathon,
let's look at this year's finishers.
1385 men and 728 women finished the marathon, while
2405 men and 3337 women ran and finished the half-marathon. About
200 people walked the marathon and 1000 walked half-marathon, with
women making up over 80% of the walkers. There were 2 participants
in the hand-crank wheelchair division.
Most of the course is flat -- much of it is along Lake Washington --
however there are a couple tough hills starting after 19 miles.
The start is next to and finish is in Memorial Stadium
at the Seattle Center, in the shadow of the Space Needle.
Runners go through downtown, south along 5th Ave, following
the monorail tracks for some distance. (This year
the 2 monorail trains actually
collided the night before the marathon, so we could see them smooshed
together above us.) The city turns over the Interstate 90 express
lane to the marathon, and runners take the I-90 floating
bridge across Lake Washington to Mercer Island, where we make a u-turn
and go back to Seattle. The wind can be
oppressive while on the bridge.
After returning from Mercer Island and Lake Washington,
the course turns south and follows the lake along a scenic road to
Seward Park, a wooded faux-island. The course follows the 2.5 mile
perimeter and then retreats north back toward the I-90
Here the marathoners join up with the half-marathoners who skipped
the bridge and the southern excursion to Seward Park. The course still
parallels the coast of Lake Washington past the very fancy houses
in the Madrona neighborhood, and starts to be a little more rolling.
The shit really hits the fan, though, as soon
as we make a sharp left on to Galer Street, which might as well just
have stairs. This short, steep hill is followed by a long, uphill
grade for 1 mile up Madison St. The right turn toward the arboretum
couldn't be more welcoming, as the hills start to roll, giving us at
least 50% of the time flat or downhill. The course goes through
another beautiful wooded section on Interlaken Blvd. which affords
some nice views north, across Portage Bay toward the University of
Washington and North Seattle. After skirting northern Capitol Hill,
we run near and over Interstate 5 and head back toward the
Space Needle. Coming down from the I-5 overpass, one is tempted
to think that it's all downhill from here, but there is a pernicious
dip as Mercer St. goes under Aurora Blvd. The uphill back to
street level is heartbreaking as one strains, and fails, to make out
the richly anticipated 26 mile marker. It is there, just over the
summit, and seeing it gives one enough of an adrenaline boost to put a
little spring in one's step for the spectators inside Memorial Stadium.
The 100 yards to the end zone, and the finish line, don't seem quite
as bad after all.