As the new year approaches, it’s a great time for runners to consider signing up for something new. And if you haven’t tried the Whidbey Island Half Marathon, you should. The date for the 2015 race is set for Sunday, April 19, 2015 which is about the time of year that the weather begins to improve around here. During the years that I’ve participated, the ownership, leadership and more often than not, course have changed. Although I miss the beauty of the old Oak Harbor to Coupeville route, with breathtaking views of land and sea, I appreciate the consistent-for-the-past-two-years and only slightly less scenic course that starts and ends at the same place: Windjammer Park (City Beach to the locals), which is great for runners and spectators alike due to plenty of parking, open space, and a the chance to see half marathoners three times (start, past midway mark and finish). In 2010, total participation in all races was about 2,000 runners, which decreased steadily the following three years. Last year’s combined race participants totaled 2,750 persons, which was attributed primarily to an…ahem…slightly controversial decrease in race entry fees.
Race conditions are typically cool (40s), breezy, rainy or, most likely, all three. The race start and finish is near the entrance of the park. Runners hit the biggest hill of the race (elevation just over 200 feet) within the first mile as they head east, then north up Midway Drive, east along Whidbey Ave and then north along Regatta Drive. The middle of the course is the easiest part with a downhill section along Crescent Harbor Road that eventually passes through a Navy housing area and continues on to and through the Seaplane Base (the pavement gets pretty bumpy at about mile 6) where it exits, just after a small but noticeable hill, near Pioneer Way. The NAS Whidbey base commander typically supports the race in some way (last year Captain Nortier handed me a cup of water at the on base aid station, another year, Captain David cheered folks on). Runners pass the start area on their way to the consistently toughest part of the course: Scenic Heights Road, which, although less of an incline than the initial hill, feels like climbing a cliff with 9.5 miles completed. Thankfully, once runners hit Miller Street and head down the hill, they’re home free.
Coolest thing ever: they’ve created a a video of the course. Next best: in my experience, the race (save for an occasional snafu like in 2008 when the lead motorcycle led runners the wrong way) has been well-supported by volunteers and well-organized. Worst: the t-shirts, which, except for the first time I participated (in 2008), when Nature’s Path sponsored the race and someone came up with this solid colored forest green style, they are consistently the ugliest race t-shirts around, so ugly, in fact, that I donated all five of mine (2009-2013) to the local thrift shop.
In 2014, they tried to shake things up with this strange design that boasts only one redeeming quality, it’s more fitted than the box-like t-shirts of past years. I’m holding on to it for now.
After the race, runners hang around to refuel, listen to live music and watch the kids participate in the 1 K fun run. Find more information about the race at the Whidbey Island and Half Marathon web site.