The Best PNW Marathons for Newbies

It’s a new year and many of us have our eyes on big goals to go farther or faster, start a strength routine or try some new cross training activities. If a marathon is on your list for this year there is certainly lots to consider before choosing one of the hundreds of events around the Pacific Northwest.

Most importantly, pick a marathon that fits realistically into your calendar. After considering work and family commitments throughout the year, decide how long a training block you need to prepare. Talking this over with a coach or an experienced friend might give you a good outside perspective of what kind of a plan you will need, but usually eighteen weeks is pretty standard, assuming you are healthy and have a decent running base.

When you’ve got a general time frame you can start looking at events based on location, weather, size, course difficulty, or even whether it’s a Boston qualifier if you’re inspired to challenge yourself! Do you want to wake up in your own home that morning or would it be fun to make a vacation with friends or family out of the event? Do you want crowds and hoopla along the way, with a traditional expo filled with vendors before the event? Or, do you prefer something more low key but that still boasts great volunteers and aid station support along the course?

Here are five great options that cover a whole spectrum of what you might want for a fantastic first marathon experience.

If you can train through the winter consistently and have the base for an early season event, the Yakima River Canyon Marathon held on April 2 in Selah, WA, offers “exceptionally scenic” views as it winds downstream along the Yakima river. Yes, downstream means the course has an overall elevation loss of 371 feet, although there appear to be a couple of rollers. With just under 200 runners last year, it is a low key event but comments from participants describe it as warm and welcoming to all levels. One of the host hotels runs shuttles to the start and finish lines, removing some concerns about logistics. Plus, the start isn’t until 8:00 am – a plus in my book! (www.databarevents.com)

The Eugene Marathon on April 28 might be one of the more well known events in the area, but certainly deserves to be included in this roundup. I had a personal best on the course a few years back, and can attest to the pancake flat course and awesome support all along the 26.2 miles. They provide plenty of pace groups you can tag along with to try to hit a time goal, but with all the participants you’ll also have no trouble making a friend to help push you through the distance. If you’ve never experienced a race with first-rate entertainment, miles of spectators lining the street and lots of finish line fanfare, Eugene will deliver. Because of the history of our sport in the town, there seems to be an added enthusiasm amongst the crowds, similar to Boston. Unfortunately, historic Hayward Field is under construction this year, but I’m sure the finish line at Autzen Stadium is just as exciting. Eugene also offers a half marathon, 5K and Kid’s Duck Dash which makes a great weekend for your whole family to participate in, if they want to be part of your inaugural marathon experience. There’s plenty of lodging near the start/finish and of course, no lack of great places to eat and drink before and after the race. (www.eugenemarathon.com)

For another more intimate event, which might be less intimidating for some, Boise’s Famous Idaho Potato Marathon on May 14 is a fun looking pick! It’s flat and fast for you speedsters. Put on by the local YMCA, the race entries hover around 200, which means you likely won’t get swallowed up in crowds of competitors or have trouble settling into your own pace. There are half marathon, 10K and 5K options as well, so bring family and friends who want to run something shorter. You can also register under their team option at a discounted rate if you can gather ten friends, coworkers or family members that will commit to training and running the event with you. Unique finish line treats include what else but a Famous Idaho Potato Bar to refuel. Yum! (www.ymcatvidaho.org)

The Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon, held July 30 and 31, is a fast gentle downhill course on one of Washington’s most scenic trails. It is hosted in North Bend, WA, which is located just 31 miles east of Seattle. This event is USATF Certified and a Boston Marathon qualifier. Runners are bused to Hyak from North Bend. A few miles into the event participants pass through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, runners then enjoy the next 23 miles down a gradual 2000 foot net drop on a hard-packed, shaded dirt/gravel road. The marathon is held both days so runners have the option to run on Saturday or Sunday. There is also a half marathon offered.

The Pacific Northwest Marathon, held on September 17, gives you a little more time to get some training in and won’t conflict with summer vacation plans. This course starts in Coburg, OR, about as close to sea level as you can get, and winds through the Willamette Valley’s farmland before finishing downriver in the town of Harrisburg. The organizers “focus on celebrating the small and big achievements of everyday folks” with free online and remote one-on-one training plans, inspiring speakers at the pre-race expo, and fun contests designed to motivate new runners to set goals, make plans and follow through. Race morning shuttles will pick you up from a couple of the host hotels and pace groups are available to keep you honest along the course. (www.pacificnorthwestmarathon.com)

Other great options to consider include: Coeur d’Alene Marathon (Coeur d’Alene, ID — May 29), Haulin’ Aspen Trail Marathon (Bend, OR — August 13), PeaceHealth Appletree Marathon (Vancouver, WA — September 18)

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Susan Barrows

Susan is a competitive ultra runner, aspiring bikepacker, coach, yoga instructor, and enthusiastic drinker of all things hoppy.