HOOD RIVER — Of the more than 500 competitors at Sunday’s fifth-annual Columbia River Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon, only a small handful of them could be considered locals.
But, although a mere 25-30 Mid Columbia runners participated in the race, it still had plenty of local flavor.
“The reason this year’s race was such a huge success was the support from all the local volunteers,” said Big Red Lizard race coordinator Kevin Foreman, who counted nearly 150 tireless volunteers from Hood River to The Dalles; Portland to White Salmon.
“The race has sort of a unique appeal for runners from all over because the Gorge is such a beautiful place. Even though we attract most of the competitors from outside the area, it’s still very much a community event,” he said.
Foreman estimated that last weekend’s event brought upwards of 1,000 people to the Gorge and infused nearly a half million dollars into the local economy. The race attracted people from 29 states and seven countries, and continues to improve every year. He said that with the growth trends and additional activities, it could attract as many as 1,000 participants in 2003.
Some local runners, like long-time half marathon participant Kristen Uhler, believe the race can only keep getting better with time.
“This is the ideal place for a race like this,” said the Hood River Valley High School girls cross-country and track distance coach. “It’s fun and very well organized and it brings a lot of money and recognition to the area.”
Uhler was the top local women’s finisher in the half marathon, taking seventh place in a field of 157 with a time of 1 hour, 38 minutes, 40 seconds.
“I was really hoping to win the Master’s title this year,” she said. “I’m a little disappointed. But I didn’t rest or taper my runs, so I feel OK with it. It’s kind of tough getting slower, though.”
But despite not achieving her best time — she used to run the 13-mile half-marathon distance in about 1:24 — Uhler took away plenty of positives from Sunday’s race. Most notably, she was ecstatic about the performance of one of her high-school proteges, Scott Becker.
On the heels of a solid track and field campaign, the HRV senior was the first local runner to complete the half marathon, crossing the line in 1:23:56 to earn 10th place overall and first in his age group.
“I’m really proud of Scott,” Uhler said. “To finish in the top 10 on a training run is pretty amazing. He has a great work ethic and is really going to blossom once he gets to college.”
Becker plans to attend Southern Oregon University in Ashland next fall, and will continue to run in distance events throughout the summer to keep himself on course for the rigors of collegiate track and field.
“Right now I’m just focusing on staying in shape,” said Becker, who won the unofficial Hood River Cup, which is awarded each year to the top local finisher. “This was more of a training run for me — mostly for fun — but I am starting to think ahead to the fall.”
Becker’s father, Steve, also ran the half marathon Sunday and finished in 34th place with a time of 1:37:02.
“I’ve been running pretty consistently for the past five or six years, and my goal is to get in shape for the Boston Marathon,” the senior Becker said. “I wasn’t up for the challenge of running the full marathon this year, though. It’s a pretty hilly course and I commend those who were able to finish it.”
Three local runners — Kathleen Welland of Parkdale, Ali Hilden of Hood River and Dan Menard of Lyle — attempted and conquered the 26-mile course, which began at The Dalles Racquet and Court Club and finished at Port Marina Park in Hood River.
“It was a pretty tough course this year,” said Welland, who finished eighth in the women’s field with a time of 3:44:05. “The headwinds were the strongest I’ve ever experienced. But I loved the course and was very impressed by all the volunteer support.”
Welland has run in each of the five Columbia Gorge Marathons, along with Hilden, who finished ninth with a time of 3:48:14. Menard has also been a fixture in the race results the past few years, winning the event in 2000 and 2001 before taking second overall this year with a time of 2:55:10.
Another long-time local participant competing this year was Leslie Cogswell, who ran the half marathon in 2:05:07. Cogswell is a breast cancer survivor and has been involved with the event as a competitor or volunteer since its inception.
“The first year, I ran the marathon on the old route, but the last couple years, I felt that the 13 miles was a big enough push,” she said. “I had a real purpose the first year, but these days I just like to be out there. It’s very special for me and my family every year.”
Milestones or no milestones, the 2002 Columbia Gorge Marathon was a rousing success for everyone who participated. All but three people finished the race, giving Foreman and his fellow promoters plenty to brag about.
“We have one of the highest finishing rates of any marathon in the country,” he said. “A lot of that can be attributed to the world-class medical team headed up by Ted Forcum. But it’s also a testament to everyone who has contributed both time and energy over the years. We’re ecstatic.”
Another notable local name among the marathon finishers was Mike Gangwer, a former Parkdale resident who now lives in Alma, Mich. Gangwer completed his 100th marathon in 12 years on Sunday, and won the 45-49 year-old age group with a time of 3:16:23, good for 12th overall.