Walla Walla Marathon brings a crowd

About 285 runners participate in the marathon, half- marathon, 10K or 1-mile.

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Medals wait for Walla Walla Marathon runners at the finish line in Pioneer Park.

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Mary Smart of Portland crosses the finish line in the Walla Walla half-marathon Sunday.

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Walla Walla's Thomas Woodley, left, rounds the final turn of the first Walla Walla Marathon.

WALLA WALLA - Five hours before the Marine air horn blasted, starting the inaugural Walla Walla Marathon Sunday morning, event coordinator Dan Elsom knew this event would end more than just OK, even with forecasted rain.

At 3 a.m. Sunday morning, Elsom and a few other volunteers were busy laying out cones on a 13-mile course, which stretched from Pioneer Park to Old Milton Highway and back. The marathon runners would have to run the course twice.

"I was out here setting up cones and then I looked up and started seeing stars and I said, ‘Wow, this might be great,'" Elsom said.

For the most part, everything was great for the marathon, which started at 8 a.m. Close to 50 marathon runners and another 235 half-marathon, 10K and 1-mile course child runners set off early with only one snafu.

"Everything went off really well, other than sending the half-marathon runners off five minutes early," Elsom said.

For Elsom, the event was a success, especially when he thought he would have only 150 runners total. But this isn't the first time he and his wife, Paula, have coordinated a major athletic event in the Valley.

In 1993, the couple started the Onion Man Triathlon. Seventeen years later, Elsom's triathlon now caps out at 300 participants, and numerous others are turned away for lack of competitors' slots.

But numbers don't always equate to success, noted marathon runner Charles Cutting.

"It depends on your objective. Do you want to do a marathon that is beautiful? Or do you want to participate in an event with thousands of runners," he said, pointing out he has run in the crowded New York and Chicago marathons.

In fact, you might call Cutting a bit of a marathon expert. Not only has he ran a marathon in each of the 50 United States, the 72-year-old Hayden, Idaho, resident who started running marathons in 1981 ran his 193rd marathon in Walla Walla on Sunday.

And what Cutting looks forward to most in these later days of running is finishing, soft ground and someone to encourage or commiserate with along the way.

"I think it is helpful if you have people to go along with you so you can talk, and you are not so aware that your feet are sweating and hurting," Cutting said. And he also added that he was not looking forward to a particularly hard stretch of concrete road along Old Milton Highway.

"I do not like running on concrete, you would be surprised how much you can tell the difference," he said.

Though Sunday's run was officially the first marathon for Elsom to coordinate, the event may not have been the first in Walla Walla. A handful of older volunteers and spectators said they seemed to recall another Walla Walla marathon decades ago, but weren't certain.

One thing that was certain: The quintessential test of endurance of 26.2 miles no longer takes the gold when it comes to similar community sporting events, and it vies for silver or bronze when compared to other tests of endurance like the Onion Man or the Tour of Walla Walla.

"Things have changed over the years. Marathons used to be the ultimate goal. Then the triathlon started and marathon runners stared switching over," Cutting said.

So with a successful triathlon already under his feet, why did Elsom start a marathon?

"I just felt like Walla Walla needed a marathon. It's a great area," Elsom said.

And with 192 marathons under his feet, why did Cutting choose to run in Walla Walla on Sunday?

"I ... want to make it to 200 marathons," he said, noting that there aren't too many other marathons on this side of the Cascades.

Like the Onion Man, Elsom plans to make the Walla Walla Marathon a yearly event. And as for that one other ultimate test of endurance, which is a derivative of the triathlon known as the Ironman, that might be too much of a strain for Elsom to attempt. Then again, maybe not.

"It hasn't been that I haven't thought of it, but I just want to get through this thing," he said.

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