EUGENE, Ore. – When exchange student Chikana Iida came to the University of Oregon from Tokyo last fall to study law, she never expected that a 26.2 mile marathon would be part of her experience in Eugene.
“I’m physically exhausted, but mentally not that tired,” said Iida after crossing the finish line at Hayward Field. “The audience was really encouraging. When I was about to finish, I was almost crying because I was so happy.”
Iida and 8,500 others participated in the sixth annual Eugene Marathon on Sunday, an event that drew thousands of people to watch runners and walkers take on the 5k, the half 13.1 mile, and the full 26.2 mile races. The marathon started and ended at UO’s Hayward Field on 15th and Agate Street. The full 26.2 mile route snaked throughout districts of Springfield and Eugene and along a stretch of the Willamette River. The half 13.1 route made a loop through southern Eugene.
According to event coordinator Tate Kelley, the marathon brings in a diverse pool of participants, generally aged from about 13 to 70 years old. They come from nearly every state and from many countries around the world.
“The marathon has a big economic impact on Eugene,” Kelley said. “The people who come from out of town and out of state stay in the hotels and eat in the restaurants. We bring in millions to the local economy.”
Kelley said such economic benefits are increased by the sheer volume of participants, their families, friends and supporters. For each of the 8,500 runners, Kelley said an average of two people come to show support. Although the marathon staff don’t make an official headcount of onlookers along the marathon route, Kelley estimated that about 10,000-15,000 people come to watch each year.
Kaylee Lewis, a senior English major at UO who ran the half marathon Sunday, said these numbers show that the marathon is a community-building event. “It’s good not only to show off our campus, but also to bring together a lot people from different backgrounds,” Lewis said. “Everyone is brought closer together by doing something difficult like this.”
For others, the marathon was a way to connect with family and friends. Taryn Inglis, a UO sophomore majoring in international studies and Japanese, participated in last year’s marathon with her father.
“I thought it would be a good bonding experience for me and my dad,” Inglis said. “It would be a new challenge. I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, so it was a first step.”
This family bonding came at a price, however. Those who were able to register early paid about $60-$90 to participate. Participants who waited to register had to pay up to $120.
Iida says that this is expensive, but still worth the experience. In Tokyo where she attends university, Iida says marathons are free, but limited. Runners are selected randomly, and only a set number is accepted to run annually, meaning that many people are unable to participate.
“I wanted to be able to say that I could complete it,” Iida said. “It’s kind of a unique experience, so if I finished, I felt like I could tell people in Japan.” Iida, who aspires to become a TV reporter in Japan, said that such an accomplishment what set her apart from many of her peers, a desirable trait when job hunting.
“There is a famous broadcaster in Japan who did a marathon in about 5 hours,” Iida said. “I wanted to show that I could do better than her and impress my possible future employers.”
Iida completed her first 26.2 mile marathon in 4 hours and 16 minutes, beating her personal goal. Iida, Lewis and Inglis all said that in a long distance race like this, the last few miles are the toughest.
“The last five miles were horrible,” Iida said. “I had a stitch in my side, but I knew I was almost there, so I knew I could do it.” Iida said maintaining physical resolve and energy to keep going was challenging.
Lewis said that she had to will herself to make it through the last few miles: “It’s harder mentally than physically,” Lewis said. “But I’m really stubborn. You’ve got to keep going. Now that I’ve done it once, I think I could do it again.”
Many provisions and supports were in place to help runners maintain this determination. According to Kelley, water stations were set up approximately every two miles, each operated by volunteers and staff people. If a participant collapsed, medical station attendants and volunteers were always ready to assist.
“We, the staff, try to have our interns and volunteers keyed into every area,” Kelley said. “This way, the staff on our team can float around and put out fires.”
Kelley said that with an event of this scale, it is inevitable to have problems occur.
“There’s always something that comes up.” Kelley said. “But luckily it hasn’t ever been anything that we can’t handle.”
Video clip of the race from start to finish.