Fair weather brings droves to new Langley Half Marathon routes

A group of racers heads out on the streets in Langley. Pictured are South End racing regulars Peter Oakley, Kurt Warwick (M2) and Scott Warwick (336). On the right are women’s first-place finisher Janelle Ralph (114) and overall winner Maxwell Ferguson (M1).  - David Welton photo,
A group of racers heads out on the streets in Langley. Pictured are South End racing regulars Peter Oakley, Kurt Warwick (M2) and Scott Warwick (336). On the right are women’s first-place finisher Janelle Ralph (114) and overall winner Maxwell Ferguson (M1).
— image credit: David Welton photo,

A lot of sunshine and a couple of new courses brought hundreds to the Langley Half Marathon last weekend.

About 100 more people participated in the events. Race organizer Matt Simms said the increased number of racers resulted from the 80-degree weather and the addition of a 4-mile and a 7-mile course, in addition to the 10 kilometer run/walk and 13.1-mile half marathon. The two middle distances were added late in the season, about six weeks before the race July 8 in Langley.

“Typically in the past we’ve had someone come who’s trained in the half marathon distances and they come with someone who either doesn’t come along or is a spectator,” Simms said. “We told people they can run them, they can walk them. As soon as we did that, we had people signing up.”

That included about 50 people who registered the morning of the race. A total of 264 racers competed overall: 133 in the half marathon, 29 in the 10k walk, 58 in the 7-mile and 44 in the 4-mile. For Simms and the other crew of volunteer organizers, any increase in the number of competitors is welcome, and when it bumped by 100 they were thrilled. Given their limited ability to finance a marketing campaign, Simms attributed the event’s success to its reputation and course that takes participants from downtown Langley through trails and roads to Saratoga and back. And when they return, the Choochokam Festival greets the racers with its music, food, arts, shopping and, as was the case this year, sunshine.

“It’s not like we have a staff of people looking at how we can better market the race,” Simms said.

“There’s a nice, mutually beneficial relationship that comes with Choochokam and the city of Langley.”

All the heat can slow competitive racers seeking personal best times. That and the “gently rolling hills,” which despite the race website’s advertisement, are about as gentle as a back scratch on the barnacle-covered seawalls below First Street in Langley.

“Our course is not at all flat. It’s got quite a significant total elevation change,” Simms said of the USA Track and Field-certified half marathon course.

“There’s some cache associated with these hills that’s brought people back, even though it’s tougher.”

Even those hills have turned into a selling point for die-hard racers, including those not from Whidbey Island. Maxwell Ferguson, the overall winner, was a second-time racer and returned for more slope punishment. Ferguson, 26, had a slower time than last year, but not by much at 1:16:58.6. Kurt Warwick, of Clinton, finished right behind the Ravensdale, Wash. resident in second place. The 23-year-old Clinton resident finished in 1:20:55.6.

The first women’s finisher was Janelle Ralph, 30, of Gold Hill. She finished in 1:38:22.4, which put her 11th overall. The next women’s finisher was Stephanie Gundel of Seattle in 1:40:49.2

How much money was brought in has about a month before the figure is final, but Simms estimated about $2,500 from this year. Organizers of the race put all profits toward the South Whidbey Parks and Aquatics Foundation, which subsidizes swimming classes for the parks district and purchases equipment. Building a public pool on the South End is the foundation’s overall goal, though in the meantime getting kids in the water and learning to swim will suffice. In the past four years since the foundation received its nonprofit status, the race raised $10,000.

“They’ve been able to establish these aquatics programs even without a public pool,” Simms said.

Next year, the race committee aims to recruit 500 racers in its four courses. The plan, Simms said, is to follow-up with this year’s participants, ask for feedback and encourage them to return.

“The feedback, informal feedback face-to-face, was the people absolutely loved it,” he said.

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