The roots of the Windermere Marathon go back to a time when Bob Cannon lived in Spokane Valley and jogged regularly on the Centennial Trail.
A native of the Midwest, Cannon moved to the Inland Northwest in 1989, right around the time work was being completed on the first stages of an ambitious 37-mile trail between the Idaho border and Nine Mile Falls beyond downtown Spokane. By 1991, the full pathway along the Spokane River was ready for runners, walkers and cyclists. The route would be known as the Centennial Trail in honor of Washington’s 100-year anniversary of statehood.
The third running of the Windermere Marathon and Half Marathon took place last Saturday. Around 14 miles of the 26.2-marathon course is situated in the greater Spokane Valley along the Centennial Trail. Photo by Craig Howard
That year, Cannon approached the board of directors with Bloomsday, Spokane’s signature 12K race launched in 1977, about the possibility of staging a marathon and half-marathon the day before their event.
The idea never got beyond the starting line.
“I wanted to run it on the Saturday of Bloomsday weekend,” Cannon said. “I presented it to the (Bloomsday) board, but it didn’t go over too well.”
An avid runner who ran his first marathon in 1985 at the age of 37, Cannon did not give up on the possibility. By 2007, the wheels were in motion again. This time, Cannon’s employer, Windermere Real Estate, would be on board.
The plan was to start the marathon in north Idaho and the half-marathon in Spokane Valley with both courses concluding in downtown Spokane at Riverfront Park. On May 12, 2009, the inaugural Windermere Marathon was held with around 940 participants.
In 2010, attendance jumped 37 percent to 1,491. A total of 862 actually completed the half-marathon while 362 runners covered the marathon distance.
The latest rendition of the race was held last Saturday on an unseasonably warm day that reached 80 degrees. Nearly 1,700 people participated.
“We’re really trying to promote this as a destination event,” Cannon said. “I think it’s helping bring people to Spokane.”
Approximately 14 miles of the marathon route takes place in the greater Spokane Valley area, from the fringe of Liberty Lake through the city of Spokane Valley and into Millwood. The half-marathon course begins at Mirabeau Point Park in Spokane Valley. One of the logistical challenges of the event is the point at which runners cross Argonne Road. The east/west thoroughfare was closed for 13 minutes straight last Saturday morning.
Cannon said the topography, which includes picturesque views of the Spokane River, the waterfall at Mirabeau Point, Gonzaga University and the downtown Spokane skyline, earns the event major aesthetic points.
“There are not many marathon routes that are this scenic,” he said.
Spokane Valley resident David Reese, who cruised to a 1:24 time in the half-marathon last year, was one to echo the appraisal.
“It’s easy to not think about how tired you are when you’re running along the river,” he said.
In addition to Cannon, the event is coordinated by an extensive network of over 30 committee chairs and nearly 500 volunteers who facilitate a variety of areas, from water stations to transportation.
“It takes a lot to put on a marathon,” Cannon said.
While the race lost money its first two years, Cannon said it appears the latest rendition should emerge in the black. Entry fees are still some of the lowest for an event of this kind, starting at an early-bird special of $65 for the half-marathon and $70 for the full.
Cannon compared the rates to the Portland Marathon which upped its cost from $100 to $130 this year.
After passing on the first running of Windermere in 2009, 73-year-old Robert Massey of Spokane has been out for the last two years, finishing the half-marathon in around two hours each time. A veteran of nearly every long-distance race held in the region, Massey said Windermere has made some significant strides in the opinion of the local race crowd.
“They really promote it,” said Massey, a graduate of East Valley High School. “This is already gaining a good reputation among runners.”