Downtown Vancouver was abuzz with activity last weekend as marathoners and other runners, accompanied by friends and family members, filled city streets, parks and restaurants for the second annual Vancouver USA Marathon.
It didn't hurt that downtown hosted a "Who's Your Daddy" beer festival and the usual Farmer's Market, or that Father's Day brought another good reason for families to dine out. On the other hand, it didn't help that the Spartan Sprint obstacle course running event was held the same weekend in Washougal, or that Portland's new Rock & Roll Half Marathon, held just a few weeks ago, siphoned off some distance runners.
Business promoters and business owners were delighted with the energy and the spending power of the weekend throngs. The energy started picking up Friday with music and activities at Esther Short Park and a runners' expo at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, where runners could shop and enjoy food and drink. It continued through family-oriented and hard-core running events Saturday and Sunday.
"I've never seen this downtown so alive," said Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver's Downtown Association, a business booster organization Throughout the weekend, "the runners and their fans brought a happy expectancy to our downtown, and they were celebrating," she said. "It was great."
Brian C. Davis, the marathon's race director, said many runners arrived at the Hilton on Wednesday and stayed through the weekend. "It was good for me to see the city abuzz, to see all the people down there," he said. "When you go to these things, you want action. You want things going on."
Eric Walters, general manager of the Hilton Vancouver Washington, said the hotel was fully booked on Saturday night, mostly with runners and their families. While the hotel sometimes fills up for conventions held at the Hilton, the marathon is "one of our larger (community) events," Walters said.
But as runners competed against each other on Vancouver streets, the young marathon finds itself battling for attention as fitness events have proliferated in the metropolitan area. Organizers say Vancouver's event probably was hurt by the nearby Spartan Sprint event, being held in the Northwest for the first time, and the May 20 Rock & Roll Half Marathon, a Portland Rose Festival event that drew some 11,000 participants.
The Vancouver USA Marathon website shows 566 finishers for the full marathon and 1,151 for the half-marathon, down from 800 marathoners and 1,427 half-marathon runners in 2011.
"There's exponential growth of new events coming into the market," said Dave Sobolik, owner of the Fit Right Northwest running stores, which is sponsoring some 80 athletic events this year. Sobolik, who oversaw the marathon's expo event at the Hilton, said many long-distance runners will train for one big event in a season.
Still, Sobolik said the Vancouver Marathon won rave reviews from participants and is building a foundation that can accommodate much larger crowds in the future. He said he liked the energy that the event brought to downtown, where his company will soon open one of its stores, and sees plenty of opportunity for the event to become a strong local event for the region, and especially for people who live in Clark County.
"Clark County residents really want to support one another," says Sobolik, who lives in Camas.
Davis is already thinking about next year: The marathon has 100 runners signed up thanks to an early-bird special.