Editorial: Why Oregon Needs the Portland Marathon

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) believes the city is a better place because of the annual Portland Marathon. He should know—he's run it 28 times.

By Earl Blumenauer September 28, 2015

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This weekend, Portland will host a very special kind of convention—one that the city doesn’t have to spend money on to attract. It encourages locals to participate and enjoy, and even enriches local charities as well as the economy.

This convention is the Portland Marathon

The Portland Marathon has been the city’s largest three-day convention for the last 10 years. Now in its 44th year, the Marathon has evolved from a few hundred runners completing laps around Sauvie Island to an extraordinary weekend event featuring not just a marathon and half marathon, but also a fitness expo and festival for kids. This year alone, over 12,000 people will participate and 4,500 will volunteer, while thousands of Oregonians come together to cheer the runners on.

What makes the Portland Marathon such a special convention to our community? 

It Promotes Tourism

Tourism is one of the top drivers in Oregon’s economy, and we welcome visitors who come, enjoy, spend money and then spread the word about all that our great state has to offer. With over 70 percent of its participants from out of town, the Portland Marathon brings thousands of visitors to Portland every year. These marathoners spend more money than the typical tourist, come with an entourage of friends and family, and are geographically very widespread. They come from all over. Last year, every state and 27 countries were represented. They go all over too. More than half of the runners last year took a trip to the Oregon coast or out to the Columbia Gorge. 

It Pays for Itself ... and Then Some

The Marathon comes at no cost to our community. Indeed, just the hotel room taxes alone generated by participants far exceed the city’s costs to support the event by tens of thousands of dollars every year. The runners head to Powell’s and OMSI, take MAX from the airport and back across town, loading up on Portland gear and even taking in a concert—all-in-all spending about $370 a day! 

It Gives Back to the Community

These marathoners are no doubt contributing to our local economy, but it’s more than just meals, lodging, craft beer, and souvenirs. They help invest in our community. In 2014, the Marathon raised over $3 million for charity, including hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities, nonprofits, civic and school groups, and school sports teams.

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The congressman and his daughter Annie running the Portland Marathon together in 1999

It's Volunteer Driven

This is an impressive event, especially considering there are only two paid staff members for the entire operation, and the event is almost completely organized, promoted, and run by volunteers. Even before last year’s race was over, key volunteer leaders were working to make this year’s Marathon a success. Having run some of the most famous marathons around the country—and the Portland Marathon 28 times—I can testify that the Portland Marathon has earned the distinction of being the “best organized marathon in North America” and is an extraordinary experience.

It Promotes Community Pride & Engagement

The Portland Marathon is a celebration of the beauty of our city. From the start in historic downtown, runners head south, climbing up Barbur before turning to take in a panorama of the city in the morning light. And how different would the next several miles be if we had not replaced the Harbor Drive freeway with Tom McCall Park, opening up the river to the city in a milestone of urban planning? The marathoners journey north and up and over the majestic St. Johns Bridge, the furthest point of the marathon, before returning back to the central city along scenic Willamette Boulevard and the shipping infrastructure that reminds us of the “port” in Portland. All along the way, members of the community come out to watch. High school cheerleading squads, middle schools bands, and cyclists out for a morning ride on Highway 30 cheer on the racers. Young families set up chairs on the Willamette Bluffs, or sip lattes along Northwest Raleigh. When the runners make the final turn onto SW 3rd and cross the line, they’ve earned the rose they’re handed—seeing some of the wonderful highlights of the Rose City.    

As we approach the Marathon weekend, we ought to pause and reflect on this Portland accomplishment that brings thousands of people and millions of dollars to our community and promotes health, fitness, and an appreciation of Portland. We should not just take the time to cheer on the participants, but to thank the dedicated volunteers who make this special event possible year in and year out.

On Sunday, October 4, when you see throughout the city the banners and the people who look a bit tired and wearing their medals before they’ve had a chance to shower, smile and be grateful for this tradition. Whether running, walking, volunteering, or cheering, consider ways that you can be part of this unique community experience next year.

Earl Blumenauer represents Oregon's third congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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