After six straight years of growth, the White Salmon Backyard Half Marathon is looking not only for an increase in participants this year, but also to up the amount it can help out some of the youngest runners within the community.
Last year, the 13.1-mile run, which gains almost 2,000 feet in elevation through the trails surrounding White Salmon, saw more than 400 participants and raised several thousand dollars, almost all of which went towards the Columbia High School cross country team and scholarships through the Columbia Gorge Running Club.
All that support does not come from entrance fees, as the race is free to both runners and hikers, but rather donations from participants. The event has been a fundraiser for CHS cross country since its third year with most of the event costs every year covered by generous local businesses and a course put together thanks to willing private landowners.
This year the Backyard Half Marathon will be on Saturday, June 14. Runners and hikers can sign up here or simply wait until race day.
When Allan Dushan put the race together in its first year, it was just him and 23 friends he was able to contact. Since then hundreds have run the course, which now begins at Rheingarten Park (via NE Lincoln Street), heads to NE Tohomish Street, skirts the edge of the Mt. Adams Fish and Game Association club grounds, heads up Jewett Creek, then goes to the top of Hospital Hill, over to the Courtney Road Gate, back across the front of Hospital Hill, and back to the park at the finish.
“You usually spend be-tween $55 and $75 to do a half marathon and you get a T-shirt or a swag bag with whatever you probably don’t want anyway, you might get good aid stations, you might not. This run has 54 volunteers, three full aid stations, one water station, food at the finish, a band, all this for whatever you want to put in, zero, $12, $20, so that’s a big draw in itself,” Dushan said. “People like the course, because it’s tough. They want a half marathon or a trail run, but they don’t want to do a 50K endurance run.”
He’s also got CHS Cross Country Coaches Jill Cole and Mike Hannigan at his back as race directors along with CHS cross country runners and their families to help out with registration, aid stations, and anything else that might need to be done on the big day.
“All of the money is spent on the kids, but we spend a little on the runners for the aid stations,” Dushan said.
But don’t think there are any awards given for best times or age groups. Racers are timed and given a number, but no medals or trophies are awarded at the end, beyond live music by Onehum after crossing the finish line.
One year early on, Dushan even had participants donate old trophies at the end of the race, so runners were presented with all manner of random awards.
For the 28 members of the CHS cross country team, the Backyard Half Marathon proves to be most fruitful. In the race’s third year when donations started going towards the team, cross country was just getting started at the high school after a decade hiatus and since then donations from the run have provided the cross country team with yearly trips to Seaside, Ore., for a pre-season meet, a team camp, warm-up uniforms, and more.
“It gives the kids the overall experience of cross country. We try to provide that for them without asking for more money,” Cole said.
The Backyard Half Marathon isn’t just for runners, either. Hikers are also invited to start at 8:30 a.m. on race day while runners will start at 10 a.m.
“The idea is to get people out,” Dushan said.