by Erin Huggins
How far can you run? One mile? Five? Ten? What about 13.1 miles along a country creek, south of Lincoln City?
Elka Asleson, physical education professor, has gone that distance many times. This time, though, she wasn’t alone. In March, 83 students and community members represented Western by completing the 13.1-mile Lincoln City half marathon, building determination and camaraderie.
Competing in the half marathon has multiple perks—some students choose to complete the race for part of their grade (Asleson gives students in all of her physical education courses this option); some are drawn to opportunities to shop at the Lincoln City outlet stores or hang out at the beach afterwards; some simply want to test their endurance.
A few runners competed seriously, the fastest finishing in just over an hour and a half. Some took longer, though, crossing the finish line after about three hours and 50 minutes.
Most importantly, all finished.
According to Asleson, that feat alone supersedes other motivational factors.
“Having students realize that they can accomplish what they set their minds to” is one of the major highlights for her. “I have students that haven’t done more than a three mile run or walk. Because they finished [the Lincoln City half marathon], they were amazed,” she said.
Part of WOU’s Health and Physical Education Department’s goal is promoting healthy lifestyles and communities. Creating a strong visible presence in events like the Lincoln City Half Marathon equals a win-win for the school and the broader community.
Race coordinator and Lincoln City community center director Gail Kimberling has worked with Asleson for the past four years, providing a discounted race entry fee to Western students and staff who register through her. Additionally, Chris Rupp from the WOU Bookstore has also priced WOU logo shirts at $10 for race participants each year, helping the runners and walkers promote school spirit while on the course.
Most students buy shirts a size or two too big and wear them over their clothes. “We were pretty visible, [and WOU runners made up] almost a quarter of the field,” Asleson said.
“The marathon is definitely part of our Western Oregon experience,” Asleson said. “Everyone’s welcome.”
This year, the WOU community competed with a total of 83 entries. Asleson said several students returned to run for the second and third years. A handful also brought their whole families along.
“Family members, relatives, and significant others were allowed to go in on the discount, and we had a good mix of community members as well,” Asleson said. “I had a mother-son team…several families, a father-son team.”
In fact, Asleson’s own son also ran the half marathon. “It was really special for me and the students,” she said.
As far as courses go, the Lincoln City route is pastorally beautiful, following a creek along a looping path, which means you generally see most runners twice—once on their way out and again heading back in. Additionally, the post race adds to the fun: there’s clam chowder, finisher’s medals, and ribbons for the fastest runners in all age groups.
Although the race is walker-friendly and finishing is a feat, regardless of time, Asleson does challenge some students to beat her. A seasoned marathon runner, with 24 full-length marathons to her name and a handful of half marathons, Asleson runs the course in two hours and five minutes.
“I enjoy the students pushing me, and I enjoy pushing the students,” she said. In the end, it’s about opening students’ eyes to athletic opportunities outside the classroom and apart from organized collegiate sports. Providing them with an “overall feeling of wellness and well-being and stress relief” will last, even after they’ve completed their college careers. Having exciting out-of-classroom exercise experiences helps students commit to lifelong fitness.
Of course, this half marathon’s proximity to the beach is also a powerful draw. “Staying at the beach and just enjoying the ocean [are] probably the main reasons why we go there [to run],” Asleson said.
To see more images of the day's event, go to: www.flickr.com/photos/wounews/sets/72157634340624505/