Don’t worry about your legs, Olympia resident Karen Steen says.
Steen, 51, has the most Capital City Marathon wins for a woman. She won the women’s race seven times in a 10-year span — including a string of four in a row from 2002-2005.
She knows a bit about sore muscles.
“When you get done with Capital City, the sorest muscles are your cheeks from smiling at everybody, more so than your legs,” Steen said.
The Capital City Marathon will take place for the 35th time on May 15. Since the first event was held in 1982, more than 41,000 documented runners have finished the 26.2-mile marathon, the 13.1-mile half-marathon or one of the shorter races.
“It’s a hometown race,” Steen said. “You have your friends and family along the course for 26 miles, cheering you on and knowing your name.
“It’s unlike any other marathon I’ve ever done. That’s what really helps keep you going. You reach your goals when you have everyone cheering for you like that.”
The Capital City Marathon is one of the oldest in Washington. Some of the state’s other major marathons are nearing the 50-year mark. Blaine hosted the 48th annual Birch Bay International Marathon in February, while Seattle’s 46th marathon will be held in November.
“There’s a lot of marathons that haven’t made it to 10 years,” Olympia resident Jim Thatcher said. “To have 35 years and still going strong, it’s a great little race here. Kudos to the people that are putting it on. It’s a beautiful course.”
Thatcher, 67, can vouch for that. This will be the 32nd consecutive year that he’s run the Capital City Marathon.
“I keep losing track here,” he joked. “I was hoping to get Baskin-Robbins to sponsor me for the 31st, but I blew that.”
Thatcher ran it for the first time in 1985 — the year after Olympia was host to the first U.S. women’s Olympic marathon trials. He’s run plenty of other marathons since, including Portland, but said he has a fondness for the Capital City Marathon because it’s a home-grown race.
“Some of the challenge if you’d established a string was to make sure you picked a race that was going to be around a while,” Thatcher said. “I figured — state capital, it’s a great marathon, it was a women’s trials — it’s going to be around a long time.”
He said he’s trained on every part of the course — it was restructured in 1988 to start and finish in downtown Olympia, and has been tweaked several times over the years — and in years past would run at 2 a.m. to get in long sessions.
Thatcher would leave a note on the table for his wife detailing which route he had taken, would make a pit stop at the Hawks Prairie grocery store for a soda, run back home, and crawl into bed.
When he started running the race, he proclaimed he’d run 50 in a row — without much question that the marathon would exist for that long. Now he’s more than halfway there.
“When you throw out a statement like that, you clearly don’t know what that entails,” Thatcher said. “I just kind of take them one at a time.”
Plenty has evolved since Thatcher’s first race. The marathon moved from July to May in 1989. In 1998, it became the first race in Washington to use computer-timing chips on shoes — and the first to attach timing chips to race bibs 12 years later. And, in 2004, the Boston Marathon qualifier designation first appeared in the race results.
Thirty-four years have passed since Chehalis’ Richard Leland was the first runner to cross the finish line — in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 54 seconds. Dianne Foster (née Johnson), then a Steilacoom resident, was the first to win the women’s marathon — and she won four more races after that, including three straight between 1988-1990.
“Back in ancient history, I suppose,” she joked.
Of the 68 total winners (34 men and 34 women), 24 have been Olympia residents at the time of race, one a Shelton resident and one a Lacey resident. Forty-six of the winners were residents of Washington.
“It’s always seemed to keep the hometown crowd,” said Foster, who now lives in Tumwater. “It’s always been a favorite for the people that live here.”
That’s one thing that has remained consistent, she said.
“You felt like people knew you when you ran,” Foster said. “And they still have that.”
Steen fondly remembers the final mile — she most recently ran it in 2006.
“It’s a gradual downhill, and you’re really realizing that you’re going to make it, and finish it, and possibly reach your goals,” she said. “You know your friends and family are going to be there waiting for you. It’s an unbelievable high.”
The crowd extended far beyond the finish line, said Foster, who last ran the marathon in 1999.
“This was something novel, to have the whole course, pretty much everywhere you went, there were people,” she said.
The unwavering community support is gratifying in an otherwise solitary sport, Thatcher said.
“Initially, it’s an egocentric thing,” he said. “You’re running and trying to do as well as you can, not spending much time going through the aid stations — just grab yourself something and get on with it.
“With each passing year, as I slow down, part of the reason I slow down is I enjoy thanking the volunteers. Without them, they wouldn’t be able to put on a race of this size.”
Registration for the marathon, half-marathon and five-miler remains open. Online registration closes at noon Friday. Registration also can be completed at the Run Fair at Sylvester Park on May 14, but there will be no day-of-race registration.
As of Saturday night, 350 runners are expected to participate in the marathon, 1,400 in the half-marathon and 600 in the five-mile race.
“I figure, as long as you’re getting one foot in front of you, you’re in good shape,” Thatcher said. “You just keep plugging in there.”