The 37th annual Lake Padden Relay attracted new local runners, with about a third more participants than last year and the Trinity Western University Spartans crossed the finish line with 51 minutes 19 seconds on the clock for the win.
“I love this course,” said Trinity’s last leg runner Declan White. “It is so nice because you can get a quick start off and it’s nice flat for about a mile and a quarter. Then, you head into a nice little uphill and it’s just rolling hills through the trees.”
A Spartan for three years, White has competed at the relay each year and was impressed with his team’s ability to finish minutes ahead of their time from past years, he said.
“We do a lot of meets in the states because it is great competition down here,” he said.
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The relay is a four-person team event with each member running one lap around the lake at 2.6 miles, or participants can compete individually for a total of 10.35 miles. The Greater Bellingham Running Club and Western Washington University host the event.
Competitive teams, like the Spartans, were only a fraction of the people who competed in the relay. Many runners were recreational or first-time racers.
Natalie Fedak, a WWU graduate and Bellingham filmmaker, raced on Saturday for her very first time.
The most experience she had with running prior to the relay was while filming “3,022 Feet,” a movie about a mountain race in Alaska where she met some of the top trail runners in the world, Fedak said.
“I just thought it would be a really fun, low competition way for me to do something active and to get to know the running community out here because I spent a lot of time getting to know the running community in Alaska,” Fedak said. “But I’m not a runner.”
A member of team “Sushi Surprise” Fedak ran with her roommates from the Sushi House, a community living space on North Forest Street.
Competing alongside her friends was what made the event fun, she said. Now, Fedak feels compelled to get another race on the calendar as motivation.
“That’s the whole point of races like this, it’s not about winning, it’s about finding your own victories,” she said. “For me, my victory was running my first race and challenging myself to do something that I’m not used to doing.”
About 75 teams or individuals competed on Saturday, a rise in numbers from recent years.
The last two years about 50 teams ran the relay, said race director Tanner Boyd. He believes the rise in numbers this year was due to past runners inviting friends to form more teams.
Boyd, who ran for WWU’s team five consecutive years and is now an assistant coach at the university, is in his first year as director of the relay. Looking ahead, he has plans to grow the event.
“The more the merrier,” he said. “I’d like to have 100 next year, that would be a good goal with the advertising.”
Many people hear about the relay through the GBRC, Boyd said. Club members then invite friends and the event is both competitive and relaxed with the mixture of school teams and community groups.
“You do have some competitive people here but it’s really fun,” Boyd said. “Everyone in Bellingham knows Lake Padden and they know how long it is, two and a half miles. It’s fun to try to set a personal record.”
Once people run the relay, they often come back in following years.
Steve Emory, a chemistry professor at Western, heard about the relay when he moved to Bellingham nearly 15 years ago and joined the GBRC. Since then, he has competed in at least 10 races, he said.
This year’s relay was Emory’s first race following a knee surgery and he ran the entire 10.35 miles alone, without a team.
“I wanted to break 1:25 and I did that, so I’m happy,” he said. “No pain, that’s the big thing, running without pain.”
Anywhere else, a place to run as beautiful as Lake Padden would be a rarity but in Bellingham it is one of many, Emory said.
“It’s amazing that we live here in this town,” he said. “This would be a national park other places, but this is our neighborhood park with a lot of variety, portions that are flat and hills, perfect for a relay.”