Luck of the Oregon Irish: Shamrock Run Adds Half Marathon

Shamrock Run participants take off from the startl ine.
Shamrock Run participants take off from the startl ine. Waz MixPix
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Steve Hamilton witnessed firsthand the running craze that took over the United States in the 1970s. Hamilton, then working at his parents’ athletic store in Northeast Portland, saw runners such as Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter capture the nation’s attention, and he recalls clearly the ascent of an upstart athletic shoe company called Nike.

So when a friend told him in the late ‘70s about a goofy run centered on St. Patrick’s Day in Springfield, Ore., he saw an opportunity to increase business and capitalize on the craze. “That sounds like kind of a fun thing to do,” he thought.

A few months later, in March 1979, about 900 runners descended on Beaverton for the first Shamrock Run.

Now, more than 30 years later, the Shamrock Run is the largest running and walking event in Oregon (and the second largest on the U.S. West Coast), routinely drawing 35,000 participants to downtown Portland for one of several runs.

It would be easy for Hamilton, as both the founder and race director, to rest on his laurels—the event, which moved to downtown Portland in 1981, has sold out five years in a row—but the Shamrock Run continues to evolve nearly 40 years after that first run ended at a now-closed Irish pub in Beaverton.

Runners and walkers take part in post-Shamrock Run festivities.
Runners and walkers take part in post-Shamrock Run festivities. Waz MixPix

Shamrock Run sees a mix of big changes and subtle tweaks in 2015

The biggest change on March 15, 2015, will be the introduction of a half marathon. It was obviously a smart business decision, as that distance is already sold out (registration opened in October). Hamilton said the inclusion came in response to runner requests over the years, and only 2,500 runners will be allowed to run the new event.

Other changes won’t be so drastic. For the first time in 2015, the Shamrock Run will employ timing mats at both sets of train tracks in Northwest Portland; the mats will deactivate runners’ timing chips in case they are temporarily stopped by passing trains. Hamilton hopes the mats will lead to more accurate times for serious runners.

Hamilton also said that the number of live bands on the course—each made up of middle school and high school students—will increase from six to eight this year, and fitness instructors will cheer runners on from a new fitness platform at the Broadway hydration station.

Events cater to runners and walkers of all skill levels

The Shamrock Run once again includes several events for serious and social runners alike. The 1k “leprechaun lap” lets children 12 and younger run or walk along Naito Parkway with their parents, while the 5k, 8k, 15k, and half marathon each cater to more devoted runners.

Registration is $39 for the 5k run, 5k walk, and 8k run; $49 for the 15k through Jan. 15, at which time entry fees increase by $5. Teams and children receive registration discounts, as well. Entry fees include an Adidas T-shirt, a 12-ounce pour of Widmer Brothers beer (ages 21 and older), a serving of smoked salmon chowder from Stanford's, and a commemorative medallion for 15k and half marathon finishers. Part of the net proceeds from the run benefit Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Hamilton never imagined that the Shamrock Run would become a Portland institution nearly 40 years after the inaugural event, and he cites a variety of factors for its enduring popularity, from the festive atmosphere to the beer garden at the finish line. But he knows that timing plays a part. “It comes at a good time of the year,” he said. “The Shamrock Run really is the opening day of the running season, that’s how we see it.”

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