Runners flock to Mercer Island for half marathon

The Community Center at Mercer View was buzzing from a cumulative “runners’ high” last Sunday as thousands of people celebrated the end of another successful Mercer Island Rotary Run. The event, marking its 37th year, saw nearly 4,000 participants: from serious half-marathoners, to chatty parents enjoying the 5k walk, to spirited children racing their hearts out in the Kids Dash. All gathered to raise awareness for colon cancer.

While fundraising numbers are still estimates, Rotary Run Director Sam Sullivan said the organization was expecting $175,000. That number, close to the 2008 total, continues to raise the bar for all those involved.

“We’re really pleased,” said Sullivan.

Almost 300 people turned out to help with the race, pulling volunteers from Islander Middle School, the Boy Scouts, Mercer Island Rotary and the local Lions Club chapter.

The Saturday expo grew again this year, filling the Community Center with booths ranging from athletic wear to energy bars.

“It’s turned into an event unto itself,” said Sullivan. “We actually had to turn people away. It’s really successful and a lot of fun.”

Those attending the March 22 races would agree. Music blasted from radios, Mercer Island High School cheerleaders jumped and danced, and runners flashed smiles at the roadside viewers urging them along.

“Considering that it was freezing, there was really great energy,” said Islander Erica Newton, who completed the half marathon.

Although not nearly as wet as the 2007 Rotary Run, which was a downpour, a cold rain sprinkled during some of Sunday’s event, with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. Yet for the most part, the weather did not deter competitive runners.

“I thought that it was perfect running conditions,” said Islander Sean Sigmon, who completed the half marathon in 1 hour, 25 minutes, 8 seconds. “I felt really good. I set my personal record, which was nice.”

Islander Susan Empey, 40, won the women’s half marathon race with a time of 1:21:14. The fastest Islander to complete the men’s half marathon was Robinson Howell, 50, who came in 22nd with a time of 1:22:52. Uli Steidle, from Shoreline, won the race with a time of 1:09:04. MIHS cross country and track coach Erica Hill, 35, took third place in the 10k run with a time of 39:54.

This was the second year that the Rotary Run was held at the CCMV, and many of last year’s missteps were cleared up. Traffic to and from the Community Center was “less than stellar” in 2008, Sullivan said, but this year it was “hugely improved.”

“The whole event in general ran really smoothly,” he said. “With very few exceptions, most Mercer Islanders have been very accommodating. Islanders in general have been really supportive and really helpful.”

Approximately one third of the money raised from Rotary Run goes toward raising awareness about colon cancer, Sullivan said. The funds also help provide colon cancer screening tests for the uninsured and support Rotary projects in the community and around the world.

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