NORTH BEND — As far as Thomas Lankford is concerned, Saturday is the perfect day to run 18.6 miles.
It is not because of the bout of rain in the forecast but because Saturday is the annual running of the Circle the Bay, a 30-kilometer road race. On Saturday morning more than 150 racers are headed to start at Ferry Road Park and make their way around the bay competing individually or as part of a three-person relay team that has each member run roughly 10 kilometers.
For Lankford, co-director of the race, this event comes after the seasonal lull in distance races and signals the start of the running season for runners of all abilities.
“In general it brings a sense of what is to come in the coming months as individuals prepare for their local cross country events or at the collegiate level or maybe individually start running some races this fall whether it be 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon,” said Lankford. “It kind of kicks off that fall training cycle for individuals and gets everything going.”
The race starts at 8 a.m. Unlike past years, there is no division for walkers this year.
While this will be Lankford’s third year at the event, the race first got its start sometime — with the actual date shrouded in mystery — in the 1970s. What started as an 18-mile event shifted to the 30K it is today in 1984 and began including a relay portion by 1993. Lankford sees this unique race distance as a benefit for distance runners.
“I’ve run, I think, 13 marathons which isn’t a lot in the perspective of marathons and that 18.6 is a nice little spot for long-distance runners that do marathons, you don’t hit the wall. The wall is usually that 20-mile mark that everybody is afraid of,” said Lankford. “So 18 is kind of a nice distance to where you can go out and run it and you don’t feel completely drained at the end but it’s still longer than a half-marathon and then longer than a 10K.”
The race begins at Ferry Road Park in North Bend and heads to the Coos Bay waterfront before circling back to the start. The race escalates in difficulty with each passing 10K. The first relay leg is relatively flat, followed by rolling hills on the middle of the course in the longest leg before the final (and shortest) relay leg is for, what the South Coast Running Club website calls, “your hill lover.”
While the focus of the day is on the 18.6-mile course, Lankford also has his eyes set on what happens once the race is over.
“So much of running is experience. So the running club, historically, has always tried to have a post run experience for Circle the Bay be really positive. Not only do you cross and get a medal but there’s also some after-race food and festivities that occur,” he said. “Something that is drawing people back. And runners tend to come for those post-race festivities so we’ve tried to continue that trend.”
Interested racers can sign up online at southcoastrunningclub.org before the event or register on race day at the start line.
The cost for runners who haven't signed up yet is $55 for South Coast Running Club members and $70 for non-members. The relay cost is $150 for teams that have not yet signed up. The registration deadline and deadline for pre-registered runners to pick up their packets is 7:45 a.m. Saturday.