Last fall, we asked what the future course of the Portland Marathon would be. At that time, it had just been announced that the Department of Justice was investigating Les Smith and his company, Next Events, as well as the Portland Marathon organization.
Then last week, the DOJ announced its findings. Runners in Oregon and around the country were initially shocked to hear that Les Smith, the race director of the “volunteer-run” Portland Marathon, had illegally lent himself money from the race’s coffers, and that the Portland Marathon as we know it may not come back. I think everyone can agree that the removal of Smith from the marathon is a great move. The real question to ask now is, what happens next?
The Oregonian’s Lizzy Acker wrote an article this week in which she investigates the questions about what the DOJ findings mean, which, if you haven’t read it, will explain a lot about what’s going on. Essentially, for 2018, the current board will be putting on the race using the resources currently owned by the Portland Marathon organization. This new board is made up of Julian Smith, Richard Busby, Andy Ritchie, Jim Schaeffer and Gina McVicke. Run Oregon is trying to get comments from these current board members, but so far haven’t had luck. Julian Smith, however, is the well-known race director of a large event in South Carolina, the Cooper River Bridge Run, which attracts tens of thousands of participants including international competition.
These board members are not simply continuing what Les Smith started. They have, in fact, been working with the DOJ throughout the investigation, so it’s not likely that the illegal behavior will continue. It’s important to understand that the board is not tasked with actually putting on the race. When you think of a local race, such as the ORRC Greenway Trail Trial, the race director does it all, from opening registration to tearing down the course, usually with the help of volunteers. Instead, the board’s role is to make sure the 2018 race happens, is managed responsibly, and all stakeholders get the best outcome possible. Remember, people have already registered for this race, and it’s a mere six months away.
Now that people have had time to digest the DOJ’s findings, and Les Smith has been removed from the event, it’s time to look forward. While there’s no clear view as to what will happen or who will be in charge, if we as a running community want our opinions heard, we need to speak up.
The City of Portland has stated that they will open up an RFI (Request for Information) period, with exact dates not yet announced. An RFI is different from a RFP (Request for Proprosal) in that the RFI asks interested parties to submit information about themselves and their capabilities, not a specific proposal. The types of parties who will likely submit an RFI will range from local race directors to national event companies, both non-profit and for-profit. The submissions will allow the City of Portland to determine what is possible for 2019 and beyond, and then they can consider specific plans. This is where it gets fun, dear readers.
Imagine that the line-up of big U.S. marathons, currently including Boston, New York, Chicago, Marine Corps, and others, included Portland. Now, some people would argue that the Portland Marathon was already in that list, but when you compare the number of finishers, the number and quality of major sponsors, and even their websites to the Portland Marathon, the difference is clear.
Why stop at being a big U.S. marathon? Why not aim for Portland’s marathon to be counted with London, Berlin, Rotterdam, Tokyo, and Dubai, among others?
Oregon is, according to many, where the running boom started. It’s home to Nike, the U.S. headquarters of adidas, and the storied University of Oregon Track and Field Program. Our local running stores offer group runs, sponsor and even host great races, and provide resources for beginning and elite runners and walkers. And running is “normal” here – something that you can’t accurately say about every city in the U.S.
Creating a national-class or internationally-recognized marathon in Portland makes sense. The City of Portland recognizes that – with a race like that comes immediate and residual tourist dollars, earned media showcasing our city and region’s beauty, and expected support for local nonprofits. Even without being the race organizer, the City’s role cannot be understated when the question of a race’s success is raised.
When you look at it like that, the sky is the limit. Tell us what you think a Portland marathon could be through this anonymous survey, and we’ll share some ideas here on the blog.