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Originally published Friday, June 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Running business on firm footing despite recession

With 25,000 entrants, Saturday's Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon is another example of a local race that isn't feeling the effects of the economic downturn.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon,

7 a.m.

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There are plenty of ways to measure the decline of the national economy.

Feet, however, are not one of them.

The inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon reached its 25,000-entrant capacity months ago. The annual Beat the Bridge 8-kilometer race in Seattle this May had 9,692 participants, which was more than 2008. The Sound to Narrows 8-kilometer run in Tacoma this month maintained its participation of about 5,500.

So while the economy may be stumbling nationally, the running business has kept a firm footing.

"We're an industry that provides people a passionate way to accomplish their personal goals," said Bruce Herring, a vice president at the Competitor Group, which organizes the Rock 'n' Roll Marathons. "And we've become very serious about it, very mission-oriented. It's a lifestyle."

A lifestyle that starts quite literally at ground level with the shoes. People are still buying them, running on them and retiring them.

"It has not affected the sale of running shoes," said Dave Steffens of the Seattle Running Company. "It is interesting because people might cut back on larger-ticket items, but they're buying their running shoes."

Steffens, a four-time Seattle Marathon champion, is a local coach for runners. He wondered whether that business would feel the trickle-down effect of the credit collapse.

"I'm actually kind of surprised that I have not seen a falloff in coaching-related business," Steffens said.

People may have cut back on running outfits and other "sundry items" as Steffens called them. The activity of running, though, appears to be nonnegotiable for many people. You might have to go without a vacation this year, but not races.

"Either we're really rational or we're irrational with our health and fitness," Steffens said. "We're pretty selfish — in a good way — about our health and fitness. We might go without a certain thing, but it is essential to have that."

Registration fees for Saturday's Rock 'n' Roll races started at $85 for the 13.1-mile half-marathon and $100 for the 26.2-mile marathon.

Steven Yee, 49, is a resident of Bonney Lake who has run more than 200 marathons in his life and is a co-founder of a group called the Marathon Maniacs. Its 1,650 members live as far away as Brazil, Serbia and Australia.

The group has different skill levels, from the single-star bronze level (marathons on back-to-back weekends), all the way up to the 10-star titanium level (52 marathons in one calendar year, 30 marathons in 30 different states or 20 in 20 different countries).

Ric Hart, 62, is a four-star member of the Marathon Maniacs. He has run 23 marathons and counting so far this year.

"For me marathoning is why I get up in the morning," he said.

Hart will be among the 7,500 entrants running the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon. So will Yee, who is Marathon Maniac member No. 1.

"I think people need an outlet because running and finishing a marathon is like no other race," Yee said. "People need that mental and physical outlet. For me, it does wonders."

That kind of commitment has made running recession-proof so far.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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