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Originally published June 27, 2009 at 10:17 PM | Page modified June 27, 2009 at 10:20 PM

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One race day, many stories as runners hit road for Rock 'n' Roll Marathon

Seattle's largest-ever marathon, the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon, unfolded Saturday with few hitches. The weather was sunny, the route along Lake Washington offered spectacular views and the event was choreographed with precision. Perhaps the biggest single complaint were the traffic snarls on Interstate 5 that delayed those trying to make it to the start for 30 minutes or more.

Seattle Times staff reporter

By the numbers

40 percent of entrants were from out of state

40 percent from King County

20 percent from elsewhere in Washington

45 27 stages

Thousands of cheerleaders rooted for the runners

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Jordan Denmark never planned to enter Saturday's inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon. In fact, he wasn't any kind of runner at all. But then last month his dad, a 64-year-old endurance athlete, died suddenly from a heart attack, and Denmark, using a borrowed bib, decided to run as a tribute.

"It was very surreal," Denmark, 30, said after finishing the half-marathon in about two hours. "It was a way to get in touch with him."

For each of the 25,000 runners who entered Saturday's race, there was a story. There was the woman recovering from gastric-bypass surgery. The man trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The person tap-dancing for 13.1 miles.

For most of them, Seattle's largest-ever marathon unfolded with few hitches. The weather was sunny, the route along Lake Washington offered spectacular views, and the event was choreographed with precision. Perhaps the biggest single complaint was snarled traffic on Interstate 5. Some of those trying to make it to the start were delayed for 30 minutes or more.

Because the start was staggered over more than an hour to accommodate everyone, runners who arrived after the 7 a.m. horn were still able to get going. Once on the road, there was plenty to keep runners entertained, from the cheer squads and bands scattered every mile or so, to the views.

"We saw an eagle. It was just gorgeous," said Sarah Coad, 28, of Bellevue. "It was sitting there on a branch looking so majestic as it looked out over the water."

Coad said running over bridges she would normally drive changed her perspective of Seattle: "Somehow you feel like you own the city."

The music on 27 stages — a feature of the Rock 'n' Roll marathons — ranged from reggae and rock to alternative. Perhaps the strangest sounds came from bands playing inside the Mount Baker Tunnel, where the music bounced eerily off the walls as runners raced across the Interstate 90 floating bridge.

The high-school cheer squads vied to outdo each other for cash prizes of up to $1,000. They were judged for their enthusiasm, creativity and outfits.

The Rock 'n' Roll marathons — there likely will be 17 nationwide by next year — are run by a private company, the Competitor Group. The races have become a big business, attracting national sponsors such as Miller brewing. The Seattle Times is a media sponsor. The Competitor Group also has been able to leverage local volunteerism and tax dollars — more than $800,000 in this region over three years.

A number of runners in the Seattle event had run previous Rock 'n' Roll marathons. The Competitor Group offers a series of medals for those who enter multiple races in a single year.

"I want the super-six medal that you get," said Shelley Perkins, 35, of Phoenix, who has now run two Rock 'n' Roll marathons this year and has four more planned. It's a great way to see the country, she said.

Others run to raise money for charity. Harry Flint, 57, of Calgary, said he's run in 26 races since 2005 and raised $60,000 for diabetes causes. He said he suffers from Type 2 diabetes but is able to control the disease through diet and exercise.

For the police keeping an eye on the streets, the main problems were traffic-related, said Seattle police Lt. Clay Monson.

"We've never had a running event anything like this big. It's been going well, with some minor issues," Monson said about five hours into the race. "Traffic has been really slow and heavy, with a quarter-mile or a half-mile of congestion getting onto I-5. But it's moving, slowly."

Dana Vander Houwen, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Fire Department, said about 17 people were transported to area hospitals, either by the department or by private ambulance, for dehydration or over-hydration. None of the health problems appeared life-threatening, she added.

Marathon winner Peter Omae, of Kenya, looked fresh and untroubled as he crossed the finish line after keeping up a pace for 26 miles that few people could manage for even a quarter-mile. For many runners, though, the race took everything out of them.

Buddies Billy Ruiz, 23, and Jordan Ferris, 21, finished the half-marathon drenched in sweat and hobbling. The pair said they'd gone for only a couple of training runs — nothing over six miles — but felt they couldn't miss the first Rock 'n' Roll race here.

"I'm feeling like I've never felt before. I've got cramps, I'm exhausted," Ruiz said. After pausing a minute, he added, "I guess a marathon is the next step."

His friend looked at him.

"I don't know, man."

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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