PORT TOWNSEND — It wasn’t the British royal wedding, but the crowd on the Fort Worden parade grounds was large and just as joyful for Sunday’s 40th annual Rhody Run.
The 12- and 6-kilometer races drew 1,865 runners and walkers, which equals nearly a fifth of this city’s population.
They came from across and far beyond the Olympic Peninsula and gathered at Fort Worden State Park to partake in the event, which over the past four decades has seen a total of 50,000 participants.
The main race, a 7.46-mile run on hills, twists and straightaways through Port Townsend’s outskirts and back to the Fort, began at 11 a.m. with the “Chariots of Fire” theme pouring from the loudspeakers.
At 11:37 a.m., spectators saw a lone figure arrive back on the parade grounds, running like his heels had wings.
As this racer strided around the bend toward the finish line, he was far out in front.
Keith Laverty won the Rhody Run in 39 minutes 24 seconds, and coasted up to his wife, Elisa Laverty, for a kiss. She’s originally from Sequim; they now live in Bainbridge Island with Luke, their 16-month-old who also attended Sunday’s run.
“Since I’ve been a dad, I’ve gotten faster,” Laverty, 31, said as his breathing returned to a resting rate.
Minutes later Elisa turned her attention back to the finish line as her friend Amy Schmitz took first place among the women. Schmitz, 37, moved to Bainbridge about a year and a half ago; this was her first Rhody Run and she liked it pretty well, thank you.
The second-place winners happen to be married to one another: Uli Steidl, 46, of Seattle, finished in 39 minutes 50 seconds while his wife Trisha Steidl, 41, finished in 48 minutes 46 seconds.
Miranda Maxwell, 39, represented her home town of Port Townsend with a third-place finish in 49:55. Her third-place counterpart among the men was Michael Cepowski, 16, of Freeland, who wrapped his race in 43:40.
When asked for their secrets to success, Laverty and Schmitz gave simple answers.
“Passion for the sport,” he said.
“I love to run,” she said. And Schmitz didn’t even discover this pastime until her senior year of college.
Both Laverty and Uli Steidl — who also placed first and second respectively in 2017 — beat their previous race times. Laverty finished in 40:02 last year while Steidl crossed the line at 40:43. Trisha Steidl likewise improved her speed from last year’s 52:30.
For many other Rhody enthusiasts, this was a Sunday morning outing with friends and family. Casey and Katie Finedell of Port Townsend have done the run every year since moving here in 2013. This year they wheeled 16-month-old Margaret in her stroller.
“I’m lucky,” said Katie, because Casey does the pushing while she runs free.
Stacy Olson of Port Townsend, wearing real rhododendron blooms in her belt, usually runs. But this year she was feeling under the weather and “walking it with my girlfriends,” Mary Ann Schulte and Vicky Miller.
The 12K Rhody Run, whose title sponsor is Jefferson Healthcare, was begun in 1978 as a way to encourage people to get out and exercise. Six years ago the Kids Sprint for Health, a free race for children 9 or younger, was added. The 6K half-Rhody began last year.
The events capped the 2018 Rhododendron Festival — and bring Port Townsend and Jefferson County a step closer to a summer season loaded with more fairs and activities. The Port Townsend Artisan Food Festival is next up, with chef demonstrations and more than 70 vendors at the Port Townsend Farmers Market at Lawrence and Tyler streets from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. next Saturday, May 26.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.