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The Shamrock Run has always been the kick-off for the outdoor fitness season for runners and walkers alike. I can remember the event when it was much smaller than the 35,000 expected this year—more like about 3,500 people. Come to think of it, I was smaller too.
It’s hard for me to believe that the Shamrock Run is 35 years old. I first ran the event in 1984, back when I discovered that I enjoyed racing, maybe even more than running track for Lincoln High School. It got me out early in the season and exposed me to the speed of a road course where I could enjoy all that is Portland — the Waterfront, Old Town, S.W. Broadway and the thrill of conquering the Terwilliger hill before finishing on a downhill with the downtown skyline in front of me. I was hooked right away. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was good at racing, and taking home an award in my age group added to my infatuation with this event.
Now, 30 years later, I share my sport with my two small children. Rain or shine, we run several days a week. My seven-year-old son now likes to race me! He keeps me on my game and can drop a challenge at a moment’s notice. “Race you to the big tree,” he’ll say, a look of joy on his face as he bolts ahead and leaves me behind. My two-year-old daughter doesn’t go as far, but loves running with her brother. “Let’s go,” is her favorite mantra. We never run more than a mile at a time, which seems to keep them happy and usually wanting more. They let me know they want to go out and they enjoy it every time. It brings a smile to my face to see them dressed in their pint-sized gear and doing stretches together before we leave for our latest adventure.
They see my love for running and learn volumes about life as I teach them about achieving goals, being dedicated and seeing results from their runs. We treat it as a fun way to do things together, and we’re establishing good habits for their lifetimes.
My wife also runs and, many times, our son enjoys riding his bike alongside her, providing narration as they pass by parks, dogs, playgrounds, water and other people out for a daily run or walk. It’s another way for him to keep fit and healthy and incorporates something else into his routine.
Running allows us to bond as a family in so many ways: A run in Forest Park lets us see the seasons and wildlife all around us; a run in the mornings along the river lets us observe crews rowing in the stillness or to race a barge traveling silently on the water; a run while traveling shows them a new city (Disneyland most recently) with palm trees and Birds of Paradise at our fingertips.
My family will be with me for the Shamrock Run’s 35th running. We’ll do the Leprechaun Lap together before I go out for the 8k — the original distance and my first in 1984. We will all share in the crazy Irish day that’s become a part of my life. We’ll see the impact that this event has on an entire community — the people, the costumes, the chowder, the bagpipes, the GREEN. And, we will likely hear from both of our children on our way home, “That was FUN. I want to do that AGAIN!” In 30 years, I plan on being right there with them … and their children.
Larry Merrifield is a native of Portland, OR. He is an attorney with the Vancouver, WA firm of Boyd Gaffney & Sowards. He lives with his wife and children and their pet cat Mittens in Northeast Portland. He looks exactly the same as he did when he ran his first Shamrock Run 30 years ago.