EVERETT — It’s a hot and sunny Wednesday noon-time hour in July, and some of the best age-group distance runners in Washington state have gathered on the track at Everett Memorial Stadium, sweating out a series of 800-meter runs.
There’s Bill Iffrig, an 84-year-old from Everett who’s won more than 30 age-division national track championships, and whose image became ingrained in the national consciousness after he was knocked down by the explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
And there’s Woody Harris, a 68-year-old from Edmonds who is one of fewer than 4,000 individuals who have been issued a Six Star Medal for completing each of the world’s six major marathons: Berlin, Chicago, New York, Tokyo, Boston and London.
These are the Port Gardner Bay Runners, an informal club that gathers three times a week to train for distance events, and their presence has turned Everett into an epicenter of masters running.
“It’s an impressive group,” said 67-year-old Doug Beyerlein of Mill Creek, a two-time age-division trail national champion who has run 115 marathons. “We’ve got all these runners, many of whom are now over 60, and these guys aren’t slowing down. It’s some of the best runners in the state for their age, and it just shows you what consistent training will do.”
The Port Gardner Bay Runners consist primarily of men aged 60 or older, many of whom are accomplished age-group runners. In addition to the aforementioned individuals the group also includes 67-year-old Steve Hamilton of Everett, who is a multiple-time age-division winner of both the Bloomsday 12-kilometer run in Spokane and the Tri-Cities Marathon; 73-year-old Ed Heckard of Mill Creek, who was named a Silver Strider Super Athlete for 2016 for being ranked in the top 10 in the state in his age group at four different distances: 5-kilometers, 10-kilometers, half marathon and marathon; and 64-year-old Greg Beyerlein of Mukilteo, who’s won two age-division team cross country national championships. Among the group there are more than 60 completed Boston Marathons.
But the club isn’t limited by age, gender or ability — the club emphasizes that all are welcome to attend, and on this particular Wednesday there were a handful of female and high school-aged runners who joined the workout on the track. It’s all about a love of running and a desire to get better.
“I just think it’s a great group to be with,” Harris said. “We’re all aging, but it kind of keeps you going. It’s a competitive group — where else will you find someone like Bill Iffrig, whose in his 80s and still running marathons? It’s like the top 1 percent, this group, and it just keeps you going.”
The club was founded in the mid-1990s by Sam Filetti and Jeff Hoiland, a pair of employees with the Public Works department of Snohomish County who were just looking for a running outlet. Gradually they were joined by others, many of whom also worked for Public Works, who found out about the club via word of mouth. Now as many as a dozen runners will show up for workouts.
The club meets three times a week starting at about 11:30 a.m., so that those who are working can come on their lunch break. On Mondays the group gathers at Everett Memorial Stadium, which is the starting point for an 8.6-mile road run through north Everett. The group works out on Everett Memorial’s track on Wednesdays, running a series of six 800s, with a lap of jogging in between each set. Then on Friday mornings there’s a trail run at Lord Hill Park in Snohomish.
The members of the club use these workouts as training for whatever upcoming run each individual has coming up, whether it’s a 5-kilometer race or an ultra marathon. Having the group to work with has helped them improve their performances, despite their ages.
”We couldn’t do the training that we do solo, like running the 800s,” Hamilton said. “It would be real difficult to run an 800 by yourself without chasing somebody. The same with our tempo run on Monday, we’re chasing someone all the time.”
But while the club is mainly for training, it’s also appreciated for the social aspects. While most of the runners race on their own, they have gotten together for races. Most of the club members compete at the Nookachamps Winter Runs each January in Mount Vernon. One year several of the members got together and rented a Boston house built in 1875 to use as home base while competing in the Boston Marathon.
“I think the two go hand-in-hand, you couldn’t do the training nearly as well without the social side of it,” Doug Beyerlein said. “Without the encouragement and the competition it’s too easy to make up an excuse not to do it.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Doug Beyerlein added. “Everybody’s real supportive. Everyone’s competitive, but at the same time we’re real supportive of each other. I think it’s a great combination because everybody gets to find out what their true potential is.”
No matter what their age may be.
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