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Forty Years of Starlight

Forty Years of Starlight

The last time a Rose Festival Starlight Run took place in Portland without Larry Merrifield in it, there was no I-205 bridge.

Merrifield, 56, first ran Starlight as a 15-year-old Lincoln High School sophomore in 1983. That was the fifth edition of the Starlight Run, which has preceded the Rose Festival Starlight Parade on the first Saturday night of the Portland Rose Festival since 1979.

Merrifield remembers the 1983 Starlight Run as the second organized footrace he ever entered. His first was the Run Between the States on May 15, 1983, part of a celebration of the recently completed Glenn Jackson Bridge linking the Washington and Oregon segments of I-205.

A Portland native and a prolific competitive runner—he has a stash of some 500+ bibs from races he has run—Merrifield counts it as a point of pride that he does Starlight every year. This year's event on June 1 will mark the 40th consecutive Starlight Run for him, his longest such streak with any local race.

"You do it because the Rose Festival is part of the DNA of Portland," he says. "It's what makes you a Portlander."

The Starlight Run follows the route of the Starlight Parade just before the parade, with crowds lining the streets. Merrifield recalls that the crowds were part of the original appeal of Starlight.

"As a runner you weren't going to get so many people screaming at you anywhere else," he says.

Merrifield thinks of Starlight as a celebration of this very active city, and the first race of the summer.

"It always takes place on a warm summer evening, the first evening race of the summer."

While there was never any prize money for the Starlight Run, Merrifield remembers it being very competitive in the early years. His best ever finish was 5th, good enough to get mentioned in the Oregonian with the four finishers ahead of him. The prizes that were given out to top finishers, he recalls, were gift certificates from a list of now long-gone Portland businesses.

During his college years at the University of Oregon, Merrifield would drive up from Eugene just to run Starlight, then drive right back down to Eugene to compete in an 8K called "The Race" the following morning. If all goes well this year, he plans to attempt something he's never done before: run the Helvetia Half Marathon in the morning and Starlight in the evening.

Merrifield has no plans to break his Starlight streak anytime soon. He'll be surrounded this year as always by 30 or 40 friends of his from the Portland running community who have been at it nearly as long as he has.

"It would be weird if I didn't do it," he says. "It's a way to celebrate some of us still running all these years later."


Click here to learn more about the 2024 Starlight Run and sign up to take part in this unique part of the Rose Festival alongside Larry Merrifield.


Larry Merrifield was last able to beat his son Max to the finish of the Starlight Run in 2018, Larry's 36th Starlight.



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