The Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon, one of the most popular events on Maine’s road-racing calendar, returns to Portland on Saturday with a new start and finish line – but without its companion 5K race.

The half marathon, now in its eighth year, sold out a month ago when registrations closed at 3,500 entries.

“A lot of the town seems to enjoy watching it and I just love that feeling of everyone in town being a part of it,” said Erin Abraham, 33, of Portland who will be running her third Old Port Half Marathon.

Race director Eric Boucher expects about 3,000 runners to actually line up for the 7 a.m. start at Fore and Union streets. The finish line is also on Fore, near Dana Street. The 13.1-mile course covers a scenic route, mostly along the waterfront.

In previous years, the course started and finished at the Ocean Gateway Terminal on Commercial Street. Boucher said the city asked for a new start/finish area to reduce congestion on Commercial.

On Saturday, the cobblestone streets of Dana, Wharf and Moulton will be closed off to create a festival-style atmosphere.

“There is an aesthetic quality to starting and finishing truly in the heart of the Old Port,” Boucher said.

Last year the half-marathon and its companion 5K combined to have 3,584 finishers (2,443 in the half marathon). Even without the 5K, Saturday’s Old Port Half Marathon will be the second-largest race in Maine, trailing only the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, which draws over 6,500 runners.

“We didn’t do the 5K (this year) just to be cautious and not impact the city too much,” Boucher said. “We want to bring the 5K back but we need to test out the half marathon first and take a measured approach.”

As in the past, Boucher expects roughly 70 percent of runners will be from out of state and nearly two-thirds will be women.

Denise Giuvelis, 32, of Saco, has run several half marathons and is looking forward to her first Old Port Half Marathon.

“I just heard really good things about this race, that it’s a lot of fun, a good support system, and a fun after party,” Giuvelis said.

From the starting line, runners will head southeast on Fore Street, then take a series of turns through quaint, tree-lined residential streets before getting on West Commercial Street for a roughly 2.5-mile stretch along the wharves.

Runners must reach the 4-mile mark within an hour to be allowed to complete the course.

“Last year we went down Commercial Street and then back on Commercial and this year we’re not doing that,” Boucher said. “We wanted to lessen the impact. Once the runners clear Commercial, we’ll be promptly picking up the cones and barricades.”

The coastal trail along Casco Bay brings runners to a counter-clockwise tour of Back Cove that gets them to the 11-mile mark. That sets up a run along Eastern Promenade to the final-mile return down Fore Street to the finish where refreshments, music and the choice of two beer gardens await.

Runners’ bibs include redemption tickets for two free beers, pizza and gelato, and serve as a discount voucher at a variety of local shops.

“I’ve always thought the holy trinity is beer, ice cream and pizza,” Boucher said. “The goal is to eat pleasure food afterward.”

The race draws talented runners. Last year’s overall winner, former Yarmouth resident Malcolm Thomas, finished in a crisp 1 hour, 15 minutes, 55 seconds. But it is not designed for elite runners in search of cash prizes.

“I come here for the weekend and it’s great to be in Portland and participate in this event,” Thomas said last year after his fifth Old Port Half Marathon run, noting that it’s the “restaurants, being on the water, and just the atmosphere,” that draw participants.

The route’s location appeals to Grant Jewett, 34, of Auburn, who has completed six other half marathons.

“There will probably be crowds around and cheer stations. I’ve run in some races where it feels like you’re all alone and this is a real event, I guess is the best way to put it,” Jewett said.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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