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Portland Rose Festival CEO Ready To Rock

Jeff Curtis completes his transformation to runner this weekend at the Rock 'n' Roll Portland Half Marathon.

Jeff Curtis completes his transformation to runner this weekend at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland Half Marathon. 

Training for your first half marathon can be a daunting task. Most runners ease into the 13.1-mile challenge by slowly and methodically ramping up their running mileage over time. But that’s not the case for Jeff Curtis, the 39-year-old CEO of the Portland Rose Festival.

This Sunday, Curtis will be competing in his first race at the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland Half Marathon. Up until a year ago, running was not something that Curtis had ever even considered making a part of his workout routine. He played baseball and wrestled in high school, but running was always for someone else. “I’ve been an athlete my entire life, but I’ve never been a runner,” he admits.

Curtis’ adventures with half-marathon training began over a year ago at a press conference that announced the partnership between the Portland Rose Festival and Competitor Group along with the news of the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland Half Marathon.

“There was an Oregonian blogger there,” Curtis recalls. “She came up to me after the announcement and asked me: ‘You are the CEO of the Rose Festival; are you excited for this new race?’ I told her, ‘Of course. It’s great for the city and the festival.’ She then asked me if I’m a runner. I said, ‘No.’ She then told me that I should run it. I said, ‘Yeah, you know. I really should.’”

Curtis found out later that night that the blogger had written that he was going to run the inaugural race.

“I was committed from that day on,” Curtis says with a chuckle.

But the rigors and demands of leading one of the largest festivals in the country took priority over running. As such, Curtis didn’t do anything, training-wise, for months. It wasn’t until one of the members of his staff, a runner who had previously worked for Nike, convinced him to take the race seriously. She offered to help coach him and he eagerly accepted. “She put me on the treadmill for a couple months and I hated it,” says Curtis.

Last November, he finally hit the open road and began logging decent mileage, learning quickly what it’s like to deal with the physical challenges inherent in running. “Everything that is common sense for runners was new to me,” he admits. “I learned things like what kind of shoes to wear, what kind of socks to have on, and how to deal with nutrition.”

Curtis was sidelined for a few weeks with a slight foot injury, but he replaced his shoes and was able to get back on the roads in short order.

“Ultimately, I’m now ready,” he contends. “I’ve logged the necessary miles; I’ve gotten a lot of support along the way. I’m now a runner. I’ve transformed, and I can thank this Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon as the reason for getting me going.”

Humble by nature, it’s challenging to get Curtis to admit that he has played a vital role in bringing the latest installment of the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series to Portland. His local connections and leadership were instrumental in convincing the city to agree to the race. “As the CEO, I was looking for events to add to the Rose Festival’s portfolio,” he recalls. “We wanted a big event — one that would have international sizzle and instantly add to our brand and create credibility.”

Four years ago, Curtis met members of Competitor Group’s sales team at a conference and learned about the Rock ‘n’ Roll series. “I said, ‘That needs to happen in Portland,” Curtis remembers. At that point he put the pieces in motion with the city. “I was the local person who led that charge and I’m proud of that,” he says. “We brought this race to town and the city is going to benefit immensely from it.”

The annual Portland Rose Festival dates back to 1907. It kicks off this year on May 20 and lasts until June 17. Last year, it was named Best Festival in the World by the International Festivals and Events Association, the second such honor in five years. It includes three separate parades. The Grand Floral Parade alone attracts up to 500,000 spectators.

On Sunday, Curtis hopes to complete the race in less than two hours and 15 minutes. He originally wanted to just finish the race, but he’s a competitive person and is looking to push himself. “I want to run the whole way,” he says. “I may walk through a water station or two, but that’s it.” After the Rock ‘n’ Roll Portland Half Marathon, he plans to take on the Vancouver (Washington) Half Marathon in June and then the Portland Half Marathon in October.

Read more about Curtis’ training and follow his future progress at the Portland Rose Festival Blog.


About The Author:

Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, will be released in June.