- - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It starts with the huge 2 1/2 day Health & Fitness EXPO launching Thursday, then it proceeds with the Runners Club Kickoff Mixer, First Timers Pep Rally, Healthy Kids Run, Runner Symposium and Carbo Loading Dinner on Saturday.

Oh, then on to one of the world’s largest marathons Sunday.

Marine Corps Marathon hits the city this weekend for the 36th time with its approximately 30,000 entrants and estimated 100,000 spectators focusing on Sunday morning’s 26.2-mile run.

While much has stayed the same over the years, MCM Race Director Rick Nealis perpetually has challenges from year to year with the changes. This year, like many years, construction along the course forced alterations.

“For the first time in 36 years we’re not going down Constitution Avenue because of construction,” said Nealis, race director for 19 years of the fifth-largest marathon in the United States and the ninth largest in the world. The race will instead go out and back on Independence Avenue.

Nealis said he has had other complications, too, this year. The expo is back in the D.C. Armory after two years at the D.C. Convention Center.

“We were not considered a city-wide event,” Nealis explained. “The city does not recognize the Marine Corps Marathon as a city-wide event, and we can’t show that we bring all this tax revenue from hotels. We don’t do room blocks like other major events … I think there was an event that wanted our weekend and the city gave it to them.”

According to Nealis, the Convention Center has 110,000 square feet versus 68,000 square feet at the Armory. Packet pickup will be outside under tents while the vendors will set up inside the Armory to make up for the loss of 30,000 square feet. The Runner Symposium will move to the Hyatt Crystal City.

Said Nealis: “We have the same 110,000 square feet, but we had to get creative.” He also had to expand the expo to 2 1/2 days from two days to accommodate the traffic in smaller quarters, thus adding Thursday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. to the all-day Friday and Saturday hours.

A majority of the marathon entrants are first-timers, including comedian Drew Carey. The familiar host of “The Price Is Right” also will fire the starting pistol before jumping into the masses, wearing No. 325 for his Marine unit in Cleveland.

Up at the front most likely will be Arlington resident and ultramarathoner Michael Wardian. Sporting Bib No. 348, the tall thin pony-tailed Wardian has one thing on his mind to win.

“Yeah man, I am going to try to win,” said Wardian, hoping to add a Marine Corps title to his five National Marathon triumphs. “They always get a bunch of the military guys who are decent. It is never a cakewalk to win at Marine Corps.”

As always, the 37-year-old Wardian has been busy. He just earned USA Track & Field’s Athlete of the Week for dominating the USA 50-Mile Championships last Sunday at the Tussey Mountainback Race in Boalsburgh, Pa. The week before, Wardian did a weekend double, placing third at Hartford (2:22) and first at the Mount Desert Island Marathon (Bar Harbor, Maine).

He’ll be joined in his sixth Marine Corps Marathon by Darrell General, five-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and two-time Marine Corps champ (1995, 1997). General was planning to use Marine Corps to qualify for the 2012 trials, but he said his training is four to six weeks behind.

“At one time, I was trying to [qualify under 2:19],” said the 45-year-old General, coach at George Marshall High in Falls Church. “But the training was hard. I had to lose 30 pounds and get my time down. That was one of my initial goals. I’m in good shape but not in peak shape. Depending on this race, if I don’t feel beat up, I will try to run a qualifier in December.”

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