- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

The fact that the organizers of the new National Marathon held a private press briefing in the eighth-floor office of Fernando Murias speaks volumes about the event itself.

Murias is chairman of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, which is producing the March25 race. But of even greater importance, Murias, the managing partner of the Greater Washington Area Practice for PricewaterhouseCoopers, is known around the Washington regional business community as one of its most influential players.

And his influence, along with the presence of many well-known names in business and athletics who constitute the GWSA board, will go a long way toward regaining credibility when the two words “Washington” and “marathon” are used together.

“The reason the city has granted us a marathon is that the Sports Alliance has such strong backing,” said GWSA president Robert Sweeney during the briefing. “We are not an event management firm pushing a marathon that happened the way things happened.”

Sweeney is referring, of course, to the rapid death of the Washington D.C. Marathon, which debuted in 2002 and was abruptly canceled just days after the U.S. went to war with Iraq in March 2003.

Most of the marathoners lost their entry fees.

Partly because of that debacle, the GWSA was established that year as an affiliate of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. A majority of the proceeds from the race will go to GWSA’s seven charity partners.

To draw any legitimate comparison between the former Washington D.C. Marathon and the new National Marathon would be silly. The former organizers never had much of a financial backing and certainly had little to no sports or marathon experience while GWSA has a wealth of resources in both cases.

Already, they have made two intelligent moves. First, they scheduled their race on a Saturday, so as not to upset the religious community as the Washington D.C. Marathon did in its debut year, staging the race on Palm Sunday to the irritation of parishioners. The date, however, is less than a week after the March19 Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach.

Then they hired an experienced marathoner, Keith Dowling, as race director.

Dowling, a 36-year-old Reston resident who retired from a successful marathon career after a disappointing run at the 2004 U.S. Men’s Olympic marathon trials in Birmingham, Ala., is keen on making the event a marathoner’s marathon as well as an elite experience for his entire field.

“I am hoping that with the runners, there is a level of trust with me,” said Dowling, who should be able to attract many elite athletes with prize money. “This race is a personal mission for me.”

It’s fitting that the race director of the National Marathon was born on the Fourth of July.

Each runner will have to submit a time from a 10-mile race, half-marathon or full marathon run between Jan.1, 2000 and March19, 2006.

“Absolutely this is not an eight-hour marathon course,” Sweeney stated.

For runners aged 18 to 49, the marathon standard will be 4:30, half marathon 2:10 and 10-miler 1:40. For runners 50-plus, the entry standards are 5 hours, 2:25 and 1:55 respectively. Dowling said he will be checking applications for legitimacy.

Each runner will receive a personalized bib number with their name in bold print, just like the elites have in the big races.

Dowling also said he designed the course to simulate the Boston Marathon, for two reasons: This marathon will be a Boston qualifier. Dowling’s best marathon time came on the Boston course — a 2:13:28 in 2002.

Starting at RFK Stadium, the first half of the course is relatively flat, heading west past the National Mall and around the Watergate, past the Washington Navy Yard, east on Pennsylvania Avenue over the Anacostia River and through Southeast Washington.

A mile after the hills begin, the course crosses into Maryland’s Prince George’s County at the 16-mile mark. The runners then loop around Capitol Heights before returning to RFK via East Capitol Street.

The race will end outside the stadium in 2006, but Sweeney is hoping in the future to have an inside stadium finish like the Olympics. The field is limited to 5,000 for the inaugural, and online entries are available at nationalmarathon.com.

“We are looking for a quality race with sustained controlled growth over a period of years,” said Murias, who still is seeking major sponsors.

Murias also put out a challenge to Sweeney and the rest of the field: “I will put up for charity $1,000 for each person who finishes behind us!”

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