- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

NEW YORK — It wasn’t until her mother finished her first half marathon shortly after undergoing radiation for breast cancer that Tamara Daniels found the motivation to run the race.

Now, Miss Daniels has joined the throngs of runners who are lacing up their sneakers and racing throughout the country.

Cities and retailers hope to benefit from the renewed interest by turning local marathons into running festivals to attract tourist dollars and show off their communities.

Well-known races such as the Chicago and New York City marathons have capped their registrations to avoid overflow. Nearly 40,000 runners participated in the New York City Marathon last week.

Participants in second-tier races in Miami, Portland, Oregon, and Detroit have also skyrocketed as more runners are shut out of big-time races and new faces enter the field.

More cities are jumping in the race. The number of marathons nationwide has grown steadily in the last five years, according to marathonguide.com, from 272 events in 2001 to 359 scheduled marathons for 2006.

Local running clubs start most marathons with the economic and logistical support from the host cities. But in some cases, cities initiate the formation of their own marathons and bring in outside event management companies to organize the event and find sponsors.

“We’re seeing a lot of smaller and midsize cities putting more effort into their races to bring more people and money into their cities,” said Jean Knaack, executive director of Road Runners Club of America. “Marathons seem to have its own niche tourism market. They get a lot of out-of-towners.”

In its second year, the Fargo Marathon in North Dakota saw its registration jump from 2,400 runners in all of its events — marathon, 5K, half marathon, relay and children’s race — to 6,000 this year. The event drew runners from 46 states and three countries.

“This is an opportunity for people to see what our community has to offer,” said Bryan Schultz, director of sports sales for the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Now we’re seeing local businesses getting on board, wanting to sponsor the event because they see a great opportunity to showcase their business and the community.”

Mr. Schultz estimates the economic impact of the race to be about $1.5 million. Other marathons can bring in more. Depending on the size of the marathon and the city, the impact varies from a few million dollars to tens of millions of dollars.

For example, the 2005 Honolulu Marathon injected more than $100 million into the local economy, according to a Hawaii Pacific University study, putting it second to only the ING New York Marathon. Much of the money came from Japanese marathoners who spent on average $240 per day, the study said.

To increase their appeal, organizers of marathons are adding a variety of races to the agenda to create a running festival. Since even the most serious runners average only two marathons a year, shorter races such as half marathons, 5Ks and 10Ks can attract racers in between marathon training.

Kevan Huston of San Francisco usually runs two marathons a year and has raced in some of the country’s largest. But when he’s not training, Mr. Huston also enjoys running smaller races and marathon relays with his running club.

“If there’s ever a team element to a race competition, we get 10 to 15 guys together and go to the race wearing our running club T-shirts,” said the 34-year-old researcher. “It’s a very powerful way of creating an extended community.”

Shorter races also appeal to novice runners who may be traveling with an experienced marathoner. These less intimidating races allow spouses, partners, children and older parents get involved, too.

“We saw a family of seven from Winnipeg, Canada, come in and each family member ran in a different race,” Mr. Schultz said. “We’re hoping the kids’ race will go up to 5,000 and be the biggest kids’ race in the world.”

Marathon events are also packaging themselves as health and lifestyle events by hosting fitness and running expositions before race day. This kind of marketing is bringing in all types of sponsors.

“More and more sponsors want to associate themselves with health and fitness events,” said Bill Burke, a race organizer for Premier Event Management. “We’re seeing an increase in sponsor participation. We’re getting car, beverage and power companies involved.”

Running for Your Life, a small franchise of running stores in Charlotte, N.C., resurrected the local marathon, which was canceled in 2003 because of misappropriation of funds. Renamed the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon, an homage to the city’s stock car history, it drew nearly 2,000 runners last year and is on target to reach 4,000 this December. The stores also host 25 other race events during the year.

“The event business and retail business is synergistic. The more energy we can create around the event, the more people identify with the store,” said Tim Rhodes, president of Event Marketing Services, which owns the stores. “Our store reputation lives and dies by how we do at the race events.”

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