Sunday, March 11, 2007

The second annual National Marathon got a title sponsor and a facelift in the past week.

Wirefly.com, whose parent company InPhonic is the District’s second-largest technology company and a leading online retailer comparing cell phone and wireless service plans, signed a two-year agreement with the locally based marathon scheduled for March 24, according to race official Bob Sweeney.

“With the title sponsor, we will now have the resources to increase the national marketing plan and the recruitment of more elites,” said Sweeney, president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, the organizing group for the marathon and accompanying half marathon.



Sweeney said that 12 elite athletes are registered so far and five marathoners, including defending champions Michael Wardian and Susan Graham-Gray, are vying for 2008 U.S. Olympic trials qualifiers.

Sweeney spent Friday afternoon before city officials hammering out the final course to be run in two weeks. Although a course was approved on Aug. 14, Sweeney said, the Metropolitan police had logistical concerns with a course that circled the city and left insufficient evacuation routes.

“So we are going into Rock Creek Park,” Sweeney said. “Our big thing was getting Rock Creek Park and North Capitol Street. It’s a big deal because it helps with the evacuation routes and it doesn’t screw up the neighborhoods.”

The new course eliminates hilly Minnesota Avenue and after it traverses the National Mall the second time and passes under the Kennedy Center at mile 17, it heads through scenic Rock Creek Park to National Zoo. In the process it avoids 23rd Street, 22nd Street, New Hampshire Avenue and 18th Street from the previously charted course.

The course then passes through Adams Morgan on Columbia Road to Washington Hospital Center and straight down North Capitol Street to H Street before finishing two miles later back at RFK Stadium.

“We are visiting areas who haven’t seen a marathon in years,” former elite marathoner and race director Keith Dowling said. “We switch from urban to park, from the Lincoln Memorial into Rock Creek Park. If you could design a perfect route, this is close to perfect.”

The challenge now is making this event financially viable.

“We lost at least $100,000 last year,” Dowling noted. “Our goal is to get through this year financially.”

Dowling is projecting 4,500 to 4,600 entrants for the marathon and the half combined. So far, he said he has 1,500 marathoners and 2,600 in the half.

The big nut to crack, no matter the race size, is the cost of police, which in many large-city marathons is donated by the city.

“Last year we paid $118,000,” Sweeney said. “No clue on the costs of police this year. I’m sure it will be $150,000; that’s what we budgeted. We’ll pay what we need to pay. It’s a hard pill to swallow, it was last year. [Other big-city marathons] typically have the full support of the city that they are celebrating. To be frank, we have the full support, but we have to pay the police costs.”

Sweeney confirmed that D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is running the half marathon.

A long week — Was Debra Bolton, vice president and assistant general counsel for Mirant, which operates the Potomac River Generating Station along the bicycle path in Alexandria, truthful in her comments published in this column March 4?

“We are in compliance with the NAAQS [EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard],” she said March 2. “We have six monitors up around the plant and they are nowhere near the max.”

Just seven days before those comments, Mirant had exceeded federal allowable limits at one of its sulfur dioxide (SO2) monitors by 11 percent and reported that information to state and federal regulatory agencies as well as to Alexandria officials.

Chuck Hagee, who has covered the plant extensively for the Gazette Packet, wrote that both Mirant corporate communications manager Felicia Joy Browder and Bolton insisted in a telephone conversation from Mirant headquarters in Atlanta that it was Mirant who took the initiative in announcing the exceedance on Feb. 27 via press release. “I was the one who alerted everyone,” Bolton said.

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