Finding stride, city catches marathon

October event to show that Baltimore can run with best, O'Malley says

Running

March 30, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Rejected by the Marines? Banned in Boston? Tired of the city that never sleeps?

Well, now local runners have a marathon to call their own.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and leaders of the business community announced yesterday that city streets will take a pounding Oct. 20 in the inaugural running of the Baltimore Marathon.

The event will fill a glaring hole in the city's running resume -- that of being the only one of the nation's 30 largest cities to be marathon-less, organizers say.

Filling the void, O'Malley said, will prove to the rest of the country that Baltimore is "a world-class city" and help persuade Olympic officials that the region is capable of playing host to the 2012 Summer Games.

But even more important than the status could be the economic impact of the event. The Boston Marathon, which averages 13,000 participants, means $67 million to the local economy. The New York City Marathon, with a field of 30,000, adds $100 million.

Organizers have planned a "Marathon Celebration Village" at PSINet Stadium with a health and fitness expo, interactive sports games, live music and food to entice spectators.

"I hope our guests bring lots of money to spend," O'Malley said. "I hope they don't take a dime back with them."

The idea for a marathon was brought to the starting line by the mayor's wife, Katie O'Malley, and city Councilwoman Catherine Pugh, both runners. O'Malley finished last year's Marine Corps race.

The mayor said it was an easy proposal to endorse, but refused to say whether he will make the ultimate commitment and run the course.

"This marathon will bring some of the nation's top runners along with some average folks like ... am I running?" said a surprised O'Malley, looking up from his prepared text. "I'm running? I'm more of a sprinter."

The race will start and end at PSINet Stadium, going counterclockwise around town for 26.2 miles. The proposed route takes runners through five parks, with the final 10 miles downhill. One of the 13 water stations is planned right in front of the O'Malley house, the mayor noted amid much laughter.

More than $50,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded in 10 divisions. A 5-kilometer run will start a half hour after the marathon begins.

A portion of each registration fee has been earmarked for local charities that serve children. Comcast, one of the corporate sponsors, made a pledge of $10,000 at yesterday's news conference. Individual registrations are $50 before June 30.

"I think this is big because we haven't had one in Maryland since 1989," said Dave Cooley, race director, referring to the Maryland Marathon. The course for that race extended into Baltimore County. The Tour Baltimore, which was completely within the city limits, was run just once, in the 1980s.

Even though the Marine Corps Marathon will follow the Baltimore race by eight days, organizers say they don't see a problem attracting a field of 5,000.

Last year the Washington race turned away 8,000 runners. This year, it is cutting the field from 25,000 to 16,000, said Baltimore organizer Lee Corrigan.

Runners who try to register for the Marine Corps Marathon after the race is full will automatically be routed to the Baltimore Web site (www.thebaltimoremarathon.com).

As for attracting elite runners, executives of Fila, the Sparks-based sportswear company, say they will actively recruit participants.

Finally, there is the question of a nickname. If the Marine Corps race is known as "The People's Marathon," O'Malley was asked, what will Baltimore's be nicknamed?

After conferring with his wife briefly, the mayor grinned and replied, "Mrs. O'Malley says, `The Greatest Marathon in America.' "

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