Marathon festival faces stepped-up competition

Other races, difficulty of first course hurt field

Running

September 25, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

A crowded calendar and complaints about the difficulty of the original course have caused a drop in registration for the second Baltimore Running Festival.

The inaugural festival in 2001 drew more than 9,000 entrants. The Comcast Baltimore Marathon alone attracted 6,649 entries, making it the 13th largest in the nation, and had 4,829 finishers. This year's festival will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19, and through Monday it had registered 2,700 marathoners and another 2,000 for three accompanying races.

The president of Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which manages and promotes the Baltimore Running Festival, said that the event that is staged near Ravens Stadium will continue to be altered to satisfy consumers in an endeavor that has become a buyer's market.

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"We're definitely disappointed," Lee Corrigan said. "There are a lot of different factors, and some are out of our control. Some of the decline has to do with the fact that our race conflicts with some others in the mid-Atlantic region. The reputation we got, of having a difficult course last year, also contributed to that. The course has been made flatter and faster. The festival is a work in progress, and we'll tweak it until we get it right."

Race director Dave Cooley and assorted Baltimore City agencies made numerous changes to last year's course, which had a series of challenging hills in the middle third of the 26.2-mile race. What was a counterclockwise course has been altered considerably and is now described as "serpentine." It passes the Inner Harbor twice and includes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge, formerly known as the Hanover Street Bridge.

The organizers dropped steep climbs up Walther Avenue and Northern Parkway, but they still face competition from the nation's largest 10-miler and some first-year marathons.

The Army 10-Miler, the Washington staple that closed registration at 18,000 runners, will be held the day after the Baltimore Running Festival. Last year's race was canceled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Oct. 20 schedule also includes two new East Coast marathons, a flat course in Virginia Beach that has drawn 1,100 registrants and a more daunting one on Mount Desert Island, a Maine tourist destination.

Some of the drop in participation will be made up through the GEICO Direct Team Relay. That race within a race, which consists of four-person teams covering the marathon course in sections ranging from 3.4 to 8.5 miles, was supposed to be limited to 250 teams last year. It accepted 300, and more than 400 teams are already registered for this year's relay.

Fila still has its name attached to the 5K, and is expected to again bring in some top Kenyan talent for the marathon. Organizers have added a fourth event, the CitiFinancial Kids Fun Run, with age-appropriate races ranging from 100 yards to a half-mile. All runners in the festival will follow a closing stretch down Eutaw Street, past Oriole Park at Camden Yards to a common finish line near Ravens Stadium.

Because the Ravens play at home Oct. 20, the marathon's starting time has been moved up 30 minutes, to 8 a.m. The festival will close down at 3 p.m., and marathoners not maintaining a seven-hour pace won't be listed as official finishers.

Registration information is available online at www.thebaltimoremarathon.com.

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