Baltimore Marathon makes major strides in 4th year

Prize money, field size, elite runners all on rise

Baltimore Marathon

October 13, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Nearly 3,000 runners will gather Saturday morning to clog the intersection of Paca and Pratt streets, where the Baltimore Marathon will commence and set the tone for an event that has advanced well beyond its infancy.

The fourth annual Baltimore Running Festival is growing up fast.

Start with a major boost in prize money. The purse has more than tripled since last year, from $30,000 to $100,000. That has attracted enough world-class runners to put the men's and women's marathon race records in jeopardy. Each group goes after a $15,000 winner's prize that dwarfs last year's $4,000 reward. And for the first time, the top three male and female finishers will be drug-tested.

More out-of-state competitors are coming than in any previous year, although the defending marathon champions, Kenya's Erick Kimaiyo and Russia's Elvira Kolpakova, are not participating.

About 9,100 runners, another record, are expected to participate in the festival's five races, compared with 7,400 last year.

Besides the main event, which is sponsored by Under Armour, they are the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Half-Marathon, the Legg Mason Funds Team Relay, the WBAL 5K and the CitiFinancial Kids Fun Run. The half-marathon, which was added in 2003 and provides $2,000 for its two winners, is sold out, with 3,500 competitors registered.

"There have been changes in growth from Day 1 to Day 2 to now. We're ahead of the little marathons now," said Clay Shaw, who is the event's elite athletes coordinator. "The caliber of athletes we have this year is so much more different than what we've had last year. Unless the weather is absolutely abysmal, it's safe to say the men will break the [marathon] record, and the women will shatter the record."

Shaw said 25 elite runners, compared with 10 a year ago, are coming to Baltimore. He added that Kimaiyo, who won here in 2002 and 2003, is concentrating on coaching in his native land, although Kenya will be well represented Saturday. Kolpakova is focused more on ultra-marathons.

Kenya's six-man contingent includes Geoffrey Letting, 29, who has covered the 26.2-mile distance in 2 hours, 14 minutes, 26 seconds, well ahead of the Baltimore record of 2:17:43. It also includes John Itati, 30, who has never run a marathon, but last month covered his first half-marathon in just over 1:02. In addition, Russia's Mikhail Minyukhin, 30, ran a 2:14 two years ago.

The women's record of 2:48:49.4 was set last year by Kolpakova, who won the first three marathons here, but that mark is in serious danger of falling. Among the main runners to watch are Poland's Wioletta Krzya and Russia's Victoria Zueva.

Krzya, 36, has won 23 of the 45 marathons she has run, and won in Pittsburgh in 2002 with a time of 2:31:45. Zueva, 21, took last year's race in Austin, Texas, in 2:34.

The race course has been modified in each year of the event's history. Organizers have settled on a less hilly course that goes as far west as Druid Hill Park, as far north as Hampden and Charles Village, wraps around Lake Montebello and brushes Clifton Park to the northeast, and includes chunks of Upper Fells Point and Highlandtown while curling around much of the Inner Harbor and dipping as far south as Locust Point.

Runners will finish by coming down Eutaw Street, through Oriole Park at Camden Yards and down Ravens Walk, before ending near the foot of M&T Bank Stadium.

"There's always a learning curve with these things. We've evolved. It's really become a quality event," said Dave Cooley, the race director.

That also forced the event to absorb about $3,500 in costs to conduct drug tests at M&T Bank Stadium after the top three men and women cross the marathon finish line.

Said Shaw: "We want our athletes to be clean, and we want the race to be fun. Accusations and finger-pointing are not fun. [Testing] is a necessary evil."

Lee Corrigan, the head of Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which promotes and manages the festival, said the presence of lead sponsor Under Armour and a variety of running events have combined to raise the festival in stature. Founded by University of Maryland graduate Kevin Plank, Under Armour is a Baltimore-based sports apparel business that is one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation.

Corrigan said about 40 percent of this year's competitors are from out of state, compared with roughly one-third from previous years. The half-marathon, which features such elite runners as Kenya's Valentine Orare and Samuel Ndereba among the men and Russia's Silvia Skvortsova and Lyubov Denisova among the women, has sold out two years in a row.

In addition, all 1,000 slots have been filled in the 5K, and the relay will include 400 of a possible 750 teams. And at M&T Stadium Parking Lot C, a Celebration Village will feature interactive games and live music.

Comparing marathons

2004 field

Chicago: 40,000

New York: 35,000

Philadelphia: 5,000

BALTIMORE: 3,000

Prize money

Chicago: $650,000

New York: $532,000

BALTIMORE: $100,000

Philadelphia: $18,510

Winner's share

Chicago: $125,000

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