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Event offers economic boost, chance to show off city

Nov. 06, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Be prepared Huntington, and break out the welcome signs. Sunday is run day.

So far, more than 2,000 runners from 32 states and five countries are planning to come to Huntington this weekend for the Marshall University Marathon, race director Jim Duke said. That's up from last year's record of 1,800 participants.

About 300 hotel rooms are reserved for participants in the marathon, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and begins at 7 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 10, at Marshall University.

"There is a significant economic impact. That's just the rooms, we're not even talking about the restaurants," Duke said. "We take pride in the fact that we're contributing to the community by having this marathon."

It's also a great opportunity to show off the city, he said.

"We really want to boast and show outside people how beautiful Huntington is," Duke said. "It really has beautiful spots that rival any other city -- Ritter Park and Harris Riverfront Park. You're not going to see a nicer scene than the river and the bridge. ... The best part of Huntington and the Tri-State area are us, the residents. We're what makes this community such a vibrant area."

Founded 10 years ago by Dr. Tom Dannals and healthyhuntington.org (now healthytristate.org), the Marshall University Marathon is a race event that offers several opportunities for exercise. Along with the 26-mile race, there's a half marathon, a half-marathon relay, and a 5K.

It truly can be family event, Duke said.

"If you're a beginner and just want to walk an event, we have a 5K," he said. "It's a wonderful event because it takes you to the stadium and Marshall campus. The half marathon -- you have a great experience and an opportunity to exercise and you don't have to kill yourself."

The half marathon "is more for the sane than the insane," Duke said. "I like to run, but when you're running a marathon and you see all those people turning left for the finish line and you have 13 miles to go, and you paid for this privilege, you wonder if these people have more upstairs than I do."

This year, there also is an ultra marathon of 39.3 miles. It's three laps around the marathon course, and must be completed within six hours because that's the length of time race volunteers can serve.

"We've labeled ours the Marshall Challenge. We actually have 15 people registered for that -- those are the people we need to check into the hospital immediately afterward," Duke joked.

Other features include a free pasta dinner, an opportunity to hear Runners World magazine contributor Bart Yasso, an Asics shirt, a 3-D medal, a finish in Marshall's Joan C. Edward's stadium with names announced over the stadium sound system, and free post-race food by the Elks Lodge.

But what brings runners to Huntington from all over is the fact that the marathon is a flat, fast course, he said.

"Despite the fact that we're in a mountain state, our course is a good course if you want to do well," Duke said. "It holds no surprises for you. If you can train for distance, you'll love our event. What draws people to Huntington is this is a beautiful course and the people who do this are very friendly. As a runner, I've tried to organize this race in the eyes of a runner.

"You park at stadium parking lot for free and when you finish, you finish by your parked car," he said. "Logistics is such a favorable aspect of this event. ... We go out of our way to make it a positive experience because we are small."

Participants are coming from across the country and around the world -- with two coming from Italy, one from France, two from Australia and, "believe it or not, we have one from Ethiopia," Duke said. There's also a runner from West Virginia University who is looking for a good time to qualify for one of the big national marathons, he said.

"As a director, it puts that much more pressure on you. These people are paying a lot of money to come to Huntington, W.Va., to have a great experience," Duke said. "They are taking time out of their busy schedule and missing work and spending money to travel. ... We can't compete against big events -- Boston and New York. But we tried to think about how can we promote ourselves as a nice regional event."

The hard work will pay off for local businesses, said Cara Hedrick, marketing director for the Cabell Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We're always thrilled when a large event like this can come to Huntington because it's good not only for the city but the hotels and restaurants and the shops," she said.

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