This time a year ago, Veterans Marathon officials weren’t sure what they had with the inaugural 26.2 mile run throughout Whitley County.
After roughly 400 runners came out in mid November in 2009, small improvements are being made for an estimated field that race director Gary Bird expects to more than double in its second year.
“We definitely picked up where our issues were,” Bird noted. “We’ve addressed those for this year and made some changes.”
One of the most noticeable changes comes at the start and finish of the race. Safety concerns by Bird and fellow committee members moved both the start and finish lines back to better accommodate a larger field of runners.
“Safety was a big issue with some of the changes we made,” Bird said. “My job is to look after the safety of the runner.”
Last year, runners began at the Whitley County Government Center. To fit the larger field, officials moved the start line to the other side of Line Street just beyond the Eagles Lodge on Van Buren Street.
“With the amount of people last year we were up against Line Street,” Bird said. “We’re up against it so its better to control it to the front as opposed to the back. Now we have more flexibility to grow the race.”
A move to the finishline took Market Street out of the course. Before, runners would take a U-turn in front of the county jail before heading out on Market for the second leg of the marathon.
According to Bird, several reasons resulted in a move to Chauncey Street in front of City Hall for the finish line.
“We had runners running out into Main Street as they finished and that was a safety concern,” Bird said. “We eliminated the U-turn for runners and we also didn’t want to block in the fire department in case of an emergency.”
A series of finishlines for the new added 5K and half marathon will also follow on Van Buren.
In its second year, the focus is still on the veterans. Coming from a navy family, Bird chose the naval men and women to recognize this season. Awards will again be Indiana limestone tablets with medals plated on them.
With the army tank as the focal point in 2009, the naval battleship will be featured on the 2010 version.
“As it always has been and will be, our first goal is to honor the veterans,” Bird commented.
To date, the marathon is a third of the way to its cap of 1,500 with 453 runners registered for one of the three races taking place Nov. 13.
The race serves as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon for many runners. The Veterans field had one of the largest percentages of qualifiers at 18 percent.
Bird noted that many marathons will double in their second year and more as it gets older. Runners have agreed with high ratings on websites like www.marathonguide.com .
Dan Bloudin of Chicago posted “I had just run Chicago and NY and was looking for a small race to finish the season. This turned out to be my favorite race of the year.”
As one of many returning runners, marathon runner-up David Terrill Sr. of Tarentum, P.A. promises to be back.
“I'll take a race venue like this over a big-city marathon any day of the week. And, I'll be back for more.”
The Veterans Marathon was rated as four out of five stars in its first year.
A large part of that has to do with volunteers and contributions from sponsors.
Bird announced new major sponsors with Parkview joining a group that also includes Three Rivers Running Company, Whitley County YMCA, The Center, GU Energy.
Hundreds of volunteers, including local athletic teams and organizations, worked the aid stations throughout the course. Bird notes more volunteers and veterans groups are welcome to be a part of the event.
“Our race has been pretty self-sufficient,” Bird noted. “A lot of that has to do with volunteers. It’s basically 100 percent volunteer.
“One of the things I’ve been trying to put out is ‘come down town and line Van Buren Street as far as we can go with honor guards, boy scouts and police department that wants to participate and we’ll line the streets and celebrate our veterans.”
Those interested in being a part the second annual Veterans Marathon as volunteer, sponsor or other way can contact Gary Bird at 260-610-1268 or firstname.lastname@example.org .