WASHINGTON, D.C. Some 30,000 runners will participate in the 33rd annual Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, once again the centerpiece of a weekend full of activities. Kicking off with a health and fitness expo at the D.C. Armory on Thursday, events include a kids fun run, a 10-K race, and a post-marathon concert with the BoDeans. Rick Nealis, who has served as the Marine Corps Marathon race director since 1993, helped make the marathon a weekend-long event in 2001. “We wanted to generate life back into the nation's capital after September 11,” he said. “Part of our mission statement is to create goodwill in the community, so we made the marathon a celebration.”
With the presidential election taking place nine days after the marathon, 2,000 more participants than last year, and rain in the forecast, what is Nealis most concerned about? “We've dealt with everything from the D.C. sniper in 2002 to a suspicious package found at the Pentagon in 2007, so we're prepared for just about anything,” he said.
This year, community relations coordinator Tami Faram joined the marathon team to work with school groups, arts organizations, and neighborhood partners taking part in the marathon's festivities. Other new additions include mile markers along the Arlington leg of the race designed by local graffiti artist Kevin Irvin and more entertainment throughout the day, including Marine Corps and local high school bands. American Idol alum Kimberley Locke will sing the national anthem.
The 26-mile course also changed this year. The race now starts in Arlington and follows Lee Highway through Rosslyn, Spout Run, and George Washington Parkway. The race then enters Georgetown, a spectator-friendly neighborhood that has been reintroduced this year. At approximately the halfway point of the marathon, runners will pass the Kennedy Center (also new this year) and head into Hains Point and past many of D.C.'s monuments. The race then winds its way back into Virginia, venturing past Crystal City, the Pentagon, and finishing at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
An expanded “Finish Festival,” which saw record crowds last year, is sponsored by Verizon Wireless and will take place in Rosslyn. There, runners can meet up with family and friends, make free phone calls, and receive massages. Also on site will be a Michelob Ultra beer garden, a Brooks Sports apparel store, samplings from local restaurants, and displays from sponsors Saturn and USAA, a military investment and insurance company.
The Marine Corps Marathon's direct impact on the local economy is signifcant: The 2006 race generated $31.7 million. Plus, attractive demographics—more women and more first-time runners take part than in other city marathons—and obvious patriotic appeal have helped bring on new sponsors and retain existing relationships. “With September 11 and the war, we've seen a spike in companies wanting to be invoived with the Marine Corps Marathon,” said Nealis.