Smaller races thrive in shadow of mega-marathons

Mon Nov 24, 2008 8:20pm EST
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By Ben Klayman and Phil Wahba

CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - For years, cities like New York and London have hosted the premier events in the world of marathon running, but now runners are finding relative comfort at smaller venues like Philadelphia and Copenhagen.

These second-tier races are still a grueling 26.2 miles long, of course, but their smaller fields mean a shorter wait to cross the starting line and faster times, both factors that appeal to runners.

Glen Wiener, a New York attorney, has run the New York Marathon three times in the past, but this year turned to Philadelphia, which hosted 8,000 runners in bitterly cold weather on Sunday.

"There are certain things you can do at a smaller race, like have a food tent at the finish and serve chicken soup, which you can't do with a marathon with 40,000 runners," Wiener said of his first marathon outside New York city.

As major marathons like New York, with its 39,000 runners and millions of spectators, struggle to meet demand -- it received 104,000 applications this year -- smaller marathons are mushrooming.

The San Antonio Marathon in Texas had a sold-out debut on November 16 and new ones are planned in Seattle and Las Vegas next year, adding to the approximately 400 marathons a year in the United States and about 800 worldwide.

"The market now for marathons is growing insanely, and Philadelphia has certainly benefited," said Melanie Johnson, the executive director of the Philadelphia Marathon.

Philadelphia, in its 15th year, sold out for the second year running this year, despite raising registrations by 20 percent to 8,000 runners.   Continued...

<p>Runners get ready to start at the 2008 Philadelphia Marathon in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 23, 2008. REUTERS/Bill Foster/City of Philadelphia/Handout</p>