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Marathon Boosts City Psyche, Economy

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Richmond hosted a gleaming new running race on Saturday, Nov. 15 -- the McDonald's Half Marathon. Looking for a Richmond sports story with legs? Read on.

First off, like any good sports story (Phillies, Redskins, Celtics) this one includes a resurrection theme. The last half marathon event held here 11 years ago had entries in the low hundreds. On Saturday, more than 4,300 people laced on their running shoes and ran (walking was also witnessed) the 13.1-mile course. What had been a club activity is now a significant event. Any Richmond enterprise that resurrects itself with that kind of bang is worth clapping for.

In tandem with our resurrection theme there was growth and economic impact. Unlike so many other industries in the gloomy news, the running biz is booming. According to the State of the Sport Report put out by our friends at Running USA:

“Since 2003, the half-marathon has been the fastest growing road race distance in the U.S. … from 1998 to 2007, the number of estimated half-marathon finishers in the U.S. has increased by 74% (373,000 vs. 650,000).”

For our Richmond-centric story, adding the McDonald's Half Marathon registrant numbers to the weekend's other events pushed the total entries past 14,000, a record. Add spectators and supporters and the number swells to well over 40,000 attendees. In 2006, with overall event registrations at 10,059, the economic impact was $8.4 million.  hanks largely to the McDonald's Half Marathon this weekend's economic impact was more than 40 percent higher, close to $11 million in economic impact. If you're employed in the hospitality industry, go out and hug a runner. 

Partnership is another great theme for our story. The McDonald's Half Marathon represents a partnership between one of the world's most identifiable brands, McDonald's, with the Sports Backers, Richmond's entrepreneurial, nonprofit sports commission. For all the noise about the new direction of capitalism, the sound of thousands of feet on the street is far more reassuring, especially when they're highly motivated runners. This event was a win for the half-marathoners, a win for the city's economy, a win for McDonald's, and a win for Sports Backers. Did I mention that a year ago it didn't exist?

And finally, there was connectivity. Whether they were from near or far, our half marathoners coursed our city at the end of our driveways, our streets, our offices and shops. For their three-hour tour they were as Richmond as any of us. They heard, smelled, touched, tasted and saw Richmond.

Many will return. Some won't. But they came here, and they didn't shy away from what we are because they didn't shy away from what they were -- half marathoners with a race to finish, plain and simple.

For them, we weren't a blue city or a red city; a basketball city or a baseball city; a prosperous city or a transitional city; we were the city that set out an appealing 13.1-mile race that was significant enough for them to schedule into their lives, significant enough for them to prepare for, to register for and to do their darnedest to complete in. And now today when they are back at home -- wherever in our great country that may be -- telling the people who love them about their accomplishment, Richmond will remain in their memory as a good place where they ran a good race. 

It doesn't have to be more complicated than that, does it?

Mike McCormick is communications director for the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers.

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