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Scrambling to Reroute Marine Corps Marathon Following Transit Problems

21 Sep, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
It's Not the First Time Planners Have Had to Cancel or Alter Big Sports Events Because of Outside Events

Thousands of runners and more than 100,000 spectators are tinkering with their schedules, thanks (or no thanks) to train mass transit problems that have resulted in changes in the Marine Corps Marathon schedule.

Organizers of the marathon announced earlier this month that there would be alterations in the 26.2-mile race and accompanying 10K, due to ongoing repairs of the Washington, D.C., Metro system that could affect travel to the starting line on race day, October 30.

Changes include course alterations and extra time for runners to cross the starting line.

The Marine Corps Marathon, despite being the fourth-largest marathon in the nation, according to Running USA (23,184 runners finished the 40th edition of the marathon in 2015), learned that it cannot take precedence over Metro’s SafeTrack program.

According to an article in the Washington Post, Metro turned a deaf ear to pleas from Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley and marathon officials in a meeting with Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld at the transit agency’s headquarters in early August.

Runner’s World noted that the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority has eliminated the early openings that have previously accommodated special events like the marathon. In past years, rail service began at 5 a.m. on marathon weekend. It will not be available until 7 a.m. this year, though the marathon will maintain its planned start time of 7:55 a.m.

Because of the restricted transit options, race organizers are implementing a few measures to help participants. For example, the traditional time cutoff point for the marathon requires runners to get to the 14th Street Bridge, the 20-mile mark of the course, by 1:15 p.m. or be shuttled to the finish area. That time cutoff remains, but due to course alterations, the 14th Street Bridge is now the 18th mile of the course instead of the 20-mile mark. The starting line will also be open until 8:55 a.m. to give all runners ample opportunity to cross the starting line timing mat.

“All of the changes have been governed by the principle that every participant deserves a fair chance to accomplish the goal of finishing the Marine Corps Marathon within the required 14-minute-per-mile time limit," said Rick Nealis, the Marine Corps Marathon Director, in a statement.

The changes were announced at a press conference in Rosslyn, Virginia, which was broadcast over Facebook Live. 

On race morning in 2015, a Metro railcar hit a deer on the track, delaying runners on their way to the start. Security checkpoints then became overloaded as thousands of runners tried to enter the race staging area at once, while several metal detectors malfunctioned. Some runners waited as long as an hour to pass through the security and missed the start of the race. 

It isn’t the first time events unrelated to large races have caused delays, problems and changes. In fact, last year, the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon had to be rescheduled to Halloween to avoid conflicts with the papal visit. The event, which draws about 15,000 athletes, as well as family, friends, staff, vendors and others, did not want to contend with the traffic shutdowns that would threaten the route or diminish its economic impact. A study conducted by San Diego State University (near where the Rock 'n' Roll event is headquartered) estimates that race weekend has an economic impact of $15 million on the region. Ordinarily, the race is a huge draw since many pros use it as a tune-up for the New York City Marathon.

Also in 2015, Hurricane Joaquin caused the cancellation of the Charlotte Race for the Cure 5K. In recent years, crowd estimates for the Charlotte Race ranged from 15,000 to 20,000, raising about $1.5-million each year. The hurricane season also caused cancellations of a myriad of other events, including the Jersey Shore Half-Marathon and its accompanying Lighthouse 5K, as well as two Maryland events, the Seagull Century bicycle ride and the Maryland Ironman.

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