This past Sunday, our little river city hosted the 41st annual running of the Harrisburg Marathon. Though I kept my hat firmly on my head and out of the ring this year, my father-in-law traveled from Indiana to join 1000+ other runners to tackle the rolling hills of wildwood, iconic bridges, and Capital streets on a route designed and managed by the YMCA. It was a crisp but clear morning for early November, and almost perfect running temperatures when we headed downtown for the race.
There is an infectious feeling of enthusiasm, hope, and accomplishment that buzzes from the throng of runners and eager spectators before a marathon that is unlike any other race. The marathon has become the gold ring for most mainstream runners: a lifetime goal for some, a Boston Qualifier for others, a triumph of discipline and physical fitness for all participants. Say what you will about ultras, mudruns, triathlons, and other tests of physical prowess – none is more well known or recognized as the marathon.
This was a great race to spectate. After the start on the Market Street bridge, and observing some of the wacky costumes (Keith Straw and the ever-present pink tutu, the guy juggling for some reason, wonder-women and plenty more) we strolled across the Walnut St Bridge, where a live band was playing the appropriate Flock of Seagulls Cover. From there, we were able to catch the runners 3-4 times as they circled about the course. Next we scooted over to Wildwood in time to see all the runners twice more before heading back to the finish line. Check out the Course Map here.
The race finishes at City Island, directly at the end of the Walnut St Bridge. Since that grating is miserable to run over (AM I RIGHT?) the runners all stick to the sidewalk. This allows spectators to stand on the grating, and I imagine offers a dramatic end for the runners: flanked on one side by the river, and the other a crowd of cheering fans offering high fives and encouragement. Or maybe its just claustrophobic.
for the most part, this course made me proud of our river city, showing off unique places like Wildwood Park, the Capitol Complex, South Harrisburg Greenbelt, City Island, and Riverfront Park. Parking is ample on City Island, and packet pickup was a breeze. We have perfect infrastructure for this type of event.
Like so many things in our fine city, the Marathon is really, really good – but it has the potential to be great. Over 1000 runners signed up this year, from more than 35 different states and 3 different countries. Anecdotally, these runners brought along family members and friends. Many traveled in the day before, and/or stayed the night after. One of the downtown hotels is an advertising sponsor for the race. Well executed, well supported marathons draw folks from all over – over 70% of whom make over $75k per year (check out these stats).
In addition to an opportunity for the runners to test their mettle, city-wide events like this are an opportunity to celebrate. To hit the streets with your neighbors and show off our hospitality. I would love the city to not merely host the marathon, but to EMBRACE the opportunity to be inspired by these athletes, have a darn good time cheering them on, and showcase our unique city in the process.
I had so much fun, I just might try running the damn thing next year.