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As of Thursday, a total of 1,660 runners had registered for the marathon, the half-marathon and the marathon relay -- well ahead of organizers' goal of 1,500.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Assistant race director Molly Bullington sticks directional arrows on the corner of Franklin Road and Reserve Avenue Southwest in Roanoke on Thursday.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
As the clock ticks toward Saturday’s Blue Ridge Marathon, race organizers are encountering a unique phenomenon.
It’s common, race chairman Pete Eshelman said, for some runners who signed up for the full marathon to get cold feet.
Fearing the 26.2-mile race, they’ll contact Eshelman and request a shift to the 13.1-mile half-marathon.
“Typically right now I hear from people who didn’t train enough for the marathon,” Eshelman said.
But Wednesday he got a different request.
“A guy just wrote to me and asked if he could switch from the half to the full to honor Boston,” Eshelman said Wednesday afternoon. “I said, ‘Sure.’ ”
And he went a step beyond, posting on Facebook that he would grant a free upgrade to anyone who asked.
Fifteen runners took the offer.
Such is the mood heading into this weekend’s race, an event that has become even more compelling than usual in the wake of the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Since Monday, Blue Ridge Marathon race officials also have received several dozen last-minute entries.
Most are for the half-marathon, but plenty are for the full, a race that carries the nickname of America’s Toughest Road Marathon.
As of Thursday, a total of 1,660 runners had registered for the marathon, the half-marathon and the marathon relay.
The total well exceeds race organizers’ hopes of hitting 1,500 athletes in this, the race’s fourth year.
Race organizers also have fielded many requests from those hoping to join the force of 350 or so volunteers needed for the race to run smoothly.
“I’m excited that we are persevering,” said Molly Bullington, the assistant race director. “The running community is coming together and persevering.”
Race officials plan to make available to runners stickers and ribbons honoring the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Runners will be asked to observe a moment of silence before the race start.
While the Boston Marathon is weighing heavily on the minds of racers and organizers, race organizers have said that they haven’t heard from any racers or fans expressing concerns about security.
Still, added precautions are being put in place.
The Roanoke Police Department is increasing its presence along the course, which starts and ends downtown after winding up and over Mill and Roanoke mountains, and through the city’s South Roanoke and Old Southwest neighborhoods.
Race officials are also asking for extra cooperation from runners and spectators.
A memo to runners from Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins makes several requests, including asking runners to avoid bringing large bags to the event if possible, and to refrain from staging support gear along the course.
Bags that are brought may be subject to search.
A number of streets downtown and along the course will be closed to traffic during all or parts of the race.
A map detailing street closures is available on the marathon website.
“It was smooth sailing until Monday,” Bullington said of race preparation. “That added an extra element.
“It was a wake-up call that we need to be more alert.”
Weather also has presented the race team with an added challenge this week.
Though race day conditions appear to be favorable, the forecast of heavy rain today prompted race officials to opt for the race’s “flood” course.
The change affects only a short section of the full and half-marathon routes, taking runners off a section of the Roanoke River Greenway that crosses two low-water bridges near Smith and Wasena parks.
In the past 10 days, one of the bridges has been covered with water twice after heavy rain.
The detour winds through Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood, and adds about 150 feet of elevation gain to both courses.
In the scheme of things, that extra climbing is minor.
The marathon course already had a total of 3,620 feet of climbing, most of it coming in from ascents up Mill Mountain (twice), Roanoke Mountain and South Roanoke’s Peakwood Drive.
The Peakwood climb, which hits after runners already have covered more than 17 miles, was added in the race’s second year to create some tough climbing later in the race.
With its one major climb being the ascent from the valley floor to the Mill Mountain Star, the half-marathon course includes about 2,500 feet of elevation gain.
In past years, many runners have said that the quad-quaking downhills have been even more difficult than the uphill sections.
The marathon course’s difficulty has helped attract national notoriety to the race.
For example, the Blue Ridge Marathon was ranked eighth in a recent Weather Channel story featuring the world’s toughest marathons.
Bringing in celebrity runners Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter and Bart Yasso for this year’s race likely also helped fuel interest.
The three will be participating in a relay with Kelly Hollinger and Keith Barton, winners of the marathon’s Run with the Legends contest.
Shorter and Yasso also plan to participate in an open run this morning, starting at 7 a.m. at Vic Thomas Park along the Roanoke River Greenway.
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