With a record 30,000 entries for this weekend’s Walt Disney World Marathon and Half Marathon, the 13-year-old race has joined the ranks of Boston, New York, Chicago and Marine Corps in marathon stature.
Despite the addition of three marathons in South Florida — the Jan. 29 ING Miami Marathon, Feb. 19 A1A Marathon and Dec. 3 Marathon of the Palm Beaches — the Central Florida race has gained popularity.
With a new, split-day format to accommodate the large field, longtime race director Jon Hughes and his full-time staff of nine and 5,000-member volunteer base will work around the clock this weekend.
It’s a small price to pay for a race that started in 1994 with 8,500 runners in a marathon-only format. The half-marathon was added in 1998.
“What’s the big deal … 30,000 is a piece of cake,” deadpanned Hughes. “I have a nap planned for Saturday afternoon, but that’s it. I never did sleep even before the split format. Your mind is always racing.
“It’s pretty amazing and kind of cool the numbers we have reached. We are one of the big guys now. I can’t hide anymore. It’s nice to be rubbing shoulders with the big marathons. We all knew we wanted to build to this. We’re just a little surprised that it happened so quickly.”
The half-marathon, with about 16,000 runners, is Saturday, and the full marathon (14,000) on Sunday. About 3,000 will run both events, called Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge.
The split format allows for more growth in future years, Hughes said. The event, which was the first of the destination entertainment marathons, is the nation’s largest family marathon, Hughes said.
The breakdown is 60-40, the largest percentage of runners and walkers coming from outside the state.
Hughes said he has not seen any spike in attendance since South Florida entered the marathon frenzy.
“I welcome all three marathons,” Hughes said. “Take a look at what happens in the fall with Chicago, Marine Corps and New York. It bodes well for the sport. Women, the lifeline to this sport, continue to get involved. Every major metropolitan area should have its own marathon, and I’m happy ING jumped on board with Miami this year.
“Everywhere you look, there is a national obsession with health, fitness and obesity, and you see more and more groups promoting running and walking.”
START YOUR ENGINES
NASCAR veteran Kyle Petty, son of racing legend Richard Petty, is trading his stock car for running shoes on Sunday when he runs his second marathon. The avid runner tried his first marathon in Las Vegas last January as part of a fund-raising effort for his family’s Victory Junction Gang charity. He ran with NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip in four hours and 16 minutes.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Frank Bautz of Boynton Beach is up for Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. He plans to run the half and full marathon. Amazing considering that 10 years ago he underwent life-saving, open-heart surgery on his 36th birthday after five failed angioplasty procedures. He ran his first marathon in 1996, Marine Corp in Washington, D.C., just six months after the surgery. Since then he has run 15 marathons. For the first time, his entire family — wife Sheri, son Josh and daughters Stephie and Hope — will join him in the half-marathon.
South Florida will be well represented among invited runners. Selected among the 47 who applied are 2002 Disney runner-up Andrew Greenidge of Coconut Creek, Paul Marmaro of Delray Beach, who has run all 12 previous Disney Marathons, Carol Postigo and Lisa Dorfman, both from Miami.
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