The number of marathons in the U.S. has risen nearly 70 percent in the past decade. Yet, some big cities still don’t have big marathons.
Louisville is one of those. Sure, it’s not a major metropolitan area, but with a population of 1.3 million in the city limits and large bedroom communities outside the city, it holds its own.
The city has a big half marathon in April — the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon — with some 13,000 runners last year.
The marathon held concurrently with the mini, though, only drew 2,000.
It’s an oddity. Race directors have tried to encourage more marathons, although perhaps half-heartedly. For a race half the distance, runners still pay almost the same registration fee.
Still, race organizers must put time and effort into the full — certifying the course (it changed last year), finding volunteers, paying for police at intersections.
Race organizers even pay cash to the winners — although it’s $500 for the marathon winner and $1,500 for the mini.
Run half the distance, make three times the money? Sign me up.
In fact, many local marathoners run the local mini — and a spring marathon somewhere else.
Nashville is usually the same weekend; Cincinnati the next. Manageable drives, similar entry fees, similar weather.
So why not stay?
There’s a definite lack of crowd support along the marathon route. Once it breaks away from the mini, the course gets both harder and more desolate.
A 3-mile spin through Iroquois Park at mile 10 gives marathoners a couple hundred feet of elevation gain — compared to pretty much none in the miles before.
But that can’t be it — spring hotspots Cincinnati, Nashville and Boston are all hillier.
With bigger city marathons so close in timing, the KDF marathon needs a major selling point to draw in tourists.
A visit to the website by an out-of-towner will show a small marathon field, especially for a 11-year-old race (although it’s the 39th year for the mini).
It’s easy to deduce there must be a reason everyone else is passing Louisville over.
So maybe that needs to start at home — get more local runners in the marathon, expand the field, let them spread the word to their out-of-town friends to “come on down.”
So why I haven’t I run the Louisville marathon?
Besides skipping it for Boston two of the three springs I’ve run a marathon, it’s two things: the course is boring and the course is too hard for how boring it is.
It’s boring because most of it is what I run every weekend anyway. Sure, our Olmstead Parks are beautiful, but I spend a lot of time in them already. Portions of the marathon that run between the parks aren’t even necessarily scenic.
In fact, the new course has some that take runners through decrepit neighborhoods. And those neighborhoods definitely don’t have anyone out cheering at 8 a.m. A run-down business section of Louisville does not encourage crowd support.
Instead, places often busy with foot traffic, breakfast eaters and coffee drinkers are skipped over. Bardstown Road, the city’s happening, hipster strip, gets no love.
Same for the NuLu district, a revitalized area just a block from the marathon’s current course. The current course takes runners through another desolate business district, full of warehouses and weekday-only work places.
With bakeries, breakfast spots and cool little shops, why not shift the marathon a block to NuLu?
The lack of crowd support only boosts the boring factor, too. See my previous lack-of-eatery complaints as one reason for sparse crowd support.
You want crowds, you have to give them something to do. Believe me, I love spectating.
It’s also hard to drive to some spots on the course, especially if you’re not a local. Weird road closings and no posted detour options can make it difficult.
One year, I wanted to cheer for friends on a desolate section of the course with a tough hill.
To get there, I had to park about almost a mile away. When I ran back to my car along a shortcut trail, I ended up with a massive thorn in my leg. Go figure.
More than anything, it seems race organizers aren’t asking marathoners for feedback or suggestions. We’ve got them to give.
Not to mention Louisvillians, almost to a fault, love Louisville. We’d love to have an awesome marathon.
And that’s why, on April 21, you’ll find me standing at the starting line of the KDF marathon.
A hometown girl running her hometown marathon — after running six others. It’ll be a nice homecoming.