November 5, 2007

City of Oaks Marathon is a Winner for the Triangle

By Sue Stock, Raleigh News & Observer

The organizers of this weekend's inaugural Sony Ericsson City of Oaks Marathon got what they were wishing for: sunny weather, a healthy roster of 3,800 runners and no major problems during the race.

The marathon's participants, area merchants and local running enthusiasts said it was a good start, if not exactly perfect.

"I think they can make this into something," said Lisa Glosson of Cary, who ran a marathon in Washington, D.C., last weekend and brought her family out to cheer on the runners Sunday.

That's certainly the hope of the Triangle's economic boosters and the event's organizers. The 26.2-mile race was expected to boost the coffers of area hotels, restaurants and other businesses over the weekend.

Figures on the event's economic impact won't be available for a few weeks, said Scott Dupree, director of sports marketing for the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. However, Dupree's preliminary analysis showed the race would bring about 1,600 visitors who live more than an hour away from the Triangle.

If all of those visitors spend an average of $159 a day for lodging and food, the race will bring $254,400 to local merchants.

"And we do things very conservatively," Dupree said. "Lots of people will stay two or three nights."

Supporters waving signs and shaking cowbells lined the route, stopping into nearby businesses for refreshments and supplies. Many were there to support a favorite runner, but others came just to watch the race and cheer them all.

Business doubled at the Olde Raleigh Village Starbucks, and the nearby Harris Teeter saw a small boost in business from customers who wanted items such as cameras and drinks. At the Crabtree Marriott hotel, a big event can increase hotel occupancy by as much as 20 percent, said Marriott area director Karris Deis. She said she wouldn't know how many marathon-related visitors stayed at the hotel until today.

For smaller businesses, the impact can be bigger. The Oakwood Inn Bed & Breakfast on Bloodworth Street rented two of its six rooms to people visiting for the marathon.

"It does help," said owner Doris Jurkiewicz. "We would have rented the rooms on Saturday, but they stayed Sunday, too. If we didn't have them Sunday, let's put it this way: We wouldn't have anybody."

A bumpy past for marathons

Sunday's event marked a fresh start for marathons in Raleigh, after three previous events under a different organizer ran into problems. In 2000, a prediction of heavy snowfall postponed the race for a week, but the snow never came. The second year, some runners were directed down the wrong street, and in the final year organizers had to scramble to clear the route of tree limbs felled in an ice storm.

"It ran into some rotten luck," Dupree said.

City of Oaks organizer and Raleigh Running Outfitters co-owner Jim Micheels said he didn't feel jinxed.

"It was just something that was missing," he said. "People will travel all over a couple of times a year to do other marathons, so it's not like people aren't running the races. But we were like, 'We might as well keep it all here.'"

The timing was right to try again, said Luis Fondacci, a Raleigh runner sidelined Sunday by an injury who came out to support friends instead, armed with a foghorn, noise-makers and a jester's hat.

An electrical engineer for Raleigh-based North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives, Fondacci said his employer encourages his travels to other cities to participate in races.

"They are very supportive of my running," he said. "We have enough big companies that care about their employees' health to support this." The top overall finisher, Tim Surface, 29, a Raleigh Web designer and volunteer cross-country coach for North Raleigh Christian Academy, praised the race. It was his second marathon. "This was an awesome event," Surface said. "It was well-organized, the course was well-marked and there were spectators all over the place. ... I think it's just going to get better from here on out."

Anne Kuiken-Popek, 39, of Greensboro, cross-country coach for Ragsdale High School, finished second in the women's division to her twin sister, Gloria Kuiken-Iverson of Lincolnwood, Ill. She said she found this, her fifth marathon, challenging because of the hills and the mix of roads and gravel paths.

"It's a pretty good race," she said. "It's a small marathon, which I like better than the big ones. ... It's not a real fast course, which is OK if you're a -- I hate to say -- an older runner like myself who tends to like these courses better because it slows everybody down."

But, as with any inaugural event, there was room for improvement.

Mecca Brophy, general manager of the Cafe Carolina & Bakery in Cameron Village, said she was grateful for the boost in business but wished the organizers had been more accurate with their estimates of when runners would pass certain points in the race.

"I got papers that said 8:40, but I saw runners going by at 7:40," she said. "I wish I had known. I would have opened up earlier. As it was, I was standing there making waffle batter, and I saw them go by."

Fans trying to get to the Carolina Hurricanes' open practice for season-ticket holders were redirected around the RBC Center to the Westchase entrance off Blue Ridge Road because the marathon took runners on a lap around the arena. Arena general manager Dave Olsen said the traffic jam was the result of a miscommunication between marathon planners and arena officials.

There also were some minor issues with parking, organizer Micheels said.

"But nobody took a wrong turn, nobody died," he said. "It was pretty darn good. It went great, and we're definitely doing it next year."

(Staff writers Lorenzo Perez and Luke DeCock contributed to this report.)