When is a marathon more than just a race?
Answer: When it’s part of an integrated economic development strategy.
Cloudless skies and cool temperatures greeted runners in downtown Roanoke on Saturday morning for the fifth running of the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon. This year’s race proved to be bigger and better than ever, continuing the success of “America’s Toughest Road Marathon.”
The Roanoke Region’s showcase running event lived up to the billing in 2014, with a larger venue, larger crowds, and more runners than ever.
The 2014 Blue Ridge Marathon was tougher than ever. A course modification upped the elevation change to nearly 7,500 feet for the full marathon and more than 3,600 feet for the half marathon, but that did not stop nearly 2,000 runners from accepting the challenge. Also new this year was the addition of the Anthem StarK 10K run which took racers up to the Mill Mountain Star and back, giving runners a shorter race option. The half marathon proved to be the most popular race option with over 750 finishers.
Not all changes had to do with the course however. The start/finish line was located at the newly renovated Elmwood Park, giving the large crowds a perfect staging area for pre- and post-race activities. Live music, vendors, a beer garden, and hundreds of cheering fans greeted runners as they crossed the finish line and received their food and medals. The park took on a party atmosphere as more and more racers made their way through the corral and into the amphitheater to stretch their legs and cash in their complimentary beer ticket. It may have only been 10 a.m. but they certainly deserved a cold one from sponsors Parkway Brewing or Starr Hill, who were both pouring pints all day.
The combination of near-perfect weather and the new venue created a vibrant atmosphere at Elmwood.
“The timing couldn’t have been better, the newly renovated Elmwood Park opened up and it was the perfect time to move the finish line, have it here, showcase this community, showcase this park, and it was spectacular,” Roanoke Regiona Partnership Director of Outdoor Branding and Race Director Pete Eshelman told race sponsor WDBJ-7 following the event.
The 2014 race drew competitors, fans, and spectators from over 40 states across the U.S. and five countries across the world, many being exposed to the beauty of the Roanoke Region for the first time. Hundreds flooded the finishing area to cheer racers through the finish line, and even more lined the course to encourage runners to get to the top of the next hill, not to mention the army of volunteers manning the course. The community support goes a long way toward creating an inviting atmosphere that runners enjoy and will keep them coming back, says Catherine Fox with Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
“You’ve got people coming here to experience [the race], figure out why it is the toughest road marathon and they’re here discovering that,” she said. “When you have people from 40 different states, several countries, as far away as Hawaii and Alaska, they’re taking that message back and that message is what brings people here.”
The Roanoke Regional Partnership created the Blue Ridge Marathon to showcase the region’s commitment to making outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship a core component of the Roanoke Region lifestyle. Over the first four years, the marathon has generated over $1.5 million for the local economy, including nearly $500,000 in 2013 alone.
Staging the event at Elmwood Park not only give the day a festival-type atmosphere, it also allowed for a new way to cap the marathon. The race-day festivities transitioned seamlessly into the Down by Downtown Music Festival headliner G. Love & Special Sauce, who played a show at Elmwood starting around 6 p.m. Racers could purchase a discounted concert ticket with their race bib, and many stuck around Saturday night to enjoy the show. Providing weekend-long entertainment for visitors and the community as a whole should prove to be a winning combination for the future.
All in all, the 2014 Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon was a huge success for the Roanoke Region, continuing to put the area’s natural beauty and outdoor community on display.
Check out all the coverage, including videos and interviews from WDBJ >>>
The Roanoke Regional Partnership would like to thank the following organizations for their support of the Blue Ridge Marathon: Foot Levelers, Anthem, WDBJ, Carilion Clinic, Fink’s Jewelers, Tag Heuer, Roanoke City, and Roanoke Parks and Recreation. See a full list of sponsors, volunteers, and community partners >>>