MARQUETTE - The Marquette Marathon may be going the way of the Ore to Shore Bike Epic and Noquemanon cross-country skiing marathon.
It is growing by leaps and bounds.
The Ringside Fitness-sponsored marathon, half-marathon, marathon relay and kids running races already have 560 people signed up to enter Saturday's third annual event held all around the city of Marquette.
Elizabeth Jones of
Marquette crosses the finish line of the 2011
Marquette Marathon on Sept. 3, 2011, at Presque Isle Park in Marquette. Jones, who won the women’s marathon, is scheduled to return for the 2012 Marquette Marathon on Saturday. (Journal file photo by Amanda
That's more than a hundred beyond the number who raced last year, according to organizers.
"We're continuing to grow, and there's no reason you can't expect it to keep growing," media coordinator Stephanie Zadroga-Langlois said. "We've got a strong running community and a great choice of courses that we can run this event on."
As a certified Boston Marathon qualifying race, organizers have kept the course the same so it wouldn't have to be remeasured as part of that sanctioning.
The 13.1-mile half-marathon course, which is run twice to come up with the 26.2-mile marathon, is described on the group's website as "relatively flat and extremely scenic, taking you past some of Marquette's most notable locations."
Starting and ending at Presque Isle park in the extreme northeastern part of the city, the course includes gravel roads and bike paths and goes through several parks in the city.
The course loops counterclockwise as far west as the bike path near McClellan Avenue, returning east toward Lake Superior just south of Washington Street before taking a final jog south just past Founders Landing.
It then backtracks and continues north along the big lake for the final six miles, returning to Presque Isle.
"Our race date is perfectly placed, because we're just starting to get to fall, the perfect season for running," Zadroga-Langlois said. "That plus the cutoff for (the) Boston (Marathon) is in mid-September or the first of October."
She said it's a major reason why runners from 36 states are already registered.
And why last year's men's marathon winner Luis Cruz traveled 3,000 miles from his hometown of Bogota, Colombia, for the race.
"My goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon," he said after last year's race. "This was my last option available to qualify ... qualifying closes next week."
Which he did by nearly 35 minutes as he finished in 2:45:05. Zadroga-Langlois said she didn't expect Cruz to be back this year, but hadn't heard for sure that he wouldn't.
Two Marquette residents who were winners last year will be back for sure - women's marathon runner Elizabeth Jones, who clocked 3:13:38, and men's half-marathon runner Tracy Lokken, who came in at 1:09:12.
Lokken, 46, is an elite runner, having finished 24th overall and third in the 40-and-over Masters division last spring in Boston despite stifling hot temperatures.
With his busy and intricate running schedule, a full marathon this weekend doesn't fit his training regimen, Zadroga-Langlois said.
"But he keeps us on our toes in the half-marathon with the way he runs it," she said with a laugh.
Things kick off Friday evening with packet pickup for entrants, a race expo and the kids' fun runs, all at the Marquette Commons building on South Third Street a block south of Washington Street.
Packets are available at the expo, running from 6-9 p.m., with the 0.8-mile Pebble Run for children ages 9 and under starting at 7 p.m. and the 2.35-mile Rock Skipper Run for those 13 and under or entering eighth grade beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Online registration has closed, but those still interested in entering can visit the expo as no entries will be accepted on Saturday.
A new feature this year will be the four-person marathon relay, where each team member runs about 6 miles, with male, female, mixed and junior divisions.
That race begins at 7:45 a.m. Saturday, 15 minutes after the marathon start and 15 minutes before the gun goes off for the half-marathon.
To keep congestion at Presque Isle to a minimum, the main parking area for both participants and spectators is on the east side of the Berry Events Center at East Fair Avenue and Pine Street. Free shuttle bus rides are then available to the start/finish area.
A post-race picnic will be held at Presque Isle starting at 11 a.m., while the post-race party, which includes the awards ceremony and live music, runs from 7-11 p.m. at the Holiday Inn on U.S. 41 at the west end of Washington Street.
Proceeds from this year's event will go to benefit both Blueprint 4 Health Center, a community youth weight management center, and Marquette Area Public Schools music programs.
People involved with each of those organizations will make up the bulk of volunteers for the event, too.
For more information about the marathon, visit the website www.marquettemarathon.com.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.