Raleigh's City of Oaks marathon comes many miles

ablythe@newsobserver.comNovember 2, 2012 

  • Raleigh races at a glance Date: Sunday Start time: 7 a.m. Average race day temperature: 54°F Estimated times for major street closures: Western (westbound) from Dawson to Ashe – 7-7:30 a.m. Boylan from Western to Morgan – 7:05-7:45 a.m. Dawson from Jones to Martin – 7-8:15 a.m. McDowell from S. Saunders/MLK Exit to Hillsborough – 7-8:15 a.m. Edenton from Wilmington to Hillsborough merge – 7:15-8:20 a.m. Wilmington from Morgan to Peace – 7:15-8 a.m. Salisbury from Peace to Morgan – 7:15-8:15 a.m. Glenwood from Peace to Hillsborough – 7:15-8:30 a.m. Morgan from Boylan to Wilmington – 7-8 a.m. Hillsborough from Pullen to Ashe 7-7:15 a.m. Hillsborough from Glenwood to Salisbury – 7-8:15 a.m. Clark from Oberlin to Brooks – 7:15-9 a.m. Hillsborough from Pullen to I-440 – 7:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Brooks from Clark to Wade – 7:30-9 a.m. Dixie from Clark to Wade – 7:30-9 a.m. Faircloth from Meredith gate to Hillsborough – 7:30-9 a.m. Gorman from Western to Hillsborough – 7:45-9:45 a.m.

— North Carolina’s capital city decided five years ago to take a run at a spot on the country’s marathon map and gave birth to the City of Oaks Marathon.

To many, the idea of establishing a marquee running event in Raleigh was as much of an uphill battle as the hilly course laid out across the city.

But Sunday, as runners take their marks for the return of the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon and Rex Healthcare Half Marathon, organizers are enthusiastic about the many miles they have come.

Once considered a small marathon, Ron Wahula, race director, says Raleigh is moving onto the regional map.

Almost 5,100 runners have signed up for the four races – the marathon, the half marathon, the News & Observer Old Reliable 10K and YMCA Kids’ Marathon Mile. That’s about a 34 percent increase over the 3,800 racers last year. The ambition is to keep growing.

“I see no reason that we can’t get up to 10,000, not all at once, but over time,” Wahula said.

Such an attendance figure would put the Raleigh event in a category similar to the Portland Marathon in Oregon or the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota.

The New York City marathon, which had been scheduled for this weekend until Hurricane Sandy caused destruction and disruption, draws nearly five times as many entrants.

In recent days, Raleigh race directors have received inquiries from runners who signed up for the N.Y. marathon but were looking instead for an event closer to home.

Though online registration had closed, Wahula said some of those runners might still be able to get into the Raleigh race.

The Raleigh marathon course will be a little different this year. It no longer will go out Ebenezer Church Road and wind through Umstead Park. With a new greenway complete on the western side of the city, the race route shifts to the new recreation path at Meredith College and extends north to Shelley Lake. Marathoners will then loop back to Hillsborough Street and finish at the N.C. State University bell tower.

The old 26.2-mile course was very hilly, and distance runners (who often understate the degree of difficulty of a route), described the City of Oaks marathon on Internet chat boards and Web sites simply as “challenging.”

One runner’s journey

This year, race organizers are saying the race won’t be as hilly, and that was an attraction for Melissa MacNail, 27, from Holly Springs, who might be an attraction herself on race day.

MacNail, who grew up playing soccer in southern New Jersey but switched to running several years ago, is very pregnant – just three weeks shy of the due date for her daughter.

“As of Monday,” MacNail said, “I’ll be at 36 weeks.”

Though many moms might say pregnancy, with its 40 weeks of changes to the body, sometimes feels like a full-fledged marathon, MacNail says she is perfectly comfortable with running a half-marathon with baby on board.

She developed a passion for running several years ago in San Diego, where her husband was stationed in the military.

After the birth of her son, a 2-year-old who will remain on the sidelines with his dad, MacNail logged as many as 50 miles a week, often pushing her firstborn in a stroller.

Since baby No. 2 has been on the way, she has dropped down to 35 miles a week, choosing to run these days in a park that has easily accessible restrooms.

The half marathon appealed to her not only because she thought the course looked less hilly than last year, but also because it provides an opportunity for those pregnancy-related pit stops every couple of miles.

MacNail said she has been called “crazy” and worse by people who cannot quite grasp her passion for the distance running.

“I’ve cleared this with my doctor,” MacNail said. “I’m just going to run and have a good time.”

Her fellow racers, no doubt, hope this weekend’s event won’t result in any unplanned sprints to the delivery room.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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