Saturday, June 2, 2012

The New Dallas Marathon

The White Rock Marathon, a 41-year Dallas tradition, has changed it's name and it's courses. It's now simply called the "Dallas Marathon," which is fine. The marathon execs want the race to grow in numbers and in prestige, and the new name sounds bigger and more important than the old name, which sounded small and quaint.

The biggest marathons in the world are all simply named after their host city. The five "World Marathon Majors" are the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, the London Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, and the Berlin Marathon. Not that the Dallas Marathon will ever be one of the five or ten largest in the world, but changing the name is a step in that direction. Dallas is one of the biggest cities in America, so why not use that name to your advantage? Makes sense. I'm on board with it.

I am not on board, however, with the new courses. My first marathon was White Rock in 2007. Outside of the shock to my body, I loved it. I loved the course. One of the best things about the course is that after you left downtown, you ran through the lovely and quiet neighborhoods of Highland Park, The M-Streets, and Lakewood. You then ran around the lake, back into Lakewood, and back downtown to the finish. You never really saw a shopping strip-center. You never ran on a huge, six-lane road. You ran through East Dallas neighborhoods, where families would gather on the front lawn to cheer you on. The race had a great feel to it.

The full marathon course now takes you over the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which is fine, but it means more time downtown. It still goes through Uptown and Highland Park, but instead of winding it's way through the M-Streets and Lakewood to get to the lake, the new course goes straight down Mockingbird. Runners like asphalt, smaller roads, neighborhoods and trees. Mockingbird will be an almost five mile stretch of concrete on a six-lane road with no trees and lots of shopping centers and strip malls to look at. Me no likey. Also, you now only run around half of the lake, not the entire thing! You've eliminated one half of one of the most scenic spots in town!

They've also changed the half marathon course. Instead of leaving downtown and going up through Highland Park and then back down through Lakewood, the entire race will remain in the downtown area, doing various loops (including two trips over the Hunt Hill Bridge), which, to me, looks miserable. Again, unless you're running the NYC Marathon, runners would rather not spend their entire race traversing through a concrete jungle.

The only positive about the new half course is that they have separated the full and half finish completely, which is a very good thing. There is nothing fun about being in the hurt locker that is the last few miles of a marathon and having to weave your way through half marathon finishers (many walkers, at that point).

I guess I don't get the fascination with the new Hunt Hill Bridge. It's being forced down our throats as the new city landmark. Methinks they need to let the game come to it, not vice-versa.

I may run the Dallas Marathon again one day, but I hate to say that I'm now a little less likely to, given the new course. Organizing a marathon is a Herculean task, and it's a job I wouldn't want. I think they got it right with the new name, but wrong with the new courses. I hope the runners love them, and that I'm wrong--but like the vast majority of my other opinions, I'm afraid I'm going to be right about this one, too.