October 3, 2010

Doug Hawley: Dalton Half Marathon doesn’t chase off runners

— Rejection is a word foreign to those who have thoughts about entering the first Dalton Half Marathon. No runner will be turned away from the area’s first national 13.1-mile road race, which is scheduled for Oct. 16. Participants can even wait until the final week to enter.

This friendly, low-key approach is not evident everywhere in our section of the country. Simply check out the popular Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon and Half Marathon scheduled for Nov. 13 in Fort Oglethorpe. Many area runners have been rejected. Believe it or not, entries closed out in July.

According to Sherilyn Johnson, president of Chattanooga Track Club — which coordinates the Chickamauga race — there was a cutoff number of 1,500 people, some 800 for the marathon and 700 for the half marathon. But that decree came from the United States National Park Service, which oversees Chickamauga Battlefield.

“They were concerned about safety issues, for they have to have the park open to the public,” Johnson said.

With the wide-open spaces of the country’s largest military park, this is a puzzling decision. Back in January, Runner’s World magazine cited the race as America’s “most family-friendly” marathon. Honors also came as runner-up for “most scenic” and third for best overall marathon.

Yes, those accolades are great for that picturesque area — but consider those many rejected runners who never have the opportunity to participate. Consider also the tremendous loss of revenue, because people come from all over the country. In our hurting economy, isn’t something being missed here?

With what is at stake here, why can’t the park officials shut down Chickamauga Park for several hours?

Stepping away from the park, turn your calendar back to February. Chattanooga Track Club coordinated the Scenic City Half Marathon, which started and ended at Finley Stadium. Johnson related this event was limited to 1,200 participants. Again, there were rejections.

Citing the need for “manageable numbers,” she said of the 2011 event, “We’re looking to expand it. It might be open to 1,500.”

Meanwhile, back in Dalton, a different philosophy exists.

“The more the merrier,” said David Sanders, director of the Dalton Half Marathon and Carpet Capital Running Club, which is coordinating the events. “Down the road, if we have 5,000 people, we’ll take care of them. We will have plenty of safety. Nobody will be turned away.”

At this juncture, it appears the number for the first event will be between 800 and 1,000 people. That would be divided equally for the half marathon and preceding 5K.

If the Peachtree Road Race held every July 4 in Atlanta can take care of 55,000 people over 6.2 miles down one street, it should serve as a model for race directors concerned with restricting the turnout.

Chattanooga showed its ability last week to handle a sizable number for a road race. More than 8,700 people participated in the 11th annual Chattanooga Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which started and ended at McKenzie Arena.

Some $150,000 was raised for the battle against breast cancer. Competitive and non-competitive people went through 5K and one-mile runs.

No, those organizers were not concerned about coordinating a large number. They relished the project.

For you Dalton Half Marathon aspirants, you are blessed with “the more the merrier.”


This is the 15th in a 16-part series of columns in advance of the Dalton Half Marathon on Oct. 16. Doug Hawley, a past president of Chattanooga Track Club, has been a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years. You can write to him at dhawley@optilink.us.