Since hosting the 2004 U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, my hometown of St. Louis had drawn back into its well-established, but less than heart-thumping reputation as a city of running participation, not racing competition. So while many other cities in the Midwest had developed nationally (and even internationally) recognized races like the Chicago Marathon, the Hospital Hill Half Marathon in Kansas City, The Bix 7 Road Race in Davenport, Iowa, and the Twin Cities Marathon (and more) in Minneapolis, St. Louis maintained little more than a regional racing presence. Now that may change.
Go! St. Louis, the estimable non-profit that specializes in providing fitness events and programs for the region on a year-round basis, has announced a substantial increase in the prize purse for their popular half marathon – presented by PNC Bank – which is part of the GO! St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend, set for April 6 & 7, 2013 in downtown St. Louis. Next spring the half marathon will award a total of $47,000, with a first-place check of $10,000 going to the male and female champions.
Explained Go! St. Louis president Nancy Lieberman, “Part of it was how to bring excitement back to racing in St. Louis. We wondered what would it take to make the event a sporting event? And this is what we thought would work.”
While Go! St. Louis had offered prize money in their half-marathon before, it was little more than a token amount; $1000 for the win, $500 to place, and $300 for show. There were also age-group awards of $100 each, but those, said Lieberman, went unnoticed.
With the added investment the event now jumps up to fourth place nationally in half-marathon prize purses. Only the New York City Half ($100,000 total, $20k for first place), the Garry Bjorklund Half – part of Grandma’s Marathon weekend in Duluth, Minn. – ($82,000, $12K for first), and Houston’s Aramco Half – positioned with the Houston Marathon – ($50,000, $10,000 for first) award more. By comparison, the BAA Half in Boston offers $38,400 total with $6000 for the win.
“We want to return the sport to St. Louis,” emphasized Lieberman, long-time president of Go! St. Louis, and a nationally recognized leader in the sport. “We still want everyone to run, but we want to champion the elites. Our mission is to make St. Louis one of the healthiest cities in America, rather than the 99th out of 100 most obese which is where it is ranked now.”
Lieberman admits to struggling to find sponsorship for her Go! St. Louis schedule of events. “The mind-set in St. Louis,” she says, “values culture and the arts, but to get someone to sponsor a running event is like pulling teeth.”
For that reason, Go! St. Louis, itself, is contributing the extra funds to bulk up their half-marathon purse, hoping to prime the pump in the local business community with the heightened exposure an elite race might generate.
Having grown up in St. Louis, I can attest to the city’s appreciation for culture and the arts, but its less than full embrace of running. Beef and pork are the proteins of choice in the area, not chicken and fish. And despite the fact that the only American to ever win the IAAF World Cross Country title, Craig Virgin, hails from the region (in fact, he won two! 1980-`81), the sweltering St. Louis’ summers, and bleak winter months don’t encourage heavy road miles for large swaths of the year.
But times change, and today with Go! St.Louis, the Big River Running Company, and determined leaders like Nancy Lieberman, St. Louis has all the ingredients to achieve her goal to be one of the best running cities in America. And now it’s about to have a big-time competition, too. Who knows, could this be the harbinger of a sea-change in the sport with a re-emphasis on competition? For years events have hosted their entrants, but they haven’t challenged them to improve. Let’s see what develops. I may have to plan for a reunion back home next April to check it out.
Registration for the 13th annual event opened on September 4 with special $60 entry fee pricing for the first 1,500 registrants in the half or full marathon. For additional information, including details on the new elite athlete program and a complete listing of prize money go to gostlouis.org.