Naperville Marathon organizers looking to make event even bigger

With their inaugural race behind them, organizers of the Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon already are thinking about making their next one even bigger.

They'd like to increase the size of the event that attracted more than 2,500 runners to Naperville on Sunday and develop the race into a true destination for endurance athletes across America.

“We want it to become one of the premier running events in the country,” Race Director Bob Hackett said.

The inaugural race was a “roaring success,” he said, with positive comments all around from participants, volunteers, spectators, city officials and business leaders.

“I don't think I heard more than one negative comment all day, and it was 'Aww, the course was hard,” Hackett said.

Edward Hospital officials also gave the race a positive review. CEO Pam Davis said the marathon promotes a healthy lifestyle, which fits perfectly with the hospital's mission.

“It was so well-organized. I'm truly impressed,” Davis said. “We're all about health and wellness so it's a great way to reinforce it with our community.”

Deciding how much to grow next year's field will require careful consideration of course layouts and logistics, Hackett said.

While there has been some early talk of creating 7,000 running slots for the 2014 race, Hackett said the course used this time can't handle that many more people.

With the winding route the first-year run took through tight twists and hairpin turns on crushed limestone paths in two forest preserves, it also can't accommodate a wheelchair division.

“We go down trails that can be affected by the weather and certain areas have proved troublesome with rain,” Hackett said. As a result, it wouldn't be safe to allow wheelchair athletes to enter the fray — unless the route is redesigned.

Organizers with Naper Events, LLC, are open to charting a new course for next year's tentative date of Nov. 9, and possibly creating a wheelchair race. Hackett said one thing's for certain: the Naperville Marathon won't morph into a 45,000-runner behemoth the size of Chicago's.

“As we develop the Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon, you're going to see more and more people coming and making this a destination race,” Hackett said. “It's a great alternative to the bigger races. It's a big race feel in a smaller venue.”

A couple developments coming to downtown Naperville could help the area be an even better host and benefit even more economically from runners and fans future marathons will bring, downtown business owners say.

Construction began last month on the $30 million Main Street Promenade East at Van Buren Avenue and Main Street — a retail and office development slated to open next fall that stands to offer places to browse for clothing, try new makeup and satisfy sweet cravings with gelato.

Along Water Street just south of the DuPage River, Naperville-based Marquette Companies is building the Water Street District, which will offer marathon crowds and others a place to stay at a new Hotel Indigo, along with more shops and restaurants. Parts of the development are aiming to open in late 2015.

“I look down the road, and if the race grows, when Water Street goes in with the hotel, it's going to make the marathon weekend a lot more vibrant,” said Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Company.

The fun of this year's race isn't quite over for businesses like Hartner's and Dick Pond Athletics in Lisle.

Dick Pond is hosting a medal engraving party for athletes who have completed the Chicago or Naperville marathons. Manager Denise Hefferin said racers like to have their finish time etched into the back of their finishers' medal as a memento, and the store will offer the service for free along with food and raffles at the celebration Tuesday night.

“It's a fun way to bring everyone together who has run a marathon and wants to talk about it with other marathoners,” Hefferin said.

And in a way, the benefit is just beginning for Edward Hospital, which will see an influx of at least $22,000 raised by roughly 50 charity runners for the Edward Foundation.

The hospital has the option of signing on to remain the race's title sponsor for another two years and CEO Davis said that's a sure thing.

“We've had two fitness centers for a really long time, long before other hospitals did; so we think it's an excellent fit,” Davis said. “We want to really be involved for as many years as we can.”

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