After a two-year hiatus, Dallas Marathon is coming back, celebrating its 50 anniversary

The 50th anniversary of the Dallas Marathon was always going to be a special event.

But then the race was canceled last December for only the second time ever because of the pandemic. The makeup race in May suffered the same fate.

A pandemic-induced cancellation won’t happen a third time. And Paul Lambert, the president of runDallas, the organization that puts on the marathon, said the yearlong wait is going to make the marathon’s golden jubilee even more special.

“We’re actually putting a video together and the theme song is ‘Back to Life,’” Lambert said. “If you would ask me how it feels, it’s a combination of truly back to life; not only for, hopefully, a lot of our runners and the feeling that they get out in these massive public community running events, but also for us as a management team.”

The BMW Dallas Marathon will take place next weekend with the 50th running of the marathon scheduled for next Sunday. Ten races will take place throughout the weekend, plus a Health and Fitness Expo at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center on Friday and Saturday.

The first Dallas Marathon, then called the White Rock Marathon, was held on March 6, 1971. Far from the major weekend event it is now, the race had 82 participants and the course was only around White Rock Lake.

“The changes are really something else,” said Annabelle Corboy, the first female winner of the Dallas Marathon. “The changes in 50 years are incredible. ... There’s so many things that are different between now and then.”

Registration for the original 50th anniversary date opened in April 2020, and runDallas saw strong early participation numbers compared with other races across the country. Lambert said it was because the Dallas Marathon was “probably the first major race to come out with a defined contingency message.”

That plan was if the race couldn’t be held in person in December 2020, runners could either run a virtual race or push their registration back to a backup date in May 2021. And when the backup event was cancelled, the organization offered the same option to run virtually or push registrations to December.

The uncertainty that hung over the organization weighed on its small staff. Despite the contingency messages, it was difficult to do much planning for anything more than three months in advance. And without knowing when the next big race was coming, the team had to make sure it could maintain its financial viability.

But the extra time did give runDallas the opportunity to refine and fine-tune the event, as well as further grow and strengthen relationships with its partners. It has also resulted in extraordinary growth of runners.

Marcus Grunewald, the executive director of runDallas, said the weekend is reaching record participation.

“I think there’s a real pent-up demand to have a big event like this,” Grunewald said. “In fact, our numbers are a bit unusual for the industry as a whole.”

About 15,000 runners participated in the events included in the 2019 marathon. With about a week to go before the first race on Friday, over 23,0000 people have signed up to participate across the 10 different events. RunDallas expects that number to be about 25,000 by race weekend. More than 2,500 people have also signed up to volunteer.

Participation in the ultra marathon, a 50k race added to the program in 2018, sold out weeks ago. The marathon and half marathon are also approaching sellout status, and Grunewald believes they may sell out before race day.

“I think this will be a highlight of the last two years for almost everybody involved with the entire weekend,” Lambert said.

It will be for Logan Sherman, for whom the marathon is almost always a yearly highlight.

He first participated in the Dallas Marathon as part of a relay team in high school over 20 years ago. He has since won the half marathon three times and the 2015 marathon with a time of 2:27:28.

Sherman is now a current member of the runDallas board, and isn’t running any long races this year, instead focusing on volunteering at the event. He is hopeful the 50th anniversary is going to take the event to the next level.

“This is gonna be so much fun,” Sherman said. “I guarantee you there’s gonna be a lot of smiles and emotion that people are going to have at the finish line when they get back to City Hall. I don’t plan on leaving right after the start. I plan on staying up there and just watching the smiles and the emotions that come through.”

posted Monday December 6th
by Peter Warren