LINCOLN — Nebraska's biggest marathon is on the verge of getting bigger.
The Lincoln National Guard Marathon and Half-Marathon, which completed its 35th race Sunday, filled its allotment of 10,000 entries in only 21 days, then turned away more than 4,000 potential registrants.
The field is limited partly because of a narrow bike path along the race route that would be too congested to handle more runners, according to Nancy Sutton, co-director of the 2012 event.
The race starts on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus and loops through the city to the east and the south.
By next year, the narrow path along Highway 2 in Lincoln could be widened and the Lincoln Marathon could grow from 10,000 to as many as 15,000, Sutton said. Construction to widen the path hinges on getting a grant.
Also in 2013, runners won't have to contend with as much construction around Memorial Stadium, where the race ends.
Sutton said the Lincoln Marathon's overwhelming success could be attributed to a commitment by the Lincoln Track Club to focus on the average runner, not just the elite runners who come to pad their records and improve their times.
“Runners also like finishing on the 50-yard line in Memorial Stadium,” Sutton said. Many of Sunday's runners, including some of the winners, entered the stadium for the first time to the cheers of hundreds of fans in the stands.
“It's a great stadium,” Mario Macias, this year's winner, said from his spot on the turf just beyond the finish line. Not many races, he said, have such a grand place to have a finish.
Thousands of volunteers provide countless services to runners. Bands play along the route. They come rain or shine.
Ryleigh Patenaud, 10, of Lincoln said she got up at 6:30 a.m. — nearly 4½ hours earlier than normal for a Sunday — to join friends in the Girl Scouts to distribute chocolate milk to runners after the race.
Brian Harrifeld, a Lincoln postal worker, stood at a corner along Stadium Drive to direct runners on the proper route to the stadium. He arrived at 6 a.m. and was still directing runners at 11 a.m., with many yet to finish.
Most unusual, though, was that he was wearing an Elvis Presley wig and costume.
Harrifeld said he wore the Elvis outfit in a Las Vegas marathon years ago. “Thousands of people have pictures of me,” he said.
It can be little things that impress runners, who come from all 50 states to compete.
Macias said that of the 70 or 80 races he has run, the Lincoln Marathon is the only one to provide water along the race course in cups with lids and straws. As a result, runners can stay in stride and replenish fluids without spilling most of the water.
“That's pretty cool,” Macias said. At the crack of dawn Sunday, rain was pouring on the parking lots and streets around the Nebraska Coliseum and Memorial Stadium. The skies began to lighten up, but light rain continued to fall as people in skimpy running clothes began to swarm from their cars.
Along the race course, volunteers took their positions for handing out water. Volunteer bike riders prepared to clear the route for the runners. South of Memorial Stadium, Master Sgt. Terry Johnson of the Nebraska National Guard supervised some of the 400 guardsmen who volunteer. They organize about 7,000 bags of extra clothing and gear that runners drop off and then pick up after the race.
“It's organized chaos,” Johnson said.
Among the thousands of participants were endless heart-wrenching stories. T-shirts bore sayings such as “Team Lizzie.” More than 20 runners from Kearney ran in memory of Lizzie Stratton of Kearney, who died of cancer at age 14.
Jen Marhenke and Julie Graff of Omaha had a table set up awaiting 42 runners for “Team in Training,” an Omaha group that raised more than $50,000 to help people with leukemia and lymphoma.
“They get some gifts and dog tags that represent selected honored children,” Marhenke said.
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