On the morning of June 21, Ron Alexander hopes to see at least a few members of the Hastings community come out onto their front lawns and assume cheerleading roles as participants in Hastings’ first annual marathon tread by.
Because of the sheer size of the inaugural Hastings Run For Your Life Marathon and the accompanying half marathon and 5k races, the event will require the participation of not only runners, but businesses, volunteers and community advocates as well.
“This is something that our whole city can rally behind,” Alexander, the race’s organizer, said Tuesday in a presentation to the Hastings City Council. The council gave final approval to the marathon race route at its meeting Tuesday.
Alexander, the athletic director at Adams Central High School, organized the inaugural Healthy Hastings Run For Your Life event in 2013, which drew more than 300 runners to its 5k, 10k and half-marathon races. He and other race coordinators are hoping that 600 total runners will participate in this year’s event, which is slated for Saturday, June 21.
Alexander has been working with the city for almost a year to realize his vision of a marathon that will provide a fun, family-oriented event for residents and also provide tourism and economic benefits to the city by drawing race participants from across the region.
The involvement of dozens of employees and advocates from Mary Lanning Healthcare and the Hastings YMCA contributed to the success of last year’s event and Alexander said the network of support provided by those groups will be crucial in sustaining the races.
“Mary Lanning plays a vital role in our community as an employer and advocate for health. They have been tremendous supporters of the event before and it is because of participation from organizations like that that we are able to create a successful event for the whole community,” Alexander said.
Alexander and the organizers of the Run For Your Life are estimating that 175 volunteers will be required to pull off this year’s event, up from 100 volunteers last year.
Alexander said that because the route hasn’t been approved until now, the marathon won’t attract a large number of runners from out of state, as racers usually plan and book their summer events around the first of the year.
However, a modest first year will be a good thing for the marathon. The race organizers will be able to test the speed and efficiency of the route on a smaller number of runners.
“This will be a great practice run,” Alexander said. “After this year, we’ll be able to compare the efficiency of our race to others and make the event even better in the future.”
If the first event is successful, Alexander hopes to have a regional certifier approve the course as a Boston Marathon qualifier in time for the 2015 event. Hastings will be the fourth city — alongside Scottsbluff, Lincoln and Omaha — to have a marathon event in the state. Grand Island also will be hosting its first marathon this year around the time of the Nebraska State Fair.
“Maybe if someone isn’t able to come to the Lincoln Marathon, or if they don’t quite make a qualifying time, they’ll consider coming to our event,” Alexander said.
The approved Hastings marathon route has runners begin at Lynn Farrell Arena on the Hastings College campus, then wind through neighborhoods around the college and Heartwell Park, join the Pioneer Spirit Trail on Elm Avenue, and then follow the trail as it crosses U.S. Highway 281 at Kansas Avenue.
Law enforcement escorts will be stationed at the Kansas Avenue intersection and will ferry runners across the highway as needed. Once runners have passed, the escorts will open the highway to traffic once again.
The rest of the marathon route stays on the west side of the highway, exhibiting the Lake Hastings and Lochland neighborhoods.
“Thanks to everyone’s help, I think we’ve arrived at a nice route that highlights many great areas in our city. Plus, getting across 281 on the bike trail makes good sense. It’s a good compromise that makes the route feasible for everyone,” Alexander said.
Major hurdles in the process of finalizing the race route included the cost of barricading a safe route for the racers and finding a way to ferry marathon participants across Highway 281.
“Reducing the highway crossing to that Kansas Avenue intersection will be the safest thing for runners and the most convenient thing for motorists,” City Engineer Dave Wacker said Tuesday.
Traffic at the intersection will only be slowed for about an hour on the morning of the race. If runners haven’t crossed the highway by 9:15 that morning, they will assume the role of a normal pedestrian.
“Having no history of a marathon in this city before, it took a lot of thought to arrive at an efficient and feasible route,” Alexander said, adding that Hastings’ network of railroad tracks and highways forced the organizers to create a unique loop.
However, Alexander is said that one of the best parts of running marathons is getting to tour the host city. The final route through Hastings will tour residential areas and town landmarks on both sides of the highway, including Hastings College, downtown, and the lake. The 5k and half marathon races will begin at Lake Hastings and stay on the west side of the highway.
“I want to applaud Ron and everybody for working together on this. It takes a lot of work to pull off an event like this and I’m excited to see it coming together,” Councilman Michael Krings said.
Registration for the marathon, half marathon and 5k races is open and runners can find maps and more information at www.hastingsmarathon.com.