SLO Marathon could give local economy a boost

Run will loop through downtown SLO, out to Edna Valley and around to Madonna Inn

clambert@thetribunenews.comMarch 21, 2012 

In April, San Luis Obispo will play host to its first marathon in more than a quarter of a century.

The San Luis Obispo Marathon, which also includes a half-marathon and a 5K run, is expected to attract several thousand participants, showcase the area and give the local economy a jolt.

“It’s such a win-win-win for so many reasons,” said Event Director Heather Hellman of Get Off The Couch Potato Sports Productions. “People travel here and stay in hotels and shop. It puts San Luis Obispo on their radar as a vacation destination. It promotes a healthy lifestyle, and it shows off our beautiful city.”

The 5k run/walk will be held April 21, with the marathon and half marathon the following day. Hellman is producing the event with her business partner, Samantha Pruitt, a certified USA Triathlon race director, endurance sports coach, personal trainer and athlete.

Marathon and half-marathon participants will follow a loop course through downtown San Luis Obispo and out into the rolling hills of Edna Valley before finishing at the Madonna Inn.

They’ve just had the course officially certified as a Boston Marathon qualifying event by USA Track & Field, and the marathon has been featured on event website Active.com — both of which helped boost interest.

The half-marathon will be capped at 2,000 runners, and the marathon at 800. About 270 are participating through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training program.

The 5k is a benefit for the San Luis Obispo County region of Special Olympics Southern California, Hellman said.

Hellman plans to complete an economic impact report following the race. She said on average, the economic impact of a destination marathon is about $1 million per 1,000 runners, based on reports from other races.

According to a 2011 survey by Running USA, 72.9 percent of core runners — defined as adults who tend to enter running events and train year-round — have a household income of more than $75,000.

Participants “tend to be people living a healthy lifestyle, are more affluent, and the ones who want to dine in restaurants and enjoy wine tasting,” said Lindsey Miller, marketing director for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. “It definitely fits for this county.”

The city of San Luis Obispo is the event’s title sponsor. The city kicked in $50,000 in seed money toward the event, including $15,000 in general fund money budgeted for community promotions, said Assistant City Manager Michael Codron.

An additional $35,000 came from San Luis Obispo’s Tourism Business Improvement District, which is funded by a tax on hotel receipts to finance tourism promotion.

Official sponsors include Jamba Juice, French Hospital Medical Center, Rick Engineering, Madonna Inn and Pinnacle Training Systems.

The San Luis Obispo Marathon and Half Marathon is the fourth marathon to come to San Luis Obispo since the early 1970s, according to the San Luis Distance Club’s Stan Rosenfield.

The first was held April 15, 1973, and started and ended at Laguna Lake Park. It was directed by Brian Waterbury, one of the founders of the San Luis Distance Club. Waterbury, who died in 2003, also helped start the annual Rock to Pier Run from Morro Bay to Cayucos.

Pete Dorn, a local Team in Training coach who died in 2010, organized the Hunger Project Marathon in 1978-79, which later turned into an annual 8-mile Thanksgiving Day Hunger Run.

The San Luis Obispo Red Cross Marathon, held at Meadow Park, ran from 1979 to 1986.

“We are enthusiastic about giving people the opportunity to create a healthy lifestyle for themselves,” Hellman said. “This area is a training ground not only for elite athletes but anyone who wants to get off the couch and get going.”

Hellman is still in need of volunteers to help at the event. For more information, go to www.slomarathon.com. An expo will be held at the Madonna Inn starting Friday through Sunday and is open to the public.

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