Contact: (727) 347-4440
BUILDING THE FLORIDA GULF BEACHES MARATHON . . .
One Runner at a Time
Clearwater, FL --- In an era of huge marathon debuts across the country, the
Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon, scheduled for February 16, 2003, is building
participation the old fashioned way -- one runner at a time.
The Disney Marathon established the standard for large inaugural races with
more than 5,000 runners nearly ten years ago, but the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon
in San Diego, CA really smashed the marathon debut record, when they
attracted nearly 20,000 entrants in 1997.
Since then, marathons with more than 5,000 participants in their first year
have become more common and have sprung up in Cincinatti, Nashville,
Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Massive nationwide promotion, combined with
large local populations near each venue, attracted the masses and became
In contrast, the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon took the more traditional
route of first creating the race to work out the kinks, using limited
promotion to attract 635 runners in its’ inaugural year. Only after
establishing a desirable course, demonstrating the event’s viability to local
leaders and proving the benefits to the community, event organizers focused
on attracting more entrants.
"Our primary goal in the beginning was to establish the marathon’s
foundation to allow for strong, continued growth," said founder and executive
director Chris Lauber. "We’re confident our flat and scenic course, ideal
running weather, and perfect timing on a three-day weekend will continue to
attract entrants seeking a mid-winter break at our award-winning beaches."
With increased marketing, participation more than doubled in the race’s
second year to 1,529 entrants from 43 states and 13 countries. Last year,
early entries were up 140% on a Year-to-Date basis, but the downturn in
tourism from the economy and the events of September 11 slowed the race’s
growth. Still, despite tourism to Florida dropping last January by 10%, the
Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon, posted modest 4% gains to 1,593 entrants from
46 states and 16 countries.
This year, early entries are on pace to increase participation beyond 2,000
entrants and "3,000 is not impossible," said Lauber. "We have been receiving
excellent reviews from our runners on the internet, word-of-mouth seems
strong, and registration is 30% ahead of last year on a Year-to-Date basis."
Though still limited in its’ promotional budget, Lauber plans to build the
Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon one runner at a time with the personal service
larger races sometimes cannot offer. Lauber employs simple, cost-efficient
strategies like offering discounts to returning runners, answering every
inquiry in a timely manner, sending monthly informational e-mail updates, and
offering runners the option to pick a preferred bib number.
"Everyone has a favorite number, and we decided to offer runners the number
of their choice on a first-come basis," Lauber said. "I doubt we’re the
first marathon or the only one to offer preferred numbers, and it’s just a
small gesture, but we have been receiving excellent feedback for the idea."
Runners who don’t designate a favorite number are assigned a number, based on
their birthday, age, fastest marathon, address, or other significant number
on their entry form. It is simple to offer to the runners, and not very
time-consuming either. There have already been two requests for bib #911, but
Lauber has set that aside, potentially for a rescue worker worthy of the
Lauber knows that ultimately it’s the course, where it’s located, course
support, event amenities, and organization that determine an event’s success.
He remains confident that the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon will become an
annual tradition in his community like so many other successful marathons.
"I know we’ll never challenge Disney for participation, with their 20,000
runners, but we don’t need that many runners to achieve our goals," said
Lauber. "Our marathon, with continued hard work, could someday attract 5,000
entrants, certainly an attainable goal."
"Continued growth in participation will lead to increased interest from
sponsors, which will provide more resources to market the race to runners,"
Lauber admits it may have been easier to develop strong cash sponsorships
first, and use those resources to create the overnight successes so prevalent
in today’s marathon world. But that wasn’t an option when Lauber initially
campaigned for permission to run through nine cities on county and state
roads and over a bridge controlled by the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Frankly, it was all we could do in our first year to create an appealing,
logical, certified course that would be safe for runners and keep road
restrictions for residents to a minimum," said Lauber. "Our course went
through four significant revisions as we encountered obstacles due to
bridges, logistics, or mileage."
" ‘Build it and they will come’ has become somewhat cliche since we first
heard it at the movies years ago," said Lauber. "Some marathons build their
sponsorship and promotion first, and then the runners come. We are building
our participation first, knowing the big corporate sponsors will come later."
In the meantime, Lauber has adopted the mentality of the midpack marathon
runner. He compares the marathons that are heavily supported in their
inaugural year to the elite runners, who arrive at the start line with proven
success at other distances and a great deal of fanfare.
Lauber added, "Just as most marathoners are not elite and arrive at the
finish line by simply putting one step in front of the other for 26.2 miles,
we will progress one step at a time, one runner at a time."
For more information about the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon, visit
http://www.FloridaMarathon.com, call Lauber at (888) LIV-2RUN, or send him
an e-mail at Chris@FloridaMarathon.com.