SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — For the first time in several years, the Nov. 3 Bass Pro marathon has a new course. As a result, two of my running buddies are emotional wrecks.
I will not name them, other than to say: Jackie Rehwald and Lynette Bellet Cummings should read this story.
You see, runners are creatures of habit. They have rituals. They don’t like change — especially when it comes to a familiar marathon course.
Why? they want to know.
According to Melissa Bondy, director of the Bass Pro Shops Fitness Series, the No. 1 reason is increased runner safety.
It’s been my experience that oftentimes things change because something bad happened.
So I asked Melissa: Was a runner hit by a vehicle last year?
“Thank the Lord, there have been no issues with any runners being hit,” she says.
But race organizers are always looking for ways to improve safety, says Bondy, an avid runner.
In addition, she says, race officials are always looking to put less demand on city services, such as police officers who manage traffic at various intersections.
Finally, changes were made to address drivers’ complaints about how long intersections are shut down.
“The No. 1 area where we get complaints is from drivers having to wait,” she says.
More: Bass Pro Marathon advice
Two other races held same day
In addition to the Bass Pro marathon (26.2 miles), there is a half-marathon (13.1 miles) and a 5K (3.1 miles).
The Maynard Cohick Half-Marathon starts at 7 a.m., the same time as the marathon.
The marathon and half-marathon have long, separate histories dating back decades before Bass Pro was asked to take over organization and sponsorship in 2007.
The News-Leader sponsors the third race, the 5K (3.1 miles), which starts at 7:15 a.m.
The major changes to the marathon course are these:
The marathon course and half-marathon course will be on the same route for just over 10 miles.
In the past, marathoners and half-marathoners parted company at about one mile.
What this means is that the first 10 miles will be more packed with runners than in prior years — increasing the need early on for aid stations and portable toilets.
Last year, there were 284 marathon finishers and 1,150 half-marathon finishers.
If the numbers are similar, about 1,450 runners will be in closer proximity the first 10 miles this year.
This makes it even more important for competitive, fast runners to get closer to the front at the start, especially those running the half-marathon.
Last year, the final marathoner crossed the finish in eight hours and one minute.
The second major change is that the marathoners will run through the Southern Hills neighborhood — the eastern edge of the course — later in the race.
Instead of entering the neighborhood at six miles in, they will enter it at 13 miles.
“We are still utilizing Southern Hills, but at a different place in the race,” Bondy says.
Here’s why this change was made, Bondy explains.
By having the marathoners in Southern Hills later in the race the runners will be more spread out — making it easier for traffic to cross intersections when runners are not present.
The marathon course will no longer cross East Sunshine Street at South Ventura Avenue. In the past, this is where runners headed north, briefly running on Oak Grove Avenue.
Sunshine and Ventura has been one of the more dangerous crossings on the course. It’s one with a lot of traffic.
The fact that Ventura and Oak Grove do not directly connect made the crossing even more dangerous and required that more than one police officer be present, Bondy says.
“It requires that police officers be there most of the day,” she says.
Bass Pro pays the city for officers’ time.
Bondy says the little fish painted on the pavement, which mark the course, will not be covered up along the sections no longer in use.
“They will fade away in a few years,” she says.
Bondy says that by not crossing East Sunshine runners will avoid two of the more dangerous roads on the old route: Oak Grove, which has no shoulders, and high-traffic Cherry Street.
At least you can get a beer now
The new course has marathoners heading back east via Seminole Street.
None of these changes affects the half-marathoner course, which is the same.
With all this said, the good news is that marathoners for the first time will have the pleasure at mile five of running through the backlot of Mother’s Brewing Co., where hydration options include beer.
Registration this year is going well, Bondy said. Typically, she says, the most last-minute entries come not from marathoners or half-marathoners, but from those who run the 5K, who like a more accurate and more timely weather forecast for race day.
Last year there were 981 finishers in the 5K.
Planning is going well, too.
Bondy and other race officials annually meet with police, medical crews from Mercy Springfield, the fire department and city traffic engineers.
“The city has been fantastic in its support,” she says.
In this day and age, race officials also meet with members of the police department’s bomb squad.
In 2013, terrorists detonated two homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish of the Boston Marathon. The bombs killed three people and injured several hundred, including 16 who lost limbs.
“It’s standard operating procedure,” Bondy says. “You obviously have to ensure the safety of the runners.”
Bondy says she does worry about weather.
“I don’t worry about rain,” she says. “Runners are runners. They will not care about rain. But I do worry that it might get too hot.”
Heat, she says, can become a safety issue.
These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper seven years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, email@example.com, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.