Area's first marathon to have NASCAR flavor

Joe Avento • Feb 28, 2014 at 9:59 PM

Northeast Tennessee's first marathon will have a little NASCAR flavor, and the event's organizers hope that translates into "racing the way it oughta be."

That used to be Bristol Motor Speedway's slogan, and the popular NASCAR track is playing a part in the 26.2-mile race.

The Mentoring Marathon, to be held May 10, will start and finish at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City. Along the way, runners will do a lap at BMS, called the world's fastest half mile, and run at Bristol Dragway as well.

"I think it would be successful wherever it was going to be, but this just adds a level of uniqueness to it," Johnson City city commissioner Jenny Brock said Thursday at Bojangle's during a news conference announcing the race. "It gives it that little signature item to go around the speedway. To go around that track, that's something you don't see every day."

The course, which mainly runs along 11E, received final approval from various agencies and municipalities two weeks ago.

The race's original route was going to take it toward Jonesborough, but Janine Pleasant, who designed the eventual course, said the return trip was going to involve too many "small, curvy roads."

A course along 11E had already been designed for the NCAA Triathlon, for which Johnson City has put in a bid. The marathon course entails much of what will be the bike course for the triathlon.

"It's a great course," Pleasant said. "The only real big hill is as you go into the Bristol Motor Speedway area. Other than that, it's just rolling hills. It should be a nice, flat, fast course."

The May 10 date doesn't give runners much time to prepare, something race director Michael Marion acknowledged.

"There's never a good time for the first one," Marion said. "It takes so long to get those initial approvals. In the future, it will be easier."

Marion said he had been thinking about starting a marathon since 2005, but added "We had to have two things come together: the right person to do it and the initial sponsorship. Those two things came together this year."

Karen Hubbs, who organized the Bluegrass Half Marathon while working for the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, is doing a lot of the organizational work and Bojangle's is sponsoring the race.

In addition to the marathon, there will be a 5-kilometer race and two relays during the actual marathon, for four- and 10-person teams. Organizers are also seeking 26 non-profit, church or school groups to each "adopt" a mile of the race. Runners will vote on the best mile and the top organizations will receive cash prizes.

"I think marathoners will go back and talk about this," said Brock, who serves on the board of the Turkey Trot, Johnson City's ultra-successful Thanksgiving morning race. "We want to make it an experience in addition to a race. I want this to become an event that people from all over say 'You've got to go to Northeast Tennessee because they have a marathon that is just different.' "

Proceeds from the race will benefit Rise Up, a non-profit group dedicated to helping children attain post-high school education through mentoring and after-school programs. Marion is the founder and director of Rise Up.

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