Originally published in the Columbus Dispatch.
The predawn scene of breath rising from runners warming up along Broad Street while music echoed off the Statehouse dome served as a staple for the start of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon for 34 years.
Change will accompany the 35th race, which begins at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, with a move of the starting line from Downtown to North Bank Park in the Arena District.
There is a method to this seeming madness: The 26.2-mile race and the half marathon also will end for the field of 18,000 at North Bank Park and eliminate the need for workers to pull up stakes and make the caravan move to Nationwide Arena, where the finish line had been since 2000.
“You really had two events in two different locations,” race director Darris Blackford said. “ The start and finish were just close enough together to be aggravating. It just didn’t make any sense. From a logistical standpoint it was difficult to manage, but it was how it always was.”
The driving force for the switch came because race organizers wanted to include a pass by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the course.
“This will further enhance the connection between the event and the hospital,” said Bill Burns, chairman of the board of trustees for the race. “The excitement at the spot on the course will be electric.”
Getting to this point took more than a snap of the fingers.
“Everything has to measure out,” Blackford said. “If you drop 10 feet in one place, you have to find 10 feet somewhere else. So it was difficult.”
After running the new course, he likes the changes.
“We were able to get rid of some of the 90-degree turns in the first half,” Blackford said. “I think those types of things will make the course a little faster because runners won’t have their stride broken by those sharp turns.”
“I don’t know if we’ll ever see the 2:11 record fall. But I do think the times in the half marathon will both fall.”
The “2:11” reference is to the men’s marathon record of 2 hours, 11 minutes and 2 seconds, which has been resistant to change since Tommy Persson of Sweden set it in the inaugural 1980 race.
The 2013 men’s champion, Kennedy Kemei of Kenya, ran the course in 2:18:45. He is returning with a strong field of elites.
Defending women’s marathon champion Christina Murphy of Grandview won her hometown race in her first try at the distance with a U.S. Olympic trials qualifying time of 2:39:15. She is switching to the half marathon this year.
Leslie Sexton, of London, Ontario, set the women’s half marathon course record of 1:13:13. Winning the race and setting the course record was worth $3,750.
“It was my biggest payday ever,” said Sexton, who is running a full marathon for the first time.
Like the race course, each had a reason to change this year.
Murphy gave birth to her second daughter, Winnie, on July 11.
“There just wasn’t enough preparation time (for a marathon),” she said.
Sexton, meanwhile, has been aiming to move from the half to full marathon for a while.
“I’ve had a bit of bad luck with it,” she said. “I’ve trained to run two. I got sick before the first one and couldn’t run. I got injured before the second one. This time, I’d like to be able to go for it. I think it’s just the challenge. For me, I’ve always done better the longer I go.”
Reaching the Olympic qualifying time last year fit into the plan that Murphy and her husband, Josh, had to expand the family.
“I want to go to the Olympic trials in 2016,” she said. “This seemed like a perfect time for us to have the second baby. I also knew that I wanted to come back and race in the Columbus half this year. I think it’s just a process of having a goal in my mind.”
Murphy ran a 5K race when Winnie was five weeks old.
“I was somewhat weak, but I ran a (personal record),” she said. “I felt pretty good. I don’t think I can expect to win. It’s more about what I can do after six to eight weeks of training. But, yeah, I’m racing it.”