Naperville marathon fastest-growing? Economic boost?

Two pieces of information about the just-run Naperville marathon caught my eye:

The Naperville marathon has been one of the fastest-growing events in the country, more than doubling in size over the past few years. Still, it maintains a sense of smallness that is attractive to some runners like Jennifer Maierhoffer, of Seneca. Running a marathon was on her “bucket list,” she said, and she chose the Naperville event due to its size…

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said the race is great event for Naperville as it provides not only an economic boost to the city, but also serves as a time in which the community can come together as volunteers to help run the event. This year more than 1,000 volunteers participated, he said.

Several quick thoughts:

  1. Naperville claims to have a small town feel despite its size (over 140,000 residents). So, what will they do to keep this event small?
  2. Keeping the event small could be at odds with the purported economic boost. If you had more runners, there would be more visitors. I suppose the spots in the races could become more lucrative, especially if this is tied to good causes (according to the end of the article, $1 million was raised for charity).
  3. Just how much of an economic boost could a relatively small event like this be? I’d be interested in seeing the figures.
  4. Naperville’s rapid population growth has slowed now that large parcels of land have disappeared but the marathon gives the suburb something fast-growing to hold on to.
  5. What is the saturation point for hosting marathons? Are there suburbs and other places that have stopped hosting marathons in recent years because they didn’t have enough interest or participants?

What does Naperville gain by scheduling its first marathon?

Naperville is a decorated suburb: it is unusually large and wealthy compared to most suburbs, has been recognized by a number of publications for its better traits, and has a lively downtown. Now the suburb is adding another feature: it has scheduled its first marathon for November 10, 2013.

“Naperville has a great running community but they’ve never had a marathon, for whatever reason,” said Bob Hackett, who has organized the Fox Valley Marathon in St. Charles for the past three years. “We realized that as great of a city as Naperville is, it’s lost without one, so we’re making it happen.”Hackett said organizers first approached the city two years ago but found the special events planning calendar already booked solid.

The 26.2-mile course has yet to be finalized, but Hackett said it will start near 95th Street and Book Road and wander south into Plainfield and unincorporated Will County before heading back north into Naperville. The course will take runners along a variety of streets and through forest preserve property…

“The course should be somewhat flat and fast, but it will have its rolling hills and challenges,” Hackett said. “It will be a Boston-qualifying race, so there’s an opportunity for runners to put together a fast race if they’re looking to head to Boston.”…

Hackett said the Fox Valley run has drawn as many as 7,500 runners, but the first Naperville event will be capped at 4,000. He doesn’t think they’ll have any trouble hitting that mark.

There are several ways this race could help boost the prestige of Naperville;

1. This could bring in more people and attention to Naperville. All this could translate into more tax revenue and status.

2. This suburban marathon is connected to the Boston Marathon, a prestigious race. Additionally, there are a limited number of Boston-qualifying races. Check out this list of 2012 marathons and the number of qualifiers for Boston each race produced: many of these races are city races, not suburban races.

3. It will be interesting to see how Naperville tries to tie this to existing recreational and outdoor activities in Naperville. While it is a relatively flat Midwestern town, Naperville has a popular Riverwalk along the DuPage River and numerous parks and Forest Preserves (particularly the 1,867 acre Springbrook Prairie).

This seems like a win-win of the community: runners get a local race, the city of Naperville gets a marquee event to add to the schedule, and the event is on a Sunday morning so shouldn’t disrupt too much of normal suburban life.