Pavement pounding: Charlottesville Marathon proves a national draw

Russ Gill recently took to running a business literally. During the six months of planning for the event, Gill's Charlottesville Marathon quickly sole-d out. And by the time it took place April 19, 300 of the 1,200 runners who laced up had paid the full $55 to compete in the 26.2 mile marathon. Other runners paid $40 to run the half-marathon or $20 to cover the 5K distance. The race began and ended at White Hall Vineyard, winding through the bucolic Free Union countryside along the way.

But despite the race's relatively steep entry fees especially compared to the $15 entry fee for the nonprofit Charlottesville 10-Miler Gill says the marathon was a labor of love, not a cash cow. And though the race was a for-profit venture– unlike races sponsored by the nonprofit Charlottesville Track Club (of which Gill is an active member)– he says the marathon raised more than $3,000 for the Piedmont Family YMCA.

A professional ultra-distance runner (he and his girlfriend Francesca Conte regularly run 100-mile races and are sponsored by such national corporations as Clif Bar and Patagonia), Gill says he recognized "a need" for a local marathon. He didn't realize how deep that need ran.

"We turned 800 applicants away," he says, because of parking limitations at the vineyard. Runners from 38 states and three foreign countries descended on Charlottesville, making the race a more international event than Gill had expected.

"People who are athletically-minded look for ways to combine a vacation and an athletic event," Gill says. Discovering the beauty of the Blue Ridge was a pleasant surprise for some runners.

Gill, on the other hand, had to think about more than just beautiful views; a big race comes with big expenses. Gill formed Bad to the Bone LLC as the race's managing corporation. He then secured $1,000,000 liability insurance, hired seven Albemarle police officers to handle traffic issues, had the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad standing by in exchange for a donation, and provided prizes and refreshments for the runners. Dr. Bob Wilder, director of The UVA Running Clinic, rounded up volunteer doctors to man each of the 13 water stations.

Every person who crossed the finish line received a handcrafted medallion from California artist Kathleen Kelly, who also makes medallions for California's Big Sur marathon. The top three men and women in both the marathon and half-marathon won handmade pottery plates, and other winners received water bottles, sweatshirts, and starter memberships to ACAC.

But the prizes were not the draw for many runners.

Beth Cottone, winner of the 30-39 women's category, says despite the challenging hilly course, running a local marathon was "the easiest mentally."

"It was a beautiful race," she says, "and it was great to run with people I know it made all the difference."

Though Gill won't comment on the profitability of this year's event, he says plans for next year are already under way, though he'd like to pick a start/end point that can accommodate more runners while keeping the basic course the same. He cites Foxfield as one possibility, but says he'd like to continue the winery theme.

And even if the fee should increase, it's unlikely that will deter runners who are accustomed to paying steep sums for big-city marathons.

As Cottone says of this year's race, "It was well, well worth the $55."


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