The Omaha Marathon is in new hands, officials are scheduled to announce on Wednesday.
HITS Inc., a national event production company, now owns the 10K, half and full marathon.
“We're going to build on it,” said Barry Siff, the new race director and director of HITS. “We're going to build on what's already a great event.”
Siff is talking with city officials about adding 5K and one-mile runs this September, making it a two-day event. He also plans to reach out to TD Ameritrade Park officials about bringing the finish line inside the downtown Omaha baseball stadium. Within three years, Siff hopes to double registration to 10,000 runners.
The racing scene in Nebraska is exploding, Siff said, pointing to thriving running events through the past year. The Warrior Dash, an obstacle race, attracted more than 20,000 people last summer in Louisville, Neb. Nearly 12,000 people ran through downtown Omaha during last year's Corporate Cup. And the Lincoln Marathon's 10,000 spots sold out in less than 24 hours in December.
“What (that) speaks to is how great Nebraska is for events like this,” Siff said.
Siff, a runner, doesn't currently live in Nebraska but he lived in Omaha from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s and was well-known in the Omaha running community. He regularly ran from ConAgra in downtown Omaha, where he worked, to his home near 148th and Dodge Streets.
After moving to Colorado, he founded an adventure racing production company, which he eventually sold to the World Triathlon Co. in 2009, before joining the HITS team. HITS will host running events in several cities this year, including Tucson, Ariz.; Oklahoma City; and Oceanside, Calif. Each is expected to draw between 5,000 and 10,000 runners.
Siff said his dream has always been to organize an endurance event in Omaha.
“It's giving back to the running community that did so much for me the years that I was there,” he said.
He informally mentioned the idea a few years ago to Susie Smisek, who has organized the Omaha Marathon for roughly a decade. Smisek also has owned the rights to the marathon. Siff started speaking more seriously about acquiring the race after last year's marathon. HITS has since purchased the marathon rights from Smisek for an undisclosed amount.
When Smisek took over as marathon director in the early 2000s, fewer than 1,000 people ran the Omaha race. This year, she expects about 5,000 runners.
For the race to continue to grow, Smisek said, it needs more resources, which HITS can provide.
Soon, Siff will lace up his sneakers and run the course — though not all 26.2 miles at once — to see if he can adjust the route to make it faster.
“You can't do that from looking at a map or reading about it,” he said. “You have to feel it.”
Siff also said that Smisek will be involved in this year's Sept. 22 event to ease the transition.
“I think Susie and I come from the same mold. ... We just want to get people involved,” he said.
“We need to show everybody in the United States that there's more to Nebraska than Cornhusker football.”
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