Lincoln Marathon officials will kick their 10,000 registration cap to the curb after the half and full races Sunday.
Next year's event will accommodate an additional 2,000 to 3,000 people. To that end, Lancaster County commissioners last month unanimously approved a $300,000 grant to widen the portion of the route adjacent to Highway 2, which they think will eliminate a bottleneck that crowds runners.
The project will demolish the existing 8-foot wide Boosalis Trail between 27th and 48th Streets and replace it with a 10-foot wide paved path. The standard width of all newly constructed trails in Lincoln is 10 feet.
Race organizers said that particular 1.75-mile portion of the route — which starts just after mile six — is too narrow, forcing them to limit the race to 10,000 runners.
“We pushed for (trail expansion) because last year we sold out in about 16 hours,” race co-director Nancy Sutton said. “We decided that in order to accommodate more people, that was the piece that we had to have in place.”
The new trail will be able to support up to 15,000 runners, Sutton said, but organizers will allow 12,000 to 13,000 people to register next year. They also plan to increase the number of staggered starts to help alleviate congestion.
“We don't want to just overwhelm everything,” she said. “We're being a little more cautious.”
Beckie Tuttle of Lincoln is running in the event Sunday for the eighth time. The 41-year-old called the Boosalis Trail “a complete mess” on race day. It's difficult to pass slower runners, which stalls momentum, affects times — and even attitudes, she said.
But Tuttle said it's the marathon's only shortcoming. “I feel bad complaining at all because the race is so wonderful.”
Accommodating more people will bring more revenue to the county because more than half the runners travel to participate, said Julie Lattimer, chairwoman of the Lancaster County Visitors Promotion Committee.
Two in three runners live outside Lancaster County, and roughly 1,400 live outside Nebraska.
The Lincoln Track Club estimates that those visitors generate about $32,000 in lodging taxes. Lodging tax money is funding the $300,000 tourism grant.
The grant will not cover the entire $500,000 cost to widen the trail. The Lincoln Track Club and Nebraska Trails Foundation will each contribute $75,000. The City of Lincoln will provide the remaining $50,000.
The project is less expensive long term and safer than moving that portion of the course to Highway 2, which runs parallel to the existing trail, said Greg Topil, Lincoln's senior engineering specialist.
Using Highway 2 would require a barricade, detour route, labor, equipment and additional law enforcement. Two of three barricade companies the city works with said they would not take the job. The other estimated it would cost at least $50,000 for the six-hour period. At that price, it would take 10 years for the cost of barricading Highway 2 to reach the cost of expanding the trail.
Work will begin on the trail shortly after this year's event and be completed by October.
The Sunday races start at 7 a.m. on UNL's city campus and end inside Memorial Stadium. This year will mark Amy Fabricus' sixth time running the half or full marathon. She said the investment in the trail system is worthwhile.
“Every year,” she said, “that's been the point where I've had to hop off the sidewalk and run on the grass.”
She has seen two people fall doing the same thing. Fabricus said widening the trail will make the race safer, faster and draw more people to the event.
“If running makes people happy,” she said, “why not make 5,000 more people happy?”
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