Lewis: Marathon fever takes over in Utah
Year after year, Mayor James Truett has watched fitness enthusiasts descend all summer on his tiny town of Huntsville in the Ogden Valley for a ceaseless parade of bike tours, triathlons and road races.
Now, he's getting in on the action.
Truett is spearheading the creation of the new Huntsville Marathon on Sept. 29, aimed at both catering to runners like himself and raising money for a town without much of a tax base that still relies on 30-year-old snow plows.
"This could be such a good moneymaker for the town," he said.
Which pretty much explains how Utah has become a mecca for the marathon over the past few years.
No fewer than 26 of the 26.2-mile races are scheduled to take place around the state this year more than triple the number that existed just five years ago.
The reason is simple.
Organizers and municipalities have witnessed the soaring popularity of marathons a record 518,000 people finished one in the U.S. last year, according to Running USA and appreciated how they can simultaneously attract tourists, galvanize communities, and make money (not that you'd know it from all of the recent drama surrounding the Salt Lake City Marathon).
And with the oldest and most popular marathons in the state filling up within hours and turning away thousands of hopeful runners every year, there's plenty of spillover to go around.
"Absolutely," Truett said. "I think that's why there's so many events."
So many, is right.
In a state that had just eight significant marathons before 2008, another 18 have sprung up including 14 in the last two years alone.
Just the other day, in fact, the former race director of the Salt Lake City Marathon announced a new venture, the Utah Marathon, scheduled for Oct. 13.
So now, in addition to stalwarts such as the mega-popular St. George Marathon and the Ogden Marathon, runners can register for marathons everywhere from Hurricane and Moab to Price, Park City and Herriman.
South Jordan has its own marathon. So does Layton. Provo has three, basically right next door to one based in Orem and another with a gimmicky format in American Fork. Runners can go the distance in Morgan, Midway, Blanding and Bear Lake, as well, or start in Mesquite and cross the state line into Utah.
Of course, none of them is ever going to be Boston or New York.
Most are smaller events, hoping to gain traction and appeal. Maybe put a few bucks in the city coffers.
But if you're a runner who likes variety Â from wooded trails to desert landscapes, mountain vistas to city streets Â that's a pretty satisfying selection.