World Marathon Majors meet, share ideas at Olympic marathon

Race directors from the five World Marathon Majors hosted more than 100 guests for a women’s marathon viewing party Sunday at a conference center near Blackfriars Bridge.

The race directors of the New York, Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin marathons started the World Marathon Majors in early 2006 as a way to generate publicity for marathon runners and give the top distance runners a financial reason to run in their races.
Runners accumulate points at those five races over a two-year period, and the runner with the highest point total wins $500,000. Every four years, the Olympic marathon is added to the list of races that count for points.

Between short breaks to stand in the rain and watch the women’s marathoners run past, the race directors who gathered on Sunday said their collaboration had been successful not only in convincing elite athletes to run their races but also had other benefits that varied from race to race.

For example, ING New York City Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg said she was inspired to improve New York’s fundraising efforts after seeing what the Virgin London Marathon did. London has raised more than $71 million per race for charities. New York has increased its fundraising from $500,000 to $32 million since joining the majors in 2006, Wittenberg said.

The BMW Berlin Marathon has seen the number of international entrants to its race soar since it joined the World Marathon Majors. Mark Milde, Berlin’s race director, pointed to 700 Brazilians who are coming to its race in September. They are part of a group that has pushed the number of foreign runners in the race to more than 50 percent of total entrants.

“They went to New York, did that race and said, ‘Who else is in this series?’” Milde said. “It’s quite amazing.”

Chicago and Boston have shared best practices around their races in recent years. Boston this year reached out to Chicago for advice about how to handle temperatures that soared above 80 degrees this year. Chicago had to shut down its marathon in 2007 because temperatures were too high.

“We’ve been rivals in the past and we’re still competitive, but we’re able to share now,” said Carey Pinkowski, executive director of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Wittenberg said the biggest upside of the marathons coming together is that it’s given them a more powerful voice in the international running community. She said that before 2006, the race organizers had no relationship with track and field’s international sports federation (IAAF).

“This has created a level of collaboration between our five races and the IAAF and brought together all of track and field and road racing,” Wittenberg said.

The World Marathon Majors will host another hospitality event at Blackfriars during the men’s race next Sunday.
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