In cities like Chicago, New York and especially Boston, marathons are city-wide events. Regular Janes and Joes line the street to gawk at real life masochists, better known as marathoners, who suffer chafed nipples, bloody toenails and lost oxygen for the thrill of running 26.2 miles.
World-class athletes from places like northern Africa and eastern Europe tear through the course, mocking the typical limitations of the human body.
Nashville hasn’t become an internationally recognized marathon city on the same scale as Boston — just yet — but what Music City lacks in athletic competition, it makes up for in atmosphere. The Country Music Marathon will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Saturday when more than 35,000 marathoners of all ages run through the starting chute located at Centennial Park.
“It’s turned into a true community event,” Country Music Marathon general manager Adam Zocks said. “As opposed to 10 years ago when we first came here when everybody had no idea what to expect on April 29, 2000. It’s definitely turned into a community supported, community based event. You don’t talk to people and someone says, ‘Country Music Marathon, what’s that?’
“Now you mention it and people say, ‘I ran that last year,’ or, ‘My brother ran it,’ or, ‘I volunteer it.’ It’s something that has become part of Nashville. The last week in April is Marathon week.”
Music at center of race
In order to make the Country Music Marathon a uniquely Nashville event, organizers put a music festival atmosphere at the heart of the race itself. Once again this year, performance stages will line the course as more than 50 artists and bands play at 28 different stage locations.
Some of the bands performing are Less Kerr & The Bayou Band, stage one; Silo, stage two; Carrie Hickman, stage six; Skyla Spencer, stage 12; Jessica Rae, stage 13; Jefferson Street Blues Band, stage 14; Justin Kalk Orchestra, stage 16; The Tom Foolery Experience, stage 21; Dave Landeo Band, stage 22; Brent White, stage 24; and The Superficials, stage 24. (For a map of stage locations, visit cmmarathon.com)
After the race, runners will be treated to a concert at the Sommet Center headlined by country music star Billy Currington. Opening for Currington is Ashton Shepherd and the Carter Twins.
Race participants, volunteers and children under two years old get in free. Others may purchase tickets for $35 at the Sommet box office or through Ticketmaster.
“The music on the course is a way, outside of the runners, to get more people involved to keep expanding the reach,” Zocks said.
Nashvillians more interested in sopping up the race atmosphere have followed the lead of organizers and turned the day of the marathon into an event unto itself. Race viewing parties at houses along the course have continued to sprout up over the years, giving the marathon a truly festive, party atmosphere for the runners.
In particular, the Belmont neighborhood has become the place to be on race day with spectators enjoying get-togethers at the homes lining the course and cheering on front porches as friends and family pass by.
Kat Wright is hosting a race day party at her friend Liz Workman’s house. While Workman runs the race, Wright will be serving food and drinks to friends ready to cheer on the runners.
“Basically we’re trying to do everything we can to lure people up at that early hour because a lot of people are not accustomed to getting up at that early hour on a Saturday,” Wright said. “We’re going to have coffee, bagels, donuts, a few adult beverages. I figure that’s our incentive while all these the other people are working their butts off.”
Wright said her goal is to make sure she’s prepared to cheer on her husband, Jon Wright, as he runs down Belmont Boulevard for the half-marathon.
“That’s why we chose Belmont, because you get a chance to see them twice,” Wright said. “They pass up Belmont and then loop around and come back down, so we’ll have two chances to cheer them on. I’m sure we’ll have signs and be ready to shout and yell as they run by.”
The festival atmosphere that surrounds the race — 100,000 swarm downtown on the days leading up to the marathon — yields a $40 million economic impact on Nashville, according to a study released by organizers last year.
Course given minor alteration
For the first time in several years, the full marathon and half marathon course have been slightly altered. The changes were made, Zocks said, to incorporate lower Broadway. Runners in both races will continue down Broadway, pass Nashville’s historic honky tonks, and then turn right down Fourth Avenue South before turning again on Demonbreun and heading toward Music Row.
“The changes to the course carried a couple of goals with it,” Zocks said. “Number one, I thought we were missing out on some Nashville landmarks. Just by adding a little bit, we do add a hill also. When you’re going down Broadway, you’ll now have to come up Demonbreun, which does have a hill.”
Feedback after early Country Music Marathons led organizers to alter the course to eliminate some of Nashville’s many hills. The course has remained fairly flat and gone unaltered the last several years. Zocks said the new course would make up for in scenery what it sacrificed by adding the hill.
“I don’t think it will be harder, but there’s definitely a hill,” Zocks said.
Prize increased for overall winner
The Country Music Marathon will include its share of top notch athletes as 40 runners from across the globe compete with amateurs for the top prize. This year, a $10,000 incentive was added for the top overall finisher.
The female elite runners will be given a 15-minute head start, which should lead to a competitive finish with the top male runners.
“The gender challenge is a unique twist we implemented for the 10th anniversary of the event,” Zocks said. “Ideally, with the lead male runner closing on the lead female runner, it adds a special touch and provides extra entertainment at the end of the elite race for the thousands of spectators who come out to watch. I’m certain everyone will want to see the race to the finish line.”
The first female finisher and the first male finisher will each win a $10,000 prize as well.
For more on the Country Music Marathon, including information on race day entertainment, visit cmmarathon.com.