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Napa Valley Marathon Boom

A sold-out crowd of 2,400 marathon participants from ten countries and 44 U.S. states will line up for the 33rd Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday, March 6, 2011. When they do, this year’s race theme, “All Things Boston,” will resound in their ears, a tribute to the venerable Boston Marathon. The two marathons on opposite coasts have ties going back to the 1980s.

Napa Valley Marathon

Napa Valley Marathon

One of these ties is through Dick Beardsley whose marathon best of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 54 seconds, set at the 1982 Boston Marathon – the memorable “Duel in the Sun” with Alberto Salazar – is the fifth fastest marathon time by an American man. In 1987, Beardsley set the current Napa Valley Marathon (NVM) course record of 2:16:30. He suffered a series of freak accidents and multiple surgeries from 1989 through the early 1990s, a difficult addiction to prescription pain-killing drugs, and a lengthy rehab. Beardsley restarted his running career at the 2000 Napa Valley Marathon, running 3:23:05. He has returned to the event every year since then, often competing, and always serving as a popular motivational speaker.“Among my eighty-some marathons, I’ve run Napa more times than any other, around seven times,” Beardsley said. “And, I’ve said this for years: My two favorite races in the world are Napa and Grandma’s Marathons. Of course, Boston is right there, too.”

On April 18, 2011, Boston will celebrate the 115th running of its annual marathon. This year, Beardsley will join a special group of dignitaries who are invited to NVM in acknowledgment of the Boston Marathon’s vaunted place among the world’s myriad of footraces. They include Guy Morse (former Executive Director, now Senior Director of External Affairs, of the Boston Athletic Association – organizers of the Boston Marathon), Bill “Boston Billy” Rodgers (four-time winner of Boston) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (a two-time Boston champion and winner of the inaugural women’s marathon at the 1984 Olympic Games). The group will appear and speak at NVM’s Marathon College on Saturday, March 5 at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa (marathon host hotel).

The Napa Valley Marathon was born in 1979 during the U.S. running boom that was triggered by Frank Shorter’s stunning victory at the 1972 Olympic Games Marathon. Throughout this running boom, which is enjoying a dramatic resurgence today, the venerable Boston Marathon has retained its status as the gold standard among popular marathons. Each year, numerous everyday runners set their sights on Boston as their personal “Olympic Games”. Boston Marathon participants must earn their entry into the race by achieving a fairly demanding marathon qualifying time, based on the entrant’s gender and age.

Historically, the fast, point-to-point, USA Track & Field certified (for accurate distance) marathon course through the scenic Napa Valley has attracted marathon devotees whose goal is to achieve a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. This year, 30 NVM entrants stated on their entry form that their primary motivation for running Napa is to qualify for Boston.

“The Napa and Boston courses are similar to each other in many ways,” Beardsley said. “They’re both rolling, point-to-point, and potentially fast if you run them intelligently. And, Napa has its own rendition of (Boston’s) Heartbreak Hill at 20 miles. Napa has the right combination of factors for a Boston qualifier: Good weather for the most part, some good downhills where you can fly, and excellent aid station and volunteer support.”

Both NVM and the Boston Marathon have enjoyed sold-out participant fields annually during the past decade. For its 2011 edition, NVM reached its 2,400-particpant limit last New Year’s Eve, the earliest sellout date ever for the event. This year’s Boston Marathon sold out its 26,790 entries in just eight hours; last year it took just over two months. Entry limits for NVM are largely determined by the number of available hotel rooms in the world-renowned Napa Valley wine producing and tasting region.

Indeed, the Napa Valley Marathon’s popularity has paralleled the steady growth of running in the U.S. In 2010, the U.S. established record annual highs in total marathon finishers (more than 500,000) and active marathons (more than 600) according to Running USA, a non-profit organization created in 1999 to improve the status of road racing. What fuels this growth at the challenging 26.2-mile marathon distance?

“The success and growth of popular marathon training programs, for both charity and non-charity purposes, have prepared many new runners for the distance,” said Ryan Lamppa, Running USA’s Media Director. “Well-organized, fun marathons tied to a community – such as Napa Valley – have created a ‘brand’ and tremendous goodwill that runners want to experience. Also, increased media coverage of marathon mania has fueled the buzz. Through websites and email, runners hear about the sellouts so when registration opens for their marathon of choice they sign-up earlier and earlier, creating earlier sellouts.”

Runner’s World magazine selected NVM as one of the top ten U.S. marathons for first-time marathon participants in its January 2011 issue. A remarkable 30 percent of NVM’s 2,400 entrants in 2011 indicated on their entries that the race will serve as their marathon debut.

The 2011 Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon starts on Sunday, March 6th at 7:00am sharp in Calistoga on the Silverado Trail near the intersection of Rosedale Road. The marathon’s fast, USA Track & Field certified (for accurate distance) road course runs the length of the beautiful Silverado Trail and finishes at Vintage High School in Napa.

Entry slots are still available for the companion Kiwanis 5K Fun Run, which starts (8:00am) and finishes at Vintage High School on marathon morning.

Every Napa Valley Marathon participant assists important local causes. All proceeds from the Napa Valley Marathon (a non-profit organization) are donated to local charities and schools in the Napa Valley region.

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