Wednesday, April 3, 2013

GO! St. Louis: 25,000 strong and ever-evolving

Yesterday, or so it seems,  I ventured out of my front door before sunrise, already hopped up on caffeine, hoping to have the energy to cover my first race. In reality, it was October 2000, and the race was known as the Spirit of St. Louis Marathon. Operating out of a spare bedroom, Nancy Lieberman managed to attract about 2,500 to race through downtown, Forest Park, Clayton and University City.

Today, the annual race-week press release crossed my desk. The organizers are expecting 25,000. That's a ten-fold increase since the first race. And, no. Nancy no longer works out of her spare bedroom. Spirit has morphed into GO! St. Louis. One race has expanded to seven. Race day has expanded to a year-round mission of fitness.

Despite the worst economic downturn in 70 years, despite competition from a national organization that organizes marathons around the world, GO! continues to evolve and grow.

Lieberman & Co. have kept the race fresh and alive by finding new wrinkles nearly each year. The group hosted the 2003 U.S. women's marathon championships and 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials. They added a fledgling half-marathon in 2003 that will draw more than 10,000 this year. The Read, Right and Run Marathon will serve students from more than 250 schools. Runners from ages six months to 100 years will participate in events on Family Day, April 6, that range from a diaper dash to a Mature Mile. The marathon relay, a first in 2005, will sell out once again, even though the field has expanded to include 600 teams of four runners.

This year, GO! took a leap of faith by offering the fourth-largest prize purse in the nation at the half-marathon distance. The money attracted national and international up-and-comers, further enhancing the event's reputation nationally.

The organizers have managed to do this while facing stiff competition from the Competitor Group, which brought the Rock 'n' Roll marathon franchise to St. Louis in the fall of 2011. The inaugural Rock 'n' Roll event here attracted almost 18,000 finishers but shrank to 11,000 in just its second go-around. GO! held nearly steady over all its events.

We'd ask the lean and mean staff to take a bow, but they're all a little busy right now, setting up the Expo at Chaifetz Arena. Then, they'll have to get ready for the Family Events on Saturday in Forest Park on Saturday: a 5K, the conclusion of Read, Right and Run marathon, fun runs and Mature Mile. Working on no sleep, they'll shift downtown for Sunday's marathon, half-marathon and sold-out marathon relay. All you tardy Arties can thank them when you register at the Expo. The rest of us can give them a pat on the back at the finishing lines Saturday and Sunday.