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Star-Telegram.com

Cowtown organizers not resting on laurels

Posted Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

By Brent Shirley

bshirley@star-telegram.com

Cowtown Marathon organizers never sleep.

After the six races moved to Will Rogers Memorial Center and debuted all new courses last year, runners responded positively to the changes.

But instead of resting, Cowtown executive director Heidi Swartz and the race's board of directors immediately started tweaking the event.

Less than three weeks after the 2011 races concluded, preparations for the 2012 edition began.

"Everything was fresh in our minds, we knew what we wanted to work on and we had the momentum," Swartz said.

While runners were generally pleased with the new course, one small street was too narrow with parked cars on each side. This year, the course will bypass that road for a wider option.

"I start by looking at the map zoomed out," Cowtown board president Brian Hocker said. "Then I start looking at the smaller parts of the course to see where we can improve. "That street change is an example of something that looked OK when we planned it, but it turned out too tight. That is a small change, but it will make a huge difference for our runners."

The finish line has also been moved from the south side of Will Rogers to the west to accommodate more spectators and a better post-race flow.

"That was our biggest goal," Swartz said. "It's such a pretty venue, and we will be utilizing that now with our finish area."

The Cowtown set a registration record last year with 22,089 participants in the two-day activities that include two 5Ks, a 10K, the half marathon, marathon and ultra marathon.

This year, registration is already close to 22,000, and organizers are expecting the final tally to top 25,000.

"A good course is put together by a lot of people collaborating, and that's what we've had with Cowtown," Hocker said.

Much of the Cowtown's recent success has been a direct result of course changes and the venue change. Between 2004 and 2011, the race started and finished in downtown Fort Worth without looping through the city's historic Stockyards.

Now, the full marathon and ultra marathon hit all of the Fort Worth highlights. The races start and end in the cultural district, run through the Stockyards, go through downtown and circle TCU and Fort Worth's thriving southside.

"The southside has developed so much, and our races hadn't featured that part of Fort Worth before," Swartz said. "We wanted the race to show all of the city. Runners who aren't from here get to see pretty sections of Fort Worth. It's just a great showcase."

Swartz and other Cowtown officials wanted to move the race for many years.

As soon as the switch to Will Rogers was approved in the summer of 2010, the team began mapping out the new courses.

To help get local runners' input for the new courses, longtime runners Jim Newsom (the owner of Fort Worth Running Company) and his friend Gary Anderson attended planning meetings.

"It's so much better now. Ten times better," said Newsom, who is the chairman of the Cowtown ultra and had run the marathon 10 times. "The new set-up has everything to do with the Cowtown's growth and success."

Runners' main complaint about the old course was: "too many hills." Anderson, an engineer, used terrain mapping software to find a much flatter route while still seeing the best of Fort Worth.

"We ran up and down the course to show the options," Newsom said.

As a result, the Cowtown has climbed two spots to become the third-largest multi-event in the state, behind the Houston Marathon and the Rock'n'Roll San Antonio Marathon.

"We already are a top event," Swartz said. "At Will Rogers, we have the space to grow but manage it to make sure we still have a quality, community event. It still feels like Cowtown."

Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @bshirley08

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