Miles and miles in Texas will be logged Saturday and Sunday as an estimated 28,000 runners from all 50 states and 13 countries will converge on the Will Rogers Memorial Center for the 39th edition of the Cowtown.
Many will partake in the race organizers’ 5K and 10K courses Saturday, while the more ambitious will show Sunday morning to take on the marathon, half marathon, and the 50K ultra marathon. Some of the more bold in step will run a race Saturday and Sunday in the Cowtown Challenge.
The races are often as unpredictable as the winter weather in February in Texas. You never know.
The winner of the marathon, a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon, will cross the finish line in a little more than two hours. It will take the last runner closer to seven hours, a time frame that more closely mirrors Pheidippides’ expedition to Athens.
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Unlike the first race in 1979, when runners took off and finished at the North Side Coliseum in the Stockyards, or two years ago during Snowmageddon — which cost runners the marathon experience — this year’s races will be run under balmy springlike conditions.
A Cowtown primer:
Money, money, money
A few handfuls of elite runners will be thinking of all the things they could do with a little money in a rich man’s world as they roam the Cowtown’s courses this weekend.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Cowtown Elite program has lured runners from around the world to compete for a guaranteed $20,000 in prize money. In addition to the marathon, half marathon and ultra marathon, Cowtown officials have added the 10K as part of the reward program. Also new in 2017, $250 to the top male and female Texan in each of the marathon, half and 10K distances.
Marathon: $1,500 to the top male and female finishers, $1,000 to the second-place finishers, $750 to the third-place finishers, $500 to the fourth-place finishers and $400 to the fifth-place finishers.
Half marathon: $1,000 to the first man and woman, $750 to the second-place finishers, $500 to the third-place finishers, $400 to the fourth-place finishers and $300 to the fifth-place finishers.
Ultra marathon: $1,000 will be awarded to the first man and woman.
10K: $500 to the top male and female finishers, $400 to the second-place finishers, $300 to the third-place finishers.
Greener pastures for elites
Among those elite runners chasing the money is Tyler McCandless, who earned a Ph.D. in meteorology last year before competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Another is Canadian Calum Neff, who also comes to Fort Worth with unique credentials.
Last year, Neff, 31, and son Holland, 11 months at the time, set a stroller half marathon Guinnes World Record of 1:11:27 in Katy.
Cowtown star Elizabeth Eder Northern, winner of every race distance here, including last year’s ultra, will be a pacer in the marathon this year for the 3:30 finish time. She’ll also be running the 10K Saturday as part of the Cowtown Challenge.
Runners returning for the 5K and Cook Children’s 5K on Saturday will encounter a new, more scenic route through Trinity Park and the Botanic Gardens. The change is expected to be a benefit for runners, who will find their jog more aesthetically pleasing, as well as the city’s residents, who will be less impacted by the typical congestion caused by the run.
Hell or hill?
There are no changes to the marathon, half marathon or ultra marathon courses. However, runners will have a new competitive opportunity on one of the course’s most demanding stretches. Runners will have a chance to Conquer the Hill, the .344-mile tract over the Paddock Viaduct, aka the Main Street bridge, that crosses the Trinity River in connecting downtown to the North Side.
The fastest nonelite men and women to ascend the hill in each of the three distances will win a free entry into next year’s race.
Well, there aren’t expected to be any changes to the long-distance courses. But it’s possible.
Race officials as late as Thursday evening were not certain South Main would be passable. The South Main corridor is undergoing a radical renovation that has necessitated closing the street to through traffic.
Officials were in contact with city officials, who were weighing options.
Elite marathoners will be gunning to go as low as Lamech Mosoti and Dehininet Jara did in 2014. Mosoti established the Will Rogers Course men’s record on the 26.2-mile track by zipping around Fort Worth in 2:17:12. A bit later, Jara crossed the finish line to set a new women’s record at 2:42:31. The other records on the Will Rogers Course:
Half marathon: Nelson Oyugi, 1:04:34 (men), Maina Veronicah, 1:11:47 (women).
Ultra marathon: Michael Wardian, 3:00:21 (men), Elizabeth Northern, 3:21:33 (women).
10K: Antii-Pekka Niinisto, 30:53 (men). Melissa Christian, 35:24 (women).
5K: Dereje Hailegiorgis, 15:00 (men), Elizabeth Northern, 17:25 (women).
For the more pedestrian competitors, race officials have established minimum standards to complete the races. For the marathon and ultra marathon, runners have a limit of 7 1/2 hours to finish. Runners in the half marathon are expected to all be in at 4 1/2 hours. Participants in the 10K have 3 1/2 hours to get in the 6.2 miles. For the adult 5K, 1 1/2 hours.
Vendors are waiting for the more than 80,000 people expected to drop by the Health and Fitness Expo inside the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall. It opened Friday and will be open 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
Park your horse here
The tens of thousands attending the races oSaturday and Sunday won’t be getting to the starting line by foot. Free parking is available in the Western Heritage Garage, which sits between Montgomery and Gendy streets, the Fort Worth school district’s Farrington Field at University Drive and Lancaster Avenue, and UNT Health Science Center at the convergence of Montgomery Street and Camp Bowie Boulevard. There is also paid parking for the lots that surround the Will Rogers Memorial Center.
The little guys
The Cowtown CALF (Children’s Activities for Life and Fitness) expanded its reach to a program-high 5,800 children in North Texas. Each of those children received a pair of new running shoes and financial assistance for their entry fee. The number of awards has increased by 2,500 since 2014.
“While this is our biggest year to date for the program, the need is great. We would like to ask the community’s help in expanding it further,” Jeremy Pruett, chairman of the CALF board, said earlier this year.
A donation of $50 covers the program’s yearlong training curriculum, shoes and entry fee grant for one child.
The Cowtown CALF staff work throughout the year with local schools and community centers to teach children proper running form, training techniques and healthy nutrition.
Weather for Sunday’s long-distance runs will feel like summer compared to that first race in 1979 when 25-year-old Bill Parmalee crossed the finish line first in 24-degree, icy and windy weather.
Temperatures in the mid-40s are expected to greet runners Sunday for the start of the marathon. The forecast calls for temperatures in the high 30s for Saturday morning’s race.
That start-finish on the first race day in 1979 was at the North Side Coliseum. Parmalee beat Hector Ortiz, considered the pre-race favorite, by 11 minutes, running the race in 2:27:09. Parmalee, who won a trip to the Boston Marathon, caught Ortiz at Mile 15. The two dueled for a quarter of a mile before Parmalee broke away.
“I think he was tightening up a little bit because I was surprised I broke away,” Parmalee said at the time. “At 20 miles, I realized he was falling back.”
Ortiz ran the course in tank top, T-shirt and shorts, an ensemble that he admitted afterward might have been better for a different day.
Will Rogers Memorial Center
Saturday: 10K (7 a.m.), 5K (8:30 a.m.), children’s 5K (9:30 a.m.)
Sunday: Half marathon, marathon, ultra marathon (7 a.m.)