The Arkansas Marathon is not what it used to be when Booneville first served as its host. But it is growing, according to Booneville Development Corporation/South Logan County Chamber of Commerce executive director Stacey McCollough.
A year ago the marathon and Booneville 10K drew only 25 runners but that didn’t stop McCollough and the BDC/Chamber from expanding the event, which will be the fourth straight year Booneville has been the host — Booneville also hosted the event from 1978 through 1995.
The lineup this year will feature not only the 45th annual Arkansas Marathon and the Booneville 10K run, but also a 10K walk and the Mayor’s 5K run/walk.
The expanded lineup has already generated more entries than did last year’s race when only 25 total racers took off from in front of Booneville High School.
On the final day of pre-registration last Wednesday, the count was already 35 online, most of which, McCollough said, were either 10K or marathon runners. Most 5K runners, he said, have registered in person at the BDC office.
"It is growing, slowly," McCollough said. "It’s just breaking into the (running) schedule is kinds of tough. Until this year we have not had a set, designated time."
McCollough and organizers toyed with the idea of moving the event to the spring but the competition would have been "horrible," he said.
The event this year is against the Chili Pepper Festival 5K in Fayetteville and the Benton 20K in Saline County.
Still, McCollough said, the competition is easier because marathons attract out of state runners that 5K, or even a 20K will not.
In the last three years the Arkansas has attracted runners from Tennessee, Minnesota and other states. As of last week the 45th event — though it has moved around, the Arkansas Marathon is the longest consecutively held marathon in the state — has attracted marathon runners from Texas and Oklahoma.
Recent years has featured a variety of conditions. Two years ago it was "hotter than the devil," McCollough said, and last year it was cold and featured rain and hail.
Either way the event urges the public to be wary of runners along the highways. Both the marathon and 10K events travel around Highway 116 to Highway 10 where 10K runners head back into town and marathon runners head east to Blue Mountain.
Booneville Police Chief Al Brown will be escorting the leader to Highway 10 where he or she will be escorted by a Logan County Deputy Sheriff.
This year’s expanded event also includes Highway 23. The 5K runners and walkers will cross 23 at Fifth Street on the way out and cross it at Eighth Street on the way back.
The latter is of particular concern because it is one block below the hill at the city limits. Either a National Guardsman, First Responder or Booneville Police Officer will be stationed at the hill to warn motorists to be on the lookout for competitors.
McCollough said the key time will be from about 8:15 to 9:15 a.m.
"And we’re going to have plenty of signs coming up on that hill," said McCollough.
The marathon is sponsored by AEP/SWEPCO