It may not feel like it when the thousands of runners make a right turn onto Sheridan Boulevard about three miles into the Lincoln Marathon on Sunday morning — at times the competitors will still be running eight wide across the street at that point — but there will be fewer runners out there than some years.
On Friday, there were 9,472 registered runners. About 80% plan to run the half-marathon, with the rest going all 26.2 miles.
That’s down from the all-time high of 14,446 runners in 2015. The race was a sellout each year from 2014-17. In 2014, all the spots were taken in about eight hours.
The Lincoln Marathon is still one of the best races in the region, and a destination for many runners, but there is also more competition on the race calendar than there used to be.
There was a half-marathon in Bellevue last weekend, and there are a few big races in Omaha each year. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has a marathon in the fall. And now Lincoln has another half-marathon each year, the Good Life Halfsy in November.
“There’s just so many events now,” said Nancy Sutton, who's the Lincoln Marathon race co-director alongside Gary Bredehoft.
“It used to be we were the only spring event. Now there is so many. People can only afford, or their body can only take, so many half-marathons and marathons, so I think that’s why we’re down. But most of these marathons would kill to have 10,000 people in them.”
Sutton thinks there are just as many people running as there used to be but they’re spread out over more races.
James Mann is running on Sunday. He’s from Little Rock, Arkansas, and competes in the National Guard portion of the race. There are 16 others from Arkansas in his group, and they’ll compete against guard members from other states.
Lincoln is a nice city, Mann says, and his wife likes to travel here with him. This was the site of Mann’s first marathon, and he’s running Lincoln for the 19th time over 30 years.
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Mann does about 20 races each year, and Lincoln is one of his favorites. He’s done some of the big marathons, in Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas with 30,000 runners, and says the Lincoln race is a good size.
“It’s a big race, but it’s not too big, so you don’t get lost in the shuffle,” Mann said. “You don’t have to be at the start line two hours early, and that kind of stuff.”
The way Mann talks about it — and it’s been said numerous times before — as long as they keep putting lids on the drinking cups on the race course they’ll have thousands of runners each year.
“It’s a great race, and I love the fact that it’s the only one that I’ve ever been to that puts lids on the cups,” Mann said. “It makes it awesome when you’re out there and you’re not pouring it all down your front. You can actually drink the stuff.”
Mann says, and Sutton agrees, that the finish line inside Memorial Stadium is a perk of the race.
“Finishing there in Husker stadium on the 50-yard line, that’s really neat,” Mann said. “It’s always good to have a good finish like that, especially after running 26 miles and you’re all tired, it kind of peps you up a little bit.”
About 3,000 of the registered runners live in Lincoln, and another 5,000 from other towns in Nebraska.
It’s Sutton’s opinion that the Good Life Halfsy hasn’t hurt participation for the Lincoln Marathon.
“When it was just the two of us, them in the fall, and us in the spring, that was a great thing because they fed off of us, and we fed off of them,” Sutton said.
One factor that affected participation was the cold and snowy weather this year. Some runners planned to run, but didn’t get in the training.