Every major city in the United States has a mayor, a professional sports team and a marathon. At least that is what Lee Corrigan's feeling was 15 years ago when he went to the Mayor's Office to pitch his idea for Baltimore to have its own 26.2-mile event.
"My father happened to coach Mayor [Kurt] Schmoke, who was the mayor at the time, at Yale University. So we had some direct contact, so we could really get in the door and sing our song," Corrigan, president of Corrigan Sports Enterprises and executive race director, said.
The mayor had two stipulations -- the race couldn't be held on Sundays to respect the church community, and Corrigan had to show off the whole city and all its neighborhoods. Throughout 15 years, the event has grown to include five different running events that this year will host about 25,000 runners from all 50 states and more than 20 foreign countries, including Robert Kaufman, who has run in the race every year since it began.
"I'm originally from Maryland, and I started doing it when I was living in Arizona," Kaufman said. "It was a great time of year to come to town, and I was doing a fall marathon to basically force myself to work out in the Arizona summers, so I could stay in shape. That's how it started. And Baltimore, the timing was right. The location was right, and it was a good excuse to fly home."
On Oct. 17, runners from around the world will gather in Baltimore to compete and celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Baltimore Running Festival.
Ten years ago, Kaufman moved back to Baltimore and settled down in Locust Point, a neighborhood he had not known existed -- until he ran the marathon.
Corrigan knows the race has economic impact for the city. The 2014 Baltimore Running Festival generated an estimated $40.2 million in economic impact, according to a recent study by RESI, an economic research and consulting firm located at Towson University. But the most frequent way people find out about the event -- and keep coming back -- is through grassroots marketing and realizing how much Corrigan cares about the runners.
It was one of the first major running events, according to Corrigan, to send out a post-race survey for runner feedback.
"We really gained a reputation for listening to our runner base and making the adjustments on those reoccurring themes that came up, and that was really, really important," Corrigan said. "That they feel like they're being heard, and they feel like we react. We sent out a big email letter to everybody saying, ‘Hey, we heard you loud and clear on these five points, and by the way, we're going to fix them, and here's our plan to fix them.' And then, of course, the next year, we make sure we're delivering on those promises. That's been very important for the growth."
The event's 92 to 96 percent rating on average throughout 15 years on whether runners would recommend the race to a friend is indicative it is doing something right.
"It's laidback," Kaufman said of why he chooses the Baltimore Marathon. "I've been getting slower over the years, and I never feel like I'm the only one out there or anything like that. And then, also because I know the city after all these years, I get comfortable. I like it. I know the route."
The April turmoil, following the death of Freddy Gray while he was in police custody, may cause some people to think twice about participating, but Corrigan is encouraging people to embrace his unofficial theme to this year's event -- Baltimore Pride -- and support the city by participating.
The race supports more than a dozen charities, which the Baltimore Office for Promotion and the Arts in the Mayor's Office selects. The charitable proceeds generated by the 2014 event totaled $1.3 million. Kennedy Krieger Institute, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), Sadie's Gift and Pacing 4 Parkinson's are some of the area's benefiting charities. More than $11 million has been raised since the Running Festival's inaugural year.
Kaufman and the other runners will be downtown at South Paca and Camden Streets at 8 a.m. Oct. 17 to start off the race, followed by the ShopRite Supermarket 5K, the Transamerica Kids Fun Run and then the CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Half Marathon. For more information, visit thebaltimoremarathon.com or facebook.com/BaltimoreRunningFestival.