Last weekend I ran a local 5k that was conventional in every way but one—the race began and finished in a cemetery.
Normally I would consider a run through a graveyard in July’s sweltering heat an ill omen. But the temperature cooperated and there was plenty of shade. The only downside was, well, not wanting to stand around on the grass, if you know what I mean.
It got me to thinking about other road races and the efforts to make the courses interesting. For the most part, this involves incorporating local tourist attractions. Here in Sacramento, we have a half-marathon that crosses the Tower Bridge and finishes inside Raley Field, the minor league baseball stadium, with the finish broadcast on the Jumbotron. Our marathon finishes in front of the State Capitol.
In nearby San Francisco, the marathon includes a loop across the Golden Gate Bridge, but only three lanes of traffic are closed, so I’m sure it gets a bit crowded.
The New York City Marathon takes you through all five boroughs, but the half-marathon (held last weekend) seems to feature more sights—a complete loop of Central Park, then down Seventh Avenue to Times Square, then over to the West Side Highway all the way down to Battery Park, with a view of the Statue of Liberty.
The Walt Disney World Marathon takes you through all five theme parks, but there are very long stretches between parks devoid of scenery and human beings.
The Derby Festival Marathon in Kentucky takes you once around the infield at Churchill Downs, but the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis tops that with a full 2.5 mile circuit of the track at the Motor Speedway.
Of course, international races also highlight their host city’s attractions. The finish at the Berlin Marathon takes you through the Brandenburg Gate, while the London Marathon ends in front of Buckingham Palace.
Of course, sometimes the race itself creates the landmarks. If the Boston Marathon didn’t exist, who would notice Heartbreak Hill? And wouldn’t this just be another sign?