JOPLIN, Mo. —
Runners and others involved with the Mother Road Marathon don’t want the event to end despite Monday’s decision by the Joplin City Council.
A council majority, citing costs of the event and declining participation, voted to discontinue funding for the marathon crossing three states on Route 66. Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, said participation in this year’s event dropped to 572 runners, with more participating in the half-marathon and the 5K run than the full 26.2-mile marathon. The total number of runners was 200 fewer than last year’s figure and 69 fewer than 2011’s number. The event debuted in 2010 with 1,657 participants.
Runners who have been involved in the event aren’t happy, and some don’t want to take the decision lying down, according to the marathon’s Facebook site. Those posting in recent days have expressed their disappointment with the decision, and some are urging fellow runners to contact the City Council and voice their opinions.
Longtime local runner Bill Hoover, a founding member of the Joplin Roadrunners Club, said he believes there will be efforts to continue the race with or without city involvement.
“There are discussions about keeping a marathon along Route 66. There would have to be shorter races too, to keep it successful,” he said. “It certainly was a good event, and it will be missed. And Patrick (Tuttle) certainly put a lot of effort into it.”
Disappointment among local runners has been universal, according to Bobby Ballard, of Duenweg, a running coach at the Joplin Family Y. He said local runners like the event because it was well-organized and well-staged. Ballard said he had run in the event for three years, first in the 5K and then in half-marathons the next two years.
He said runners probably will go out of town for more races, since the Mother Road was the only full marathon in the region.
“They also liked running on Route 66 through three states; it’s just a neat experience,” he said.
Others involved in the event say the region will be losing a regional activity that highlighted Route 66 and brought together local communities.
Vince Lindstrom, former Joplin CVB director who has now retired, said that was his goal when he developed the idea for the marathon.
“I thought the potential was there to fill motel rooms, but I saw it as a tool to tie the area together and promote it as a region,” he said.
Dale Oglesby, mayor of Galena, Kan., said he believes the marathon succeeded on that score.
“It was an investment for our city, but we always felt like it was worth it, and that there were intangible benefits in people from across the country who wanted to run across the three states and through our communities,” he said. “We were disappointed in last year’s numbers, but we still felt like it was worth the effort.”
Another benefit, Oglesby said, was that city organizations and chambers of commerce along the route worked together in the planning, along with law enforcement from those communities and state highway departments.
“It was really very unifying, and it’s hard to put a price tag on that,” he said.
Vicky Ballard, of Baxter Springs, Kan., said she worked on the marathon for four years — the last three as volunteer coordinator for the 200-plus local residents who helped in the effort.
“I’m sick about it because it brought the whole region together and put all of us on a first-name basis,” she said. “All the law enforcement involved created an incident command staff in case there was ever a problem. They all told me that really helped during the tornado (of May 2011).”
Those supporting the marathon acknowledge that it had become a money-losing proposition for Joplin. For such an event to be successful, they said, a full-time director is needed to oversee the planning, build and maintain a database, and travel to different conventions to promote the marathon and attract more runners.
Supporters noted there were other revenues from people eating in restaurants, buying gas along the route and staying in motel rooms. Revenues for the CVB are generated by taxes on motel room sales.
Tuttle said the race did result in room rentals, but they do not equate to entry numbers, because many runners will share rooms to hold down on costs. And, he said a significant number of runners were former Joplin residents.
He said race expenses were limited because cities donated time by police and public works departments for planning and policing because the marathon was sponsored by Joplin.
COUNCIL MEMBERS in making the decision cited a report by Patrick Tuttle, director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, that expenses totaled $70,070 while the event generated $35,582 in entry fees.