Rebranding the region’s most popular marathon is a lot like training for a marathon. Both start with a single step and a commitment to take thousands more. A reimagined GO! St. Louis took its first public steps in June, when organizers announced a new name, partnership, location, date, and a commitment to make the event a symbol of the region.
Let’s get into the details of the refresh.
The Name: Greater St. Louis Marathon
The new name reflects GO’s partnership with Greater St. Louis, Inc. (GSL), which strives for economic growth by unifying the vision and strength of established organizations: AllianceSTL, Arch to Park, Civic Progress, Downtown STL, Inc., and the St. Louis Regional Chamber.
Like many marathons across the country, participation in GO! plateaued at about 10,000 a decade ago, making it more difficult to persuade city officials and sponsors of the importance of the race. GO! President Mona Vespa hopes that GLS’s financial and political resources will help convince civic leaders of the marathon’s significance to the area.
“You have to put energy into an event to grow it. Greater St. Louis is willing to be that vehicle for us,” Vespa said. She added that GO! will continue to manage the course design, participant registration, volunteers, and race timing for marathon weekend as well as the Katy 82 trail race and Halloween races.
“We saw a marathon that begins and ends downtown as an essential symbol of downtown’s importance to the metro as a whole,” said Kurt Weigle, GSL’s chief downtown officer. “We represent a wide swath of the economy and the culture and bring to the conversation what makes St. Louis special.”
The Venue: CityPark
The start/finish festival will be at Lou Fusz Plaza, outside the home field of St. Louis City SC. The plaza has twice served as the start/finish of the Biz Dash, a 5K and happy hour that attracts 7,000 participants on 250-plus corporate teams.
“From the very beginning, St. Louis City SC set out to be an exceptional club and neighbor,” said Jason Thein, City SC’s chief operating officer and an avid runner. “That means contributing to the growth, vibrancy, and activity downtown.”
The green space east of the stadium makes an ideal staging area for runners, teams, music, sponsors, food trucks, family friendly activities, and an experience that will last into the evening. Organizers hope their footprint eventually expands east in the greenway towards the Arch.
“A runner usually brings a support crew, friends, or family, who need to be included in the experience,” Weigle said, “and we want all of St. Louis to enjoy the sights and sounds and aromas during the weekend.”
As of press time, the route was in the early stages of development, though Vespa and Weigle hope to include parks and cultural and historical sites, most within the city limits. “I think this is a great opportunity with our partners to put together a dream course that we keep intact for years,” Vespa said.
The Date: Saturday, April 27, 2024
Since 2003, the marathon has been held on a Sunday in early April. “We were always right before, during, or after Easter,” Vespa said. “We often had to work around the Cardinals home opener. And, more often than not, the weather was too cold for fans and for runners in the shorter races.”
Saturday’s schedule will include a marathon, half-marathon, 10k, and marathon relay, which organizers bill as the National Running Club Championships. Rather than align with the Road Runners Club of America or other national group, the organizers wanted an event more akin to a meet-up or rally.
“We wanted to build on the social energy of running: grass roots and affinity groups celebrating running,” Vespa said. “We want to make space for everyone.” She acknowledges that spreading the word beyond St. Louis will be tough in the first year or so, “but we’re hearing from our colleagues in the industry that it’s gained some excitement.”
Though City SC’s 2024 schedule hasn’t been set, Thein confirmed that “for an event of this size, we would request [with the league] to be away for the weekend. That means more activity at CityPark throughout the year.”
Other staples of GO!’s marathon weekend, the Mature Mile and finale of the Read, Right and Run marathon, are scheduled to be staged in early April in Forest Park.
The Vision: More Runners, Spectators, Vitality
Through the club championship and course layout, Vespa wants to attract a larger field of regional and national runners. The Medtronic Twin Cities races in Minneapolis report 30,000-plus participants, the Flying Pig in Cincinnati touts 41,000, and the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis boasts of 20,000.
“Every city should have a signature marathon,” Vespa said. “There’s not a good reason that our marathon should not be close to the same size as Twin Cities, Flying Pig, or Indy.”
For City SC, staging the start/finish helps anchor CityPark to downtown and the area. “Sports and recreation bring people together, promote health and wellness, and introduce more people to our great city,” Thein said. “That’s the goal for City SC and CityPark.”
And GSL hopes the marathon “activates” downtown: a fancy way of saying they want people to enjoy downtown more often. “The best marathons don’t just happen in a city, they take on the character of the city,” Weigle said. “I think this will come to represent the city to runners, visitors, and spectators.”
Author: Kathleen Nelson is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: The Greater St. Louis Marathon will include historic downtown sites. (GO! St. Louis Marathon)