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Fort Smith, Arkansas Prepares for New Marathon

FORT SMITH—Patrick Pendleton said Fort Smith’s inaugural marathon will have grit.

Pendleton, race director for the Fort Smith (Ark.) Marathon, said he hopes the first 26.2-mile event in the city scheduled for Feb. 8 will draw as many as 1,500 runners.

The motto for the inaugural race, “This one’s got grit,” Pendleton said, refers to the city’s True Grit lore. The race will be hilly, cold and in Fort Smith.

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders broke the news about the marathon at a city directors meeting three weeks ago. He said he had been looking for an event that would involve the community and attract people to the city.

He said he found interest in the community for holding a marathon, but no one took the lead until last fall when Pendleton and a group of avid runners took on the project.

“I see it as an event that will bring a lot of participants from local people and will bring them in from out of town,” Sanders said.

Pendleton said he and other runners in the Western Arkansas Runners group had toyed for years with the idea of putting on a marathon. He said they have experience with conducting running events, organizing the Survivor Challenge 5K and 10K races for years in Fort Smith that have drawn 1,500 runners.

“We’ve just grown into this event rather than just being a shot in the dark,” he said of the transition from the Survivor Challenge to the marathon.

The event actually will consist of three races. It’s modeled after the Hogeye Marathon scheduled for March 29 in Fayetteville. It will have the marathon, a half-marathon and a relay, which will consist of four-person teams with each team member running a quarter of the marathon course.

Hogeye race Director Tabby Holmes said the Fort Smith Marathon will be a good addition to endurance running in Arkansas and will benefit the Hogeye and the Little Rock Marathon, which is scheduled for Feb. 28, creating a “trifecta” of races.

“Three marathons in three months is a fantastic accomplishment,” she said.

She also said the location of Fort Smith will make it ideal for attracting runners, not only from Arkansas, but also from Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas.

Pendleton and a committee that grew out of the Western Arkansas Runners are organizing the event. And, at six months from the starting gun, he said, work is at a sprinter’s pace.

“It’s a massive event,” he said. “It’s a complicated event to put together.”

The committee has already mapped out the course. It will start and end in downtown Fort Smith, wind through town eastward to Massard Road where it will turn south into Chaffee Crossing before turning for home.

The course, which Pendleton described as challenging, will run through old neighborhoods; past the large, stately homes on Free Ferry Road; on winding Cliff Drive; down tree-lined streets; and over paved walking trails in Ben Geren Regional Park.

Pendleton said 1.5 miles of the half-marathon course will be on the golf course cart paths at Hardscrabble Country Club.

“It’s a hilly course,” he said. “This is one of the more scenic courses that you’ll find.”

The marathon will require more than 200 volunteers to register runners, set up and tear down the course, control traffic on the course, man the start-finish line, keep track of the race timing, prepare and serve the food, and clean up afterward, according to the Fort Smith Marathon website.

The organizers are getting help from Fort Smith, Pendleton said. The Fort Smith Police Department and Sebastian County sheriff’s office will assign as many as 40 officers to the event on race day, he said.

So far, the event has drawn sponsorships from Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and OK Foods, which will be providing the food at the race’s end. Pendleton said efforts were being made to sign on more sponsors.

Word about the marathon is getting out. The marathon has its own website, fortsmithmarathon.com. The race also has been listed on the website of marathons.ahotu.com, a database service that specializes in endurance running, and on the race calendar of Marathon Maniacs, an international group of marathon runners.

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