Summer racing in the Philadelphia area is usually limited to two things: 5ks or races that take place near the beach, or both. The Pottstown Half Marathon is bucking that trend with its first year race to be held on July 11.
Chris Bayless, who is the head of the Sly Fox Track Club (which is not affiliated with the brewery of the same name in the same town but often co-hosts events with track club), started thinking about putting on a half marathon because people asked him to.
"July is about half way between the spring marathon season and the fall marathon season," he said. "That's half way in their training for fall." Most runners test their fitness in half marathons mid-way through training, but when Bayless looked at local race calendars, he saw a half-marathon-sized gap.
So he went to Pottstown's city council to talk about adding one to the local race calendar. Bayless, who started directing races after he retired as head coach of the men's and women's cross country and track and field teams at Ursinus College, already puts on 45 a year through the Sly Fox Track Club.
He had no idea that 2015 is also Pottstown's bicentennial, a date that's also being celebrated in July, a coincidence that he calls "dumb luck." The course, which he designed along with the local police department, will show off what he calls the highs and lows of the city, including the site of McClintic-Marshall Co., which was a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel and the plant that built the Golden Gate Bridge.
Bayless knows that July is a non-traditional time for a race in this area, but it hasn't stopped people from signing up. "I've had some quizzical look at the July date, but that's after they're handing in their registration," Bayless said. The race will start at 7 a.m. because of potential heat.
He says that he settled on a half marathon because that's what his club's team members requested, but his new race is part of the still growing half marathon distance. In 2014, U.S. half marathons had 2,046,600 finishers, according to a new report from Running USA. That's another all time high. From 2010 to 2014, half marathon finishers grew 40 percent. Since 2010, the half marathon has been the second most popular race distance in the U.S., behind only the 5k. In 2014, there were more than 2,200 U.S. half marathons - another high, and a jump from about 2,100 in 2013.
So far, 350 people have registered for the Pottstown Half Marathon, which Bayless says has already exceeded his expectations. They have registrants from 15 states, including Alaska and Florida. He expects that about 500 will register by race day.