A week after the Boston Marathon bombings, Pat McLoskey started getting a very specific kind of phone call.
"People started calling asking, 'Can you do something? Can you throw out another race?' " said McLoskey, who has been putting on the Bucks County Marathon race series for three years.
The answer, ultimately, was yes: the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon will be held Aug. 18 in Washington Crossing, Bucks County, capped at 300 runners, most of whom he believes will be using it either to qualify for the Boston Marathon or run a faster qualifying time to move up in the registration order.
"I had to ask myself, is it going to be opportunistic?" said McLoskey, who has worked the Boston Marathon and is close with its race organizing team. But after talking with other race directors and area runners, he decided to move ahead.
"We're not putting on a big race, but we're putting on something to help our friends qualify," he said.
To run the Boston Marathon, runners either need to raise money for a charity or meet a qualifying time in a previous marathon based on age and gender. Registration is scheduled to open in September, and runners sign up on a rolling basis: The first two days, runners who qualified by more than 20 minutes can sign up; on the third day, runners who qualified by more than 10 minutes or more can register; and on the fifth day, registration opens up to anyone who qualified, and stays open until the race maxes out.
Last year, registration closed in early October, which meant runners could use times from early fall races to qualify. Given the interest in supporting Boston for the 2014 race, some runners are nervous that those spots will fill up faster, and by faster runners. So they're looking for races where they can qualify, or try to hit a faster qualifying time so they can register earlier.
According to Runner's World, registrations for summer marathons across the country have already surged. However, there aren't many marathon options in the Philadelphia region before registration opens, except for, possibly, the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon in Allentown on Sept. 7 if registration for Boston opens up after then (the exact date has not been announced).
Aug. 18 isn't perfect - a scorcher of a day could slow down runners, even with the 7:15 a.m. start time. However, it allows McLoskey to keep costs down since he's already putting on the Washington Crossing 15K the day before and will use the same infrastructure the next day in the marathon.
Plus, it gives runners enough time to try another marathon if they bonk in this one.
"If we do something in August and you have a bad day, you can still find something else - run Allentown, for example," he said.
As for the Chasing the Unicorn, it came from an article written by Dan Daly of the Chicago Area Runners Association - the symbol of the Boston Marathon is a unicorn. McLoskey is known for going in unexpected directions, including starting the Bucks County series with races in direct opposition to big Philadelphia running events (the Alternative Half Marathon is the same day as the Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, for example). "I'm good at chasing things that are never going to happen," said McLoskey.
Except this time, on Aug. 18, it will.
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23d annual Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure, at Eakins Oval/Philadelphia Museum of Art. 5K, 8:15 a.m. Information and registration: komenphiladelphia.org