Sept. 21 2011 12:00 AM

'Signature event' planned as a $1 million fundraiser


After 26 years working as an exercise scientist and
running coach across the country, Owen Anderson decided in March that
it was time to bring his passions home by creating a Lansing Marathon.

“I thought it would be great for Lansing to have a
marathon as a signature event,” Anderson said. “We’ve never had one,
and it will have a great economic impact on the city and surrounding
area, as well as a cultural impact.”

The result is that next April will see the first of what
Anderson and others hope will be an annual event. Anderson said at
least 5,000 runners are expected to participate in the full marathon on
April 22 and 7,000 in a half-marathon the same day, and Anderson
maintains that no one will be turned away. A 5K and 1.5-K for kids will
be held on April. 21. a team relay competition.

Prize money will be offered, but exact amounts depend on how much additional sponsorship is received.

More details of the marathon will be announced next
month, which is also when members of an elite Kenyan running team will
come to Lansing to begin working with public schools to teach kids to
run and train better. This is part of the Lansing Marathon’s
partnership with the nonprofit foundation Lansing Moves the World.

While Anderson hopes to recruit some of
the world’s most talented runners, he insists the marathon is open to
people of all skill levels.

“The course is open for eight hours, so individuals could
walk if they wanted,” Anderson said. “By no means do you have to be
elite or a high level athlete. We want everyone to be included.”

So much so that an early start is offered for those with
disabilities to participate in the race using handcycles — a vehicle
similar to a bicycle but powered with arms rather than legs.

A team relay competition is also scheduled as part of the two-day event.

“It would be fun to have companies or schools competing,”
Anderson said. “Relays are quite popular, and they’ll be a great
vehicle to raise more money for charity.”

The marathon hopes to raise $1 million. Runners can
gather donations from friends and colleagues, and 10 percent of
registration fees go toward a charity of the runner’s choice.

Local charities that are already involved include the
Greater Lansing Food Bank, Beekman Therapeutic Riding Center and
Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council; on the national level,
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, American Cancer Society and
Medals 4 Mettle are also involved.

Sustainability is a huge priority for the marathon, said Kelly Bernero, director of green initiatives for the marathon.

“There’s an obvious tie between a healthy lifestyle and a
healthy environment,” she continued. “Volunteers and community members
will be able to learn more about what they can do in their own homes
and schools in their everyday life.”

The marathon will donate 42 trees to the city to be
planted along the marathon course. Water and food will be provided in
compostable products and shoes may be recycled afterwards. Only locally
sourced food will be served at the event and coordinators are hoping
for all shirts and materials to be made in the United States.

“The Board of Water & Light is having a little
exhibit of the Chevrolet Volt to show the community how far technology
has come,” Bernero said. “People are driving fully electric cars now.”

The route, which will begin at the Lansing Center, is one
of the most attractive aspects of the marathon, says Pam Jodway,
marketing director of Lansing Area Economic Development (LEAP).

“Marathon runners are always looking for a nice, fast
route,” she said. “The landscape of the route in our community is very
flat and fast. (Runners) also look for new places to visit that they
haven’t been before. Detroit and Grand Rapids already have marathons,
and it was time for Lansing to step up and have a marathon as well.”

Jodway is using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to get in
touch with running organizations and marathon runners. She also travels
to other races throughout the state to participate in expos, hand out
registration forms and talk to them about the first Lansing Marathon.
Advertisements have been placed on the Boston Marathon’s website to
recruit runners, since Boston’s often sells out.

Internationally, a group of representatives will travel
in the fall to Otsu, Japan, where runners are preparing for a marathon
in March. The trip was originally planned as a business and economic
development opportunity, but now they will also invite runners to
participate in Lansing.

 “The marathon will energize the city and get the community known nationwide and internationally,” Anderson said.