The Madison Marathon appears headed for a major makeover.
The biggest potential change would involve moving the date of the full marathon from Memorial Day weekend to the fall starting in 2013, pending approval from the board of Madison Festivals Inc. Organizers also are considering changes to the course that would make it less challenging.
After Madison Festivals event director Keith Peterson presented a report last week, the board's marathon committee voted to recommend to the full board that the 26.2-mile race be moved to the fall. The report was sent via email to the full board, which voted to authorize Peterson and president Rita Kelliher to begin research and planning, and to present all information to the full board for final approval on Aug. 15.
The 10K and half-marathon races would remain the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in 2013, respectively, while the full marathon would be moved to Nov. 10. Peterson said the full marathon could be accompanied by a 5K and/or 10K.
The main reason for moving the marathon to the fall was to avoid dangerous weather conditions that have plagued three of the past seven Madison Marathons.
Timing for the marathon was stopped in 2006 and 2010 because of the heat, and high temperatures in the forecast forced organizers to cancel this year's full marathon two days before its scheduled date of May 27. Full marathon registrants automatically were registered for the half marathon and given a $20 credit for the 2013 event.
Organizers always have viewed Memorial Day weekend as the optimal date for the Madison Marathon because, combined with Brat Fest, it would draw tourists to the city.
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But Peterson conducted further research on the topic of marathons held in dangerous conditions after this year's race and, along with Kelliher, concluded the full marathon no longer could be held in May. Not only were participants running in unsafe conditions at times because of the heat, but there also was a risk of spreading area medical personnel too thin and overloading hospitals, which could put others in the community who need medical assistance at further risk.
"There's no way we would recommend holding the (full) marathon in May again knowing what we know," Kelliher said.
There's also no way of knowing what the weather will be like in November, but Peterson said he wasn't concerned about snow or cold temperatures affecting a fall marathon.
"Doing research on the highs and lows and your normal temperatures on that weekend, we're looking at mid-40s," he said. "There's been trace amounts of snow at times, but really nothing of significance there."
In fact, organizers believe there will be significant advantages to holding the marathon in the fall.
Not only would it give participants more time to train — Mother Nature hasn't always cooperated in the spring in past years — but it would be one final chance in the fall for runners to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
A flatter course may make the Madison Marathon even more enticing for runners. Peterson said the current course makes it difficult for runners to set personal records, but course director Ryan Richards is examining changes that would lead to a less challenging course.
"We're looking for a route that will be relatively flat compared to the more challenging marathon course that we've had in May," Kelliher said. "Right now, if someone wants to qualify for Boston, they'll do (the Green Bay Marathon) because it's flat."