The Blue Ridge Marathon started with a simple idea.
“I thought that any city worth its salt needs a marathon,” race organizer John Carlin said.
The opening was tied to the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“A great, great opportunity to have the parkway contribute a signature piece,” Congressman Bob Goodlatte said.
And the right team to bring it all together in record time.
“Most people tell you, you need 18-24 months to put on an event like this, and we did it in about ten months,” race organizer Pete Eshelman said.
One of the first major hurdles was winning permission to use a portion of the parkway.
Goodlatte enlisted the help of colleagues in the House of Representatives.
“At that time there were six members of Congress representing the 470 mile stretch of the parkway in Virginia and North Carolina: three Republicans, three Democrats, three from Virginia, three from North Carolina, and I said let's get them all on board supporting this,” Goodlatte said.
The marathon won the Blue Ridge Parkway's blessing, but it still took three years before the runners were tackling what organizers considered the ideal course.
In 2010, the low water bridge in Wasena Park was under construction.
The next year, parts of the greenway were under water because of flooding.
And the higher elevations needed some attention too.
“And so we started throwing in the mountains. And after the first year we threw in one more mountain, and the climb up Peakwood and all of a sudden, lo and behold, we've created the most difficult on-road marathon in the United States,” Carlin said.
Add a festival atmosphere in downtown Roanoke, and organizers believe they have a successful formula.
Since 2010, the number of runners in the full marathon, half marathon and team relay has almost doubled.
In the first year 869 runners hit the course. The next year the number dropped slightly because of torrential rains. Last year, more than 1,000 people took part. And this year, organizers expect a big jump. Ten days out, more than 1500 runners were registered.
“To date the event has had over a million dollars of direct economic impact, and the longer we can keep people here the more that number is going to continue to grow,” Eshelman said.
Organizers aren't looking for western Virginia's event to become another Boston or New York City marathon
But they are hoping a challenging race, unsurpassed scenery and a world-class welcome will keep the Blue Ridge Marathon on the bucket list of distance runners across the country.