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The 2023 Rocket City Marathon is part of a “runners weekend,’ and will be held the weekend of Dec. 8-10. Photo Contributed

Rocket City Marathon Set For This Weekend

HUNTSVILLE- The 47th annual Rocket City Marathon is set for this Sunday and has become a part of a three-day running event with the exciting Running Expo both Friday and Saturday at the Von Braun Center, the Kid’s Marathon, 5K and 10K races on Saturday with the full and half-marathon races on Sunday, Dec. 10.

Dewayne DeBardelaben and his wife, Dana, are in their sixth year as race director of what has become one of the top marathons in the country and top races in the Southeastern U.S. Nearly 3,000 runners have registered including 297 who have a Madison address.

“We succeeded in making this a weekend event, and the City of Huntsville loves it,” said Dwayne. “Last year, we had almost 3,000 total to register for the races hosted by the Huntsville Track Club. This year we’ve had a very slight bump in registrations and by race day, we should have 3,000 registered.”

The Rocket City Marathon was originally scheduled as the last race of the year to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The course/event has evolved for all runners and includes a start at Big Spring Park, a trek through oldtown Huntsville, through the grounds of both the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the Huntsville Botanical Gardens before heading back to downtown with a finish inside the South Hall of the Von Braun Center. The 26.2-mile course is certified by the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA).

Dana and Dwayne are definitely not alone when it comes to going the extra distance in making the marathon more than just a race of 26.2 miles as it takes a beaucoup of coordinated organizations and volunteers to pull off the multi-complex event. The meshing of groups begins with the Huntsville Track Club, which proudly organized the first marathon among the then small running community in 1977. Recently, the Huntsville Sports Commission came on board as a big player in the formulation of how the event is hosted in Huntsville. The last 120 feet of the course, which leads to the finish line actually inside the South Hall of the Von Braun Center, is unique in its own sense, and Dwayne stated the management and staff of the Von Braun Center are great to work with. The Huntsville Mayor’s office has been a huge supporter of the efforts put forth for the marathon, which leads into traffic control provided by the Huntsville Police Department.

The marathon committee of 30 looks to the extensive number of around 1,000 volunteers who are the backbone of the event.

Heading into the weekend, current numbers registered for each event include marathon- 1,107, front half-marathon- 373, back half-marathon- 678, 10K- 308, 5K- 348. With a few relay teams involved and virtual runners the current total is 2,860.

Last year’s winner, with a time of 2:33:21, was Madison’s Josh Whitehead. The victory was his second Rocket City title (2013) and seventh marathon win overall. The 44-year old Whitehead’s victory was also a win in the 40-44 age group and a new Alabama state record for age 44 in the 26.2-mile distance. Whitehead is expected to defend his title as his miraculous comeback from a near fatal incident in 2020 when he was struck by a car and left for dead. He suffered severe injuries including a broke back in three places.

The key sponsor for the marathon is the Huntsville Sports Commission. Local businesses also join in the sponsorship ledger. Included are SportsMED, which sponsors the half-marathons, Mission Driven Research has provided race T-shirts and Therapy South provided post-race stretching for those runners looking for assistance at race completion.

“No one is paid connected to the operating the race as we’re all volunteers,” said Dwayne. “It does take a tremendous toll on us and it consumes a lot of our personal time.” Sunday’s race will receive the start gun at 7:00 a.m.

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Digital version of The Madison Record – Feb. 28, 2024

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