Rocket City Marathon heads west

A new route heading westward from a downtown start, a finish within the Von Braun Center and a significant increase in entrants are among the changes coming to the Rocket City Marathon

Photo by Gregg Gelmis

Photo by Gregg Gelmis

The Huntsville Track Club is tonight announcing some major changes in next year’s Rocket City Marathon, including a start and finish at the Von Braun Center and a new route that includes runners passing by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Huntsville Botanical Garden, Early Works Children’s Museum and other local attractions, according to Eric Fritz, president of the Huntsville Track Club.

The changes, reported on Nov. 3 because of the impending closing of the Holiday Inn, will be announced at this year’s 37th annual Rocket City Marathon carbo-loading dinner Friday night at the Holiday Inn. This year’s race starts Saturday at 8 a.m. and goes through downtown and south Huntsville.

There are still tweaks to be done to next year’s course, but Fritz said Huntsville Police like what they see in the new route, which instead of heading through south Huntsville will head more west toward the Space and Rocket Center. HPD told Fritz it will take a closer look at two or three different routes the HTC has come up with after the Christmas holidays, a typically busy time for the police and city.

What has been confirmed, Fritz said, is the start and finish at the Von Braun Center and the attractions runners will pass, including the Botanical Garden, Big Spring Park, Twickenham and other historical districts, the Art Museum, and other local landmarks. Fritz said the race will also be able to accommodate more runners. Because of the size limitations of the Holiday Inn the race had to be limited to 1500 or so runners (there are actually 1800 entered this year). Fritz hopes to have between 2,000 and 3,000 runners for next year’s Rocket City Marathon, again, depending on what can be worked out with the HPD and VBC.

“We have two or three routes that basically do the same thing,” Fritz said. “I’m confident we can do something that sees everything along the way.

“We really want something to show all facets of the city. We wanted to hit the things that draw people to the city, like the Space and Rocket Center, Santa’s Village, Early Works, the Botanical Garden, everything we can think of short of going to Ditto Landing.”

Coming up with a new course after running on the current one the last 20 years or so was necessitated by the fact the city is building a new Gateway Boulevard that will bring people downtown easier. That was going to initially impact the Holiday Inn’s ability to do the finish line next year, but the company announced plans to close for good. The hotel will be demolished a day or so after the marathon is over.

“The closing of the Holiday Inn helps us confirm our decision, because we had to do something,” Fritz said. “We knew we wanted to make it bigger, but with the Holiday Inn’s restrictions — while giving a great hometown feel — we couldn’t do anything with the size because of the (meeting and otherwise) rooms.

“With the move to the VBC, there will be enough (meeting) rooms. With the anticipation of more runners, we could rent out the South Hall for awards and have a much larger expo. We have about 10 booths now and we could have 50 in the VBC and make it a health and running expo. We could also make it a two-day expo where it’s now just one day.”

The marathon will loop around Big Spring Park and finish at the VBC, with the option of finishing inside or outside the civic center arena. That option would especially help this year with the forecast for rain Saturday.

“We’re really excited about finishing there (VBC) because it’s a pretty area, with the new Propst Arena and lake and trees,” Fritz said. “It’s a nice part of town to show off. There will be the Tinsel Trail (Christmas trees) and other things going on.

“We’d like to make it a big event, not in terms of people necessarily, but with things going on. This is kind of trial year for us because we’re adding the kids marathon and bands and music at the finish line. I think the expansions will fit much better in a new venue.”

To accommodate next year’s move to the VBC, Fritz said the University of Alabama in Huntsville agreed to move its graduation from Saturday to Sunday, a significant decision for the marathon, Fritz said.

“UAH has been on board to do whatever it could to help us,” Fritz said. “The city has also been great to work with, along with the convention and visitors bureau, the Sports Commission and Ralph Stone, the Space and Rocket Center, the Botanical Garden. Everybody is on board with making it happen..”

Fritz said The Embassy Suites will be the marathon’s designated hotel, but there are also agreements with Springhill Suites nearby, the Westin at Bridgestreet and other local hotels.

Here are the proposed attractions organizers would like the marathon to pass

  • Lowe Mill
  • Space Rocket Center
  • Botanical Gardens
  • Brahan Springs Park/Milton Frank Stadium
  • Historic Huntsville Depot Museum
  • Veterans Memorial
  • Lincoln Mill
  • Site of old Dallas Mill
  • Optimist Park
  • Chapman Middle School
  • Oak Place (historic house on hill)
  • Historic 5 Points
  • Maple Hill Cemetery
  • Goldsmith Schiffman Field
  • Clinton School
  • Downtown Square
  • Santa’s Village
  • Early Works
  • Huntsville Museum of Art
  • Big Spring Park