Road closures set for annual Woodlands Marathon
Thousands of runners, volunteers and race fans will inundate The Woodlands beginning this weekend as the newly reformatted The Woodlands Marathon kicks off on Saturday, Feb. 23, with short distance runs of 5K and 2K lengths. The full marathon and associated half marathon will be hosted on Saturday, March 2, with the runner’s expo shopping extravaganza set for Friday March 1.
Nick Wolda, director of communications for The Woodlands Township and president of Visit The Woodlands tourism board, said The Woodlands Marathon is a critical event for the community in many respects, from community involvement as volunteers, fans and participants, as well as in the area of what he calls “economic vitality,” which is benefited by thousands of people coming to the township for severals days and using local hotels, eating at restaurants and also shopping.
“I think what the key to this is is the number of residents in The Woodlands who are involved, whether it be preparing for the race as a volunteer, to running in the races and then general residents who come out and cheer,” Wolda said of the series of running races that will call The Woodlands home for the eighth year in a row. “It is really a neat deal. (The races) Gives people the opportunity to get out and cheer, which is nice.”
A popular event in the township, the 2019 edition of the racing series marks the first official year of what is called a “week-long” format, with the ever popular 2-kilometer and 5-kilometer running races being scheduled for 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, and the full marathon and the half marathon hosted on the following Saturday, from 6:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., March 2.
Willie Fowlkes, race director for The Woodlands Marathon, said organizers are excited about the new format, which he noted was experimented with in 2018 to gauge participant’s interest in a split weekend format.
“We are equally excited every year (for the races), but this year we’ve kind of changed to a ‘marathon-week’ format that we piloted last year with the 2K race,” Fowlkes said. “It worked really well. With the split format, runners have the opportunity to earn more than one medal from the races. They could run the 5K with family members the first weekend and then come back the second weekend and do a longer format and medal in that as well.”
Fowlkes said race organizers have seen a lot of interest for this year’s events. As of Tuesday, Feb. 19, there are about 1,200 runners signed up for the full marathon, about 3,600 runners registered for the half marathon and 500 individuals who are registered for the team/relay race. The team race is split into two-person teams — 13.1 miles of running each — and four person teams, which split the 26.2 miles into quarters. There are an estimated 1,350 people signed up so far for the first weekend’s 2K and 5K races, Fowlkes added.
“We knew the 2K and the 5K will be more locally driven, and we know the following weekend will draw out of area participants,” he explained. “We’ll have (runners) from 43 states and 10 different countries represented. About 60 percent of the participants come from the Montgomery County area — The Woodlands, Spring and other areas — with the remaining 40 percent from elsewhere, such as Texas and other states.”
One of the bigger impacts the races have on the community is the closure of many roads and also traffic issues from the races. Woodlands residents are advised to be aware of traffic impacts and road closures the next two weeks as the two-weekend long annual event rolls into town, drawing thousands of runnings, walkers and other spectators to the community. Traffic impacts can be found on the race website and then click on the “Traffic Guide” button for details.
Fowlkes said race organizers love bringing the event to The Woodlands every year for several reasons, among which are the healthy lifestyles that local residents lead as well as the forested scenery and excellent race course. The economic impact of the races is hearty, with about $6 million being pumped into the local economy. There is also a charity component, too, which has led to the donation of more than $1.2 million in the past seven years, Fowlkes added.
“The event directors wanted to have it here due to the fact that we have a very active lifestyle here in The Woodlands,” Fowlkes explained. “We are able to have a financial impact of about $6 million according to our studies. We also make donations to charity and volunteer groups that totals about $1.2 million.”
The race needs an estimated 1,800 volunteers to make it run as smooth as possible, Fowlkes noted, and there are plenty of spots still available for anyone interested in donating their time to the race the next two weekends. For more details, visit the race website.