The Big Race
This story appeared in the Houston Post on Jan. 17, 1986. The words and headlines are reprinted as they ran then.
If you live in Houston, chances are good you’ll become a marathon watcher Sunday morning - even if you don’t go out of your way to do it.
That’s when some 4,000 runners will take to the streets to participate in the 14th annual Houston-Tenneco Marathon. But this year, instead of following a two-loop course from downtown to Memorial Park - the old marathon route - runners will follow a new citywide course meandering through 10 Houston neighborhoods.
To celebrate the new course, and encourage spectators to come out and cheer on the runners, race officials will stage what promises to be the biggest street party in Houston history.
Traffic will grind to a halt all over town. Mariachi bands and jugglers and cheering squads will line the streets, along with belly dancers and performing mimes and rock groups. From Northside to the Galleria area, from Memorial Park to the finish line downtown, performers of all kinds will join the party to stage a variety of activities.
During every mile of the 26.2-mile course, neighborhood entertainers and other groups will be on hand to provide entertainment for marathon watchers.
“We’re trying to create a little street theater, if you will,” explains race director David Hannah.
All the festivities are aimed at drawing the kinds of crowds that come out and watch marathons in Boston and New York, where thousands of cheering fans line the course for almost the whole race. They’ve been put together over a period of many months by a marathon “Hoopla” committee headed by race official Larry Nettles.
Here’s a sample of what’s happening along the course:
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Between Mile 2 and Mile 3 on the city’s north side (at the Elysian Street bridge and Lorraine), a mariachi band will perform, along with cheerleaders and the Pantherette Drill Team from Jeff Davis High School. Further along, at Cochran and Hogan streets, Monsignor Peguero of Holy Name Catholic Church will be on hand to “bless the runners” as they pass.
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At Mile 9, near the Hermann Park Rose Garden, Guardian Angels in full uniform will pass out orange slices to runners. At Mile 10, at the corner of Outer Belt and South Main, Rice University’s band, the MOB, will be on hand to entertain with its lively music and pranks.
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At Mile 11, at West University Place City Hall, the names of all runners will be announced from a public address system as they come into view. (Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire and West University public officials are scheduled to watch part of the racefrom this location.)
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Between Mile 13 and 14, a “halfway beach party” is planned on the railroad overpass just west of Weslayan, complete with a beach wagon and umbrellas and recorded music. A cheering squad dressed in matching beachwear will greet runners and cheer them up the overpass - the highest point on the entire course.
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At Mile 20, at Loop 610 and Woodway, bellydancers from Pat Walker’s School of Middle Eastern Dance will try to help runners forget about “hitting the wall” - the point in every marathon when many participants run out of steam. Music will be provided by Jeff Walker’s Magic Sound Van.
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Participants from 42 states and 15 countries have registered for the marathon, which will begin in front of the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel in the 1200 block of Louisiana when Mayor Whitmire fires the starting gun at 8 a.m.
Runners will head through downtown and north of Interstate 10 on the city’s north side; loop down Main and on to Hermann Park and past the Medical Center and Rice University; run through West University Place and on a zigzag path to Post Oak Boulevard and the Galleria area, and finally go west on San Felipe, north on Potomoc to Woodway, and into downtown via Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway.
The finish line will be in front of the Albert Thomas Convention Center at Smith and Capitol, where the awards presentation will take place at 11:30 a.m.
Most participants will simply try to finish the grueling 26.2-mile race, but a handful of world-class athletes will be competing for $150,000 in prize money. The top male and female winner will each receive $25,000 plus a $150,000 life insurance policy. An additional 17 women and 21 men will be awarded the rest of the $100,000 prize money.
One hundred and twenty top runners - 50 men and 70 women - have been invited from all over the world to come to Houston to compete, reports race official John Hobbs, who recruited the athletes.
Who are the runners to watch this year?
Hometown favorite Marty Froelick will be a top contender, having won last year’s Houston-Tenneco Marathon in the biggest victory of his career: two hours, 11 minutes and 13 seconds, only two seconds off Benji Durden’s 1982 Houston course record. Froelick’s racing number, if you want to watch his progress Sunday: No. 1.
Other top men in the upcoming race include Sam Ngatia, the second-place finisher in Houston last year in 2:11:43. One of several Kenyans living in El Paso and competing Sunday, Ngatia will wear No. 2 in the race. No. 3 is Jerry Kiernan from Ireland, whose best marathon time is 2:12:24; No. 5 is Benji Durden from Boulder, Col., with a personal best of 2:09:58.
Among the top women competing Sunday will be Veronique Marot from France, who was the third female finisher in last year’s marathon in 2:31:16. Her number: W-1.
The second-seeded female runner is Laurie Binder from Oakland, Calif., whose fastest marathon time is 2:33. A former marathon winner in Houston, Binder’s racing number is W-2.
A number of local women also are top contenders Sunday, including Carol Urish-McLatchie (racing number W-7), Donna Roark (W-10), Lynne Huntington (W- 12) and Debbi Warren (W-15). Urish’s best marathon time is 2:35; Roark’s 2:38; Huntington’s 2:42 and Warner’s 2:47.
The best spots to watch the action?
Race official Hobbs suggests the Rice Village area, for one, because of a variety of activities, including the announcing of all runners over the public address system set up at Poor Man’s Country Club on University between Greenbriar and Kirby, where you can also eat breakfast and watch the race.
Other interesting places to watch the action include:
1) Post Oak near the Transco Fountain (with lots of available parking).
2) Memorial Drive between Westcott and Shepherd, where various groups will be performing.
3) Hermann Drive near Hermann Park, a pretty area and one with available parking in the Garden Center or the Museum of Natural Science.
4) The finish line in front of the convention center downtown, the best place to watch the real drama of a marathon.
If you’d rather sit down and watch the race, a number of restaurants on the marathon course in different areas of the city will be serving breakfast Sunday morning and promise to open before runners arrive. About half a dozen places in the Village will be open, including Poor Man’s Country Club at 2407 University, Morningside Cafe, 5555 Morningside, and Kahn’s Deli, 2429 Rice Blvd. In the Memorial area, there’s One’s a Meal (at 5525 Memorial); and several Mexican restaurants on the city’s north side also will be open, including Doneraki, 2836 Fulton; Las Cazuelas,2219 Fulton; and Mi Tierra’s, 609 Hogan.
Getting around in Houston Sunday morning by car may be difficult, police officials warn, because street closings will affect some major thoroughfares between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Problem areas include Main Street, the Hermann Park area, the southbound lanes of Weslayan near the Southwest Freeway and both directions on Westheimer near the Galleria.
If you have to drive, the best way to get around may be the Southwest Freeway, say race officials. The Southwest Freeway to Louisiana may also be the best route to take to get downtown if you want to watch the winners come in (starting about 10:15 a.m.) and the award presentations at 11:30 a.m.
Finally, if you sleep through the whole thing and still want to find out what happened, tune in to KPRC-TV at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The station will be showing highlights of the event from 2:30-3:30 p.m.
The first marathon in Houston was in 1972 with 113 runners. Until the 1986 city-wide event, the course was mostly held in Memorial Park and surrounding areas. An estimated 200,000 spectators turned out for the event, in which Paul Cummings, of Utah, kicked past defending champion Marty Froelich in mile 23 for a 2:11:31 victory. Veronique Marot almost led the women from start to finish en route to a 2:31:33 win.
Now dubbed the Chevron Houston Marathon, is the largest annual single-day sporting event with tens of thousands of runners, volunteers and spectators, according to the Houston Marathon Committee. Chevron became the title sponsor of the marathon prior to the 2006 race.
The modern course starts near Minute Maid Park through the Heights, Neartown, Hermann Park and Rice University then turns to Uptown, through Memorial Park and Allen Parkway. It ends at the George R. Brown Convention center. It limits participants to 25,000 runners. The 2017 event has already been sold out.
In 2002, Houston added the half-marathon with El Paso Energy as the sponsor. The 13.1-mile race drew 2,500 finishers. Aramco sponsors the half-marathon currently.
- Erin Mulvaney
This story appeared in the May 31, 1961, Houston Chronicle. The headlines and story are reprinted as they ran then.