MARATHON: Off and running

From left, Elliott Doyle, Fitness Adviser, Greg Richards, Race

Inaugural Morgan Hill Marathon set for November.
MORGAN HILL – Greg Richards’ first triathlon marked a turning point in his life.

After shedding 50 pounds over the course of 10 years, Richards put his physical and mental capacity to the test in 2007 by entering one of the most grueling competitions: a lengthy swim, bike ride and foot race done sequentially.

“I think it’s on everyone’s bucket list. A friend challenged me to do one, so I did,” Richards said. “I thought I was in shape. I ended up barely finishing.”

He has not been the same since. Like all triathletes, marathon runners and fitness enthusiasts, Richards is “hooked” on the goal of pushing to new heights, even at age 41.

The story of his first triathlon relates well to his thought process in January, when Richards began organizing what he hopes will be one of the largest annual running events on the West Coast. Richards and his staff at South Valley Endurance, a local group he founded with his wife, Debbie, and friends Elliott and Stacey Doyle in April 2009, want to deliver the crown jewel to a running community with the inaugural Morgan Hill Marathon + Half Series in November. The event includes a 2-kilometer Kids Run on Nov. 6, and a half and full marathon the next day. Richards said he hopes to draw between 750 and 1,000 entries.

Even if that expectation isn’t met, the weekend could be quite a show. There will be a Lifestyle Exposition held in the Centennial Recreation Center on West Edmundson Avenue, where all three races begin, and an Art and Wine Festival with live music at the community park nearby.

“We’re basing this off the biggest marathons,” Richards said. “We’re trying to give this the overall thing, a big competitive event that families can come out and enjoy together. Morgan Hill has never had something like this before.”

Neither has SV Endurance, which promotes fitness-centered sporting events like the popular year-round Dirty Legs and Dirty Gears series. Working alongside South Valley Running Club, Richards’ group has pulled out all the stops for its marathon, recruiting several outside volunteers, a high-end announcer in Brent Allen and renowned course director Andrew LoCicero, whose body of work includes the San Francisco Marathon among roughly 70 distance-running events. Sponsors are being lined up as well.

Race times will be collected through an innovative program known as the Jaguar System. Results are based off computer chips embedded in the runners’ bibs.

“The cool thing about this is, we’ll be able to measure split times for each race,” Richards said.

Medals and cash prizes will be awarded for each race, including $150 and $250 purses for being the first runner to cover 5 and 10 kilometers, respectively. Residents from Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Martin can earn local prizes of up to $100.

Competitive runners have added incentive to sign up; it is a certified qualifier for the Boston Marathon.

“I come from a triathlon background, and I can tell this is going to be an honest run,” said Elliott Doyle, who helps with course directing. “Twenty-six miles is 26 miles; it’s never easy. The first half is going to be the most challenging.”

From the Centennial Recreation Center, the marathon will run along Uvas Reservoir then proceed uphill past Chesbro Reservoir, downhill through Willow Springs Road and across the hilly east side of town. The final 10 miles are flat or downhill. The rout moves to Dunne Avenue, Monterey Road and back to the recreation center.

LoCicero is confident City Council and the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors will approve of the course.

“There’s a whole bunch of things to consider when planning something like this,” he said. “You have to take into consideration intersections and where spectators are going to be. It’s a lot, but we’re open to suggestions from government agencies. We’ll make it work.”

Planning the series has not been as hectic as one would expect.

“It takes a lot of time organizing the different aspects and making them all blend together. It’s been so far so good,” Stacey Doyle said in March. “We’ve been lucky. We get a lot of support from the community. We want to make it a big Morgan Hill thing.”

The running community, though highly accessible through online social networks, has been slow to register, but Richards expects entries to pick up in the coming months. He hopes the event draws 5,000 by Year 3.

“It’s motivation for Greg,” Elliott Doyle said. “Why not create the event and make it as big as possible? Most races, you have to travel a great distance. This is local, on our doorstep. This could be huge for Morgan Hill.”

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