Ready to Race

The third annual Empire State Marathon has already registered 3,000 participants

In just three years, the Empire State Marathon, Half and Relay race has grown to include 3,000 racers from more than 40 states and nine countries.

For event coordinator Lisa Ellis, who spends most of her year in Arizona, one appeal of the Central New York race is easy to spot. “It is absolutely gorgeous here,” she says.

And the route, which takes racers through Onondaga Lake Park and into Baldwinsville, is at prime-time fall peak when the race comes around. This year’s event will be held on Sunday, Oct. 20.

Ellis was picked to work the event by race owner Brian Collins, who has run nearly 30 marathons and competed in four Iron Man Triathlons. Although he lives in Arizona, he has a soft spot for the Central New York running community.

“He’s done races in Arizona,” Ellis explains. “But the reason it’s here in Syracuse is he thought it was strange they have such a strong running community and don’t have a full marathon. Syracuse needed one. Thirty or 40 years ago they had one, but it went away. It needed to be done.”

The race offers three options: relay (a full marathon broken into four legs), half (13.1 miles) and full (26.2), and racers are treated to a finish line of food, drink, massages, a medal and kids’ areas to entertain spectators as they await their athletes.

Ellis isn’t a marathoner, yet she’s inspired by those who take on the challenge. “I’ve been in event planning for almost 20 years with lots of different sporting events and corporate clients, and I’ve always been intrigued by this,” she says. “I was so inspired by trainings Brian did with people who had never run a step in their life, and he got them to that accomplishment {a full marathon}.

To see that achievement and pride. . . what a wonderful thing. It’s not just a softball league: This takes work and patience and commitment. I love that whole representation of the sport. . . what I see on people’s faces as they cross the finish line.”

But a race of Empire’s size requires an incredible amount of work, much of which takes place year-round. Marketing, directly and indirectly, is a never-ending process, and last-minute twists are often thrown into the mix when things like road construction conflict with the route.

“You have to go with what matters first,” Ellis explains. “The course is first. Everything needs to be set up for that, and then all the other things can be added. Maybe you won’t have as many massage therapists this year, but you have the race and the medical. We want a nice, safe, good race for the runners. The rest you add on.”

The competition has grown steadily, which is difficult to achieve. Often inaugural races have massive turnouts because of the excitement of the first year, but interest dwindles as they continue. Empire’s registration stayed steady the first two years and took a 30 percent jump this year.

“We want to focus on that 3,000 number,” Ellis says. “It doesn’t mean we can’t hold more, but that’s a good number this year. I call it a boutique-size race.”

The event offers runners a smaller race than the New York City or Boston marathons, a prime racing season and a manageable crowd to run with. The result is a race that feels welcoming but big enough to feel especially accomplished. As someone who has crossed the finish line twice, it’s rewarding to watch thousands finish with you but not feel overwhelmed.

“We want the runners to have an experience that’s pleasant and enjoyable,” Ellis says. “It’s an achievement.”

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