The White Rock Marathon: In for the Long Run

When the White Rock Marathon was little more than an obscure “fun run” that looped twice around the lake, a man named Talmage Morrison financed the footrace by selling running shoes out of the back of his car. His enterprise paid for postage and magazine advertisements, and in 1970, that was the extent of the marathon’s fund-raising and promotional efforts.

Today, the seventeenth annual White Rock Marathon (held Sunday, December 14) sports an estimated annual budget of $250,000, and a sixteen-member committee handles the complexities of marketing the marathon.

After seventeen years, it looks as if the White Rock Marathon has beaten the odds. The 26.2-mile race retains both its amateur status and a loyal following in a day when many similar races have either gone broke or gone commercial.

Compared to the marathons of New York and Chicago, the White Rock Marathon is still small in terms of both cash and crowds. Its winners’ trophies and metal medallions look pretty puny next to the sports cars and prize monies of many commercial races, and the lack of top-ranked runners and big-money sponsors has caused some critics to dismiss the race as cheap and provincial.

In defense, local organizers boast that White Rock is the largest amateur marathon in the Southwest and one of the oldest in the country, and point to its steady field of 3,000 or more runners. That figure is nothing to cry about given the fact that marathons in general are declining in popularity. In 1980, when the running craze peaked, the country had 208 marathons; by 1985, that figure dropped to 129. Marathon board member Joe Zimmerman says he and other organizers have considered making the White Rock a commercial event, but adds, “We were always trying to keep it a community event. Nobody makes money off this thing.”

Despite its disregard for profits-or perhaps because of it-the White Rock Marathon is a success. The secret, says Zimmerman, is simple: “We take good care of our runners every step of the way. No other marathon I’ve seen, commercial or otherwise, does as first-class a job of covering a race.”

The White Rock Marathon has endured for another reason: it’s extremely democratic. Organizers don’t lure celebrity runners with appearance fees or bar untrained runners with qualifying restrictions or speed and distance requirements. Thus, most of the White Rock Marathon’s participants are once- or twice-a-year marathon-ers from Texas rather than big-name competitors.

The $15 entrance fee entitles runners to a host of pre-race seminars scheduled the day before, a sports exhibition, and a post-race awards banquet. The pre-race carbo-loading dinner costs an extra $10.

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