An opportunity to run with “Fixer Upper” star Chip Gaines, qualify for the Boston Marathon and raise money to fight children’s cancer will bring an estimated 6,000 competitors and maybe twice that many friends and family members to Waco next weekend for the Silo District Marathon.
Sponsored by Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia-branded ventures, the three-pronged event will feature 5K, half-marathon and marathon courses concentrated downtown, along Lake Brazos and near Magnolia Market at the Silos, Sixth Street and Webster Avenue. Organizers say dozens, possibly as many as a hundred law enforcement officers from throughout the region will occupy strategic points along the routes, keeping traffic moving.
Every hotel in Greater Waco is booked for the weekend, “and we’re having to refer people to Hillsboro and Temple,” said Carla Pendergraft, the city of Waco’s director of marketing. “Competitors from Dallas and Austin probably will have to drive back and forth. We just do not have enough rooms.”
“This is huge, and we’re glad to be hosting it,” Pendergraft said. “Guests will be staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, shopping. That generates sales and occupancy taxes from visitors, which makes it painless for Waco residents, as it can reduce the property tax burden.”
Chip Gaines determined to host a marathon in his hometown while visiting New York to promote his book “Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned While Doing Stupid Stuff.” He and wife Joanna met a young woman, Gabriele “Gabe” Grunewald, a professional runner who had been battling adenoid cystic carcinoma for a decade, according to a report on countryliving.com.
“After hearing Gabe’s story, I realized two things: I didn’t want to spend another second standing on the sidelines,” Chip wrote on the Magnolia blog, as cited by countryliving.com. “And secondly, given what she’s gone through, I didn’t have any excuse not to give this a shot. So I committed.”
Gaines has pledged to donate all profits from the event to the newly formed Brave Like Gabe Foundation, which is pursuing remedies for rare forms of cancer. Target Stores, the exclusive retailer of Joanna Gaines’ Hearth and Hand line of housewares and specialty merchandise, is identified as the lead corporate sponsor on the Silo District Marathon website.
Waco Police Sgt. Jared Wallace reportedly has contracted to coordinate security for the event, but he declined to discuss specifics and referred comment to Magnolia. Spokesman John Marsicano had not responded to emailed requests for information by Saturday evening.
The Silo District Marathon will attract an estimated 6,000 competitors, making it the largest such race held entirely within the Waco city limits, said Jonathan Cook, who oversees community promotions for the city of Waco.
“We’re planning for it like no other race we’ve ever had,” said Cook. “It’s a top-notch event, a showcase event, with runners from all 50 states, runners from Canada. We will have traffic controls and involvement from the special events committee, law enforcement, emergency operations, parks and recreation and Magnolia, of course. We’re putting together a complete effort, working furiously and wanting to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
Waco Transit System will provide a shuttle service for competitors between the parking lot of the old Floyd Casey Stadium in South Waco to downtown. The full marathon begins at 7 a.m. Sunday, and participants must pay a $150 registration fee; the half-marathon cranks up 30 minutes later, and runners pay $135; and the 5K begins at 7:45 a.m. for those paying $45 to register, according to information provided by race organizers and Magnolia.
Starting point for the half and full marathons is near Magnolia Market at the Silos, Sixth Street and Webster Avenue, while the 5K will proceed from Fourth Street and Mary Avenue. All runs will end near Eighth Street and Webster Avenue, said Jamie Lynn Eggers, Magnolia’s community relations manager.
Patrick Ygnacio, a community liaison with City Center Waco, said the organization is visiting with merchants and business owners about the event, hoping to ease concerns and receive feedback.
“We’re distributing flyers that discuss the road closures along the routes, canvassing the neighborhoods, convening chats,” said Ygnacio. “We see this as an opportunity to strengthen connections with merchants, let people know this is not just a Magnolia-related event, but an opportunity to serve runners, their family members and guests. When the last racer has traversed the map, things will get back to business as usual. We don’t want restaurants or retailers to shut their doors. We want them to know there will be hungry runners and family members wanting to experience what Waco has to offer.”
He said business owners with whom he has spoken have questions about how the races may impact their parking and public access.
The Downtown Waco website notes, for example, that Austin Avenue will remain closed from Third Street to 17th Street between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday. But it also assures that law enforcement officers will appear at busy intersections throughout the day to assure safe crossings.
“This will take place on Sunday morning, so we know there is going to be church traffic, and it may have less impact on business,” said Cook. “The impact could be comparable to a Baylor football game or Fourth on the Brazos. We’re not taking this lightly. We want people to get to where they need to go, and to exercise a little patience and caution.”
Competitors visiting Heritage Square adjacent to Waco City Hall on Saturday to pick up information packets may find themselves mingling with voters. That is election day locally, and the nine polling places include three near downtown, including the Waco Convention Center.
“We would like people to know that there may be traffic on Saturday downtown, but spots for voter-only parking will be designated near the Convention Center and that registered voters can vote at any of the nine locations on election day,” city secretary Esmerelda Hudson said in a news release.
No figures were released on costs associated with holding the event, but several sources, including Cook and Pendergraft, said it is their understanding Magnolia and other private sponsors are picking up the tab.
Races will take competitors to several noteworthy sites in and around downtown, including the Waco Suspension Bridge, Elm Avenue, Waco Regional Airport, Heritage Square, Lake Brazos, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and McLane Stadium, according to publicity material. They will have access to 16 hydration stops, nine first-aid stations and six entertainment venues.
Cook said bringing even more crowds downtown is the scheduled Brazos Nights event at Indian Spring Park on Friday evening.
He added preparation for the event will serve local groups well as they gear up for the Ironman Triathlon Waco will host on Oct. 28.