Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Hear the Cheers: Harrisburg Marathon reconfigures to be “mini-Boston” event.

Screenshot 2015-09-28 10.13.17Imagine the sidewalks of 2nd Street lined with crowds of people. Their cheers flood the street as sweaty, worn runners pull all the strength they have left to cross the finish line of the Harrisburg Marathon.

“We really envision a new, re-energized marathon,” said Tom Gifford, race and marketing director for the Harrisburg Area YMCA. “It’s going to be a new experience, even for people who run in Harrisburg all the time.”

It took about five months and 50 different course drafts to plan the route for the Nov. 8 marathon, set to kick off at City Island and take runners on a flatter, more scenic route, Gifford said. The old route, which wrapped through HACC and Wildwood Park, was fine but produced some issues with truck traffic, hills and industrial scenery, he said.

With the natural beauty of the Susquehanna River as a backdrop and the Capitol building in the line of sight, the Harrisburg Marathon will feature Harrisburg’s treasures. By sticking to Front Street almost the whole way to the I-83 on-ramp, runners can enjoy the open road and the flowing river beside them.

Certain areas also will feature two-way runner traffic to help eliminate areas where some runners could end up running on long stretches alone, Gifford said.

“Running with people is often all you need to keep going,” he said. “It’s tough to get that juice when you’re alone and later in the run.”

The race will finish on 2nd Street this year, as opposed to its old end point on City Island. Arooga’s, the finish line sponsor, will feature specials for marathon participants. Gifford hopes that other Restaurant Row businesses will join in the celebrations by offering their own specials and welcoming tired, famished runners and their supporters inside.

Hilton Harrisburg, the official host hotel, is also just two blocks from the finish line and offers a late checkout for race participants, making it a convenient way to really submerge yourself downtown—or quickly escape to a cold shower after the race, Gifford added.

“Having a downtown finish is one way of giving our small town race a big city feel,” Gifford said. “The race is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, so why not give people a sample of what a big city race can feel like?”

Joy of Moving

Dr. Richard Rayner of Aspire Health, which has sponsored the race since 2011, sees it as a great way to get the community moving as a whole.

A runner himself, Rayner believes some marathon participants might miss the challenge of Wildwood Park’s hills, but will swap out the disappointment with the chance to improve their time for a chance to run in the Boston Marathon.

One of the things he appreciates about the Harrisburg Marathon, especially for patients who aren’t crazy about running, is the relay option. The Team Aspire running and walking group encourages people to keep moving, no matter the distance or pace, and walking the relay is a great way to get started, he said.

“Mostly we want people to begin to know the joy of moving,” Rayner said. “It’s one of the best things about this life. All runners know that there are times when running that you wonder why you are doing this—it doesn’t feel good at the time. However, the overall good feelings that it produces in your life are well worth the effort. We want people to feel that they too can be athletes no matter what their age or abilities.”

So far, it looks like participation numbers will be close to last year’s count—about 1,300 runners, Gifford said, but the YMCA hopes that grows as word of the revamped race spreads. Social media posts about the new route reached more than 30,000 people, he said, and many comments showed excitement for the changes.

“We want the race to grow, but it’s also important we keep that small town vibe,” Gifford said. “I think the coolest thing is making the race feel like it’s more about Harrisburg and celebrating all that this city offers and the great people who accomplish amazing things here.”


The Harrisburg Marathon will take place on City Island on Nov. 8. Walkers start at 6:30 a.m. and runners/relay participants will start at 8 a.m. Registration is available through Nov. 3 online or during packet pickup times. For more information, visit or call 717-232-9622.

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