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Duke City Marathon Is in Its 29th Year

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500 volunteers help put on event for about 5,000 competitors

The annual Big 5 Sporting Goods Duke City Marathon has evolved into a smooth-running operation, pardon the pun, over the past three decades. A lot of it has been the result of hard work. Some of it the result of trial and error.

The 29th edition of Albuquerque’s premier road-racing event, the longest-running in New Mexico, is set for Sunday, Oct. 21, and will start and end, as usual, at Downtown’s Civic Plaza.

A total of 5,000 competitors are expected to compete in events ranging from a 5K walk to the 26.2-mile run.

“We’ll have people from (at least) 47 states who will be coming in,” race director Mario Cabrera said. “The course is intriguing. They’ll run Downtown, down Central on Old 66, from there to the bosque trail – we cover all aspects of the city. We’re on track now for a 5 or 6 percent increase in runners from last year – it’s been that way for about the past six years.

“We’ll have water and motivation stations every mile and every different (race) turnaround. … And we’ll have coconut water at the finish line. It’s a huge community event, with close to 500 volunteers helping out from packet-stuffing, handing out packets, manning water stations, setting up and breaking down the Health & Fitness Expo. The more help we get the better.”

Albuquerque running enthusiasts can thank the husband-wife team of Tico and Marge Navarro, co-founders of the event, for bringing their idea to life in the early ’80s.

“In 1983, we had started a sporting goods store here (Sun Sports) and we were training for the New York City Marathon, and we just felt that it was about time to start an event in Albuquerque,” Tico said, with the side benefit being that it would generate added business for his store. “So, in 1984 we had a marathon, half marathon and a fun run with just over a thousand people, with 200 full marathoners or so.”

Since then, it’s been a learn-as-you-go experience, said Tico, who is the race’s executive director.

“Early on, it was held the first Sunday of the Balloon Fiesta, only because we didn’t know any better. We later changed the date to get away from the fiesta,” he laughed.

And that was just the beginning.

“We made all the mistakes you can,” he said. “We were the first to start using a computer system for times and were connected to the Convention Center. But somebody decided to work on the building that day and shut off the power.

“Of course we had a backup plan, but we had a hell of a time getting the results to the Albuquerque Journal.”

And then there was the flood.

“We always start at 7 a.m.,” he said of the event. “But one time I got an early call from the Police Department that there was a water-main break and everything was flooded on a portion of the course. We had to delay the race half an hour.”

Cabrera said this is his eighth year working behind the scenes of the Duke City, and he always has his antennae up for trouble.

“Every year we try to be as prepared as possible, to make sure we have more of everything, but sometimes it’s hard,” he said.

“For instance, sometimes it’s not easy to gauge how many are going to run in a certain race, and we might run out of bibs, safety pins, misjudge the water needed at the turnarounds. But we put out fires as they arise.”

Navarro said he is proud of his race’s staying power and is full speed ahead for next year.

“We’re a round-the-clock organization,” he said. “We have a board of about 15 people and a promotions company available. We always have people you can get back to. We’re already looking at 2013, which will be our 30th.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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