The 30th annual event, set to begin at Civic Plaza on Sunday, should have between 5,000 and 6,000 runners. Organizers say the run, one of the most consistent in the state as far as entries, has a bright future.
“I don’t think there’s any question it could reach the record numbers of the mid-1990s,” board member Burt Trembly said. “We had about 8,000 runners one year, but that was when the title sponsor was (Sun Healthcare) and had about 2,000 of its employees run.
“I’d love to build it back to that, and I think we will because of the added prize money, in gift certificates, and the addition of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico. We’re hoping that leads to more and more runners in the future.”
The title sponsor, Big 5 Sporting Goods, has kicked in a combined $5,000 in gift certificates for the top finishers.
Rick Gridley, director of public affairs for Big 5, says: “We plan to make the prizes bigger each year. We will always try and help this event grow each year.”
Last year’s men’s winner, Solomon Kandie, decided late this week that he will return to defend his title. He ran in the Twin Cities Marathon earlier this month and says he’s still healing from that, but is giving it a shot this weekend.
Tana Kaskalla, the women’s winner each of the past two years, will not defend her crown, but will participate.
“I’m doing the relay, just having fun this year,” said Kaskalla, who is from Zuni and lives in Albuquerque. “I have a team. I want to see how it feels to actually cheer people on, instead of being out there.”
Kaskalla said she does hope to run in the marathon again, and is trying to find out what the women’s record is so she can make a run at it.
There are seven races in all Sunday – five runs and two distance walks.
Another runner back to defend a title is Albuquerque’s Art Gardenswartz, 71. The winner last year in the 70-75 division, he said he ran in the first Duke City and has been “in about half of the 30 races.”
“I never thought it would grow this much; it’s just great,” Gardenswartz says. “I knew it was a good idea, because it was the first marathon in New Mexico. But I never imagined it would get this big.”
Gardenswartz, a former sporting goods retailer, was the event’s title sponsor in the initial year while owner of Gardenswartz Sportz. He sold to Big 5 about 18 years ago, and Big 5 has been a sponsor since.
Tim Sheahan, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Mexico, says he is appreciative of the support the race is giving his organization.
“They came to us and wanted to know if we wanted to be a charity, and we said absolutely,” he said. “It’s great for us. The race represents what we stand for, as far as academics, community support and a healthy lifestyle. We’ll have about 100 of our kids at water stations in support.”