The Modesto Marathon, now in its fourth year, has grown from just over 2,200 runners in 2010 to an expected 3,200 for this year's event, scheduled for March 24.
Yes, the Modesto Marathon is growing up. And with growth comes change.
But don't worry, change can be good. And these relatively minor changes to the course should make the race-day experience more enjoyable for runners, residents and fans alike.
In the first three marathons, the start/finish line was located in the same place. This year, runners will start the race on M Street (between 10th and 11th) and finish their 26.2-mile (or 13.1 or 5-kilometer) ordeal on N Street (between 10th and 11th).
"This allows us to have a much bigger finish-line festival," said co-race director Karen Lozano. "We're looking to have more of a party atmosphere at the finish."
Live music, bounce houses for kids, food vendors and more will populate the start/finish area. By separating the start and finish, spectators can enjoy the entertainment and still see their favorite runner cross the finish line. In the past, it's been an either/or proposition.
Another change focuses on the North Avenue portion of the course near Salida. In the past, runners have have raced out, and then back via North Avenue.
"North had a whole lot of people going out and back and it really got congested," said course director Mike Araiza. "And the residents didn't like have both lanes being used by runners.
"So there's no U-turn on North any longer."
Instead, half-marathon runners will proceed west on North Avenue to Finney Road, then head south to Shoemake Road. Next, they'll take Shoemake east, back to Brink Road, where they'll head back toward downtown.
Runners of the marathon will do much the same, but once they hit Shoemake, they'll head west and farther out into the countryside.
Another sign that Modesto's baby is growing up is the decision to initiate the process of searching for a new race director.
Heidi Ryan, who has directed all three previous marathons, is committed to staying on through the 2014 event. But after that
"I'd like to have my life back," cracks Ryan. "As we're growing and becoming more and more popular, the time involved with it has continued to grow.
"This has been my baby, and I'm not willing to give it up to just anyone. Our board is going to be meeting to make guidelines and criteria and discuss what we can afford to pay."
"I just think it's time to pass the baton and let somebody else do the work."
Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302.