October 13, 2012

Expo prepares racers for Prairie Fire Marathon

Sunday is for marathoning, half-marathoning and 5K-ing.

Sunday is for marathoning, half-marathoning and 5K-ing.

But Saturday was for enjoying the perks of being – or knowing – a runner at the Fit for Life Expo, a precursor event to Sunday’s Prairie Fire Marathon.

The event filled Century II’s Exhibition Hall with vendors marketing items to runners, from neon-colored, high-tech running shoes to protein shakes to clothing. Also on hand were massage therapists helping runners work out pre-race knots, and race sponsor Via Christi Health, whose employees were offering cholesterol and blood pressure screenings.

The expo was expected to draw 12,000 people through the course of the day.

By early afternoon, fit-looking folks strolled in and out of the expo, where they were required to pick up their race packets. Each racer got a green backpack filled with coupons, maps and their racing bibs, which this year are fitted with high-tech chips that will allow their progress to be tracked via social media.

The expo had a large “social media lounge,” where web-savvy volunteers helped racers sign up for MyLaps Sports Flash, a new-to-Prairie-Fire service that lets racers’ friends and family members follow in real time. Runners register, and chips in their race bibs are read at various points along the route, sending updates via text or e-mail or posting them to Facebook or Twitter.

“People want to know where their runners are,” said Meg Sytnick, a marathoner who works for the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission and helps plan the race. “My mom always wants to know, ‘Did she cross the finish line, or is she passed out somewhere on the course?’ ”

Among those at the expo were Julie Reed and her running buddy, Amy Dokken. Reed, who will turn 49 on Sunday, decided on a whim last week to give the half marathon a try. The duo run for at least an hour three times a week, and last year did the 10-mile Turkey Trot.

The two grabbed samples of organic granola and crackers, and both took advantage of on-site massages. Dokken bought a pair of new running shoes.

“It’s always been on my bucket list to run a half marathon,” Reed said. “I’m starting my 50th year in life, so I have to do something awesome.”

The race, which will fill streets all over Wichita on Sunday morning, has grown in the three years since the commission took it over. As of Saturday, 4,300 people were registered for five different races: the marathon, half marathon, 5K, fun run and walk and a youth marathon. Organizers expect 17,000 people to watch the race somewhere along the route, which for marathoners starts at the Hyatt Regency downtown and goes as far east as 13th and Woodlawn.

Runners represent 46 states and eight countries, Sytnick said. Of the registered runners, 60 percent are women and about 80 percent are local. The half marathon has the most registered runners at 2,700, she said. About 800 are registered for the marathon.

More than 600 people will serve as volunteers at the race, staffing water stations and monitoring the route, and several local bands will be performing along the routes as well.

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