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Gulf Beaches run holds steady

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002

CLEARWATER -- Another 26.2-mile race will start and finish today, but Chris Lauber likes to think his marathon is just starting to pick up the pace, with many smooth miles ahead.

As the executive director of the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon, Lauber understandably has been obsessed lately with the short-term details of his event, lining up everything from water stations to medical assistance to traffic control.

But when pausing to consider the long-term prospects of the third-year marathon, he is the voice of optimism, though the 2002 run might only turn out slightly more successful than 2001.

"It's kind of funny, for a long time we were up substantially (with entries), then the gains seem to have tapered off. We have a feeling that we're right at where we were last year," Lauber said.

"In light of the economy and downturn in travel, staying even or having a slight gain is not a terrible thing. It is somewhat of a survival year."

Last year the event drew 1,529 runners, a tremendous increase from its 2000 debut field of 635. Today's field likely will be only slightly bigger, but for the second straight year some 44 states are expected to be represented, and an international field of 15 countries will be the marathon's most diverse.

Overall, however, the field is considerably smaller than the Hops Marathon by Tampa Bay, which ran its second race last month with 4,300 runners. Comparisons are inevitable, considering their proximity by area, date and age.

The main difference is that Gulf Beaches lacks Hops, as in the title sponsorship the other marathon has. Landing that sponsor is Lauber's primary goal, and he believes once that is secure the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon might again have a growth spurt.

"This is too good of an idea not to be well-supported," Lauber said. "At some point, I'm going to be talking to the right person at the right time, and we'll upgrade in many, many different areas.

"If we do that, I have no doubt that more success is right around the corner."

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