The warehouse at race headquarters at Quantico sits mostly empty now, but not long ago it was full of myriad supplies needed for the 30th running of the Marine Corps Marathon. The materials packed into the large building signified the enormity and complexity of the task facing race organizers.
There were banners, T-shirts, giveaway rubber ducks, more than 600,000 paper cups, hundreds of water pitchers and enough sports drink powder to fill several sandboxes -- to name only a few items.
Organizing a quality and safe race is the ultimate goal of the 15 full-time marathon staff members and 40 Marine Project Officers working at Quantico. And with the field size for tomorrow's marathon increased to about 30,000 runners from 22,000 last year, their monumental task got even bigger.
But these are Marines. They say that planning and organization are their forte.
"When I was in the Marine Corps, everything was fast paced," said Ken Delahoussaye, Marine Corps Marathon Logistics Coordinator. "That really applies to this job."
Delahoussaye helps oversee the management of many logistical concerns, from obtaining permits for road closures to securing the race course to the shuttling of participants and their families from parking areas to the course. Fortunately, he has a lot of help.
Rick Nealis, the Marine Corps Marathon race director since 1993, said the biggest challenge to putting on the race is getting water out on the course.
"When you're providing water for 30,000 that's a lot of water," Nealis said. "It's not so much the water, but how do you move it? We don't have enough military trucks at Quantico because they're doing other things."
Race organizers utilize three forklifts to help move jugs containing 34,000 gallons of water and 52,000 separate bottles of water. And with the challenge of keeping runners hydrated comes the need for portable toilets. More than 550 portable toilets are brought in to help alleviate the notoriously long lines at portable restrooms near the starting line.
To help disperse the runners in the larger field, Nealis came up with the idea of starting two groups at separate times. For the first time at the Marine Corps Marathon, about 12,000 runners will begin the race at 8:15 and the other 18,000 will start at 8:45. Computer chips placed on each runner's shoe will ensure they are accurately timed.
Nealis is confident that the two-wave start will be a success.
"Other race directors will call me and say, 'You know what? You're on to something.' "
Security along the race course has long been a pressing issue, and that was reiterated when the Army Ten-Miler on Oct. 2 was disrupted by a suspicious package near the course. First Lt. Veronica Bowles, who handles race security, works in conjunction with seven different police jurisdictions and other organizations to ensure a safe event.
"Getting them all together is a chore," Bowles said, "but they all rally together at the end and pull through for us."
And after all of their planning comes to fruition and the marathon ends Sunday afternoon, Delahoussaye and his crew still can't relax.
"That's a hard time," he said, "because now you have to get all your gear back."
Marathon Notes: Registration for the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon will begin at noon on May 17 on the race's Web site, www.marinemarathon.com. Runners can register on a first come, first served basis for the Oct. 29, 2006, race. Registration for tomorrow's race was open to 30,000 people and closed in fewer than three days. The field size for the 2006 marathon has not yet been determined.