Holding to its pledge that it won’t disrupt its SafeTrack schedule for special events, Metro will not open early for the Marine Corps Marathon, so race organizers are adjusting the course and start time, and providing other transportation.
The annual showcase draws thousands of runners and more than 100,000 spectators, for whom Metro is the primary form of transportation. This year, participants in the Oct. 30 race will have to rely on a series of shuttle buses, beginning at 4:30 a.m., that will whisk them from local hotels and residential areas to the warm-up area near the Pentagon. The race schedule also has been staggered.
The changes come after unsuccessful pleas from Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley and marathon officials in a meeting with Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld at the transit agency’s headquarters in early August.
They needed Metro to open two hours early for the marathon, as it has in years past, to ferry some of the nearly 30,000 runners to the race. Metro had warned in May that its year-long rebuilding program meant a moratorium on early openings and late closings for special events. But race coordinators were having trouble adjusting the course and schedule with local jurisdictions that didn’t want to comply with a new timeline, lest it affect Sunday shopping, brunch and traffic.
Less than two weeks before the meeting, a Silver Line train derailed near the East Falls Church station, raising a series of safety concerns for Metro. The week of the meeting, the Federal Transit Administration released a scathing report on the system’s track maintenance program.
“When we went there on that Wednesday, [Wiedefeld] says, ‘If I even thought for a second that I would be able to help you, all bets are off. . . . There’s no way I can do a one-day modification to let you have it,’ ” race director Rick Nealis said, recalling the meeting. “They wished us well.”
To accommodate for late arrivals, the marathon’s starting line on Route 110 in Arlington will remain open for an extra hour, until 8:55 a.m., and runners will be timed based on when they begin the race. The expanded window also accommodates wheelchair and handcycle racers, who begin at 7:40 a.m.
Shuttle buses will begin operating at 4:30 a.m. from multiple locations: National Harbor and the Gaylord National Resort, which is the official hotel of the event; the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in the District; and Crystal City. At Ballston, buses will be added to the ART 42 route to Pentagon City, which will begin operating at 5 a.m. and cost of $1.85 per ride — 10 cents less for SmarTrip users.
Metro, which opens at 7 a.m. on Sundays, has traditionally served an average of 24,000 riders during the early-open period on race day.
“Residents have altered their commutes and adjusted entertainment plans in response to the surges that have shut down lines and reduced the service schedule,” marathon marketing manager Marc Goldman said at a news conference Wednesday. “The [Marine Corps Marathon] will ask for the same flexibility of the runners during Marine Corps Marathon weekend.”
During the day, eight-car trains will run on the Blue and Yellow Lines, and Yellow Line train frequency will increase through 9 a.m. Blue Line service will be expanded through 4:30 p.m.
The MCM 10K, which normally coincides with the marathon start, will now begin at 9:15 a.m. The race’s starting line will move from the Mall to the Pentagon North parking lot, and the event will take place entirely in Arlington.
Organizers also adjusted the marathon course, shaving nearly two miles off the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway portions to allow runners to pass on-course benchmarks, such as “The Gauntlet” earlier. Another benchmark, “Beat the Bridge,” at 14th and D streets SW, has been moved up to Mile 18 rather than Mile 20 to allow runners to pass it by the 1:15 p.m. cutoff.
“All of the changes have been governed by the principle that every participant deserves a fair chance to accomplish the goal of finishing the Marine Corps Marathon within the required 14-minute-per-mile time limit,” Nealis said in a statement.
Spectator shuttles will run from the Gaylord Hotel to the Eisenhower Avenue Metro station from 6:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., and from Ballston to Pentagon City from 5 to 9 a.m.
The marathon is offering limited free parking in Crystal City, at the intersection of 23rd Street and Crystal Drive. Paid parking will be available at City Mall in Arlington, the Reagan building in the District and the Ballston Common Mall in Arlington.
The Marine Corps Marathon, held annually, is the sixth-largest marathon nationwide. Nicknamed “The People’s Marathon,” it is the largest such event worldwide that doesn’t offer prize money. The event features runners from 50 states and more than 50 countries, organizers say.
Nealis said marathon officials understood Metro’s position, although they wished the transit agency could have made one exception. Regardless, he said, officials have confidence in the plan put into place.
“When you realize that we have a track record of ridership [and] profit for Metro, you would say, ‘This is an opportunity to make money,’ ” he said. “It’s not about a one day making profit. It’s staying on message of ‘the maintenance has got to get done. We need safety.’ And [Wiedefeld] basically has been true to his maintenance plan that they were not going to give a one-day waiver to us and have to explain why.”