Runner's magazine puts NDN Half Marathon at the top of the list

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Runners take off from the starting line of the Naples Daily News Half Marathon on Sunday Jan. 15, 2012 in Downtown Naples.

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Scott McIntyre/Staff Runners take off from the starting line of the Naples Daily News Half Marathon on Sunday Jan. 15, 2012 in Downtown Naples.

When it comes to half-marathons, it seems Naples is No. 1.

In its February issue, Runner's World Magazine lists the Naples Daily News Half Marathon as one of the 27 best half marathons in its 2013 half-marathon guide. And, because the Daily News Half is in January, it got the coveted first spot.

The magazine says the half marathon will allow runners to "break a record, not the bank."

"(Personal record)-seekers, put your money on Naples. Organizers have been luring runners to this community for more than 20 years with a flat course and good weather. You can count on strong competition in all 27 age groups; awards are five-deep and include cash prizes for three masters divisions," according to the magazine. "An elite field sets the speedy tone, and cheering residents create a festive feel. All for $50."

Each year, about 2,000 runners — 70 percent of them from Collier or Lee counties — run the course that starts on Fifth Avenue South and winds down Gordon Drive and through the Port Royal neighborhood before returning to the finish at Cambier Park.

The runners mean money to Naples, not only in terms of their registration fees — the proceeds of which go toward scholarships to local high school students, but also in terms of money spent at local restaurants, shops and hotels.

"It brings a number of runners who come in and stay at our hotels," said Naples Mayor John Sorey. "Tourism has to be a mixture of activities and running is one of those. Anytime we can get Naples' name out there, it's great. I'm honored we got the achievement and I look forward to the race."

Mitch Norgart, president of the Gulf Coast Runners — the organization that puts on the half marathon, said the ranking shows how the community has embraced the event.

"It's become a tradition," he said.

Norgart said the 30 percent of runners who come from out of town come from the east coast of Florida, the Tampa and Sarasota area and "quite a bit from outside the state."

"Some people organize their Florida winter vacation around the half marathon," he said. "We have a ton of elite athletes who come in — people who have won huge national and world records, and who have been in the Olympics."

Naples City Councilman Bill Barnett is running his sixth Daily News Half this year. He said the event is a boon for Naples.

"I can tell you that, just listening to people while they run, people love this race. Last year, my group was running with two women who came down from Sarasota. They said they love coming down for this half. They spend four days here. And they raved about the restaurants," he said.

Barnett said hotels and restaurants benefit from runners who come with their families and stay for a few days before or after the race.

"The half-marathon has an absolutely great reputation from runners all over," he said. "That Runner's World recognizes it, oh my gosh, it's so awesome. It's positive ... We have bragging rights."

Collier County Tourism Director Jack Wert said the designation by the magazine "just enhances our reputation as a sports destination and a sports event destination."

"It should help with the (half) marathon event to get more people to enter," he said of the coverage. "We're always looking for new reasons to bring people to the area."

Norgart said he expects to see an uptick of people who want to enter the Naples Daily News Half Marathon next year.

"There's always a group of runners who want to check out the best races that Runner's World covers," he said.

But he said the Gulf Coast Runners "keep it in check" with a race cap.

"We want to keep it a safe and manageable event. That's why we try to limit it to no more than 2,000 (people)," he said. "It's an intimate race."

But Norgart said it will always be a race that attracts more local people.

"The demographic profiles of most of the people who run this race is that they are working people. For them to take off the third weekend in January and come to Florida, you have to look at it logistically," he said. "It's why the majority of the people come from 40 miles away."

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