When runners toe the starting line for the Naples Daily News Half Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 19, the sheer numbers alone will be incredible.
Race director Perry Silverman expects the number to surpass the 2013 race that soared above 2,100.
Quite a fete for a race, then called Naples Half Marathon, that drew 137 runners at its beginning in January 1989.
The late Dave Cranor, then president of the Gulf Coast Runners Club and Silverman, vice president, with major assistance from Silverman’s wife Rosemarie who handled registration and scoring, coordinated the initial event.
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Male winner was Dick Bohrer of West Palm Beach, in 1:10 and female, Karen Miles from Ft. Myers, in 1:16..
Silverman credits the Naples Daily News for the huge numbers the race enjoys today.
“The Naples Daily News came on board as a key sponsor three years later (1992) and the number of entries jumped to 500. By 2001 entries surpassed 1,000 and in 2012 it went over 2,500, he said.
Silverman plays down his own efforts, although he was a one-man promoter back then.
“I liked to run in races and wherever I went I brought application forms,” he said. “The race spread by word-of-mouth, my mouth and my word.”
Naples Daily News’ Leroy Seiler took over design of shirts, medals and trophies.
“He was a great resource for the race, he became a point person and was indispensable,” Silverman said. Seiler, now retired, was honored by the organization at the 2013 event.
Silverman also credited Corbin Wyant, former Naples Daily News publisher and former news editor Colleen Conant with their enthusiastic approaches to the event.
Even early Silverman’s goal was to recruit elite runners to make the half marathon more than just a fun event.
He learned early on that having the event in January fit into the schedule for international runners getting in shape for the rest of the calendar year.
“The third Sunday in January is a date that has worked out well to attract major competition,” Silverman said.
In 2013 Runner’s World Magazine rated the Naples event as one of the best in its half marathon guide. It doesn’t hurt to also be the first race of the new year.
His first international recruits were Russian women, residing in Gainesville in the off season.
“Irina Bogcheva started running here in 1991 and won the race,” Silverman said. “She won at least two more times and held the course record until another Russian woman, Ramila Burangulova, broke her record in about 2001. “
Tatyana Pozodnyakova won in 2000 and still holds the Master record of 1:11.27. She won the Los Angeles Marathon in 2002 at the age of 49, Silverman said.
Rod DeHaven current head cross country coach and director of track and field at South Dakota State University, started his 2000 season by setting the Naples Half Marathon record of 1:013.12. He went on to win the 2000 Olympic Trials marathon and was the only marathon athlete to represent the USA at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
In recent years the event has been dominated by Ethiopians and Kenyans. Ethiopian Belainesh Gebre, who trains in Flagstaff, Ariz. set the women’s record of 1:09.57 in 2011.
While the race is significant, the money raised make a difference to a lot of high school students.
Silverman credits George Dondanville with establishing the Gulf Coast Runners Youth Development Fund.
“George gets full credit, times two, for the development of the fund through race proceeds,” Silverman said. “Last year $38,000 went for college scholarships to high school runners.”
Prize money also has become a part of the event. It includes:
Overall Male & Female, top five places, $2,000 down to $400; U.S. Citizens top two male and female, $1,00, $750; Masters male and female, top three, $750 down to $150; Senior Grand Masters, male and female top two, $300 and $150; top Collier/Lee Counties top male and female overall, $200 and Master, female and male, $100.
DeHaven was the first and only competitor to win the overall prize and the U.S. Citizens prize money in the same year, 2000.
Registration is done online at napleshalfmarathon.net.
Cost is $55, until Jan. 12. Then it goes to $75 and day of the race is $100.