In one sense, Tabitha Kraack’s daily commute to work is less than one minute.
As the executive director of the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation, the trail right outside her door is, in a way, her office.
“I’m very lucky to have the trail right next to my house,” Kraack said. “I see it every day.”
Hired in December, Kraack is relatively fresh on the job. But it’s a role she said she’s wanted for a while—she applied for it when it last opened three years ago—and she’s eager to do the job well, specifically the organizing of the Coeur d’Alene Marathon, which takes place on May 26.
“I love it. It’s my passion. I’m a runner, so this is the perfect fit for me,” she said. “I want to create this marathon to be one of the top marathons in the Pacific Northwest. I want people to be flying from all over the world because they’ve heard about this.”
Grand dreams, indeed, and ones that Kraack is confident can come true.
Runners and spectators alike will recognize significant changes to the race this year in its course and administration. For runners, it is no longer a double out-and-back, as it was in the past, but just a single out-and-back that utilizes more of the paved trail system.
Less road use makes for a more pleasant event and lowers costs, Kraack said.
“We have so much access in this small area that we can use so much trail without having to shut so many roads down,” she said. “Other places don’t have that trail.”
A runner herself, Kraack has participated in a number of big marathons, including in Boston and Chicago. But the one that struck her most was Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, a community that is in many ways similar to Coeur d’Alene. Duluth has its hills, but it also has a beautiful lake (Superior), and it is a vacation and recreation destination that is proud of its race, which last year registered more than 8,000 participants in the marathon alone.
“What sets those races apart is that there’s a community that’s part of it,” she said. “People in their yards cheering you on, kids handing out water. That’s important for us to create.”
She sees further tweaks to the course next year to utilize even more trails, which is why, for this year, the NICTF opted not to certify the course. Certification is required for it to be a Boston Marathon qualifier.
But when that is done, hopefully for the 2020 race, Kraack said the Coeur d’Alene Marathon will be even more appealing for runners because of its gentler topography. The fact that it takes place in a beautiful setting doesn’t hurt either, she said.
Kraack also hired a new race production company, Spokane-based Negative Split, to handle the logistics of the race itself. This year Negative Split has 22 events, most of them in and around the Pacific Northwest.
To Ryan Hite, owner of Negative Split and a runner as well, the appeal of this event is self-evident: It’s beautiful.
“Coeur d’Alene is just such an iconic city, there’s a lot of appeal to that,” he said. “As soon as you say Coeur d’Alene Marathon there’s some easy marketing potential to that and a draw based on the location.”
Getting the community on board with the event is crucially important to Kraack, which is why she is working so hard to make the marathon about more than just the race. She envisions a big party at the end in McEuen Park with music, food and beverage vendors, bouncy castles and an atmosphere that non-participants still want to come downtown to experience.
“I’m really excited about some of the energy that we’re bringing to the race this year,” Hite said. “One of our biggest goals is to make it more than a marathon and make it an actual event experience, a full weekend. It isn’t just a ‘run, get your medal and go home.’”
That said, Kraack and Hite also want runners to love coming back to the event. They want runners to tell their friends that this is a marathon that takes care of its participants across all levels, from the 5k and 10k—which is new this year—to the half and full marathon.
Hite said they are on track to have between 1,700 and 2,000 total participants, across all distances, which would be an increase on last year.
All that means more people staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and, Kraack hopes, telling their friends about the great race and city.
For Steve Wilson, president of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, the benefits of the marathon are both direct—people are indeed spending money in town—and indirect.
“There’s the obvious conversation about the economic benefit from people coming to town or even coming to the downtown core,” he said. “But I think sometimes we forget about the intrinsic value that is brought forth by these athletic events and the lifestyle that it generates and celebrates.”
This is the NICTF’s biggest annual fundraiser. The NICTF also sponsors Ales for the Trail in mid-August and the Coeur d’Fondo bike race, held this year on September 21.
The North Idaho Centennial Trail covers 23 miles in Idaho and meets up with the Spokane Centennial Trail at the state border. The Prairie Trail spurs off near Ramsey Road in Coeur d’Alene and runs 4.25 miles north and west.
The marathon route this year starts and ends in McEuen Park. Runners head south and east along the lake as far as Higgens Point, where they turn around and head back the same way they came.
They then go past McEuen Park again and continue north and west along the Spokane River, turning north on the Prairie Trail and then, ultimately, heading back to McEuen Park for the finish line.
“You still get lakeshore, but we’re taking advantage of the Prairie Trail,” Hite said. “They’re gonna hit a couple different trail systems and reduce the number of out-and-backs to keep it fresh.”
And, he said, it flattens out the course, there’s less elevation gain and runners don’t hit the Bennett Bay climb on two different out-and-backs like they did in previous years.
“They get it out of the way early in the marathon, too,” Hite said.
The half-marathon course doesn’t go all the way east to Higgens Point but includes the Prairie Trail portion. The 10k route stays closer to McEuen Park on both ends; the 5k in confined almost entirely to the neighborhoods east of the park.
Those wanting to register can do so online at CdAMarathon.com. Registration remains open until the day of the race.