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The Big Time: USA Half Marathon Invitational

On the heels of hosting the first-ever half marathon with qualifying times, San Diego is poised to join the big leagues of running


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Ken Nwadike Jr. is hoping to start the “Boston Marathon of half marathons” in San Diego. 

On November 21, he and his race production company, Superhero Events, are putting on the USA Half Marathon Invitational, the first-ever half marathon with qualifying times. That means runners need to have finished a previous race under a certain time to be eligible. Times vary by age and gender, and range from 1:45:00 to 2:30:00.

Nwadike hopes the race will put San Diego on the map for runners, eventually creating the same prestige associated with the Boston and New York City marathons.

“In San Diego we have so many great athletes, but in terms of [amateur] sports teams we’re lacking a bit,” says Nwadike, who began competitive running at Chula Vista High School. “It would be nice if we can create a well-known running event that San Diego can be proud of.”

For its first year, the race will cap at 5,000 runners, who will start downtown and circle through Balboa Park, Hillcrest, and Liberty Station. After a few years, Nwadike expects to tighten the qualifying times. He hopes that competition—both to land a spot and during the race—plus prize money for every age group instead of just for the overall winners, will earn the USA Half Marathon a spot on runners’ bucket lists.

“It’s like dangling a carrot in front of a participant who maybe in the past has just been along for the ride, participating just to finish,” he says.

The call for qualifying times is a decided shift from the increasing number of fun runs, color runs, mud runs, and costume runs that are open to the public.

“Those runs are great because they bring new participants to the endurance industry, but there should still be a balance between the fun side and the competitive side. That’s the only way to better ourselves as athletes.”

Already, the USA Half Marathon is becoming a marquee attraction, with runners from all 50 states and at least nine countries, including China, France, Kenya, and Eritrea, signed up to participate. Nwadike says he expects elite runners will join, and plans to announce the lineup soon. He’s also partnered with Merhawi Keflezighi, brother of San Diego running phenom Meb Keflezighi, to organize the race and has named the Meb Foundation its official charity.

Half and full marathons, like Rock ’n’ Roll and Carlsbad, are already a boon to San Diego’s economy, says Vince Vasquez, a senior policy analyst at the National University System Institute for Policy Research. According to his recent analysis, 134,000 people competed in local endurance events in 2013, which created about $64 million in economic output and supported 583 jobs. That’s about the same number of people who attend Comic-Con, and nearly half of its calculated economic impact.

“A certain percentage of participants are from outside the county and many actually are flying and bringing people with them, so they’re spending money on hotels, retail stores for food and drink, and all that adds up,” Vasquez says.

Given the year-round mild climate, Vasquez adds that San Diego is already an ideal location for these types of events. If the USA Half Marathon gains national recognition, he says that could make San Diego a formidable counterpart to the East Coast’s famed running events.

Boston, here we come.  

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