2015-10-15 / Around Town

Marathon May Not End Tumultuous Road

By Barry Bridges


More than 2100 runners crossed the finish lines at the Newport Marathon and Half-Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 11. Perfect weather and ideal running condition proved a plus for the runners, and also brought out scores of spectators from Ocean Drive in Newport all the way out to Indian Avenue in Portsmouth. More than 2100 runners crossed the finish lines at the Newport Marathon and Half-Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 11. Perfect weather and ideal running condition proved a plus for the runners, and also brought out scores of spectators from Ocean Drive in Newport all the way out to Indian Avenue in Portsmouth. On a classic autumn day that was seemingly custom-ordered for an outdoor event, 2,100 runners crossed the finish line in the 2015 Newport Marathon held on Sunday, Oct. 11.

While the city is not a stranger to a fall marathon, the early morning race was the first produced by Gray Matter Marketing, the events management company that secured the necessary licensing from the City Council in March and then butted heads for much of the year with the former organizer, Eident Sports Marketing. The parties were in Superior Court on several occasions throughout the spring and summer after Eident moved forward with plans to host a competing marathon in the area. Gray Matter filed suit, alleging that Eident was interfering with Gray Matter’s business by confusing potential participants with two races.

Gray Matter President Matthew Gray said that the bumpy transition affected participation. He reported that there were 2,700 total registrants, but after accounting for those who didn’t show up or who dropped out at some point along the course, the number of athletes credited with completing the marathon or half-marathon was around 2,100. In their initial applications to the city last spring, both Eident and Gray Matter indicated that the race could attract as many as 5,000 runners.

“There was confusion and uncertainty over the event. With everything going on, obviously we were trying to toe the line, and some may have decided to sit out this year,” said Gray.

Notwithstanding the difficulties, Gray felt that the day was a success. “We had a perfect day with a lot of happy runners,” he said.

Race organizers this year made special efforts to protect the dunes at Easton’s Beach, which became a sore point in 2014 when congregating marathoners inflicted damage to the sea grass there. The city administration submitted an unfavorable review to councilors and fined Eident almost $5,000 for the infraction. Gray has said that the incident was one factor that played into his company’s decision to pursue the license in 2015.

“We wrapped fencing around the largest section of dunes, and also set up metal barricades at key positions,” said Gray. He added that his company erected at least a dozen “Keep off the dunes” signs and hired additional staff to help maneuver participants around sensitive areas which lie near the start and finish lines. “I referred to them as ‘dune bouncers.’ We had absolutely zero issues where the dunes were concerned.”

Although Gray has received no official feedback from the city, he said that Beach Manager Erik Reis indicated that things were going well at Easton’s on marathon day.

The Newport Police Department also had favorable reports, according to Gray. As far as traffic is concerned, he said, “Since we started promptly at 7:30 a.m., we were clear of Bellevue by about 7:50 and out of the Memorial Boulevard and Thames Street area by 8:00. We like to start early to reduce traffic issues.” He also described changes to the route that were designed to minimize impacts in downtown and residential areas.

But at the City Council meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 14, Councilor Kathryn Leonard expressed surprise that some roads were apparently closed during the race. Police Chief Gary Silva responded that his department has to provide safe conditions for sanctioned special events.

Director of Public Services William Riccio told Newport This Week on Tuesday that he had yet to be debriefed on the details of how the marathon transpired, but added that “if there were any problems they would probably have been brought to my attention.”

Many runners are now ready for the Boston Marathon, as the Newport course is certified and sanctioned by USA Track and Field as an official qualifier.

For its part, Eident held the 2015 Ocean State Rhode Races on Oct. 11, hosting marathon, half-marathon, and 5K races centered at Narragansett Town Beach, with the full-distance runners meandering along a path into North Kingstown. Those contests attracted around 600 athletes.

Gray said that legal proceedings are still open, with Superior Court Judge Walter Stone weighing the parties’ continuing arguments on contempt motions and possible measures of damages. Another hearing will likely be scheduled soon.

Looking to 2016, Gray is hopeful that he can stage a repeat and is already making inquiries into securing the contract with the city. “For next year, we would implement some subtle changes in the food and event areas, just some minor tweaks in the operational flow and customer service. This year was a very positive experience all around.”

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