While many runners go for the big crowds to enjoy the hoopla of supporters that line courses in big cities, there is also a significance to many to tackle the half-marathon and marathon distances in a more intimate environment.
Veterans Marathon fills that need by providing northeast Indiana with a USA Track & Field-certified course through the country roads around Columbia City with a full marathon, half-marathon and 5-kilometer race option.
This year's races take place at 8 a.m. Saturday (5K start is at 8:15) with the start and finish near the Whitley County Courthouse.
Started in 2009 by longtime local coach Gary Bird, Jed Pearson and Tom Landis, the race has passed through the hands of Three Rivers Running Company and back to the Bird family under the care of Gary's wife Joanne, a small-business owner in Columbia City, and son Sam.
“They thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool to bring a marathon back to northern Indiana,'” Sam Bird said. “My dad, being a veteran, thought it'd be good to have a Veterans Day race. To build into that, it was right around the time that Columbia City had revitalized their downtown area.
“There's that lull between the end of summer and Christmas, where there's nothing happening downtown Columbia City. They were trying to think of more ways to bring commerce to the area and keep pumping blood to the town. It's only a day or two, but it's something to help keep everyone excited.”
The race donates 50% of its profit to a local veterans group and 25% goes toward local heroes. American Legion Post 98 received $3,343.56 from last year's race, and the Columbia City Fire Department $1,671.78. This year's beneficiaries are the VFW Post 5582 in Columbia City and the Columbia City Police Department.
“Even when I was a little kid, Columbia City has always been a patriotic town,” Sam Bird said. “At the race's roots, the race has always been for veterans and Columbia City.”
This year's awards will be presented by Columbia City native and veteran Bobby Herald, who also served with Gary Bird on the Korean Honor Guard and has participated in the event in years past.
“My mom being the race director and me being behind the scenes, the focal point isn't necessarily on us,” Sam Bird said. “The focus is on veterans and supporting them. We always want to make sure that the person you see as a runner, finisher, or spectator is someone you can show that respect toward.”
The original marathon course was a figure-eight that went from the east side of Columbia City, circled back through downtown, then out the west side.
“The original idea was to mimic Boston,” Sam Bird said. “A large portion is downhill, but those hills later feel like mountains. When you get to the second half of the Veteran's course, it would get very hilly.
“My dad always said that one of the best ways to train for Boston is to run Vets since Heartbreak Hill was the same mile-marker as the biggest hill on the Vet's course.”
For a few years, the marathon course did two loops of the half-marathon on the east side of town before changes were implemented in 2017 for a two-loop course that went out toward the west to avoid having to shut down portions of Indiana 9.
“It's a very big deal to shut down a state route in Indiana,” Sam Bird said. “We've taken out some of the historical markers along the course. We feel like we've made the course more unique in the farmland area.”
Online registration closes at midnight Thursday. In-person registration is available at packet pick-up 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. There is no race-day registration.
More information can be found at RunVeteransMarathon.com.