MANCHESTER — Participants from around the region and beyond will take over city streets Sunday morning for the seventh annual Manchester City Marathon, bottling up traffic while underscoring the area's growing reputation as a destination for runners.
As of Friday, 531 had signed up for the full 26.2-mile race, said race director Jayne Cornell. Another 800 had signed up for the half marathon, and 100 relay teams, each comprising two or four runners, had registered.
Cornell expects the runners, especially those from New England, to be buoyed by the 4-day-old thrill of the Red Sox winning the World Series.
"There will be a whole bunch of positive atmosphere," she said. "People are still going to be basking in the glory of the win."
The basking actually starts today with two pre-race events.
Anthem Blue Cross, the primary sponsor of Sunday's event, also is sponsoring a Kids Marathon today at Livingston Park. The New Hampshire Union Leader is also serving as a sponsor for the weekend fun. Registration starts at 9:30 a.m., with the first race is 10. Children in grades 1 to 8 are encouraged to participate in program, which is free to the public.
Also today, the Sports and Wellness Expo will take place at the Radisson Hotel. Nearly two dozen exhibitors have signed up to market and sell the latest in sports and wellness gear and running apparel. There will also be screenings and tips on health and wellness.
The Expo overlooks the start and finish area outside Veterans Memorial Park, which will serve as the Athletes Village on race day. Upon finishing the race, runners will enter the park to receive their finisher's medal and gain access to food, massages and entertainment.
The VIP guest for the expo and marathon is Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon. In 1967, when that race was a men-only event, Switzer broke through gender barriers and a mid-run assault by the race director, who grabbed her in an attempt to remove her bib number before being knocked to the ground by her then-boyfriend. Switzer went on to finish the race and has since completed 38 more marathons.
Police stress that the Manchester City Marathon route is an open course, meaning roads will not be shut to traffic. But there will be delays, which will be significant when a big bunch of runners is on the road.
"If you're going down Union Street, you'll get across (Hanover Street), but there will be delays," said Sgt. Andrew Vincent. Areas of the city to avoid include downtown, the Millyard, River Road and Hooksett Road, McGregor Square, and South Main Street and Hanover streets.
Police encourage motorists to use the Amoskeag and Queen City bridges to cross the Merrimack River. And motorists should consider the Interstate highways to get from one side of town to the other.
Vincent said Manchester police will have 52 officers working traffic for the marathon. He said it will be up to a police officer's discretion when to let traffic onto the course and when to block traffic.
"The runners should be aware this is an open course and not run with blinders on," he said.
Last year, the stature of the race received a boost when it welcomed 300 runners from its same-day cousin, the New York Marathon, which canceled because of Hurricane Sandy.
Cornell said tomorrow's field probably will be slightly smaller because runners registered for New York won't be making their way to Manchester.
Nevertheless, this could turn out to be Manchester's fastest field, with the event for the first serving as the marathon championship in the USA Track and Field-New England Grand Prix, a series of races of varying distances around the region.