Six thousand runners may sound like a large number, but when it comes to marathons the Two Cities Marathon & Half is considered a small race.
And that's the way organizers – and runners – like it.
"People like our race because it's small," said Debra Schmitt, the race's co-executive director.
"It's a very different experience than those Rock 'n' Roll Marathons with 20,000 people, and that's the experience we want to keep."
Keeping the race relatively small and focused on the local runners is the two-pronged goal of the Two Cities Marathon & Half, which returns to the streets of north Fresno and Clovis on Sunday morning. Founded originally as a half-marathon, the race added the 26.2-mile distance in 2008.
The Two Cities Marathon & Half begins at Friant Road and Audubon Drive and finishes inside Woodward Park. Friant Road and Shepherd Avenue are the primary streets impacted by the race, along with Old Town Clovis. (See accompanying map for road-closure information.)
More than 5,000 already have signed up, but Schmitt predicted that number to swell to 6,000 following late registration Friday and Saturday at the event's Health & Fitness Expo at Chukchansi Park. Here's the expected breakdown: 4,500 in the half-marathon, 1,100 in the full marathon and 200 in both the 50-kilometer ultramarathon and two-person relay. (Relay entries are sold out.)
Proceeds benefit local charities, including Children's Hospital Central California, Community Health Centers of Central California and the Fresno chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
In addition, Sierra Challenge Express, the Fresno running club that owns the race, used profits from last year to award 12 college scholarships to Valley high school cross country and track athletes.
"We're all about supporting the local running community," Schmitt said.
While not the event's focus, elite runners won't be feeling left out.
For the first time, the Two Cities Marathon & Half will have a special corral for runners who meet certain qualifying standards. There is also a $10,000 total prize purse. While some elite runners had their registration fees comped, Schmitt said she turned down requests from others who also wanted the race to pay for their travel expenses.
Two-time defending marathon champions Jesus Campos of Fresno and Lori Buratto of Spokane Valley, Wash., are both expected to defend their titles.
Buratto set the women's marathon course record last year by finishing in 3 hours, 21 seconds. Aaron Sharp of Port Hueneme still owns the men's record of 2:28:40 he set in 2008.
The half-marathon course records are held by Delano native Mario Macias (1:04:23) and Natasha LaBeaud of Flagstaff, Ariz. (1:15:18). Both ran those times last year following slight alterations to the course.
While the marathon and half-marathon courses remain unchanged from 2010, Eye-Q Vision Care is no longer the event's title sponsor. Despite that, Schmitt said total sponsorships have doubled since last year and that the race is on firm financial footing thanks to a $5 increase in registration fees.
"If we can find the right relationship [with a new title sponsor], we'll consider it, but it's not imperative," Schmitt said. "We haven't had any trouble at all finding new sponsorships."