Houston Marathon changes selection rules

HOUSTON It's no longer a first-come, first-served basis. It's changed to a lottery system that marathon organizers say was made to be fair, but some runners we talked to say it's anything but.

When the marathon happens here in January, some of those who want to run it won't be allowed. That's because of a new lottery-type system they're using to choose who gets to participate, and it's left a lot of runners feeling alienated.

There's even a Facebook page that was created out of anger. It's titled "Say No to the Houston Marathon Lottery."

"It's just a slap in the face to the local runners," runner Beth Whitehead of the Woodlands said.

The page was created by Whitehead, who has run three marathons here and is upset that if luck is not on her side, she could have to sit this one out.

"I mean, we're basically in same category as someone out-of-state, first-time marathon runner," she said, "Who's to say who gets in, who doesn't?"

In years past, it was first-come, first-served when registering for the Houston Marathon. Not anymore.

"The number one reason for doing the lottery was making it fair and equitable for everyone," said Wade Morehead, who is on the Houston Marathon Committee.

Marathon officials say the change is due to steadily increasing demand. The half and full marathons have sold out for the past five years.

Last year, 11,000 ran each race, and 93 percent of them are Texas residents. But some couldn't run last year because it sold out so quickly.

To keep that from happening again, marathon officials have elected to use this lottery system.

"They're selected by a random computer program that runs the names through and selects the runners accordingly," Morehead said.

Slots will be guaranteed for runners who have completed 10 or more Houston marathons or those donating $350 or more to a charity.

"We've shown a lot of loyalty to the Houston Marathon, and this is loyalty that is not being returned," runner Ruth Fields said. "Loyalty should be a two-way street."

Some are talking about boycotting the Houston race, saying they may just run another marathon instead.

"If the boycott has to happen, then that's what has to happen," runner Andy Brock said.

The local runners admit they're asking for preferential treatment. But they say they should get it because those who want to run the marathon from elsewhere should be subjected to the lottery, not them.

Officials with both the George R. Brown Convention Center and Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau deny telling marathon officials they needed to increase the number of out-of-towners in the race. The Convention and Visitors Bureau does admit the lottery will likely increase the number of runners from elsewhere, and thereby benefit the local economy more.

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