MARATHON, Iowa | After 22 years, Marathon to Marathon will cross the finish line for the final time Saturday.
The marathon starts in Storm Lake, where the hundreds of runners embark on the 26.2-mile journey through the countryside to Marathon, a town of about 250 residents in northeast Buena Vista County.
The race with a catchy name began as a celebration of Iowa's Sesquicentennial in 1996 and has gone on as a nationally recognized event that has attracted numerous accolades and runners from across the country.
Race director Al Pierce said the reason for Saturday's finale is due to dwindling volunteers and aging committee members on top of the sheer exhaustion it takes to plan a marathon, half-marathon, and 5k for about 500 runners.
"It's just an accumulation of a lot of things; it's bittersweet for all of us," Pierce said. "We are all proud of it, but it's just time for us to put it to bed.
"When we all started, we were all in our 40s and low 50s, and now we are in our mid-60s, 70s and I had a committee of 15 to 16 people and now we are down to 6 to 8. We had young families with kids so it wasn't any problem getting help, but families moved away ... It's a small town to start with, we just have run out of volunteers to be real honest with you."
Longtime committee member Andriette Wickstrom, 62, has competed in all but a few years the annual race has gone on. The elite runner holds multiple course records and has had near top ten finishes in the Boston Marathon in her age division. Saturday will mark her 96th marathon and Wickstrom, of Storm Lake, says her hometown trot has always been one of her favorites.
"It's just small-town friendly. We take care of people," she said. "It's well run and organized and you meet a lot of interesting people."
The race has attracted entrants from across the country since it is USA Track and Field certified and sanctioned, allowing them to be eligible to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And the course's 15-foot drop in elevation "makes it easy on the body," Pierce said, adding there are contestants from 37 different states this year.
The race has been marked as one of the best marathons in 2017 alongside namesakes like Boston and New York. It also has been featured in the running magazine "Marathon & Beyond" and was named Iowa's destination for "The Best Race to Run in Every U.S. State."
"I haven’t taken in the finality of it ...," Wickstrom said. "I know when it's over I will be sad, I just have tried not to think about it."
Pierce said a group was interested in taking over the event but respectfully bowed out once they learned of the months-long workload that goes into planning, which includes registration, advertising, course preparation, bibs, t-shirts, medals, meals and lining up volunteers and law enforcement to be stationed at road corners and water stations.
Wickstrom said the race was the vision of Lois and LeRoy Lind of Marathon to be a celebration of Iowa's Sesquicentennial. LeRoy passed away before the first running in January 1996. Lois continued to be an instrumental part of planning and organization until she passed away in 2015.
Wickstrom said every time she has crossed the finish line in Marathon she keeps running down the street to the cemetery.
"I go and see LeRoy's grave for my cool down," she said. "To pay my respects."
A spaghetti supper for runners, supporters and community members will be offered from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at Storm Lake High School. Tickets cost $8. The gun will fire for the final time at 6 a.m. Saturday at the marathon's starting line near the high school.
"It’s just one of those things that we want to keep going, but it’s time. All good things come to an end at some point in time," Pierce said. "We are not going to be sad about it, we are going to celebrate it, and do the best job we can."