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For the first time this century, one of the biggest races in Southwest Florida will have a new name.
After 25-plus years of sponsorship, the Naples Daily News Half Marathon is no more. Instead, the Barron Collier Companies Half Marathon will commence Sunday morning in Downtown Naples, marking a new chapter in the 34th edition of the historic race.
With the rise of the Omicron variant, event organizer Gulf Coast Runners will continue similar protocols like they did last January. Despite the field moving from 1,000 up to 1,600 this year, there will be four to five waves, ranging between 300 and 400 runners in each. They will all be off and running in under five minutes.
"The City of Naples has collaborated with Gulf Coast Runners over the last two years," said Gulf Coast Runners President Mitch Norgart. "To the extent that we're one of the few running clubs in the United States that not only put together a COVID protocol and a delineated safety checklist. But other race organizations and running clubs have adopted our COVID protocol procedures.
"We work really closely with Pete DiMaria, the fire chief at the City of Naples, and because of our diligence and keeping runners safe, the city put full confidence in us that we could conduct races, and keep the runners apart from one another, get them going quickly."
In previous years, up to 2,300 runners have participated.
"The good thing is that runners, in general, are pretty health-conscious people," Norgart said. "Particularly marathon and half marathon runners. When we first started doing races during COVID, you had to wear a mask all the way up to the start line. And then you could shed your mask. And then as soon as you crossed the finish line, you were handed hand sanitizer, a mask, a bottle of water and you were asked to leave."
This year, the tough decision to not sell alcohol was made, despite having a permit. Norgart believes it'll avoid large groups congregating.
"The progress that we've made is commensurate with what's going on with the rest of the country except for the fact that Omicron is kind of putting a damper on things," he said. "But, we're hoping is that people will practice safe social distancing that Cambier Park. We're not going to do beer this year, because that kind of is conducive to loitering. And people really look forward to having a Mich Ultra after a half marathon. We made a board-level decision to not do beer because we want to do an awards ceremony."
People travel to take part in the race. Last year, Parker Stinson and Lindsay Flanagan, from Boulder, Colo., won the men's and women's titles. This year, many are expected to come into Naples and Southwest Florida, thus helping out the local economy.
It will also help the program's Youth Development Fund, which raises anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 per year in college scholarships to graduating seniors in Collier County Public Schools. Gulf Coast Runners is a registered 501(c)(3) charity that assists middle and high school running programs by distributing money to each school.
"Well, you know, it's fantastic," Norgart said. "It's amazing how many people come from Tampa, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Boca Raton, because people have grown to expect it to be a well-organized event. And it's a beautiful course. And it's a flat and it's a fast course. It certainly does benefit the local economy. This is also our biggest fundraiser for our youth development fund."
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Barron Collier Companies Half Marathon: Race ready for Sunday with new sponsor