The St. Luke’s Half Marathon has grown tremendously since our first race in 1977. What started out as a marathon with an entry for of $3.00 and less than 300 participants has grown and changed with the times. In 1984, the race distance was shortened to a half marathon and today averages 3,000 runners each year. While the majority of our runners are local to the area, the race does draw runners from around the country and even other parts of the world. Major sponsorship has changed over the years, yet the race continues to be owned and operated by the area’s premier running club, Lehigh Valley Road Runners.
History of Our Race
The legacy of the St. Luke’s Half Marathon reaches back nearly 40 years. The race has been held every year since its inception in 1977, except for 1996, when weather and other extreme conditions prevented the event from taking place.
The race was originally conceived in 1976 by the Lehigh Valley Athletic Association. Prevention Magazine, published locally by Rodale, sponsored the Lehigh Valley’s first race. This race was created in order for runners to have one last chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The entry fee for the inaugural Prevention Marathon, held on March 6, 1977, was $3.00 and runners received a T-shirt and an organic lunch.
For the 6 years following the inception of the race, the Prevention Marathon was organized by a small group headed by the LVAA president as race director. For the race’s first two years, it started at the Velodrome in Trexlertown and was a TAC certified 3-loop course that ran through the farmlands of Breinigsville.
In 1979, the race moved to Northampton Area Community College in Bethlehem. This new location offered more amenities for the growing race of about 300 runners such as a cafeteria, showers and more parking. In 1984 the race was changed to a half marathon length and was thus titled the Prevention Half Marathon.
Move to Allentown
1987 marked a change in the location of the race. Cedar Crest College in Allentown became the location of the race until 1989, when it was relocated to William Allen High School.
With a change in location came a change in name for the race. It became the Rodale Press – City of Allentown Half Marathon. At this point the number of runners in the race had grown to over 500 participants, a runners’ expo was added and the course was rerouted to include the Lehigh Parkway.
The Modern Race
The modern incarnation of the race was established in 2001. With the support of Runner’s World magazine as a key sponsor of the event, the half marathon was able to grow into the premier East Coast race it is known as today. The race date was changed from early March to late April to avoid the temperamental weather of late winter that had hindered several of the races throughout the history of the event.
In 2001, Neal Novak was named the director of the race and committees were formed. A pasta dinner before the race was added. Chip timing and live music became new additions to the course. This year also marked the first time that online registration was used for the event. The field of runners was limited to 2,000 and sold out by February. The number of registered runners steadily increased each year and in 2009 reached a record number of entries at about 4200 runners and sold out by February.
The location of the finish line of the race was changed in 2003 to the newly renovated J. Birney Crum stadium.
A 5k race was added to the event in 2002; in 2004, a children’s run was added and in 2009 the event incorporated a Family Fun walk.
Race of Innovation
The Half Marathon has a pioneering spirit that focuses on the wants and needs of the runners participating in the event. With the well-being of the participants always in mind the race has always kept up with the cutting edge of racing technology and practices.
The Half Marathon was one of the first races to utilize a bar code and computer program to record the race times. In 2001, when Runner’s World magazine became a major sponsor, the event became one of the first races to incorporate chip timing in order to more accurately record runners’ times.
The Half Marathon has taken many innovative measures in order to encourage spectators to cheer for the races’ runners. This event was also one of the first races to have each of the runner’s names on their bibs in order to encourage spectators to cheer for the participants. The Half Marathon is one of few races to provide free transportation for spectators to several locations along the course so that they can support the runners of the race.
This race is also one of the only to provide not only all of the runners of the race with meals and refreshments, but the runners’ families as well.
Lehigh Valley Half Marathon 2010 and beyond
In 2010 the Lehigh Valley’s premier foot race partnered with the area’s premier healthcare provider, St. Luke’s Hospital and Health Network. The St. Luke’s Lehigh Valley Half Marathon was held on April 26, 2010, backed by a long history of exciting races. In 2011 the race was renamed the St. Luke’s Half Marathon and 5k. St. Luke’s University Health Network remains the presenting sponsor today.