The biggest attraction was initially the biggest hurdle to the Quad Cities Sports Commission's first QC Marathon.
``The I-74 bridge,'' race director Joe Moreno said, ``was the holy grail.
``Ever since the last incarnation of the QC Marathon failed 15 years ago, it had been a dream of mine to have a local marathon that crossed that bridge. It's a natural, especially if you want a true QC Marathon.''
Finally coming true late last year was Moreno's dream of a race running through the area's five largest cities -- and, featuring four events, three bridges, two states and one river, as the event's slogan ably adds up.
But, it took considerable leg work to get Moreno's mind-made marathon up and running.
``I-74 was a tough task, but we absolutely had to include it because we thought it would add an even greater air of uniqueness to the event,'' said Moreno's partner-in-crime, Jonathan White, the QCSC's former executive director and the event's outgoing organizer.
``Your car can break down on (the I-74 bridge), but other than that, you can't walk on it or run on it or any of that. And, in the entire United States interstate system, this is the only time the Federal Department of Transportation has granted its permission to allow a stretch of interstate like this to be partially or fully shutdown for something like this.''
One westbound lane of 25-minute usage was granted last year and the race was on. It's set for Sept. 20.
``I-74 was our biggest hurdle, but it also turned into our greatest statement,'' Moreno noted. ``Getting the OK to use it gave us instant credibility. It was like, `If they can get the DOT to OK the bridge (use), they should be able to run a heck of a race.''
Talk about pressure. But, Moreno's ready for a long, hard run at longterm success.
``It's going to be a challenge living up to other people's expectations, much less mine, but we're going to give it our best shot,'' Moreno said with a laugh. ``Anyway, we've come too far to turn back now.''
Indeed, crossing the bridge symbolically meant this event is already on the right track to avoiding the troubled waters its failed predecessors fell into.
``They just got by,'' Moreno said of the pervasive problem with previous marathon attempts. ``And, this can not be a race where we just get by. We need everybody to get behind it -- runners and non-runners -- because it's really going to benefit the entire area.''
Agreed marathon committee member Doug Foster, ``This is like the World Series coming to town.''
And, already, some big hitters are playing ball.
``Just look at the sponsors. When (Moline-based manufacturing giant) John Deere came aboard as the title sponsor, that really got the ball rolling,'' said Foster, a competitor in the last QC attempt at hosting a 26.2-mile event back in 1983.
``And, the Cornbelt Running Club (the nation's second-largest organization of its kind) is completely behind this event. There's probably 5-to-6 directors from other area races heavily involved with (the marathon), helping to organize it.
``(Olympic hero) Frank Shorter is the national spokesperson for the race ... You've got all the mayors behind it, besides the Quad Cities Sports Commission -- which wasn't even around back in '83 -- and a bunch of big-time sponsors. It's just much, much bigger than initially we all envisioned so many years ago. There's no comparing this to what preceded it.''
To wit: This version of the QC marathon is actually four events in one -- featuring a ``Mayor's Mile'' fun run, 5K run/walk and marathon relay besides the actual 26.2-mile endurance test.
Prize money will be awarded only in the marathon, where the top 10 finishers in both the men's and women's open divisions and the top 3 in the masters divisions will cash.
All marathon finishers receive a commemorative medal and trophies go to the top finishers in the other divisions and races.
Featuring competition in seven different divisions, the marathon relay is broken up into five distinct legs, with batons being passed at the Village of East Davenport, The District of Rock Island, Arsenal Island and downtown East Moline.
Registration forms are available at any marathon sponsor, including The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.
Late registration for the marathon ($35 after Sept. 12) and relay ($125 per team) is due by Sept. 19. Race day registration is only allowed in the 5K ($20 day-of) and Mayor's Mile ($12).
Race weekend, packet pickup runs Friday (3-8 p.m.) and Saturday (10 a.m.-8 p.m.) at Davenport's River Center, and Sunday (6 a.m. until the event's 7:30 start time) at The Mark.
There is no admission to watch the race from any point on the course. Billed as ``five parties in one,'' there will be live musical entertainment and food and beverage vendors lining the course in designated area's in each of the five cities the event touches.
There will be a post-race party at the finish line.
The U.S.A.T.F. certified course is mostly flat and fast, with The Mark serving as the start/finish line.
After crossing over the I-74 bridge and winding through downtown Bettendorf, competitors head west on Davenport's River Drive, cross over the Mississippi River again on the Centennial Bridge to reach downtown Rock Island, then traverse Arsenal Island before a back-and-forth from The Mark to downtown East Moline.
``But our hook was (I-74),'' Moreno reiterated. ``If we didn't get 74, I don't think we'd be standing here today. We might not have had a marathon.
``I didn't like the idea of a marathon that had two loops -- an Illinois loop and Iowa loop. This course is continuous. There's a natural progression to it.''
And, for a first-year event, the QC Marathon seems to be on the right track.