Dallas Marathon president Paul Lambert considers himself a North Texas newcomer. Like so many who have recently moved to the area for work, he sees the city through fresh eyes.
He thinks it's beautiful. And, underrated.
"I think Dallas kind of undersells itself," he says. For one, it's home to a gorgeous, 1,015-acre city lake that is surrounded by paved trails and frequented by an enthusiastic, tight-knit community of runners and cyclists, he says. Add on D-FW's allure as a bustling hub of national and international travel, a thriving restaurant and nightlife scene and beacons of luxury shopping like Neiman Marcus and NorthPark Center, and you have a destination, he says.
Lambert seeks to transform the city's premiere distance-running competition into an entertainment monolith that should be on the bucketlists of every runner, spectator and city newcomer. The BMW Dallas Marathon weekend takes place on Dec. 9 and 10 and will feature a new course this year that shows off some of Dallas' best sights.
Lambert realistically knows the Dallas Marathon will not likely reach the prestige of the World Marathon Majors -- in America, that includes runs in Boston, New York and Chicago.
But, he wants to let the world know: Dallas is in the running when it comes to "sports tourism."
In fact, that's kind of his thing. Lambert holds a Masters of Sports Tourism and Hospitality from Temple University, and he worked for nearly two decades as director of sports for ESPN/Disney's Wild World of Sports, overseeing the popular runDisney franchise.
How running has become a vacation experience
Disney, in fact, helped transform long-distance running into a tourist attraction.
The Disney World Marathon has inspired various runs that are fun such as the Disney Princess Half Marathon and the Star Wars Half Marathon. Many participants dress as their favorite characters, and those races sprawl into entire weekends.
Organizers created now famous multi-day events like the Goofy Challenge, where runners complete 39.9 miles across four parks in two days. Why? Lambert says the option appeals especially to out-of-town travelers who feel their travel investment increases when they can choose from events on both Saturday and Sunday, rather than a single-day event.
It may sound extreme, but that model has been replicated in rapid succession at races unaffiliated with Disney across the country. Dallas is no different.
While marathons always have had an emphasis on elite athletes, Lambert says, the vast majority of those toeing the line are middle-of-the-pack runners, each fighting an individual, but significant, personal challenge. It's important, he says, for the Dallas Marathon to celebrate the Average Joe runner as well.
In the future, Lambert hopes to continue adding events that appeal to families with very young children or to active senior citizens. All would run through the official Dallas Marathon start/finish line so attendees experience the exhilaration of cheering crowds, he says.
Adding 'wow moments' in Dallas
The reinvented Dallas Marathon will also contain more of what Lambert calls "wow moments" -- experiences designed to stick with runners well past the day of the race and bring them back in years to come.
Many races have long included musicians at strategic points on courses; the successful international Rock 'n' Roll race series is based entirely around the concept. But, Lambert observed that more and more runners were wearing earbuds.
He believes that visual entertainment leaves a more lasting impression. Dallas has yet to release its 2017 entertainment lineup, but Lambert says he envisions the race weekend eventually featuring acts like acrobats on trampolines, high-energy dancers and wild cheering sections decked out in extravagant designs.
The course itself is another key visual experience, he says; that's why it has been redrawn to include a full loop of White Rock Lake, as it did when it was founded in 1971 as the White Rock Marathon.
In 2014, organizers revised the course to include an out-and-back section that covered only the lake's west side, citing the fact that crowd support had been too sparse on the east side.
Participant surveys, however, found this move wildly unpopular, according to Lambert. Runners disliked a hard, uphill and lonely section along the Santa Fe Trail, which has been removed from the 2017 map.
Dallas resident David Douglas says he was "shocked" when course changes dramatically reduced the mileage at the lake.
"I think people really draw energy from the lake, always my favorite part of the course," he says. "It represents the mecca of Dallas running."
Douglas spends hours there every week, completing most of his training on its paved pathways, which feel almost like a second home to him. In total, he has finished 23 marathons, all in the state of Texas, and the majority of them -- 16, in fact -- were the Dallas Marathon, his hometown race.
He's been there, done it, and can't wait to do it again.
Along the full marathon course, runners will experience famous architecture downtown, the luxurious homes in Highland Park, the roaring energy of spectator-packed patios on Greenville Avenue, the natural beauty surrounding White Rock Lake, the stately mansions along Swiss Avenue, and the artsy grit of Deep Ellum.
Neighborhoods will feature entertainment, from piano players to mariachi bands, to highlight the city's cultural diversity. Two new cheering stations will be installed on the east side of the lake to combat the former perceived lack of energy there.
Because some participants will run on both Saturday and Sunday, Lambert says it was important to intentionally create courses that highlight different, unique cultures within the city.
As the Dallas Marathon nears its half-century anniversary, Lambert is optimistic about its future. Lambert will likely be on the course on his bike this year, observing the experience and brainstorming ways to improve.
Why does it matter so much? Lambert calls himself a "part-time runner." He's being modest: He has finished two full marathons, including one at sport's origin in Athens, Greece. A bona fide sports tourist, he has plans to showcase Dallas as a city that's worth the trip.