PT365 exclusive: Marine Corps Marathon director details big changes for registration

Marine Corps Marathon race director Rick Nealis (Associated Press and staff photos)

Marine Corps Marathon race director Rick Nealis. (Associated Press and staff photos)

This year’s Marine Corps Marathon finishers are still in recovery mode, but race officials are already working on logistics for next year’s race, including some big changes to the registration process.

The biggest change will come with the introduction of a lottery system to pick the field for the popular Washington, D.C., marathon.

Registration for the 2013 race was marred by technical issues that shut many would-be runners out of the registration system — and ultimately out of the race — as it filled in a record 2 hours and 27 minutes. For 2014, officials hope to avoid those frustrations.

“We knew we had to do something different,” Race Director Rick Nealis told PT365 in a phone interview. “I really believe it’s going to take out the anxiety people had about ‘where am I going to be on a certain day at a certain time and I’m only going to have two hours.’ ”

Related: 5 questions for Rick Nealis, race director of Washington D.C.’s Marine Corps Marathon

As in past years, active duty members of the military will get first dibs at registration slots. But new this year will be a cap on how many can sign up under the first-come, first-served system.

“Before it was no cap. Theoretically, I could have 20,000 active duty people sign up and then there would be no lottery,” Nealis said. “Any active-duty person who registered got in before anybody else. So I realized I need to put caps on every special category that we have. For the active duty that is going to be 2,000.”

Active-duty troops can register between Feb. 19 and Feb. 22.

Once those 2,000 spots are filled, Nealis said, the active-duty window will close and anyone else will have to join the general registration lottery or a charity group.

Leaving one segment of registration on a first-come, first-served basis raises the issue of another possible repeat of the 2013 registration debacle, though on a significantly smaller scale.

“If there is a rush, then I think then we might be looking at a lottery for active duty in 2015,” Nealis said. “This year we’re going to go first come, first serve and take a look at it. If we end up having a general registration close out in one minute, then we’ll probably definitely go to the active duty-lottery in 2015.”

The general registration lottery will open Feb. 23 and run through March 15. On March 19, Nealis said, registration vendor RaceIT will run a random survey module to pick the field. After that, the lucky bib winners will be notified. Runners will not pay when they register and will only see their credit cards charged if they are selected for the field on March 19.

What runners will not see, Nealis said, is a lottery fee.

“They [New York] charge a fee. I don’t like it,” he said. “You’re charging a fee on the whole field. So let’s just say if they charge $10 to register … and you get 100,000, you can see we just made $1 million. I know somebody from New York would tell me that I just gave away a million dollars, but I don’t think that’s right.”

Nealis and race officials are working through possibilities — such as a two-time loser rule — to help those who aren’t selected for 2014 get into later races, though nothing has been decided.

“[There are] some things that I would like to do for the ones who don’t get in, but I haven’t figured out exactly yet how that would work,” he said.

The 2013 race wasn’t without its share of difficulties — with the registration glitches and the threat of cancellation due to the government shutdown — but Nealis is still upbeat about 2014.

“We’re excited already for 2014. It’s a new era going into the lottery, and anytime you have a little bit of an unknown and newness about it, it’s exciting.”

Sara Davidson

Sara Davidson is an ultrarunner and contributor to PT365. She's run 7 marathons and 32 ultramarathons -- including her first 100-miler. This fall she is training for the Marine Corps Marathon using our PT365 Run Plan. Reach her at sdavidson@gannett.com .