Valley of the Sun may eclipse Desert Classic

By Laurie Parton On Feb. 18, the first annual Valley of the Sun Marathon will debut in Mesa, Ariz., at 7 a.m. ... exactly 20 miles away from the start of the 7-year-old Desert Classic Marathon, which will also start at 7 a.m. in Scottsdale.

In a bizarre twist of events, the Phoenix metropolitan area will be home to marathon duel.

Arizona Road Racers organizers have accused the Valley of the Sun organizers of stealing their marathon. The Desert Classic has traditionally been run the Sunday before President's Day. Now, Valley of the Sun will be run on the same day.

According to Valley of the Sun organizer Brian Collins, "It's unfortunate the way things came down."

Collins and his co-organizers intended to establish a big marathon in the Phoenix area.

"The Desert Classic was always low-key," Collins says. "The Arizona Road Racers had implied that if anyone wanted to turn the race into something big — come on, Phoenix is virtually the only metropolitan area without a large marathon to its name — they'd support the movement. Our whole idea was to combine marathons."

"The way we saw it," Collins added, "the Arizona Road Racers were staging the event until something bigger was born. We offered them $12,000 to work with us and to supply chip timing for the race, but they refused. It's a real shame, for both of us."

The misunderstanding seemed to stem from preliminary investigative work. The would-be Valley of the Sun race directors made inquiries regarding logistics and sponsorship without first speaking to the Arizona Road Racers. Word got out and back and "personality conflicts arose."

"The Desert Classic has always been a very successful club run," Collins said. "We want to create a major marathon in the area."

He and his partners, Sue Berlinner, owner of Sweat magazine, and Harvey Beller, owner of Running Masters — producer many events including the Phoenix New Times 10K — are confident they can do just that with Valley of the Sun.

"The Arizona Road Racers thinks Phoenix can't field a high-caliber marathon to which people want to travel. We think it can."

And so does the county, which has given Valley of the Sun a five-year commitment to take the ball and run.

So, on Feb. 18, on the Pima Indian Reservation in Scottsdale, the Arizona Road Racers Desert Classic Marathon will begin, and around the corner in Mesa, the gun will go off for the first-ever Valley of the Sun Marathon.

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