Running has taken Greg Everal to places he never imagined.
In Ashton, Idaho, he ran the Mesa Falls Marathon through snow-capped mountains. In Dallas, he found time to race and visit the Kennedy assassination's Book Depository Building, something he'd always wanted to see. In Wyoming, he stayed extra days to visit Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.
If not for running, "I doubt if I would have ever gone to Idaho," says Everal, 47, a steel mill contractor from Taylor, Michigan "But now I just want to go back."
Everal is what you could call a Marathon Tourist. By running, he's seeing the world, too.
Marathon tourism is on the rise, coinciding with the huge increase in the number of people who now run--29.2 million in 2005, up from 20.6 million in 1995, according to the National Sporting Goods Association's most recent data.
Runners also tend to be upper middle class--and they put dollar signs in the eyes of tourism officials. The average runner has a household income of about $95,000 and has had at least four years of college, says Detroit Free Press Marathon race director Patricia Ball.
Large marathons like Boston, New York, Chicago and Honolulu can pull $100 million or more into a city's economy in a single weekend. The Los Angeles Marathon on March 4 sold out every hotel room in town. Even small marathons can create millions in business for local hotels and restaurants.
Traveling with his wife, Everal spends about $1,000-$1,500 for a four-day weekend marathon trip. He drives when he can. He flies when he must. For longer seven-day trips, after paying for the airline tickets, rental car, race fees, hotels and restaurants, "we're talking in the $4,500 range."
His goal is to run a marathon in all 50 states. So far he's completed 32. By the time he's finished?
"I figure when I'm done, it will have cost me about $80,000," he says.
For him, the goal is worth it.
Worldwide, marathon escorted tours are also becoming more exotic. Sure, you can take a marathon vacation in London or Rome, but Boston-based Marathon Tours and Travel also offers trips to Kenya, Easter Island in Chile and the Great Wall of China. In January, it sponsored its first trip to the Dubai Marathon in the United Arab Emirates.
The six-night journey cost $2,889 and included two nights at the Babs Al Shams resort and spa. Flights were on Emirates Airlines. Dinner was at one of the world's most luxurious hotels, the Burj al-Arab.
"It was just a nice way to relax after the marathon," says Marathon Tours' owner Thom Gilligan.
Now the company is booking 2009 Antarctica Marathon trips because 2008 is already sold out--at a cost of about $6,000 per person. Gilligan is scouting Madagascar this summer for a future trip. He has to keep finding new destinations, he says, "because we have clients who have already been on all our trips."