Diego Vacca, then a staff member of the Downtown Branch YMCA, organized the 1st Las Colonias Marathon in 1975. As the starting gun sounded on that Saturday, May 31st morning 51 runners left the parking lot of Kennedy High School and proceeded through the west side neighborhood of Las Colonias, northwest out 1604 and back finishing at Kennedy High School. Jim Ewing of Brownwood, Texas was the first of 43 finishers with a time of 2 hours 31 minutes and 15 seconds. Leroy Harvey, then a city of San Antonio executive, was the first San Antonio finisher with a time of 2:41:06.
Mr Vacca organized this marathon to promote running as a form of health and fitness particularly among Mexican-Americans in the West and South sides of San Antonio. He named it Las Colonias De San Antonio Marathon after Las Colonias neighborhood in which he was born. Then Councilman Henry Cisneros, who later would become Mayor of San Antonio and subsequently head of the House and Urban Department of the United States, was the starter for the first Las Colonias. He was so overtaken by the experience that in the following years he became instrumental in making the event the "Official Marathon of the City of San Antonio." YMCA Board members Humberto Guerrero and David Saucedo provided volunteer leadership with Humberto as Chairman of the Planning Committee. Still others, such as Dr. Phil Kline, joined the ranks of volunteers by establishing a San Antonio Marathon clinic to help prepare local runners, especially first-timers, to train properly.
The Las Colonias Marathon continued under the management of the YMCA until 1987. The San Antonio Express-News and the local Budweiser distributor (Crain Distributing Company) joined as major sponsors in the fifth year. As the marathon progressed, the partnership between the YMCA, the City of San Antonio, and the San Antonio Road Runners Club matured.
In 1988, Jose Rendon, Executive Director Downtown YMCA/Vice-President, at the urging of marathon runners Willson Davis and Jesse Mesa, petitioned City Manager and avid marathoner Lou Fox to assist in transferring management to a new Organizing Committee. The organizers searched citywide to recruit volunteers from all sectors of the community. Agreement was reached to name John Purnell as Race Director. John, then owner of the Run-A-Way Runners Store, was actively promoting road racing as a citywide sport (and continues to do so). Under his leadership, many changes were introduced. First, the name was changed to San Antonio Marathon to aid in promoting it not only nation-wide but also globally by associating the name with the city of San Antonio known to travelers worldwide. He also added other features, such as a host hotel, an exposition, and seminars which included well known marathon names like world-renowned running coach Arthur Lydiard from New Zealand and Pricilla Welch, then the women's marathon world record holder with a time of 2:26. Recruiting was expanded into Mexico and included an exchange program with the Mexico City Marathon. Winners' purses were added and year-round recruitment and training of first-time marathon runners was intensified. With the support of then Mayor Nelson Wolff, John added the Mayor's 5-mile Fitness Challenge.
Amongst the new volunteers named to the new committee was Sam Idrogo. Based on his position at Kelly AFB, Sam could call upon the military bases in the San Antonio area for volunteers. He continues in his liaison role and has added marketing & publicity and Start & Finish Line operations to his responsibilities. He was instrumental in developing a team under the leadership of David Esparza to lead the way in instituting computerized techniques for registration and finish results. Willson Davis succeeded in gaining the sponsorship of H-E-B, which lasted for several years. Other sponsors, most significantly Valero Energy Corporation, provided in-kind support.
In 1994 R.D. Elder, having recently retired as a business entrepreneur and with a dedicated interest in road racing, pushed for a change in volunteer management of the organizing committee. R.D.'s vision was to operate on a business perspective and bring value to runners and sponsors. The YMCA continued as the fiscal agent as it has been since the beginning in 1975. R.D.'s business focus on fulfilling the needs of runners and sponsors resulted in adding three additional events so that runners of all ages and categories can participate in the event of their choice: the 2-Person Marathon Relay, the Fitness 3-Mile Walk, and Roger Soler's Kids Klassic. The sponsorship of Red McCombs Automotive and later Valvoline Oil, which lasted several years, was key to making all this possible. The participation of the San Antonio Express-News has continued during the years through the publication of feature stories and marathon race results.
R.D. interrupted his tenure as Race Director for two years to return to entrepreneurial duties in 1997 and 1998. SMSgt David Shingledecker, then assigned at Randolph Air Force Base, assumed the position of Race Director for day-to-day operations. David's willingness to step up to the challenge was key to the sustainment of the marathon during this period.
A number of factors have remained consistent throughout the 25 years of this event. These include the partnership between the City of San Antonio, the YMCA, and the San Antonio Road Runners; a commitment to youth; the promotion of improved health and fitness through running; a labor of love for running by thousands of volunteers; financial and in-kind support from local sponsors; and promotion of San Antonio as a city for tourism and running.
The San Antonio Marathon has become a haven for local runners and many new faces are seen each year as training sites sponsored by running stores and health professionals continue to develop throughout the city. The addition of a web page has expanded recognition of this annual event globally, and we continue to see growth in participants from across the United States and other countries.
The members of the Organizing Committee are listed elsewhere. The list gives recognition to very few of the over 800 volunteers involved. But while unnamed, all volunteers deserve the thanks and gratitude of both the running and the City of San Antonio communities for making this event possible. Without volunteers, sponsors and organizers, the current version of the San Antonio Marathon would not be possible.
Mr Vacca's 1975 vision to promote marathon running as a community-wide event has become a well-established reality, and the 25th Annual Marathon Run in 1999 is a testimony to his vision.