U.S. 10K Classic in Marietta canceled, but founder vows return

Runners, cyclists, skaters and wheelchair racers have one less event to train for this year.

Despite a run of nearly two decades, the U.S. 10K Classic and Family Festival in Marietta has been unable to raise enough money and has been canceled for 2011.

"The race is only taking a break," its founder and chief executive, Donald Whitney, told the AJC Wednesday. "We're going to kind of reinvent ourselves."

The unusual event combines multiple sports into one sweaty, wheezing package. It includes a foot race and professional women's bicycle "sprint" that are each 6.2 miles long, plus a 100 kilometer pro men's bike race and inline skating and wheelchair competitions.

The event -- the sixth largest of its kind in the country -- was yet another victim of the economy. It costs $650,000 to put on, but so far this year sponsors have only pledged $400,000, Whitney said.

"We could have done the race this year, but we would have gone in the hole."

That would have violated the very idea behind it, the founder said: to raise money for organizations benefiting children. Since its inception, it has raised $5 million, said Whitney, who volunteers his time for the nonprofit event and runs several for-profit exercise-related companies. Some of the proceeds paid for the purchase of 710 acres in Haralson County, where Whitney is building a master planned community for homeless children.

Whitney said he hopes to bring the races back in 2012, perhaps with a different format and in a different location. The collection of races has leveled out at around 15,000 participants, and he wants it to grow but is concerned that the hilly course may limit participation and that the venue cannot handle larger crowds.

The combination of events usually starts with a parachute jump. It draws high-profile U.S. competitors. Last year, Lance Armstrong's former lieutenant George Hincapie, a veteran of the Tour de France, competed in the men's bike race. In years past, it also drew Roger Bannister, the first runner to crack the 4-minute mile.

It's unclear whether all the events will return in the future, Whitney said. Some, such as the bike races, bring in less revenue than the others.

"We're going to look at all the components," Whitney said, "to see what is in the best interest for the community ... and for the reason this race was started."