CARY — What started as a race to promote good health in the Triangle has grown into a nationally renowned marathon.
Kazem Yahyapour founded the Allscripts Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary in 2010 to benefit health organizations such as the Red Cross and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“I thought, if I can save one life and start something that’s good for the community … this would be the best way to do it,” said Yahyapour who began running in 2002 after suffering a heart attack.
About 2,000 people ran the first race.
On Sunday, a record 4,000 people will toe the starting line at Thomas Brooks Park in western Cary for what Runner’s World magazine recently named one of America’s best new marathons.
The race is popular because 10 percent of runners can qualify for the Boston Marathon on a route that is flat, tree-lined and mostly covered in crushed granite.
Runner’s World described it this way: “A flat and gently rolling T-shaped course and temperatures typically in the 40s and 50s cause personal bests to tumble at this race near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.”
From Thomas Brooks Park, runners go about four miles west along Morrisville Parkway to the American Tobacco Trail.
They then run north to Scott King Road, where they turn around and run back to the southern tip of the trail at Olive Chapel Road. From there, they turn around again and run back to the starting line.
The race is attracting runners from Cary to Puerto Rico to Kenya, according to Mark Dill, marketing director for the marathon.
“It’s really just now gaining a national reputation,” Dill said. “The surface is just ideal for running on. Then you have all these Carolina pines that provide shade on sunny days.”
The Tobacco Road Marathon is also popular because it’s organized by a nonprofit organization that donates 100 percent of race proceeds to charity.
“Nobody gets paid. It’s completely run by volunteers,” Dill said.
So far, the marathon has raised more than $200,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Red Cross, Wounded Warrior Project and the Triangle Rails to Trails Conservancy, which maintains the American Tobacco Trail.
Organizers will have raised a total of $300,000 for charity after this year’s race because of people like Jeff Grizer of Cary.
Grizer, 41, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a freshman in college. He’s already raised $1,300 for diabetes research this year and is running the half-marathon to set an example for his 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
“I wanted to show them that this is part of having a healthy lifestyle,” said Grizer, who will run the race for the third year.
Meanwhile, 58-year-old Yahyapour has lost more than 40 pounds and has run the Boston Marathon nine times since being diagnosed with coronary artery disease 12 years ago.
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht