Despite the 500 Festival Mini Marathon filling up slower than usual this year, race organizers say they have no doubt it will hit its 35,000-participant capacity well before the May 4 race.
There are still “a few thousand” entries open for the 13.1-mile race, said 500 Festival spokeswoman Megan Bulla. “We think in the next few weeks, it will be sold out."
The race, one of the largest half-marathons in the U.S., has sold out 11 consecutive years. During the last decade, the race regularly sold out by Feb. 1, and a number of times before Christmas, race organizers said.
Registration was $60 through Nov. 30 before increasing to $75.
Don Carr, who operates the event for the 500 Festival, thinks the slower entry rate may be a sign that running and fitness are becoming more—not less—popular.
“Because of the popularity of these events, in the last couple of years a lot of other races have cropped up,” said Carr, president of locally based event promoter Tuxedo Brothers. “There’s a lot more competition among these events.”
Triathlons, off-road runs and other alternative running and fitness events such as The Color Run, where runners are coated with paint as they run, have seen significant growth in recent years, Carr said. That growth could be affecting participation levels in more traditional running events.
Bulla thinks the growth of running events and races is a good thing.
“Runners have more choices than ever on what events they want to do, and some of them are seeing what else is out there,” she said. “But those events create more runners and more people who race. We feel like even if some of those runners take a year or two off [from the Mini], they’ll come back to the Mini, because it’s such a unique event.”
The Mini’s urban Indianapolis course, which includes a full lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is still a big draw, Bulla said. Nearly one-fourth of the field is from outside Indiana.
The sluggish economy also is having an impact, Bulla admitted.
“People in general are making their purchases a little later, and that extends to the Mini,” she said.
Local race promoter Ken Long isn’t convinced it’s the economy that’s hurting the 500 Festival Mini Marathon. Long noted that other fast-growing running events such as the Rock n Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in San Diego are charging similar fees as the Mini, and that other popular events such as the Chicago Marathon, which charges $175 entry, are asking far more.
“From what I’ve heard from runners, they think the Mini has simply become too crowded,” said Long, president of Ken Long & Associates. “With the crowd and the course, runners don’t have the opportunity at the Mini to run to their potential and possibly set a [personal record]. There have also been complaints that it takes 35 to 45 minutes for some of the runners and walkers just to get to the start line.”
In 2006, the race's capacity increased from 30,000 to 35,000. Two years earlier, it jumped from 25,000 to 30,000.
The Mini’s marketing and operations “need to be reviewed from top to bottom,” Long said, noting the event has been filling slower for the past four or five years.
“This is still a good event," Long said. "But if you’re going to treat this like a business, and you have a declining trend like this, you need to review everything.”