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Mini Marathon slow to fill field for May race

Anthony Schoettle
February 15, 2013
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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.”
 

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  • 1st timer
    Signed up to run it for the first time this year and am looking forward to it, though I dread the whole corral thing. I've run in races almost as large as this one where the need to control participants is less noticeable. If it's half as good as Houston's marathon and mini in January, I'll be very pleased.
  • No More
    I ran twelve years in a row and won't be back. It is in many ways a great event. Unfortunately, that's mostly what it is now - an event, more than a race. I'm not fast enough to run with the elites and while I wish the race every success, the crowds and especially the walkers way up front finally got to me. As others have noted there are other, smaller races that are also quite appealing and I hope to give them a try.
  • Walkers
    Seeded in corral C last year and still dealt with walkers the first mile. How and why is that--- simply the reason I have not signed back up.
  • Maybe Senator Delph Can Bail Out the Mini With Taxpayer Dollars
    Serious runners are serious about their time, and it is very frustrating to have to dodge packs of walkers. It's just like the Monon Trail-people walk 2-3 or more abreast and expect bicyclists to get around them on the berm. There are too many participants, and the price has gone up--both bad decisions, but I'm sure Senator Delph won't have a problem coming up with a solution to the natural and probable consequences of these bad decisions by diverting tax dollars to shore up lagging income.
  • Entertainment
    I think the capacity limit of 35k works fine. Anyone that has ran in major races understands a slow start is common with these types of events. The one thing i ask is to please stop playing country music and/or John Mellencamp before the start of the race. We get it already, John Mellencamp is from Indiana. It is neither tolerable or motivating when you are mentally preparing to run a long race.
  • Great event
    Any real runner in Indy or beyond knows the mini is the true test every year. Who wants to run through the suburban streets in the land of the beautiful people. The Mini crowds are fine once the race starts unless you're slow and in the back. Try getting seeded closer to the front or get in better shape
  • Great Event
    The mini is an awesome event. I am up to about 15 minis and don't want to miss another. My days of setting PR's are over though but I understand what people are saying. So is it better to max out at 35K and sell only 32K or is it better to limit the field to 20K? 20K is still a lot of people and we had crowd issues when it was 12K, 15K. Personally I believe there is just more competition with Tough Mudders, the Geist 1/2 marathon, etc and there is nothing that can or should be done.
  • Agreed
    I agree. I have ran the Mini a few times over the years and it is pretty frustrating if you turn in an honest time and starting stall. You end up dodgeing several packs of 4/5/6 wide walkers that should have started in the back. It is impossible to run a pace or set a personal best because of the obstacles
  • Start Time
    I have watched participants cross the the start line for the last three years and I promise the very last walkers cross the start line no more than 35 minutes after the gun! People should expect a crowd and a slower start when entering a 35,000 person race. I agree that more races have thinned the crowd but this is still a fantastic event!
  • Too Crowded
    I love the mini and have done it 11 times, but now the race to way too crowded and it's difficult to just run at pace as many folks tend to stand in the middle of the road and chat during the run.....
  • Agree that options are good
    We believe having race options are great because like Megan Bulla said, more runners are better. The Mini is a unique event that will always attract big numbers as it is a "bucket list" for runners. We do know from our participant survey that the size of the mini has become an decision point for some to choose the Carmel Half Marathon. We want the mini to sell out soon because many of those runners will be training and ready to tackle a half and if they do not get registered in time, we can be an option for them. Just great to see more and more people getting active in our community!
  • Too BIG
    35K is ridiculous. Its too crowded, too slow at the beginning and dangerous. I won't run it again. Huge crowds after race at gear check, food stations. Just too many people, need to get it back to 20K or so.

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