Mini Marathon plagued by same problem as IndyCar Series

May 9, 2011
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After watching much of the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini Marathon on television May 7, it occurred to me what is good for the IndyCar Series might also be good for the Mini Marathon.

Open-wheel racing fans have been screaming for more American drivers in the series since the likes of A.J. Foyt, the Unser brothers, Tom Sneva and Rick Mears retired from driving.

There seems to be an equal dearth of top American runners in the Mini Marathon field of 35,000. This year, a Moroccan won the 13.1-mile event. And for 15 years before that, Kenyans have ruled the race.

Of course, the field is full of Americans, mostly garden variety runners who work full-time at something else for a living, and would consider it a thrill of a lifetime to crack 2 hours.

There are a few exceptions.

Butler University graduate Scott Overall, was the top non-African finisher this year, placing fourth in 1:03:21. But he’s British. The first American was minutes behind. And for those who saw winner Ridouane Harroufi blowing kisses to the crowd coming down the final stretch and finishing in 1:02:46, it shows just how far the Americans really are behind in this event.

It’s not that I have anything against the foreign-born runners winning the race, but just like in the IndyCar Series, it seems obvious that from a business standpoint, a North American-based event might benefit from having some American talent to rally behind. And I mean someone who can really challenge for the victory.

While Mini Marathon organizers have for years touted the international field and done much to lure some of the top foreign-born runners, you have to wonder how much effort has been given to harvesting talent from our own home country.

But who among the American ranks can challenge the Kenyans and other top foreign-born runners? No, Bob Kennedy is not coming out of retirement. He’s busy operating his chain of locally based running stores.

But there are a rare handful of Americans who could be legitimately competitive here, and one came to mind as I watched a recording of the Boston Marathon this weekend.

American Ryan Hall just blistered a 2:04:58 this year to take fourth at Boston. His best half-marathon time; 59:43 in Houston in 2007.

Not only is Hall, a California native, fast, he’s just the kind of athlete Americans love to watch perform. I know watching a distance running event isn’t always the most exciting thing to Americans more in love with stick-and-ball sports. But trust me, Hall would keep many sports fans riveted to the event.

At Boston, Hall insisted on wearing a top emblazoned with USA. He defiantly ran six to 10 steps in front of a pack of seven to 10 Kenyans for much of the race. When they surged hard to lose him, he bided his time, then came from behind the pack to sit again defiantly three steps in front of the world’s fastest marathoners.

Hall wears a look behind a pair of shades that is part Joe Cool, part Dick Butkus. He also occasionally gestured to the crowds in Boston, holding his hand to his ear and flapping his arms up and down as if to tell the crowd, “let me hear it.”

And they did. College co-eds screamed right alongside working folks wearing hard hats and three-piece suits who took a few minutes out of their day to cheer the fleet-footed American.

If Hall was lured to Indianapolis (and that might be a trick given his schedule) it could be the biggest thing to happen to the Mini Marathon since American greats Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers led the field in the 1980s.

It’s exactly the sort of move I would expect from a race held in a city that considers itself a great sports capital.

  • Have you ever ran the mini ?
    While, you may feel a need to bring in top runners. the mini stands for a little more. There are thousands of stories going on during this race. Just ask the thousands that run /walk every year. I am not sure may care who is the best or finishes 1st. Get off your negative writing.You should be able to find a better story than this.
    • Really!!!
      Really, who cares! I have run this race eight times and would be considered a "garden variety runner" by your standards. However, I am proud of the fact I am fifty and can run further than I ever did as a kid growing up in Indy. Thanks to all my fans!!!
    • More than 30,600 finishers must be wrong...
      With the largest half marathon field in the world, I don't think it's lacking anything.

      C'mon Anthony, you can do better than this!
    • Joe Public does not get distance running and you can't make him put down his smokes and snacks long enough to make him
      First, you may know Ryan Hall, and as a lifetime runner who ran the first 20 Mini-Marathons, including the ones with Shorter and Rodgers (the first 2), I know Ryan Hall...but no one in the States cares about distance running unless they run themselves, or it is time for the Olympics. His amazing 2011 achievment of the fastest American marathon in history was barely a blip...a one day headline that mentioned he still got beat by 3 Africans at Boston. I suppose it would be nice if he came, but I don't see how it would change anything for the Mini. That could change if he could win the Olympic marathon...otherwise, great as he is (and he is already an American record holder at a finish time that many people thought was not possible 10 years ago), to most people he is just another skinny nut case who run 120 miles a week, and who can't win against the World's best competition, if they know him at all. The fact that he is the most competitive American runner since Shorter, Rodgers, Sandoval (the latter two were robbed of their chance at Olympic glory by Carter's ill concieved boycott ot the 1980 Moscow games) and Salazar is lost on most of the people in the States. The truth is, most of the people who care in Indiana are at the Mini-Marathon, or watching it already anyway. Sad, but stand a lot better chance of reviving Indy Car than getting people really excited about the Mini.
    • OH YEAH !!!!
      OH YEAH !!!!
      • what ?
        what ?
      • Good idea
        I agree that US long distance running isn't where it was 20 yeras ago..that's why recruiting the best US runners to participate in a no brainer. Glad the event is so large for amateurs but would like to see to a US winner. All good.
      • my point
        First, let me say thanks for those that think I can do better than the post above. I appreciate the vote of confidence, backhanded though it may be. And I realize for the tens of thousands of people running the mini each year, that the event is special unto itself. I deny none of that. And as a distance athlete myself, I applaud your accomplishments. But the fact is the promoters and organizers of this event have been recruiting and paying some of the world's fastest runners to come to this event for years. If they are going to take that approach, why not go after some Americans who can vie for victory, and possibly at the same time, raise the level of this event at the same time? In the tourism and city-promoting business, thatâ??s what they call smart business. City officials might just find that there is some benefit to attracting the attention of a crowd beyond stick-and-ball sports fans. It is my belief that Ryan Hall is in fact one of those rare distance runners who, like Shorter and Rodgers a generation ago, can capture the imagination of the American sporting public. If Indianapolis is going to continually strive to be a world-class sports town, it seems to make perfect sense to try to lure an athlete like that to town for one of the nation's biggest half-marathons. As always, thanks for reading. And keep the comments coming, even if you don't agree with me. I love hearing your input.
        • Don't We Want the Mini to be the Best not just the Biggest?
          AS is right on (again). If we want the Mini to be the best half marathon in the country, we want the best to participate. Still being a little sore from my garden variety participation, I would love to see an American win even if I'm only on speedway when they finish. Wouldn't it be great if the country considered the Mini a tune-up for their run at the World Championships or the Olympics? It would be a plus for the event and the city.
        • Keep it up
          Most of us got it, I am sorry you had to hand-feed the curmudgeons.
        • You watched it on TV?
          What I find most unbelievable in this article is that a gainfully employed person would watch the mini marathon on TV. The only thing more incredible is that is was broadcasted on TV in the first place. We have truly fallen to the low of lows.
          • Tough Crowd
            or Monday grouchiness?
          • not really the same
            I think you are kind of missing the point, or maybe just trying to make one that doesnt exist. Indycar is a series of 20 some drivers who are there to compete for victory every week and draw a crowd. It is a spectator sport designed to entertain. While there are a small number of runners actually competing to win the Mini, there are literally thousands of others running for a variety of other more important and personal reasons. The Mini is one of the most popular and well attended sporting events in the counrty and it doesnt look like that is changing any time soon. It doesnt exist for TV rating and big corporate sponsors. If an american won next year nobody would remember who it was the next and the race would still sell out immediatly regardless.
          • Millions care about running as spectator sport
            I'm not sure why so many of you think NO ONE would care who won the nation's biggest half marathon. More than 650,000 people globally subscribe to Runner's World magazine, many of which are avid spectators and followers of the sport. That's just the tip of the iceberg of people who follow the sport of running. It's a huge international sport, bigger in Europe and Japan than most Americans understand. Wouldn't Indianapolis like to appeal to an audience like that. Or is that too small potatoes for your "Big League" city.
          • Huh?
            Did Anthony ever stop to think that maybe that is because the best runners are from Kenya and that happens to be the case in almost every marathon? You are right, it is just like the IndyCar series. They are looking for the best talent, it's just that the best talent happens to come from across the pond right now. If Marco Andretti, or Graham Rahal were the best, they would finish first. Just doesn't happen. Same goes with runners.
          • Foreign Shoe Buyers
            A lot of these runners bring funding. With the cost of running shoes today, feet have nowhere to go but to turn to runners who bring money. So you end up with a field full of shoe buyers. The American 5 or 10Ker has no chance.
          • This seems anti-foreigner
            The fact that you chose to write "Itâ??s not that I have anything against the foreign-born runners winning the race", means that you are showing prejudice towards the winner of the event. Part of this country's problem is that we feel the need to label everything. The runner happened to be from Morocco. And in IndyCar, Will Power happens to be Australian. Why should anyone care what country athletes competing in American sports are from? I'm trying to temper my words here, but your perspective on this topics stinks of midwest ignorance. You're crazy if you think that TRULY educated people would cheer for an American over a Moroccan, just because the guy was American.

            I know that you were trying to write something provocative and edgy, but you wrote something heinous at its deepest roots. I should get more joy in the success of an American athlete?

            Yeah, Anthony, let's invite all the American athletes and stop inviting the ELITE athletes that happen to be from other countries. That will show the world how open-minded we are.
          • Thanks For The Concern

            Winning American Indy Car drivers Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick, J.R. Hildebrand, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ed Carpenter.
          • Sorry Disciple
            Hildebrand and Carpenter have not won an IndyCar race. There are four victories among the rest. World Beater Marco Andretti last was victorious in 2006 at Sears Point thanks to the help of best buddy Brian Barnhart and chums Kannan and Herta. We will not delve into Patrick's faux-victory in Japan against a field of 18. We will not get into RHR's win for uh, well......uh......IZOD. Hhhhhmmmmmmm. Bad league.
            • Rain on the Parade
              Gee, thanks for sharing your enlightened enthusiasm and sportsmanship here in this merry month of May. I can tell by your adult maturity that you are as excited as I am. Hildebrand and Carpenter are American Indy Lights (associated with Indy Car) winners.
            • why did it have to look like a bumper
              my be we need american design indycar the new car is awful sport car look alike
            • try it
              The mini marathon is not a spectator sport. You should participate and listen to the different storylines of the runners/walkers. I imagine the editorial that comes from that experience would be quite different...
            • Bumper Sucks
              Gee, what a handle? What in the world does this have to do with the Mini-Marathon, you goof ball? How about keeping on point?

              The Mini is an amazing event. It gets more attention that "how many fat people there are in Indiana".

              Anthony, my point would be that American athletes winning might, might make a difference, but based upon the success to date, how would you measure it?

              In IndyCar, you can make that point, but that did not and will not dampen the enthusiasm fans had for great foreign born winners of the past such as Clark, Hill, Fittipaldi, Luyendyk, Villeneuve, Brack, Montoya, Castroneves, DeFerran, Wheldon, Franchitti, and Dixon.

              My question here is why is it important where they were born? Why isn't it more important where they live now? After all, we all came from somewhere else unless one is an Apache, et al. Perhaps the notoriety should be based upon current citizenship, not heritage.

              In any event, the Mini is doing quite well indeed. Who knows what difference it would make if there were a "Frank Shorter" of today. I'm thinking it would not have as much impact to the Mini as IndyCar would enjoy if Graham Rahal or Marco Andretti were to win the Indy 500.
            • Mini is great, but could be better
              Ok, ok, the Mini Marathon is great! I never said it wasn't. And for the record, I've run it nine times, so I've seen first-hand all the great stories involved in this great race. The point is, for a city bent on being a sports capital and a tourism and convention destination, it could be improved to gain the city even more attention. That's the sort of thing the folks at the Indiana Sports Corp. and Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association are always interested in. At least as far as I know as a reporter who has covered those two organizations for 13 years. As for Pete, I admit, I like to watch the Olympics and various world championships and cheer for Team USA, so color me "ignorant." You wouldn't be the first, and probably not the last to do so. Just don't call me condescending. As always, thanks for reading.

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