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Sports Business

Monumental running strong as marathon participation slows nationally

October 18, 2016
KEYWORDS Sports Business

The CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is continuing its growth spurt even at a time when participation in marathons nationwide is slowing.

This week, organizers of the three-race event's traditional marathon announced the 26.2-miler sold out nearly three weeks before the event, which takes place Nov. 5. It’s the earliest the marathon has ever sold out.

Organizers expect about 5,500 walkers, joggers and runners to line up for the ninth annual marathon. That’s about 500 more than last year, and the event’s executive director, Blake Boldon, says the field could have been even larger had organizers not run out of race t-shirts and finisher medals.

The IMM also has a half-marathon and 5-K run, which are not yet sold out. Organizers expect the half marathon—which is its fastest-growing event—to sell out with 10,000 participants, and another 3,500 or so to line up for the 5K. In total, 19,000 participants will take part in the event, which starts and finishes in downtown Indianapolis.

“As the reputation grows, we continue to enjoy tremendous growth of this event not just locally, but regionally and nationally as well,” Boldon said.

Boldon explained that the half-marathon is the most popular because people “can accomplish something monumental without having to kill themselves to do it.”

Boldon projects that 35 percent of the event’s participants will be from outside central Indiana. Visit Indy officials are forecasting that all 7,300-plus downtown hotel rooms will be sold out that weekend. On average, Boldon said, each out-of-town runner at the Monumental Marathon will bring 2.5 people with them.

“It’s a major accomplishment, so it’s not uncommon for people to bring family and friends with them to celebrate it,” Boldon said, adding that a handful of marathoners bring more than a dozen people with them.

An Indiana Pacers home game against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 5 is helping push hotel demand, local hospitality officials said.

During a year when marathon participation has declined nearly 2 percent nationally, according to Runner’s World, the Monumental 26.2-miler is seeing growth of about 12 percent.

“People have come to realize that Indianapolis is a great city and a great host, and this is a great race,” Boldon said. 

Oddly, it was one race’s—and city’s—tragedy that propelled the Monumental Marathon into the national spotlight.

The event, which was founded in 2008, hadn’t sold out until 2012, when Super Storm Sandy forced the cancellation of the New York City Marathon. Scores of runners who had signed up to run in New York diverted to Indianapolis, creating the first sellout. 

“That transformed the demand for our marathon,” Boldon said. “It was a major media event, so we got lots of coverage that year. That positioned us not just locally but nationally as a legitimate alternative to the New York City Marathon.”

During the first quarter of each year, Monumental Marathon organizers forecast how many participants they will have and buy supplies accordingly—including the all-important event t-Shirts and finisher medals. When those shirts and medals are out—and it’s impossible to buy more at this late date—the race is essentially sold out.

“We have to project growth and set the cap relatively early to make sure we have an adequate safety and security plan in place,” Boldon said. “These things are planned months in advance.” 

Since 2013, participation in the three events composing the Monumental Marathon have grown 12-plus percent annually.

“This event has a bright future, and I expect it to continue to grow,” Boldon said. “But we’re reaching a point where the growth will slow. … At some point there will be some logistical concerns that will require the growth to slow.”

One concern is congestion in the last three miles of the marathon and half-marathon, where the two courses re-join, Boldon said.

Boldon is leaving his position as executive director of the event at the end of November to take over as the boss of the Drake Relays, a major track event in Iowa. The Monumental Marathon board of directors is searching for a replacement and hopes to have that person in place by early February when planning for the 2017 event hits high gear. It’s possible, race organizers said, that an interim director could be put in place for a couple of months after this year’s race.

The organization that runs the Monumental Marathon, Beyond Monumental, also operates the Monumental Mile in June and the Indianapolis Half Marathon at Fort Benjamin Harrison in October, as well as youth-related health and wellness initiatives.



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