Monumental Marathon organizers hope new format keeps race growing

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For a distance runner, an expanding waistline is a bad thing. 

For a marathon, expansion is good. But it can cause a few growing pains.

The CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon—with a record number of starters and finishers in 2016 for its three races of differing lengths—has outgrown its running shorts, or at least its current format.

That’s good news for downtown hotels and restaurants, which benefit from the event traditionally held the first Saturday of November. 

The event, which is composed of a 5K race, a half marathon and a full marathon, will celebrate its 10th running this year. It has experienced 55 percent growth in entries since 2012, with nearly 13,100 starting the half and full marathons last year.

With that growth, event organizers have heard an even louder chorus of concerns about the race’s hargie-bargie first few miles and congested finishing area. Runners for the races start together but their routes eventually diverge until they finish at a common location.

Not wanting to stunt the race’s growth, event organizers this year will institute a wave start.

“Our [participant] surveys kept telling us it was uncomfortably crowded for the first seven miles,” said Casey Collins, the race’s interim executive director. “There also were logjams at the finish and at the gear check area. Logically, going to wave starts made sense.”

This fall, the race will start in five waves from fastest runners to slowest. There will be about 2,500 runners per wave and entrants will need to provide proof of speed (previous race results) to get into the first two waves.

Collins isn’t sure how much time will be between each wave. The 500 Festival Mini Marathon, which has more than twice as many entrants as the Monumental Marathon, waits 15 minutes between each wave.

“We won’t have that much time between waves,” Collins said. “We’re still determining that, but we’re thinking a few minutes between waves.”

Because it takes 15 minutes to get all the runners across the start line in the race’s non-wave format, Collins doesn’t think it will extend the overall duration (the time it takes the last finisher to complete the race) of the race more than 15 or 20 minutes. That’s a concern to city officials who will only close streets for the race for so long. The marathon and half marathon’s last miles travel well-worn traffic routes downtown.

The marathon and half marathon will continue to start at 8 a.m. The event’s 5K race, which has started at 8:20 a.m., might be pushed back a bit, Collins said, adding that those details are still being worked out.

Monumental Marathon organizers are hopeful the wave start will help the race continue to grow. Former director Blake Boldon, who resigned after the 2016 race to take a new job, told IBJ last year he didn’t think the race could grow much more in its current format.

“We feel with the wave starts, we can handle continued growth,” Collins said. “We’re anticipating growth in 2017 for sure.”

The marathon and half marathon have gained reputations for being flat, fast races. The longer of the two is becoming a favorite of Midwestern marathoners trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, as well as first-timers looking to ease into the arduous sport of distance running.

The event has become an important attraction for Indianapolis, according to Visit Indy Vice President Chris Gahl, with downtown’s 7,300 hotel rooms sold out that weekend and some suburban hotels also getting business.

Boldon told IBJ in November that 35 percent of the event’s participants in 2016 were from outside central Indiana, adding that each out-of-town runner at the Monumental Marathon will bring 2.5 people with them.

Last year, the event had a $4.2 million economic impact on the city, Gahl said.

“We’re not putting a cap on the size of the event right now. We want to see it continue to grow,” Collins said. “With the feedback we’ve gotten from the [wave start] announcement, we think it will strengthen people’s desire to return.”

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