Mill Race Marathon organizers are betting their third race will be the charm.
After two years of exploring what works and what doesn’t and watching runner entry numbers dip in 2014, organizers are focusing on a marketing campaign to entice out-of-town runners to give the Columbus marathon a try.
Race representatives will travel to Louisville and Indianapolis this summer to recruit runners to Columbus. They’re focusing on those cities because they are close enough to Columbus to attract serious runners looking for a fall challenge and those who want to find a nearby qualifying race for the Boston Marathon.
“We really want to instill this enthusiasm to want to come back and give them the best event they can experience that day,” said Grant Russo, race marketing coordinator.
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This year’s Mill Race Marathon is Sept. 26, featuring a 26.2-mile marathon, a half-marathon, a 5K run/walk and a health expo. A Fun Run for kids will be conducted the evening before.
Race organizers are hoping for 6,000 to 7,000 participants on the course this year, which would be about 2,000 more than in the 2015.
Race participation in the full and half-marathon dipped from year one to year two, while 5K and Fun Run participation increased.
Adding about 2,000 participants would keep the marathon in its comfort zone to avoid overcrowding, said Dave Venable, a planning committee member.
Off to the races
Race organizers will visit the Derby Festival Marathon in Louisville on April 25 and the One America 500 Festival Mini-Marathon on May 2 in Indianapolis to pitch the Mill Race Marathon to a larger audience.
Mill Race volunteers will have a booth at both events and hand out goodies to prospective runners, Russo said.
The early marketing efforts are a strategy to counteract a change in 2014 that might have contributed to a second-year drop in runners, said Randy Stafford, Mill Race Committee member.
The marathon’s event coordinator left after the inaugural event in late December 2013.
The race committee hired Joel Sauer a month later, with the switch resulting in the race committee playing catch-up for months, Stafford said.
The committee needed to rebuild its website from scratch and didn’t find a new website vendor until early March of 2014.
Registration wasn’t available for last year’s marathon until late April, something organizers worked to avoid this year.
The marathon committee started registration immediately after the 2014 Mill Race Marathon and had five runners register after finishing the race. Seventy-five runners were registered as of last week for the September race.
Organizers hope taking the race to the runners early in the season will get momentum going.
“Being able to push the awareness of it out much earlier is going to help us out in terms of registration,” Stafford said.
A truck as a carrot
Marathon organizers will bring back the truck giveaway this year, with any runner who finishes the full or half-marathon registered for a chance to win.
This year, the marathon is giving away a 2015 RAM 2500 crew cab heavy-duty pickup, with the drawing set for 4 p.m. on race day. Automotive dealer Bob Poynter and Cummins are organizing the truck giveaway.
Participants in the 5K will be entered in a drawing for a new bicycle, sponsored by SIHO Insurance Services.
Describing the truck as the biggest carrot of any race he’s ever seen, Russo said the giveaway will entice runners into this year’s race.
“We’re talking about a truck that is worth upwards toward $50,000, and that in itself would be what an elite level racer could win at an event like the Chicago Marathon or the New York Marathon,” Russo said.
In addition to the truck giveaway, a combination of a flat running course and cool temperatures will entice runners to Columbus, Venable said.
The Mill Race Marathon is a qualifying race, by time, for the Boston Marathon, Venable said.
“We had a tremendous ratio of (16 percent) marathon runners leaving Mill Race Marathon with a ticket to run at Boston. That is one of the highest percentages I’ve ever seen in any marathon. I ran the full last year and was included in the 16 percent that qualified,” he said.
However, some of those runners were derailed by an errant freight train that crossed the marathon course at Lindsey Street and caused runners to lose precious time trying to go around or through the train cars. Some runners were delayed two to three minutes.
Marathon officials had been assured by the Indiana & Louisville Railroad that the tracks would not be used during the marathon, but an employee mistakenly thought he could get a train through before the race and inadvertently blocked the course.
Race organizers have had repeated meetings with railroad officials and have been assured the incident won’t happen again.
Most things went according to plan last year, Stafford said.
However, final standings were delayed by a few days because of a malfunction in timing sensors used by End Result, an Indianapolis company hired to provide results for the marathon. End Result is back for 2015, promising that last year’s technology glitches will be fixed, Stafford said.
“The glitch in the timing is fixable. The train — we thought that was completely planned out — but that was unexpected,” he said.
To improve the 2015 marathon for participants and spectators, organizers plan the following changes.
The truck giveaway has been moved up 90 minutes to 4 p.m. Race organizers found that some runners weren’t sticking around to find out results of the giveaway after a long day of competition. Being present to win will still be required.
After-marathon entertainment was not as popular as organizers had hoped in 2014. Organizers have canceled a party downtown following the Kids Fun Run on Sept. 25. Celebration activities following the truck giveaway in downtown Columbus will end by 5 p.m.
Marathon organizers have hired a design firm to create a new medal for race finishers. This will be the first change to the design of the medal since the 2013 inaugural race. In another change, the lanyard each participant receives this year will be a different color for the 5K, half-marathon and full marathon.
As runners passed the finish line a year ago, the computer chips that each runner carried were supposed to reveal the finish time immediately. However, a computer glitch prevented the technology from working correctly. Indianapolis’ End Result has been working with race organizers to replace some of its technical gear to prevent a repeat this year.
Runners may register at millracemarathon.com/register and follow the instructions.
The registration fees are $65 for the marathon, $50 for the half-marathon and $20 for the 5K until June 30. Between July 1 and Aug. 31, the marathon registration cost rises to $75, while the half-marathon is $60, and 5K is $25. From Sept. 1 to Sept. 24, the marathon cost increases to $85, the half-marathon is $70, and the 5K is $30. To register at the packet pickup on Sept. 25 to 26, the marathon is $95, the half-marathon is $80, and the 5K is $30.
The Columbus Running Club offers a 17-week training course for beginners, starting at 7 a.m. June 6 at the YES Cinema in Columbus.
The first seven weeks include sessions on shoes, crosstraining, stretching, injury prevention, lessons learned and nutrition.
A group run/walk will follow each classroom session.
Starting with week eight, the classroom sessions come to a close, and the run/walk starts right when the group meets. Distances and routes are mapped out with water stops included.
Volunteer information is available at millracemarathon.com/volunteer.
Indicate what event category you are interested in and follow directions.
Last year there were more than 1,000 volunteers for marathon event.