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Downtown Columbus buzzed with activity on the eve of today’s inaugural Mill Race Marathon, when the thunder of more than 4,500 pair of running shoes will pound the city’s pavement.
But wait, there’s room for more.
Last-minute runners can still sign up beginning at 6:30 a.m. today at The Commons. But that will require a quick dash to the 7:25 a.m. opening ceremonies along Brown Street between Fifth and Eighth streets, next to the Cummins Inc. Corporate Office Building.
The number of participants soared to more than 4,500 by 5 p.m. Friday, an increase of 750 during the past three weeks and up more than 200 since final registrations began Thursday at The Commons.
Gov. Mike Pence, a Columbus native, and his wife, Karen, plan to take part in the opening ceremony. Then at 9 a.m., they plan to be among 1,200 others who will step off in the 5K race.
Getting ready for the big day has taken more than a year of planning, but hands-on work for many of the volunteers started this week.
A crew of volunteers in bright green T-shirts unloaded hundreds of bottles of water Friday morning at the finish line near Jackson and Fifth streets.
Race coordinator Ken Long, a three-decade veteran of organizing races, hustled back and forth, giving instructions and stopping for questions from truck drivers dropping off tents, tables and other supplies.
“This is what makes it all work,” said Long, pointing to a group of volunteers as they piled cases of water and Powerade in long, neat rows.
More than 800 volunteers stepped up to donate time to the marathon weekend, helping with the Health and Fitness Expo, working in the parking garages, handing out water along the course and providing visitor information.
Dave Venable, a marathon runner who works for Cummins Inc., attended the expo Friday and spoke to other runners. Even he was a little in awe of the magnitude.
“I knew it was going to be big, but I didn’t know how big,” said Venable, who helped persuade Cummins to host a marathon.
Cummins was later joined by other main sponsors, Columbus Regional Health and MainSource Bank and downtown restaurants and retailers in planning a big Finish on Fourth party along Fourth and Washington streets. That runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today.
Vehicle traffic was nonstop along Washington Street by 5 p.m. Friday, and the Health and Fitness Expo was continuing to see a steady flow of runners pick up information packets, stop at vendor booths and listen to speakers.
Andie Simpson, 37, of Edinburgh, who will be running in her first marathon, attended one of the expo speaker sessions.
“A friend of mine did her first marathon last year, and she encouraged me to do this one,” said Simpson, who admitted being a little nervous and emotional.
One of her worries is she will be one of the slower runners, and temperatures are forecast to climb into the mid- to upper-70s by early afternoon when she finishes, a little warmer than she wanted.
Simpson has followed a detailed training plan since April and had a checklist of what she planned to have for dinner Friday evening, when to wake up today and what to have for breakfast.
She also was determined to not make this marathon her last.
She already is signed up for other races. And to make sure she thinks positively for this weekend, she purchased a “26.2” sticker to place on her car.
Jerry Boone, 64, of Columbus, Ohio, also picked up his information packet at the expo Friday afternoon and was looking forward to being part of the Mill Race Marathon.
“I like to take part in inaugural races, and I was looking for one I could do this weekend,” said Boone, a retired Department of Natural Resources worker who has run 140 marathons since 1991.
Runners and city residents also were heading to entertainment activities that began at 4 p.m. Friday on Fourth Street, where a zip line was set up.
Restaurants, meanwhile, were preparing for a throng of patrons wanting Carb Day dinner specials and cold beverages.
Liz Kays, co-owner of Yats with her son, Charlie Kays, was thrilled the weather was perfect for the marathon and for an outdoor festival.
“I think this is so exciting,” Liz Kays said. “If I wasn’t working, I’d be down here.”
She said they ordered lots of extra food to accommodate the weekend crowds, and they will have a smaller food booth set up on Washington Street in addition to their restaurant on Fourth Street near Jackson Street.
Stephanie Strothmann of Columbus was one of the first to try out the zip line set up on Fourth Street between Washington and Franklin streets.
“It was exhilarating,” said Strothmann, 40. “You’re standing up there on the platform, and you think, ‘It’s not so bad.’ But then you step off, and there’s no turning back.”
That will also be the case this morning when Strothmann tackles the half-marathon.
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