No one knew what to expect last year.
It was the inaugural Mill Race Marathon, so organizers planned for the worst and hoped for the best — especially in regards to parking.
They warned businesses and residents that there would be inconveniences and congestion in downtown Columbus — especially early in the morning — because they did not want any one to develop a bad taste for the event.
But they later realized they might have scared some residents from coming downtown to participate in the festivities.
“They were stocking up on bread and milk and locking the doors,” said Kurt Schwarze, owner of 4th Street Bar & Grill.
But the gridlock never happened.
Instead, Schwarze said there was mostly positive feedback.
Marathon runners were impressed that they were handed parking passes and not left to fend for themselves for parking, and hundreds took advantage of a free shuttle service.
Carol Gensheimer, a wellness coordinator at a fitness center in Kentucky, said she was blown away by the organization of last year’s marathon — especially the parking situation.
She said she’s been running for 30 years, and the Mill Race Marathon was the best event she has experienced. At previous races, she’s been parked more than a mile from the start line and gotten lost trying to find it.
This time, she zipped into Cummins’ parking lot with plenty of time to walk around and calm her pre-race jitters.
“I truly felt like a superstar,” she said.
“I look forward to the race this year, and it will no doubt grow once your incredible small town, awesome course and great support are discovered.”
Despite the positive feedback, marathon organizers still wanted to make improvements.
“We found that parking ended up not being an issue, which we were pleased by. But even though it wasn’t an issue last year, we still wanted to do everything we could to make it even better this year,” said Erica Tucker, a Cummins employee who is part of the parking committee.
What to expect
By moving the start and finish line to Washington Street, organizers have opened up Brown and Jackson streets and all the parking lots accessible from there — including the Cummins Corporate Office Building surface lot and the downtown garages.
While runners and volunteers could access those lots last year if they got there early enough, the lots were blocked off during the race so no one could enter and no one could exit.
Only Washington and Fourth streets will be closed to traffic throughout the entire race this year, opening up more spaces along the street and additional access to garages and lots, according to the parking committee.
Volunteers, vendors and participants will be given parking passes when they pick up their packets this year, which will direct them to the designated and reserved parking areas.
But after 9 a.m., all lots, spots and garages are available for the public’s use. That’s when most spectators and members of the public begin to trickle downtown to provide moral support and cheer on the participants.
A shuttle bus will run from the Cummins Engine Plant and the westside Walmart for spectators and the public, although that is not the only parking option.
“We arranged for the shuttle to be open to the public for a reason — ease of accessibility,” Tucker said. “But we want everyone to feel they are welcome to park where they can find a spot. Anyone from the public should feel free to park in any public parking spot they can find on race day as long as it does not interfere with our races.”
The main message from the parking committee and after-party organizers? Don’t worry about parking.
“These are bright people who have really come together to come up with a bright, big plan,” said Garage Pub & Grill owner Steve Leach, who has been working with organizers for the finish-line festivities. “Parking will not be an issue.”
More than 4,000 runners and walkers participated in the Mill Race Marathon and its associated races last year. And that doesn’t take into consideration the spectators.
That is a far bigger number than the number of parking spaces available in downtown Columbus — there will be just over 2,500 spaces reserved until 9 a.m. — so organizers also are asking participants to consider alternative modes of transportation.
The shuttle will be back by popular demand again, picking up people every 15 minutes from 5:30 a.m. until after the truck giveaway at 5:30 p.m.
Hutch Schumaker, president of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and Columbus Capital Foundation, lives near 25th street and decided to spend last year’s Mill Race Marathon weekend on his bike.
Once he figured out how to track the leaders online, he and his family could zip around town on their bikes to follow along with the race.
“You’re so flexible and mobile when you’re on a bike,” he said. “When the race started we zoomed on over to Mill Race Park, which would have been impossible any other way.”
He said he didn’t have any problem parking his bike along the street and walking around the festivities.
His advice for others who choose to view the Mill Race Marathon on bicycle this year: Bring plenty of water and plenty of sunscreen.
“It’s the absolute best way to watch the marathon,” Schumaker said. “I didn’t know what to expect last year with the first one, but we aren’t going to be changing our plans this year.”
An open invitation
Race organizers are recruiting more than just runners, walkers and volunteers for this year’s Mill Race Marathon — it’s every resident of Columbus.
Because of the warnings last year about downtown congestion — Leach said the only thing missing from the message was the ominous “dun, dun, dun” — the after-party was kind of slow after participants filtered out.
This year, marathon organizers are marketing the Finish on Fourth after-party as a music marathon that will appeal to all of Columbus. Big names are in the works, which will be announced within the next few weeks.
And marathon organizers want more people to come out and support the runners with fun signs and loud voices.
Organizers want a bigger Mill Race Marathon, and they said they have an even better parking plan in place to handle it.
“Parking should be the last thing on people’s minds when they’re coming down for the race,” Tucker said. “Whether that be to participate as a runner, a volunteer, a spectator or just someone coming down for the party, we want everyone to feel welcome. We want them to be able to enjoy the day without worrying about where to park.”