When planning began two years ago for the Mill Race Marathon, organizers aimed high.
“Our goal was for it to be the biggest and best possible,” said Dave Crompton, Cummins Inc. vice president and general manager. “We never intended to start small.”
Cummins and other lead sponsors, MainSource Bank and Columbus Regional Health, estimate between 2,000 and 3,000 participants in the Sept. 28 inaugural event.
One local sports-tourism executive, however, suggested the number of runners could go much higher.
Jim Dietz, director of sports tourism for the Columbus Area Visitors Center, said he believes as many as 5,000 participants may sign up for the marathon, half-marathon or 5K run/walk.
“This is a very well-organized event, and runners can see the support that is behind this,” Dietz said.
Dietz is familiar with community sporting events and the economic impact from visitors staying in hotels, dining in restaurants and shopping at area stores.
In his role at the Visitors Center, Dietz helps track sports events in the community, from national softball tournaments to a state soccer tournament last weekend that filled every hotel room in the county.
Dietz also sees the running events conducted across the country nearly every weekend and believes the Mill Race Marathon will stand out.
The reputation of the sponsors and their commitment to the race has been seen in the detailed planning, Dietz said, as well as having a $52,000 Ram truck as a prize for one of the finishers in the marathon and half-marathon.
The marathon also serves as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon and will offer runners a scenic route lined with buildings known for their architectural excellence, Dietz said.
Visitors Center staff are projecting that out-of-town runners are likely bring at least a couple of friends or family members with them. The local tourism office is starting to make plans to spotlight local buildings of significance, placing signs in front of them to let out-of-town runners learn about the architect and when each structure was built.
As of Tuesday, 953 participants were listed on the marathon website as having registered — a bump of 112 in the past week alone.
Another encouraging sign: between 200 and 250 have signed up for either of two free marathon training programs that begin at 7 a.m. Saturday at YES Cinema. Both are 17 weeks long, with one geared to beginners and the other for advanced runners.
Race manager Ken Long of Ken Long and Associates in Greenwood, who has been organizing races for more than 30 years, said sign-up typically is busy when a race is first announced. After a slow period, it picks up again a month or two before the event, Long said.
By the end of June, Long estimates that 50 to 60 percent of the eventual participants will have signed up.
Marathon runners typically sign up early because their training must begin months in advance, but less experienced individuals planning to run or walk in the 5K might wait until September to sign up, Long said.
Signup will be available through race day, although organizers strongly encourage early registration. Participants who sign-up before July 1 also get the lowest race fee.
The marathon planning committee conducted a media day in Columbus on Tuesday to help spur buzz about the race and encourage more registrations.
So far, Columbus residents have eagerly jumped on board to run, walk and volunteer, Long said.
About half of the runners and walkers signed up so far are from Columbus, but organizers are working to spread the word outside of the city.
Long and his staff have been attending expos at other running events, posting Mill Race Marathon information on runner websites and sending out emails to a database of about 30,000 runners.
Word also is being spread via Facebook and Twitter.
“With a first race, it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen with sign-up, but we’re getting the word out,” Long said.
Allen Smith, a Columbus firefighter who attended Tuesday’s media day, said he plans to run the half-marathon and is trying to gather past participants from the NBC television show “The Biggest Loser” to run.
Smith, who was on the show during the 2009 season, said his goal is to have 10 to 12 show participants. If he’s successful, they could bring with them a large following and even a television crew.
Smith’s goal, however, is the same as that of the marathon planners: Encourage more people to become more physically active, whether they are running the marathon or walking the 5K.