By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — The rapid growth of the Mankato Marathon had Anna Thill pondering the if-onlys the other day.
If only the third-year event had started 10 years ago, Mankato might be looking at 15,000 runners competing in this weekend’s slate of races.
Not that the Greater Mankato Convention & Visitors Bureau president is complaining, because the nearly 5,000 runners who will be participating Saturday and Sunday signifies leapfrog growth for such an event.
“We’re growing just as quickly, if not more quickly, than other competitive races,” Thill said.
Race Director Mark Bongers takes it further.
“The Mankato Marathon is unique in that it’s far exceeded the growth level in most marathons of this type. It’s a well-marketed event,” said Bongers, whose Final Stretch company in Nerstrand handles all race logistics, including course management, staffing security and lining up the nearly 1,000 volunteers required.
The previous two Mankato Marathons were held on a Friday and Saturday, a format that’s been changed to Saturday-Sunday to better accommodate out-of-town runners and those who accompany them.
Thill said she met a woman the other day who said she was going to be running in her first half-marathon and has her entire family coming from Illinois to cheer her on.
Thill said the local economic impact generated from the runners alone was estimated at $400,000 in 2011, when 3,800 participated.
The community benefits from the lodging, restaurant and miscellaneous revenues generated by the runners and their parties.
Final Stretch receives all registration fees for the multiple race categories that include a marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K and KidsK.
Bongers said the half-marathon is perennially the most popular, with about 1,500 runners signed up so far.
Thill said a Convention and Visitors Bureau runners survey conducted after last year’s event showed that their demographics — education and income levels — matched fairly closely with national data for marathons.
The exception: Aside from the full marathon, the event’s other races attracted a larger percentage of female runners (70 percent) than similar races nationwide.
Bongers said people run in marathons for a variety of reasons.
Some want the challenge of tackling one of the items on their bucket lists.
Others regard them as opportunities to see the sights of an unfamiliar community up close and personal while trotting through its streets.
Still others enjoy the uplifting rush of being cheered on by total strangers along the route — there will be 13 designated “cheer teams” — and seeing their images flashed on a giant screen as they cross the finish line.
Saturday’s marathon expo events, including vendor booths, exhibits, a mass pasta feed and a lineup of speakers, will be held 12-8 p.m. in Myers Field House at Minnesota State University.
The races Sunday will cause traffic disruptions on several streets and roads from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Go to www.mankatomarathon.com for a list of affected routes and times and other event information.