My thoughts on the 35th annual One America 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, IN
One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon
May 8, 2010
My Run: Overall, the One America 500 Festival Mini-Marathon (Mini) in Indianapolis was my fifth half marathon, and my third long-distance race in the last six weeks (Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon on 03/28 & Country Music Marathon on 04/24). This was the second year in a row that I have run the Mini, which is the largest half marathon and fifth largest road race in the U.S. with 35,000 runners. The Mini is part of the month-long 500 Festival that leads up to the Indianapolis 500.
I traveled to Indianapolis with my good friend Nathan Wright. When Nathan is in top form, he has proven to have a little more speed than me (sub 1:40 PR for the half, compared to my 1:44 PR). However, Nathan had not run a long distance event since the 2009 Country Music Half Marathon, and had only begun running again in February of this year after dealing with a foot injury. Prior to the race we had discussed shooting for an 8:00 min per mile pace through the first 9 or 10 miles, and then each of us would decide how much gas we had left for the finish. If we carried that pace to the end, we would finish in 1:45. Our plan was to start out conservatively (which is a must due to crowd congestion), and then pick it up slowly over the course of the race.
The weather was a mixture of good and bad. It was an overcast day, and temperatures were ideal, with upper 40s at the start and mid 50s at the finish. However, the wind was blowing around 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph. Given that Indianapolis is very flat, the terrain offered little protection. This was slightly concerning as the wind blew my hat down the street while Nathan and I were running our warmup stride-outs.
Even though the race start is divided into corrals, the absence of a wave start, and the narrow opening of the start area results in a very congested first couple of miles (more on this below). Nathan and I completed the first mile in just over 9 min, which was significantly over our goal pace, but was about as good as we could do with the congestion. By the end of mile two, we were almost two minutes over our goal. After that, we began to gradually pick up the pace, and by the time we entered the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at mile 6, were around 1:30 over our goal pace.
Over the 2.5 miles of the speedway, we subconsciously picked up the pace even more with the energy and excitement of the surroundings. As we came to the 9-mile marker just after leaving the speedway, we had further reduced our deficit to just over 1 minute, and were running around a 7:45 per mile pace.
During a long straightaway leading back towards downtown, I told Nathan that I was feeling good and was going to pick it up a little through the finish. The conservative start, combined with the low temperatures, had left me feeling very fresh as we approached the 10-mile marker. While the winds were noticeable, they did not seem to be as big of a factor as I feared (probably due to all of the other runners.)
I ran the 11th mile in 7:13, and completely made up the deficit. I did 7:06 for the 12th mile, and began to set my sights on a sub 1:43 finish. As the course turned onto the bridge during mile 13, and entered the home stretch, I picked it up a little more, and ran a 6:57 final mile, and the final .1 on a 6:27 pace.
As I crossed the finish line, I looked at my watch and had finished just under 1:43 at 1:42:46. This was almost 2 minutes faster than my PR in the Clarksville Half Marathon last year, and almost 30 minutes faster than my 2:12 finish in the Mini in 2009.
Nathan finished shortly after me in a fantastic 1:44:23. Both of us felt good at the finish, and were pleased with the results. This was my first out-of-town race to run with a friend, and it was a very enjoyable experience. If Nathan and I continue running races together I’m going to have to continue to improve if I’m going to hang with him. It is obvious that he has another gear in reserve that is just waiting to be unleashed.
The Race: Overall, I would give that race organizers an “A+” – It is hard to come up with many criticisms of this event. The organization from the expo to the finish area is impecable. The course is flat and very unique (see more below). All Mini participants received an long-sleeve technical t-shirt (new perk for this year), and a technical running hat. The finisher’s medal for 2010 is a really cool design that incorporates an Indy car with elements of the Mini and speedway.
There were 17 aid stations (“Pit Stops”) on the course (plus multiple stations at the start and finish area). There are signs identifying the aid stations well in advance. While it is great that there is plenty of fluid, the number of stations is a little bit overwhelming, and causes frequent course congestion. The reason for the high number is that each station has either water or Gatorade, but not both. Seems like an easy way to ease some of the congestion would be to combine these stations. I am always happy to see Gatorade as it is my favorite sports drink, and like most big races, the water and Gatorade were in different cups, making it easy to distinguish.
The mile markers were elevated, making them easy to see, and all included split times. The finish area is the best I’ve ever seen. There is plenty of room to keep moving, and the volunteers immediately give you a bottle of water after finishing. After receiving your medal, all finishers are given a plastic grocery bag for all of the post-race food (great touch). They had bananas, apples, cookies, potato chips and Gatorade. Also the post race picture area is well laid out, and does not cause undue congestion. The bag check location was clearly marked at the race start and finish and there are LOTS of port-a-potties.
Another couple of nice features include the Chronotrack B-tag timing system that is buil-into the race bib. This means runners don’t need to do anything but wear their bib in order to be timed. Also, all of the bibs incude the runner’s first name, which ultimately leads to the crowd cheering for you by calling out your name.
The race does not feature pace teams, however this is not as big of a deal in a half marathon vs. a full. Some might be critical of the lack of a wave start given that there are 35,000 runners. There are definitely pros and cons to a wave start. The big pro is that it eases congestion at the start. The big con is that it leaves some corrals up to 40 or 50 minutes behind gun time. For one I don’t mind large races that have some congestion at the start.
The Course: The course starts in downtown Indy, and includes a lap around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway before returning to downtown Indy for the finish. While there are some mundane portions of the course between downtown and the speedway, there is LOTS of on-course entertainment including bands, DJs, cheer squads, etc. The lap around the Speedway is fantastic. I’m not a big car racing fan, but this is a really cool experience. The asphalt is perfect, and it is exciting to run across the yard of bricks at the start/finish line.
The course is FLAT. There is one very minor incline during mile 2, and then a short, sharp ramp-like incline into the infield of the speedway. Other than that…Pancake flat. Crowd support is pretty light, except for the final mile where there are lots of spectators, and even stands at the finish.
The final stretch across the river, and back into downtown is really exciting, and gives you that added boost you need for the finish.
All-in-all this is one of the great road-races, and one that should be on your bucket list if you’ve never participated in it. Other race directors could learn a lot from the Mini, and it’s incredible organization.
- Long-sleeve technical shirt
- Technical running hat
- Includes lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway
- Water and Gatorade throughout the course, and in distinct cups
- Large signs to identify aid stations
- Great volunteer support and communication
- Nice finisher’s medal
- Well designed finish area / plenty of room to keep moving
- Lots of on-course entertainment
- Incredible organization
- B-tag timing system (built into bib)
- Names on racing bib
- Good fan support on the at the finish.
- Elevated mile markers with split times.
- Poor crowd support until the finish
- No pace teams
- Too many aid stations causes undue congestion
- Each aid station is either water or Gatorade, but not both