by Midwest Meetings
Working from the very start with Final Stretch, Inc., a Nerstrand-based race management company owned by Mark Bongers, the Greater Mankato CVB team dove into the challenge under the direction of bureau president Anna Thill. Two years of planning later, in 2010, the inaugural Mankato Marathon took place, and this year, it came back with a bang.
How did it all come together? Midwest Meetings followed along as Greater Mankato CVB staff members put on their planning shoes and worked to bring a bigger, better Mankato Marathon to the city in 2011. Here, Thill takes us through the final stages of the planning process as her team tackles the final weeks before the event. The course has been set, lessons have been learned, and challenges are yet to be overcome before the Mankato Marathon takes place on October 22, 2011.
We really try to secure our sponsorships between December and January, but this year, we had a lot that were coming in March, April, May… we’re still selling some of the final sponsorship spots, a week and a half out. The activities guide, that’s kind of the bible for the weekend - that’s the last piece to get the sponsors in for recognition. That thing is a ton of work, just because all the details of the entire event have to be figured out before the activities guide can go out. The hope was to get that out on October 5th, and it’s hitting shelves now. So once that’s out, I don’t work too hard on getting sponsorships anymore. By this time, there’s really not a lot we can give them in return. Now it’s about implementation. It’s about getting what we have done put together.
Volunteer recruitment is heavy in September and October. I think we’re down to maybe 25 to 50 volunteer spots to fill, if that, so we’re in pretty good shape. Last Thursday, we did a radio tour. We talked to four different radio stations, and right after that, I had a phone call from The Free Press, who called me and interviewed me. The next day, that was on the top half of the front page of the paper, and then we were also on TV. That alone had a good impact on getting volunteers.
Our runners are coming in very nicely - about 50 to 100 a day right now. There’s a lot of last-minute registrants, and those are people who’ve been training and weren’t sure which race to register for yet. Maybe they’d been training for the marathon and hoping to get there, but they weren’t going to register until they knew they could run a marathon. The goal is 4,000 runners, and yesterday, we had 3,170. Mark [Bongers of Final Stretch] is still confident, so I’m going off my race manager’s comments. He does races all year long, so he knows the patterns of runners and how they register.
So we’re in the middle of stuffing 4,000 race bags. We have about 25 students from the university in this room right now, stuffing bag after bag after bag, and the hope is to have that done by Friday. We started on Monday at 5:00, and we’re giving them a week to stuff the bags. That's going really well! A lot of people come out of the woodwork just to do that part of the event.
Communication is a huge piece right now. We’re communicating with runners, with our sponsors, with our speakers; we’re doing last-minute reminders to absolutely everyone who has to do with this event. Putting together a run-of-show is something I still need to do. That’s your very fine-detailed schedule of everything, and I'm imagining this is going to be some kind of massive spreadsheet. That’s an infrastructure piece we didn’t build last year that I have to build this year, and hopefully it will be used from here on out as a good piece for future years. And everybody wants their hands on it, from the radio station to the City of Mankato, the Verizon Wireless Center - all these people who have big parts to play, they want to see that detail.
Overall, I think we’re in really, really good shape. I’m working on things this week that I didn’t work on until the day before the expo last year, so I’m a little ahead of the game, and I’m feeling much better. I’m even sleeping at night!
October 19, 2011
The week of the event, I’m praying some of the vendors we’re working with don’t go down. The boss man who’s doing all our signage for us has been diagnosed with pneumonia, and they’re printing signage this week. It’s a family business, so they’re very close, so all of them are sick! And if we don’t get our signage printed this week… well, that’s what we’re dealing with in these final hours of the Mankato Marathon.
This week, it’s all about the final touches and the finesse, making sure everything is just perfect as far as the signage, so we have that flair everywhere, and making sure we’re recognizing the people who need to be recognized with the sponsors. We did something really cool with our sponsor recognition. Usually, you have a big, old banner that just lists all your sponsor logos, and we did something new - a brainstorm I had early, early one morning. We took a runner’s shape and put the sponsor logos inside of that, so the runner is made up of all our sponsor logos. Our signage sponsor is this absolutely wonderful community partner, and they’re putting up banners for us that we didn’t even have listed on our needs. They’re just eating the costs as part of a sponsorship, and they’re doing a big 10x20 of this thing, so that’s been fun!
Credentials are kind of a last-minute thing we’re working on - who needs credentials into what area. We had an exciting development this week with our media sponsor. The Free Press, which is our newspaper, was so smart last year. They saw that our finish line was right in front of our Civic Center, which has the Hilton Garden Inn attached to it. So we have a hotel here that's nine stories tall that has four corner suites with big balconies that oversee this whole finish line area, and The Free Press already had the foresight last year to rent a corner balcony for a VIP suite for this year. We were going to have a VIP tent, and now we’ll just give the VIPs the bleachers at the finish that are just for them and send them up to this suite with The Free Press for a bird’s eye view. So now I need to get a VIP list put together, and I’ve got to get credentials put together. Those are a few of the last-minute things we’re scrambling to do this morning.
Other things are coming in this week - the really exciting pieces that really solidify this. The runner shirts are in, our medals are in and our medals are gorgeous, and our big awards that we're giving to the first, second, and third runners are in. It’s exciting to see all those pieces come together.
There’s still a lot of communication going on, especially now, communicating with the public. Tomorrow, I’m going to do a tour of all the radio stations again. The focus is on the weekend and how everybody can participate, whether you’re a runner or not, but we also want to have that other piece, which is, “Hey, there’s going to be road closures around town, so please be prepared for that,” so people can navigate around the community. If people aren’t participating, we want to make sure they’re not frustrated with us!
We’re also encouraging anybody who has a marquee in town to put up something on their marquee to welcome the runners. That’s something Mankato can do. We want the participants to come in and feel like, “Wow, this entire community is embracing us.” When you come in and you see a bunch of welcome signs all over the community, that’s pretty impressive. We had 4,000 to 5,000 spectators last year, and this year we’re planning between 6,000 and 8,000 spectators because, number one, the race has grown so much, and number two, because people who weren’t around last year heard about what they missed. The excitement this week has just really blossomed all over the community. We’re turning away volunteers now! People come in and say, “I just want to be a part of it.”
There’s so much unknown when you plan so far ahead, and that’s when you’re losing sleep because you don’t know if the expo is going to fill, you don’t know if all the runners are going to register in time, if you’re going to have your volunteers or your sponsorship dollars. Now we’re to the point where everything is known, and now people can get really excited about it.
It’s this Saturday, we know everything is in place and we just need to put it all together, and that’s fun, and I think everything’s going to go really smoothly.
And the weather for Saturday looks perfect for running!
Check out Part I of this series, and stay tuned as the Greater Mankato CVB team tracks the Mankato Marathon planning process before, during, and after the big event!