Three years later, the marathon has grown into a weekend event with races and activities for people of all ages. Thill spoke with Midwest Meetings again to talk about how things have grown and what goes into pulling off marathon weekend.
Anna Thill: I would say the major change through the years is the ownership each staff member has for their particular part of the marathon. We still haven’t gotten to the part of being able to fund a full-time staff person just to focus on the marathon so we split up the “bucket list” among a few staff members where it fits best. Marketing and public relations pieces are put with the marketing team. Sponsorship, expo, race bag sales go to the Sports Commission Director. I have been blessed with the opportunity to direct staff rather than have to be in the weeds. That really shows the growth of the entire team to handle what comes their way and be comfortable with the event.
MM: Has the Sports & Health Expo always been part of marathon weekend?
AT: As we researched major marathons, this seemed to be a common element so we included it from the get-go. But we are always looking to improve so we make tweaks each year based on experience and what he hear back from our runners and exhibitors through annual surveys. This event within the event has really grown from the first year. We are now in Minnesota State University - Mankato’s Meyers Field House where we fit the Speaker Series, the vendors, race bag pick-up, a Kidz Zone, and the newly added Diaper Dash and Toddler Trot races.
MM: Has the Speaker Series always been a part of the weekend too? How do you decide/secure speakers?
AT: Yes, we focus on a main nationally known speaker with a couple of other locals that speak to important, pertinent topics. The speakers are really decided on with input from a few local runners that provide ideas based on who they have heard or admire. We have had a great history of speakers that pack the seats including Dick Beardsley, Frank Shorter, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Kathrine Switzer, and coming up Carrie Tollefson.
AT: We are stressing that Mankato Marathon weekend is really for the entire family, even those in diapers. Final Stretch, the event’s race management company, has participated in these types of special races in the past and thought it was time to incorporate them.
Visit Mankato staff work on the Kidz Zone activities. For the most part the same businesses and organizations we worked with the first year have come back year after year. They keep getting better too as they have become comfortable with what to expect. Some of the activities included in the Kidz Zone are miniature golf, a small bowling lane, a very popular climbing wall that is part of the Meyers Field House, and a life-size Angry Birds game. The whole zone is super popular.
MM: Tell us about the Charities Program.
AT: The purpose of the program is to provide a platform for selected charities to raise money for their programs. The Mankato Marathon will provide free registrations for each charity’s four runners who then have to go out and raise money that goes directly to their charity. Champion Runners have to run a full or half marathon and raise a minimum amount to qualify for the incentives they receive, beyond the satisfaction of doing a great thing for others in need. The Mankato Marathon also promotes the charities throughout the year and gives registrants a chance to donate to one or all of the charities through registration.
AT: Our partnership with Final Stretch has really been amazing. There are colorful personalities on both sides which makes it fun. The teams are in different towns so we do our best to integrate as much as we can with each other. We have learned communication is critically important. Most communication happens via email so we do a lot of copying so everyone is kept in the loop. We also hold at least bi-weekly Skype meetings through the year which cuts down the mileage and is highly effective.
The partnership has always been about respecting each organization’s strengths. In fact, the agreement between the two organizations was based on what each could bring to the table and what each needed in order to hold up their end of the deal. Visit Mankato staff are great at marketing and communications tactics because that is what we do. Visit Mankato knows about coordinating events and ensuring a great visitor experience. Also, Visit Mankato has the connections with the local governments, businesses, sponsors, volunteers, and more. Final Stretch brings their race management expertise to the table as well as the perspective of what it is that runners expect. Visit Mankato will defer to them 100% when it comes to what should happen on the course for the runners. We respect each organization’s strengths and work well together where we share expertise and experience.
The Mankato Marathon would not be successful without the strong partnership that is in place. The simple truth is neither organization is positioned to take on what the other has to offer. It is a good thing we all get along so well! And I believe that comes down to leadership, character, honesty, and trust.