Registration for October's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon opens in the middle of the night tonight -- at a minute after midnight Friday morning, to be exact.
It also opens in the middle of what appears to be an unsettled time for big ticket road racing events in Minnesota.
Factors including the beleaguered economy, high entry fees, frustration over ancillary costs of destination races, and competition from start-up events appear to be stunting registration for June's Grandma's Marathon.
While Twin Cities Marathon, Inc. officials are confident they will fill their race in near-normal fashion, registration season for the 28th TCM offers more uncertainty than those of the recent past.
Grandma's Numbers Down
As the Duluth News-Tribune reported earlier this week, HERE, Grandma's Marathon is still 1800 runners short of filling the field for its June 20 race. The race. which has reached its capacity for 14-straight years, had filled to its 9500 runner field-size by this time last year.
In the News-Tribune story, Grandma's Marathon executive director Scott Keenan attributed the entrant fall-off to the dismal economy, adding that he thought competition from start-up marathons, including those in Minneapolis and Stillwater, the recently rescinded head-phone ban, and Duluth lodging rates were contributing factors.
The entrant shortfall costs the race dearly -- a 1500 runner short-fall would bring $127,000 fewer dollars into event coffers to support it $2.1 million budget. Grandma's did raise its entry fee to $85 this year, up from $75 last year.
Ryan Lamppa, a running industry researcher for the trade organization Running USA, however, told DtB that the economic downturn does not appear to have impacted major marathon registration beyond Grandma's.
"Across the country, thus far in 2009, road races including marathons have been reaching record levels despite the recession; in short, a record or sold-out field more typical than not," he said.
Lamppa listed a dozen 2009 marathons that posted sold-out or record-sized fields. He noted that the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta registered 45,000 entrants on-line in seven hours, while the Army 10 Miler in Washington, DC sold out in a record six-days.
If reader comments on the News-Tribune story and on the Star-Tribune's own short piece about the topic, HERE, are are indicative of wider sentiment, anger over the cost of lodging in Duluth on Grandma's weekend may have reached a tipping point for some out-of-town Grandma's participants.
Duluth hotels typically jack up rates and require multi-night stays the weekend of Grandma's. In belt-tightened times, enough may be enough for some cash-strapped runners.
Just how many runners may have chosen the Minneapolis Marathon and the Anytime Fitness Stillwater Marathon over Grandma's is unclear. Neither race responded to e-mail inquiries about registration figures.
TCM Remains Confident
Like Grandma's, the Twin Cities Marathon, while filling to capacity in each of the last 22 years, has seen the rate at which it fills slow in recent years. In 2006, TCM closed in 15 days, in 2007 it took 19 days, last year it closed in 33 days.
Twin Cities Marathon officials, who didn't raise the event's $95 entry fee this year, say they've budgeted conservatively for 2009, yet still expect strong numbers. The race caps its marathon field at 11,000 runners.
"Overall, what we're seeing out there is that people are running," TCM executive director Virginia Brophy Achman told DtB. "It's a sign of the times; you've got to get out and go for a run and get some stress relief. I think people are making a choice to invest in themselves, in their health and their wellness."
TCM's apparent advantages over Grandma's in the current climate include having the vast majority of its entrants reside in the Twin Cities metro area, taking lodging costs out of the equation for them. TCM also doesn't face competition from emerging local marathons as does Grandma's.
But, starting at 12:01 tomorrow morning, TCM officials will begin to learn exactly where their race stands in relation to the new economics and current realities that face Minnesota road racing in 2009.
Online registration information for the 2009 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon can be found HERE.