How Mini-Marathons Work

By: Brian Boone
Donald Duck medals that Dale Nelson earned from running in the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon hang in his home in Orlando, Fla. Dale and his wife, Betsy, left their law enforcement jobs in Ft. Lauderdale to move closer to Walt Disney World.
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Often called a half marathon, a mini-marathon is a tremendous test of endurance and running skill. At half the length of a full, 26.2-mile (42.16-kilometer) marathon, a mini-marathons' 13.1-mile (21.08-kilometer) course provides a challenge without the grueling length. While marathons usually get a lot of attention, dozens of mini-marathons also take place each year in the United States.

Make no mistake: Mini-marathons are not casual, non-competitive races. Like full marathons, the shorter mini-marathons keep times, maintain age divisions and often award prizes. Most likely, someone who is physically fit -- but not an athlete -- could finish a 5K or even a 10K without keeling over. (Those are 3.1 and 6.2-mile courses, respectively). However, running 13.1 miles is not easy. A mini-marathon is a physical test for regular, disciplined runners. Even if you run hard four to five days a week and train specifically for the big day, you should take the mini-marathon seriously.


Whether you've trained for the race or not, attending a mini-marathon is itself a lot of fun. Mini-marathons often occur along with another event, such as a full marathon, sporting event, parade or civic festival. Many mini-marathon sponsors place their focus on both having fun and giving to charity. Registration fees may benefit charities, some of which have been around for so long that they are events unto themselves. Charities may have their own fans, adherents and singular traditions.

Whether running a mini-marathon for charity, to prepare for a full marathon or to reach a personal goal, you'll know your months of training paid off when you finish the race. You'll become part of the nearly 1 percent of people worldwide who finish mini-marathons. So, go ahead and lace up your running shoes. Race day is around the corner.

Before you hit the pavement, though, let's look at some of the United States' biggest and best mini-marathons.


OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon

Lucie Mays-Sulewski of Westfield, Ind., crosses the finish line to win the women's division of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, Saturday, May 6, 2006 in Indianapolis.
AP Photo/John Harrell

What was once the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon is currently called the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. Named after the main sponsor, insurance company OneAmerica, the race is an Indianapolis tradition. It has been held on the first Saturday of every May since 1977. As the largest mini-marathon in the United States and the sixth-largest running event overall, it has a maximum 35,000 spots available to runners. "The Mini," as it's locally nicknamed, winds through downtown Indianapolis. It has reached capacity every year since 2003.

To qualify for The Mini, you must provide proof that you can run the 13.1-mile (21.08-kilometer) distance in under two and a half hours. Qualifying results from a road race of at least 5K in the previous year will suffice. The mini-marathon includes race classes for runners age 12 and under all the way up to a class for runners 70 and older. The Mini has a wheelchair division, and corporate and fundraising teams may enter.


Registration for The Mini begins online the previous November, but it's such a popular event that it fills up quickly. The 2010 race, for example, was full by Dec. 14, 2009. The $55 registration fee ($75 if you sign up after December 1) covers a race packet, a personalized bib number and all inherent racing costs. No cash prizes are awarded to winners.

On race day, runners line up at 6:45 a.m., and the race begins at 8 a.m. with more experienced runners starting first. The Mini has different corrals -- areas sectioned off at the starting line where runners are grouped according to their expected finishing times. The race ends at noon.

The Mini is an official part of the 500 Festival, a month-long civic celebration that leads up to the city's famous sporting event on Memorial Day weekend: the Indianapolis 500 auto race. The Mini is probably the only mini-marathon that calls its water stations "pit areas" to play up the Indy 500 connection. It's certainly the only televised mini-marathon. Indianapolis' WISH-TV broadcasts the race each year and puts it online, too.

The Festival includes a parade, kids' carnival and festival princess coronations. However, the running element is arguably the most popular part. In fact, it's so popular that more than 100,000 people attend the after-race block party. Whether you come to run or for the party of the year, this Indianapolis tradition is great fun.

Next up: Let it ride in Kentucky with the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon.


Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon

The Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon is also tied to a popular sporting event. The 13.1-mile (21.08-kilometer) race is held a week before the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in the world and the first leg of the three-stage Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. While the horses have raced at Louisville's Churchill Downs for more than 100 years, the humans have been running since 1974. More than 11,000 runners compete in the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon the last weekend in April each year.

The miniMarathon is part of a citywide festival, the 75-year-old Kentucky Derby Festival, which features the horse race as its centerpiece. The festival boasts more than 70 events, including a festival-opening televised fireworks display, a formal dance and a balloon race. There's also a full marathon run concurrently with the mini.


Registration begins the previous July and ends on Jan. 31. The $50 fee includes a number bib, time-tracking chip, T-shirt and poster. It also provides admission to the post-race party at Kroger's Fest-A-Ville entertainment venue.

The Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon categorizes runners by gender and age division; categories range from 15 and under to 70-plus. Wheelchair racers (who start 10 minutes before the rest of the pack) and corporate or fundraising teams may also enter.

As with other mini-marathons, participants must provide proof that they can finish the race. They must show a good time in a previous race to earn a corral at the front of the pack. At 7:30 a.m., entrants begin the day at the Iroquois Manor Shopping Center and then run through Iroquois Park. They then race through the city and its outskirts, including a lap around Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Because of the course's variety, runners run on grass, dirt and pavement, which adds an extra challenge. Total time allotted for mini-marathoners is six hours.

The 2010 miniMarathon route featured an exciting change for runners: The finish line was moved to Kroger's Fest-A-Ville on the Waterfront. This provides what Mike Berry, President and CEO of the Kentucky Derby Festival, calls a "more comfortable and scenic reunite area for runners and their loved ones" [source: Route Changes]. The Fest-A-Ville features food, other concessions and a concert to help race participants and fans celebrate.

Coming up next, we'll look at a magical run in a magical place: the Walt Disney World Half Marathon.


Walt Disney World Half Marathon

The Walt Disney World Half Marathon has been held on a Saturday in early January since 1994 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. As part of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend -- a four-day, running-centered, Disney-sponsored festival -- the half marathon is one of the few such races held in the winter. Florida temperatures in January top out at a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius). The racecourse's fully paved surface provides a smooth run for 17,000 entrants age 14 and up.

The registration fee (which you can pay online) is $135. The higher price is in part because of the exotic race location. The fee includes a race handbook, a shirt, a disposable camera, a goody bag and a number bib. It also covers admission to the Health & Fitness Expo and transportation to and from the race (if you're staying in an official Disney hotel). Additionally, the fee covers on-course and post-race food and drink for runners. Runners also gain access to a post-race Web site where they can find their times, view photos of themselves and other runners, and print out participation certificates.


This mini-marathon starts very early: Runners line up at 4 a.m. for the 5:40 a.m. race time. Disney groups runners into gender and age divisions: masters (the marathon pros), open (everyone else), and classes for runners 13 and under to 80 and over. Like other mini-marathons, Disney also has a wheelchair division.

Once the half marathon begins, it's unlike any other race -- this one follows a circular route through many Orlando tourist attractions. It starts at Epcot Center, then winds through Disney World (past Tomorrowland and Cinderella's Castle) and MGM Studios before ending back at Epcot. The entire race occurs before the parks open, giving the runners plenty of space. Even without the traditional tourist crowd, Disney-costumed characters are there to cheer on the runners. In fact, some runners even dress up as familiar Disney characters, too!

If you want to learn more about mini-marathons, we have lots more information on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • 500 Festival. "Mini-Marathon: Entry Information." (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • 500 Festival. "Mini-Marathon: History of Event." (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • 500 Festival. "Mini-Marathon: Mini-Marathon FAQ." (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • Brooks, Steve. "Kenyan runners take top prizes at 2009 OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon: Janet Cherobon wins third straight Mini-Marathon." 500 Festival. May 2, 2009. (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • Disney. "Disney Family Fun Run 5K." (July 28, 2010)
  • Disney. "Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge." (July 28, 2010)
  • Disney. "Mickey's Marathon Kids' Fest." (July 28, 2010)
  • Disney. "Walt Disney World Half Marathon." (July 25, 2010)
  • Disney. "Walt Disney World Marathon." 2009. (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • Disney. "Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend presented by CIGNA." (July 27, 2010)
  • End Result, Inc. "OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon." (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • Kentucky Derby Festival, Inc. "Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & miniMarathon: Frequently Asked Questions." (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • LIN Television Corporation: WISH-TV. "OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon." (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • The Active Network, Inc. "2010 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon & miniMarathon -- miniMarathon." May 17, 2010. (Aug. 4, 2010)
  • The Active Network, Inc. "2010 Walt Disney World® Marathon -- Half Marathon." May 7, 2010. (Aug. 4, 2010)