As the largest day of road racing in Kentucky history, the Kentucky Derby Festival mini & Marathon is a celebration across Louisville – for runners & spectators alike!
What once began as a small, local road race now attracts several thousands of runners annually from all 50 states and several foreign countries. The race is currently ranked among the top 100 races by USA Track and Field, and has been touted as the “flattest Boston Qualifier”.
Not many people could have imagined the Marathon would grow into one of the cornerstone events of Derby Festival when it first began almost 50 years ago. The late Gil Clark, a longtime director of the miniMarathon, remembered first charting the race in 1974 and the unexpected response from the community. Only two runners were guaranteed at the first miniMarathon: Phil Fowler, a member of the Louisville Striders running club who first envisioned the race, and Mayor Harvey Sloane. A mere one hundred and fifty runners’ numbers were ordered, which drastically underestimated the number of runners that showed up that morning to participate. Clark recalled, “We were scrambling for scrap pieces of cardboard and scribbling numbers with a grease pencil just to get runners entered.”
In the years to come, the event soared in popularity. Spectators arrived in droves and participation swelled from in the hundreds to nearly 3,500 by 1979. Now in 2022, the race has grown to over twelve thousand entrants each year.
Throughout the years, the course has changed with its growing size many times. In 2011, the course for both the mini and Marathon was altered with the input of our runners to be a “looped” course, starting and finishing within a three-block. In this route, runners have been able to view some of the city’s greatest landmarks including historic Downtown Louisville, the scenic Olmstead Park system, the renowned Old Louisville neighborhood and the traditional run through Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
Then in 2021, the course again underwent an unprecedented change in response to the pandemic. For the first time in the race’s history, participants completed their run across two states (Kentucky and Southern Indiana). Runners got to run across the Big Four Walking Bridge, another first for any Louisville-Area race.
Though the mini and Marathon route may have changed over the years, one thing is certain: the course will always showcase the beauty of the city of Louisville. For as large and sophisticated as the event has become, it is still very much a community event. From the lead runners to the back of the pack, you can feel the excitement of being a part of Louisville’s most festive time of the year. If you choose to run in the Kentucky Derby Festival’s miniMarathon or Marathon, you’ll be a part of making our two-week celebration the largest party in town! With some of the best volunteers and partners around, you’re guaranteed to get superb organization, exceptional course support and that overflowing Southern Hospitality you’ve come to expect.
While large in runner size, we like to think our race has never lost the connection and heart of a local community run. In fact, a local runner sums it up well: “I’ve run great races all over the country and right in my own back yard. Never have I seen an event that was so well organized…And there’s no better crowd than a Louisville crowd! I’ll continue to travel around to other races, but the mini is one I’ll always come back to.”