It seems quaint now, but just a few years ago, or within living memory anyway, as in 1998, the Maine Marathon and half-marathon and relay combined had 989 finishers. And that number was enough to generate an “Almost 1,000 …” headline the following day.

Today, as the Sunday, Oct. 2, event approaches its 20th running, the numbers are distinctly more robust. By Friday there were 2,500 people signed up, and that’s not counting about 50 four-leg relay teams.

“We’re about 400 people ahead of last year at this time, or over 70 percent full,” said race co-director Howard Spear. “And last year we filled, as in capped out, at 3,500, one week before race day. So we (he and co-director Bob Aube) won’t be surprised to hit the cap in mid-September this year.”

The lesson is, if you would like to run, don’t wait to register, at www.mainemarathon.com.

One might think the race’s filling early last year would have eliminated late-registration headaches for organizers. But it proved otherwise, since Spear was left answering many emails and phone calls from disappointed late-comers.

“Nobody expected us to fill at the time,” Spear said. “So that may be one reason we’re so far ahead this year, because people know that we capped out.”

Reasons for the event’s ever-growing popularity include relatively low entry fees, a very fair and scenic course and, Spear believes, how well and how equally runners are treated. He mentioned that the 2011 marathon field already has almost 400 registrants who are first-time marathoners.

In other bits of marathon news, there will be a 1-mile kids race for ages 7-12 at 10 a.m. on Oct. 1, the day before the Big Races and an hour before the event expo/packet pickup begins at USM’s Sullivan Gym.

The “Marathon Mile” is a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine. The course is a road out and back on the Boulevard.

There is a $10 entry fee, so kids get a T-shirt and a goodie bag. There’s also a fundraising component in which anybody raising at least $100 in addition to the registration fee is registered in a raffle to win an iPad. Sign up on race morning or through the marathon website.

It takes more than 600 volunteers to stage the event. Wonder how many total hours that entails.

Organizers plan to have more entertainment on the course this year. “A bit of a hit on the budget, but worth it,” Spear said.

He also predicted better-than-Boston’s goodie bags, thanks in part to a contact at Hannaford, and a booming race expo coordinated by John Rogers of Maine Running Company.

Gorham Savings Bank is again the title sponsor, and the event is fortunate to have several other generous supporters, including the Portland Sea Dogs. Race registrants and volunteers get a coupon good for a ticket to the Maine Marathon Day game next May.

And funds flowing from Hadlock Field have paid for a new PA system, a laptop, new mile markers, a tent, and most recently, 48 lightweight tables for water and so on out on the course.

Speaking of the PA system, here’s another example of the event’s personal touch. A couple of years ago a Massachusetts woman emailed after the race to say thanks because the finish-line announcer had actually pronounced her name correctly, rather than mangling it as was usual for her to hear.

The announcer was of course Ron Pelton (Spear calls him “Sweet Voice”), who was pleased that half-marathoner Nicole Tracz-Raposo was pleased, and credited his smoothness to experience as a former DJ on a classical music station.

IF YOU’RE LOOKING for a race with a cool twist and an Old Port flavor, the You and ME Duo Duel 10K Relay is being held for the second year. The race takes place at 8 a.m. Saturday.

The course starts and finishes on Commercial Street and Center Street and consists of teams of two, explained race director Brian Curtin, each runner racing a 5K down Commercial Street to the East End Beach, up Cutter Street to the Prom, then back down Fore and Commercial to a finish and party with pizza, live music and more.

“We wanted to create a fun, unique race with a cool course (running down Commercial is a treat), with all local vendors … and we wanted it to be for a great cause” (The Mitchell Institute, which provides scholarships for Maine students), said Curtin.

Last year’s winners were the formidable duo of Josh Zolla of Freeport and Kristin Barry of Scarborough, who combined to run 32 minutes, 48 seconds.

For more info or to register, see www.duoduel.com.

John Rolfe of Portland is a staff writer and a road runner. He can be reached at 791-6429 or at:

[email protected]