2020 was a rough year for all sorts of in-person events and road racing was no different. After recovering from a surgery and doing last year’s Securian Winter Run 10k, I had a big year planned that was meant to culminate in running my first marathon in October. Alas, in March came the first delays and then the eventual cancellations. Race entries already purchased were converted to virtual races with small discounts for the next year.
2021 is looking more promising but it is a very different landscape. Many popular spring races have been rescheduled for fall. Others are still playing it safe and simply going virtual for another year. Out of the wreckage, some race directors have gotten creative and reimagined what races look like.
In general, they are much smaller affairs without the fanfare one would usually expect. Twin Cities in Motion, the organization that hosts the Twin Cities Marathon in addition to many other annual races, has started putting on races called MNy250s that are capped at 250 participants, no spectators allowed, and no lingering. Gone are the giant lobbies or festivals with snacks, shirts for sale, crowds of spectators, and athletes lining up for their last porta potty visit before packing into starting corrals like sardines. The success of such early experiments led more race directors to move forward with modified in-person races. Thus, one whole year after the last race I attended, I again registered for the Securian Financial Winter Run.
This year, all distances were virtual other than the 5k and, instead of crowding into a lobby in downtown St. Paul, the location was changed to a lake trail with no indoor warming area. Runners were required to wear masks at all times when not running on the course and to remain socially distant from others (as much as possible). The starting corrals have been completely redesigned. Instead of having everyone packed in behind the starting line, there were several areas where cones were laid out in grids of around 25 spots all 6 feet apart from each other. Each racer stood by a cone to maintain distance. Each section of 25 was taken one at a time to the starting line where we formed two columns behind the starting line next to more cones set a healthy distance apart. After the horn blew and the first group took off, the second group came up to the starting line and were set loose one minute later. So it went until all groups of runners were on the course after about five minutes of dispersed starts.
Despite these restrictions, the race was still a lot of fun. I am pretty proud of my performance, and it was nice to push myself beyond what I do on my neighborhood jaunts. While no big, crowded event took place, the St. Paul Winter Carnival’s royal family was there taking pictures and making announcements, Frostbite (the “coolest” bear mascot in St. Paul) was giving thumbs up, music was playing in the corral area, and everyone was just happy to be out doing something together again.
Everything is far from normal, but huge effort is going into resuming activities in what ways we can while recovery creeps ever closer. The running group I am part of, Mill City Running, will be putting on small time trial runs with just a few other runners of similar speed. Additional small, socially-distant races are planned for the year. Even the famous Grandma’s Marathon and Twin Cities Marathon are set to run with reduced capacity, so barring some new unforeseen complication I will finally get to race my first 26.2 miles in October.
2021 is definitely looking up!