Leading Expert Marcel Altenburg Helping to Analyze 2021 Race Plan

(DULUTH, MINN.) — Grandma’s Marathon-Duluth, Inc. has partnered with world-renowned crowd scientist Marcel Altenburg of Manchester Metropolitan University to optimize the event’s participant flow as part of the organization’s COVID-modified race plan.

Altenburg has previously worked with larger marathons like London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York as well as other major marathons around the world. He has developed crowd science software called Start Right, which uses a unique mathematical algorithm to help race organizers visualize, predict, and control the flow of participants throughout the entire race.

“Grandma’s Marathon is unique in its setup and all measurements of the event are very fortunate,” Altenburg said. “With the right adjustments, this race can be organized with social distance in the place at the start, through the course, and at the finish.”


Grandma’s Marathon is planning a half capacity event, including but not limited to the following changes on race day:


·         Bus Transportation – Buses to the start line for the marathon and half marathon will allow a maximum of 25 participants, and all public transit safety guidelines will be in place. Participants will exit buses in a controlled fashion to ensure there is always adequate space in the start corral.


·         Rolling Start Line – Participants will enter a start corral for both the marathon and half marathon, which will be spaced to allow for appropriate social distancing. Once in the corral, participants will immediately advance toward the start line. Participants will then be released from separated lanes in staggered fashion, five at a time, to control the flow onto the racecourse.


·         Masks & Face Coverings – All participants, volunteers, staff, and others present will be required to wear a mask or face covering at all times other than while actively participating in a race. This includes but is not limited to on the bus, in the start corral, and after crossing the finish line.


Altenburg’s analysis of the current plan, with the above safety measures included, shows a decreased density that allows for a minimum of 12 or more feet of spacing between participants at all times during the race. In general, participants will have 20 feet of possible distance to other people at most points on the racecourse.


“Start Right is an amazing tool that is helping us plan an effective race weekend with confidence,” Grandma’s Marathon Race Director Greg Haapala said. “With this analysis, we know our racecourse and the established capacity limits allow for the appropriate spacing between participants, but we will still require everyone involved to act responsibly throughout the event.”


Altenburg’s model checks the participant density and spacing at all points along the racecourse, including the start and finish lines, aid stations, or narrow sections of roadway. At one of the highest density spots, the finish line, his analysis shows the 2021 plan decreases the peak by 64 percent from 2019.


“We measured the entire course and simulated every participant based on the specific data of the event,” Altenburg concluded. “The result is that Grandma’s Marathon is uniquely equipped to be among the first marathons to come back when the time is right.”


Attached are photos illustrating Altenburg’s analysis of the 2021 Grandma’s Marathon weekend, which is scheduled for June 17-19, 2021. There is also a video simulation available on our YouTube channel, linked here — https://youtu.be/1C_JJKf8G8o.


Altenburg has also done crowd science analysis for professional soccer teams, stadiums with up to 100,000-seat capacity, airports, and more than 100 other races around the world. His work has been featured in publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Runner’s World.


He has a Master of Arts in Human Science from Helmut Schmidt University and a Master of Science in Crowd Safety and Risk Analysis from Manchester Metropolitan University.


For more information, please call our office at (218) 727-0947 or visit grandmasmarathon.com.




Grandma’s Marathon began in 1977 when a group of local runners planned a scenic road race from Two Harbors to Duluth, Minnesota. There were just 150 participants that year, but organizers knew they had discovered something special. Grandma’s Marathon weekend draws approximately 20,000 participants for its three-race event each June.


The race got its name from the Duluth-based group of famous Grandma’s Restaurants, the first major sponsor of the Marathon. Over time, the level of sponsorship with the restaurants changed, but the name stayed the same. Grandma’s Marathon-Duluth, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization with a 17-member Board of Directors and a small, nine-person staff.