Grandma’s Marathon builds on success of July race to produce two more events this weekend

By Leah Etling

In July, Grandma’s Marathon of Duluth, Minn. held its first race since COVID-19 halted most road racing nationwide.

“Our city approved it, and it went fantastic,” said Shane Bauer, executive director. Grandma’s Marathon produces a year-round schedule of a dozen running and walking events in normal times, including its flagship race, Grandma’s Marathon.

The Park Point 5 Miler and 2 Mile Walk, held on July 16, included an impressive 36 waves of runner starts, with just 25 people in each heat and 20 minutes between them. The first launched at 6am and the last at 7pm. Overall, about 200 runners participated in the 650-person capacity event.

Key considerations to make the event a success, along with the distributed starts, included:

  • Athlete temperature checks as they entered the start corral. Anyone with a temperature of over 100.4 degrees would be directed to medical professionals on site. No one met that threshold.
  • Six feet of separation between all participants and volunteers at all times.
  • Mask wearing by athletes and volunteers at all times except while running the course.
  • No spectators and no large groups allowed.
  • Online registration only and advance race packet pickup.

You can view the Park Point 5 Miler COVID-19 operations plan here.

“We learned so much, and now we know we can do events in half a day, with 10 minutes between start waves,” Bauer said. He admitted that with runners coming into the finish up to 20 minutes apart – “it even got a little boring. When a runner would come across, we’d turn up the music and announce their name, to create a finish line experience for them – but it was definitely not a normal finish line experience.”

Based on that (literal) run through, the plan is to start waves 5 or 10 minutes apart during future events. That’s something their medical director is comfortable with, and it will condense the time of the event from a full 12 hour day to a half day. This Friday and Saturday, the One Minnesota Mile and Fitger’s 5K will be held with shorter breaks between waves but all other COVID-19 protocols the same.

“You can’t overdo the safety side to make the runners comfortable, and communication is everything,” Bauer said on his takeaways from Park Point. “You must convey to runners that if you don’t follow these guidelines, you’re running the risk of ruining this expansion of road racing for everyone. The rules are the rules and there are no exceptions for anyone.”

He said they had exceptional compliance from participants and that many expressed their gratitude for being to participate in an organized event once again.

This week, Grandma’s launched registration for its 2021 marathon, the 45th edition, with the confidence that it will adapt the protocols that are working at these smaller events to the big event. Final operations plans are still in progress, but you can learn more here.