Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Marathon Scheduling: The Grandma's Position

Prior to and after the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Down the Backstretch ran two editorials (HERE and HERE) about hot weather, the changing climate, and the dates of Minnesota's premier marathons. We suggested that an earlier-in-the-year Grandma's Marathon and a two-weeks-later Twin Cities Marathon would make better sense for serious runners than the current dates. We also ran two polls -- the results of which are displayed on the DtB sidebar -- to gauge reader's opinions on the matter.

We thought it was only fair to offer the DtB "microphone" to the directors of the events in question -- to get their take on the matter. The folks at Twin Cities respectifully declined the offer. Scott Keenan, the executive director of Grandma's Marathon, replied to a list of questions we asked with the letter below:


I believe it is very important for road race directors not to react hastily to one or two years of abnormally unseasonable temperatures.

In the weeks leading up to this year’s Grandma’s Marathon , our June weather had been nearly perfect. Then as race weekend approached the prevailing winds shifted, bringing us a south wind and warmer than expected temperatures for our Friday and Saturday events. But as quickly as the warm, humid weather arrived, it departed in a similar manner as Sunday produced an east wind and below average temperatures.

Organizing outdoor events is inherently a precarious business complete with many weather-related risks. In my mind, on any given day weather conditions are simply the luck of the draw and there is no way to guarantee ideal weather during any time of the year. In Grandma’s Marathon’s 31 years, we have had many great days, many good days and a few adverse days, such as the past two years. Who knows…we could move our event ahead in the calendar and have it land on a weekend filled with deadly thunderstorms — weather is unfortunately entirely unpredictable.

For numerous reasons, mid-June is an ideal timeframe for us to entertain a major running event in Duluth .

Hosting the nation’s 12th largest marathon — along with our other races and festivities — in a relatively small market creates obvious lodging obstacles. We are extremely fortunate to have area universities and colleges willing to provide dormitory accommodations for thousands of runners during race weekend. Moving our event to early-June or late-May would eliminate this option and further complicate lodging arrangements for a large number of our participants and their families.

As you know, Duluth is a tourist and convention destination and we work closely with the tourism and hospitality industries. In order for our city to attract and accommodate future events, it is imperative for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau and others to have our event dates booked on their calendars well in advance. For the benefit of all parties involved, the dates for Grandma’s Marathon weekend are secured through 2020.

Also, volunteers play an instrumental role in the success of our races and we require assistance from nearly 5,000 of them each year. An earlier Grandma’s race date would interfere with high school and college graduation ceremonies and parties making it problematic for us to secure the experienced volunteers necessary to ensure a safe and enjoyable event.

Of course, tradition and timing are factors as well. Midwesterners are no strangers to having their outdoor training efforts delayed by long, harsh winters. A June race appeals to thousands of regional runners as it allows for an adequate amount of road training once the snow and ice concede. Also, a mid-June marathon ideally fits the schedule for many runners since early spring and fall marathons tend to clutter the race calendar.

Don’t forget — we have a built-in ‘air conditioner’ called Lake Superior lining our racecourse. I have seen many times when the temperature is 20-25 degrees warmer just a few miles west of the downtown Duluth waterfront. Hopefully, we’ll be lucky enough to have an east wind and ‘normal’ Duluth weather for Grandma’s Marathon in 2008 and beyond.


Scott Keenan
Executive Director
Grandma’s Marathon


miller said...

It's really cool that Scott took the time to provide such a detailed response. And that DtB provides the forum for this discussion.

I love the internets.

Kgilkerson said...

You really can't argue with that. Thanks for the info.

Chad said...

So what I'm "hearing" is that Grandma's will be moving it's date on 2021. :-)

Seriously, this is great info. I agree with Pete, it's a great forum and I appreciate Scott's response.

And thanks to Al Gore for creating the internets.