Tuesday, March 03, 2009

On the Road: Mpls. Marathon Comes to Town

Holding a spring marathon in the Twin Cities is an idea that I have heard an awful lot of local runners mention over the last few years. Given the immense running community and the overwhelming success of both the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and Grandma’s Marathon, it should come as no surprise that another marathon has found its way onto the racing calendar.

The big surprise is that there are two, and they’re only a week apart. The Stillwater Marathon, scheduled for May 24, will be featured on DtB in the weeks to come. But for this installment of On the Road, I did my civic duty as a Minneapolis resident and did some research on the Minneapolis Marathon. The event features a full marathon, half marathon, and 5k, and will be held on Sunday, May 31.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I have had some connections with the event organizer (the Team Ortho Foundation) in the past. I volunteered for a few months on the organization’s Communications Committee, and my dog Sierra and I have participated in a couple of Team Ortho races.

I recently spoke with John Larson, the founder and head of the Team Ortho Foundation, about the Minneapolis Marathon. Larson answered some of the big questions that local runners may have about the first-year event.

DtB: Where did the idea for the Minneapolis Marathon come from?

Larson: It pretty much evolved that we (Team Ortho) wanted to do longer distance races. We added a half marathon to the Monster Dash. We started with the 5k, and realized that people want to continue to challenge themselves, so we started adding the longer races and we had good response.

We did the Downtown Half last year the same weekend as the marathon will be this year. Going into it, we had decided that if we could do that successfully we’d do a marathon the next year. The 35W bridge collapse caused us to have to change our course, so that was a challenge, but the event was successful. We applied for a permit right after the Downtown Half last year, and finally got a permit issued in December.

Some people have said ‘oh, this is totally out of the blue. They haven’t thought about what they’re doing.’ But in reality, we’ve had it in the works for about two years. It’s just a long process, and you don’t want to announce anything until you have things in place.

DtB: What has the process been like so far of getting a marathon started in a major city?

Larson: It’s been great. The course actually crosses four different jurisdictions, and all four of those jurisdictions have been very helpful and kind. It takes time and it’s a lot to do, but everyone we have worked with, from Fort Snelling State Park to the Park and Rec. Board, has been really great.

DtB: The course starts downtown, does a loop, and then heads south on the West River Road all the way down to Fort Snelling, and then loops before returning up the West River Road. How will that out-and-back work, and what else can you tell us about the course?

Larson: The River Road portion will be out on one side of the roadway, and back on the other. The half marathon has one 180 degree turn on the River Road to send runners back toward the finish.

For the marathon, there is a portion on the paved bicycle path leading into Fort Snelling. That is narrower than a road, but we anticipate runners being strung out enough by then for that to work fine. There won’t be two-way traffic there. On the River Road, where there will be two-way traffic, the road is wide enough.

We think it’s a great course. It’s tree-lined and shaded almost all the way, which is part of why we chose this course. Also, you have the history of Fort Snelling, and passing the convergence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. There are a lot of great things about it. It’s really a beautiful course. I mean, what a great place to run a marathon!

There are a couple of significant hills, one is near the finish, coming up the River Road near Gold Medal Park, and also coming out of Fort Snelling, earlier in the race [around the 17 mile mark]. That one is steep but fairly short. Those are really the two big ones. There’s a lot of flat on the course as well.

DtB: How many runners do you expect, and is there a cap on the field?

Larson: It’s hard to say what each race will be. For the whole body of races (the 5k, half marathon and marathon), we have set the cap at 6,500, and for the marathon, somewhere around 2,300. It should be a big enough field where you have plenty of people to run with, but not crowded and overwhelming.

There’s still plenty of room in both the marathon and the half. We’re expecting the half to be about twice as big as the marathon. A lot of people have signed up for the half who are then planning to run Grandma’s Marathon. So far, we have people from 25 states signed up. We have really been pleased with the early response.

DtB: Warm weather could be a factor that time of year. Is that something you have considered and are prepared for?

Larson: Certainly. That’s why we kept the race where it is on the calendar, so we don’t get into mid-June or late June where warm weather is more likely. We feel the course is very helpful as well. We have a very shaded course. Almost all of the course is tree-lined, and we have a 7 a.m. start. This all should help.

We will have 20 fluid stations on the course, where we'll have energy drink and water. We’ll have energy gels out on the course as well. We have already assigned 18 of the 20 water stops. Most will be run by volunteer organizations. We’ll have over 400 volunteers helping out.

As far as the date goes, we haven’t really decided on the weekend for sure for next year. Going the weekend after Memorial Day would push us a little later, but people like to travel and do other things on Memorial Day weekend, so we’ll have to sort that out.

DtB: What’s your long term vision for the event?

Larson: I don’t have enormous ambitions. We want to put on a local, urban marathon, a well-produced event. We want to be welcoming to other people from other states and other countries, but mostly it’s something for the local community to look forward to. The goals of our organization are to get people active, keep people active, and raise money for research. So that’s what the Minneapolis Marathon is all about.

Our goal is not to turn this into an international competition. For some people, it might be motivation to keep training through the winter. A lot of people want to run a marathon and don’t want to travel, whether because of time, or the money for gas and hotel or whatever. So this is a nice option for local people to do that.

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