Thursday, May 08, 2014

Everybody Was Watching the Weather for the Medtronic TC 1 Mile

Not surprisingly, the main issue going through the runner's minds at the Medtronic TC 1 Mile press conference was the weather.  Race officials noted that they have contingency plans for weather, this is Minnesota after all.  "We have delay plan scenarios and a plan for combining waves to end the race early, as well as cancellation plans if needed."

The various elite runners all expressed the hope that they would catch a break and the predicted storms would miss downtown Minneapolis at race time.  The major weather element that race officials have to contend with is lightening.  "Like with other outdoor sports events, we need to observe the 30-minute rule," wrote Breanne Hegg, Twin Cities in Motion's Marketing and Media Director, in an e-mail response to an inquiry the day before the race about having a "Plan B" for bad weather.  "The event cannot proceed unless the sky has been clear(of lightening) for 30 minutes.  A severe weather watch or warning may affect our ability to hold the event as well."

Ultimately it was a "perfect storm" of circumstances that resulted in the race's cancellation.  The leading factor was the weather, but another key factor was the course.  While weather is the unpredictable element the organizers have to deal with, there are others that, while mostly predictable, are unique to this race course.  As the elites were told in their "technical meeting," a briefing on the key things they need to know about the course, transportation, race timing, etc., about 300 meters into the course are the People Mover tracks.  In order to get safely past the tracks, the various "waves"--groups of runners divided into separate races according to age, ability, championship status, team status--have to start on time to avoid arriving at the tracks the same time the people mover is going across that intersection.

The elite runners were assured that race personnel are in contact with the transportation people who monitor the train's departure and arrival times to ensure no surprises.  Coordinating train scheduling with start times is one of many details that the race organizers have to deal with to ensure everything goes smoothly on race day or evening.. The time that the race course, the Nicollet Mall, is shut down, is an issue. Volunteers who work on the course in a variety of services have to be ready and in place to fufil their responsibilities so the race can be administered smoothly.

Road race courses are permitted as parade routes, same as the St. Patrick's Day celebrations or other events that shut down streets.  That shut down window is smaller for the TC Mile than, say, the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.  It's not normally a problem, but the storm that hit Minnesota on this race day couldn't have come at a worse time.  A city street isn't quickly or easily turned into a race course.

Start areas, finish areas, timing mats, all have to be built and tended to in order to allow the runners to run the race, get timed, and all the other elements that comprise the event.  Course security, timing clocks, and all the other "pieces" need to be in place and able to be operated safely. Rain is not a problem.  Lightening, high winds and/or tornadoes are.  At this time of year the storms that contain one or more of these elements are often even less predicatble.  Such was the case on Thursday night.  While there were reported cases of tornado touchdowns in other areas, nothing aside from dark skies, some wind, and rain hit downtown Minneapolis.

For most of the day the forecast from the weather service was iffy.  What part of the storm would hit the Twin Cities?  How long would the storm be in the area?  What sort of weather warnings would be in effect?  The runners had been informed of the various possible weather-related issues and the consequences via e-mail and  Twin Cities In Motion's social media feeds on Twitter and Facebook.  Nobody wanted to cancel the race, but when the time to make the final decision came the conclusion was that the risks were too great to allow the race to be run safely.

.Weather warnings were still in effect until 9 p.m., though none of the severe weather they postulated could happen did.  Once the cancellation was announced via press release and social media  e-mails were sent to race participants and the elites.  The pro runners were told that, in addition to their expenses, they would get paid $500 for the loss of the opportunity to race for the $25,000 prize purse.  Social media lit up with reactions and various options that the elite athletes attempted to create.

Ben Blankenship got in touch with coaches at the University of Minnesota to see if any or all of the TC Mile elite field could use the Gopher indoor track for a race or workout.  Will Leer made calls to St. Thomas to see if their track was available.  The Team USA runners and their coach drove to Macalester College and ran a workout on the outdoor track.  None of the indoor facilites were available.

Blankenship called his coach Mark Rowland, who was able to enter him in the Oregon Twilight Meet set for Friday night. Nate Brannen and two others ran a workout at the University of Minnesota outdoor track.  Another group of the elites went for a run in Minneapolis.  "There are no villans in this situation," said Charlie Mahler, Twin Cities in Motion's Media and Communications Manager.  Only the weather.

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