Thursday, October 02, 2014

Jack Moran's Dream

Jack Moran remembers vividly watching the sun rise above the horizon in downtown Minneapolis on the morning of October 3, 1982.  He still gets choked up thinking about it.  It was the birth of the Twin Cities Marathon and it's not an exaggeration to say that there probably would not be a Twin Cities Marathon if not for Moran.

Before Twin Cities race was launched in 1982 the concept of having an event that united the two "twins" was just that, a concept. One that inspired many emotions.  The City of Lakes Marathon, first run in 1963 and won by Minnesota Olympian Ron Daws, was run entirely in Minneapolis.  In 1981 Garry Bjorklund and his partners at GBS Sports created a St. Paul Marathon that was run entirely in St. Paul.  The two events were run within a week of one another, said Moran, who had just been elected as president of the MDRA, which put on the City of Lakes race.

Why not join the two together, Moran thought.  He would eventually have a two heart logo that represented the theory--Minneapolis to St. Paul, heart-to-heart--on a route he would later crisen "the Most Beautiful Urban Mararthon." But in 1981 that concept, let alone a race, was a dream.  Transforming that dream into reality was, itself, a marathon.

Despite opposition from the MDRA Board, Moran envisioned a Twin Cities event that would unite the two competing cities' marathons    Moran first proposed the idea to the MDRA Board.  When they didn't embrace it, he told Bruce Brothers, who was a columnist for the Star Tribune, writing the paper's running column.  Brothers mentioned the idea in his column and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who was involved with Scandinavia Today, a group that promoted Scandinavia in the US, liked the idea.

Scandinavia Today became the dream marathon's first sponsor. Nelson agreed to fund airfares for some Scandinavian elites to run the race.  Perhaps by fate, Denmark's Allan Zachariasen would win the race for the first two years.  Moran sent out a dozen other sponsorship proposals, but didn't any interest.  All he was able to negotiate was an agreement from a printing company to donate the entry forms.

Moran wanted Minneapolis attorney Martin "Skip" Burke to be the race director, but Burke was litigating a big case and couldn't spare the time.  Thus,  in addition to being the event's founder and fundraiser, Moran was the race director as well.  Another lawyer, Dick Rohleder, and Minneapolis councilman Mark Kaplan helped Moran get the necessary permits and get support from both the St. Paul and Minneapolis Athletic Clubs.  Minnesota House member Phyllis Kahn helped get State support for the event.

This was not a smooth process. The St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department had been a major supporter of the St. Paul Marathon and was not ready to give it up for a Twin Cities event because, if nothing else, the fact that things that involved both cities or were in fact held in St. Paul and not Minneapolis invariably were listed in news accounts as being in Minneapolis.  But Rohleder happened to be an attorney for then St. Paul Mayor George Latimer, who liked the idea of a Twin Cities event that finished in St. Paul

A couple of demands had to be met, however.  First, half the course had to be run in St. Paul and the host hotels for the race had to alternate--one year in Minneapolis, the next in St. Paul, said Moran.  So, the original course, that neither starts nor finishes in the same spot as today's TCM, crossed into St. Paul on the Lake Street Bridge and wound into St. Paul through Highland Park, taking Edgcumbe Road up Jefferson and on to Lexington Avenue to intersect with  Summit Avenue.

Moran mapped out the route using a piece of string and a Twin Cities map, getting surprisingly close to the correct distance using these "low tech" tools.  This route, as well as the finish in downtown St. Paul had many churches on it, however, and the pastors of those churches were not happy to have street closures that inconvenienced their parishioners.  Moran and the race organization tried to work with the churches, in one case ushering those going to church across the street in downtown St. Paul so they could get to the church, but that wasn't enough.

An ulterior motive also played into the solution.  Moran had wanted the race to go down Summit Avenue all the way to the from St. Thomas University to the State Capitol, but they didn't have the clout they attained by being such a success in attracting runners and revenue into the Twin Cities on marathon weekend. So, when the alternate route which took the runners up to the Franklin Avenue Bridge and along the East River Blvd to Summit became both the solution to the Church issue and the course Moran had envisioned.

That's getting ahead of the story, however,  as we left it that, as yet, the proposed event had no major sponsors.  Enter Larry Haeg Jr., who worked for WCCO radio.  The station had a Sunday morning radio show on running and Haeg thought a Twin Cities Marathon was a great idea.  He sold the station on the notion of being the event's official radio sponsor.  At that time WCCO, an AM channel, was one of the most powerful radio stations in the US.  It reached audiences far beyond the Minnesota borders in an era when there was no Internet.

So when 'CCO came on board and started promoting the event, the then chairman of Pillsbury heard about it mentioned one day while listening to the radioin his car on the way to work.  He thought it would be a good fit for the company and the Twin Cities Marathon had it's major sponsor.  Jack Moran's dream became a reality.  The rest, as they say, is history.


Unknown said...

Nice piece, Jim. Thanks very much. It brings to mind a few other amusing stories.

Shortly after the first marathon, I got a letter from the pastor of one of the big churches along the route, complaining about our making it hard for people to get to church. In my response, I think I included a comment about how, as a Catholic, I had the option of going to church on Saturday. That probably wasn't wise. I also think we had the foresight to warn churches about the inconvenience, but many of them chose not to pass on the information to their congregations, possibly so that the resulting mess would create an uproar would shut the marathon down.

As for House of Hope, the big church on Summit Avenue, the story is that they came around the year Fred Tornedon won. They were glowering as the runners approached, preventing them from crossing the street to their parking lot, when they spotted Fred's singlet. It read, "Jesus is Lord." Frowns turned to smiles and the hands came out of their pockets.

Unknown said...

You can't turn down free advertising!!!

From one who ran the 1983 Twin Cities marathon, who is a pastor and also the son-in-law of the noted race director.

Clint Firstbrook