COVID-19 Pandemic Creates Change, Opportunity for Race Organizers
(DULUTH, MINN.) --- With a little more than two months to go until the 2021 race weekend, Grandma’s Marathon-Duluth, Inc. has announced several planned changes that address ongoing public health and safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The changes are designed to put the event in compliance with all current and existing Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidelines. Race organizers are continuing their discussions with state and local authorities but say final approval for the June event still has not been given.
"We’re announcing this now not because we’ve been given the green light, but because we’re a little more than two months out and we believe our current registrants and the community deserve to know where we stand on some of the bigger planning items," Marketing & Public Relations Director Zach Schneider said. "We’re working with the appropriate state and city agencies, and even as we know conditions can always change at any time, we’re confident that this version of Grandma’s Marathon can happen successfully and as safely as possible in June."
Some of the more significant expected changes to the 2021 Grandma’s Marathon weekend are as follows:
- Reduced Field Sizes - 50% In-Person Capacity
- Operational Changes - Rolling Start, Social Distancing & PPE, Health Screenings
- Modified Ancillary Events - Packet Pickup, Expo, Spaghetti Dinner
- Viewing Modifications - Large Gatherings Discouraged
"We basically had to redesign every aspect of Grandma’s Marathon weekend. There’s lots of work still left to get this thing across the finish line, and we couldn’t be more thankful for our municipal and community partners," Executive Director Shane Bauer said. "We know what it felt like to not have the race, and that wasn’t fun. The amount of time, effort, and cooperation that’s gone into planning this 2021 race is phenomenal. It will be a great achievement for the entire area if and when we pull it off."
Operating at half capacity of a traditional year, organizers plan to use a modified transportation schedule and rolling start process this year to help create adequate space for social distancing between participants on the racecourse.
"The runner experience from start to finish is going to be a bit different this year," Race Director Greg Haapala said. "Participants might board the bus at a different location or time, and there won’t be the usual mass start, but our crowd science models show those are the things that will reduce density throughout the day and promotes social distancing. So much of this depends on personal responsibility, and we’re confident everyone involved can and will act appropriately."
Masks or face coverings will be required throughout the weekend event, except while actively participating in a race. This includes at the weekend’s ancillary events like the Essentia Health Fitness Expo and Michelina’s All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Dinner, which are still on the schedule but in a modified fashion.
"We had to rethink the entire layout of those events, using more and different space on the DECC campus so we can accommodate everything," Registration & Expo Director Laura Bergen said. "From reduced capacities to one-way traffic patterns, every change we’ve made is in the interest of continuing to provide a great experience while keeping our participants and the community as safe as possible."
"These are such important community pieces of Grandma’s Marathon weekend," Finance & Operations Director Linda Hanson said. "Even though they will look different, it’s important to keep these traditions alive, and we’re so very excited to have an opportunity to once again showcase our beautiful city and surrounding area to all of our visitors."
Per current MDH guidelines, spectators are discouraged from any large gatherings at this year’s Grandma’s Marathon. Most traditional viewing spots in downtown Duluth and Canal Park will be unavailable this year, and anyone who does choose to be involved with the race is asked to follow the existing mask and social distancing guidelines.
Also to that end, one of the canceled events this year is the traditional "Rock the Big Top" post-race celebration in Canal Park.
"Those things hurt because the people are such a big piece of the atmosphere that makes Grandma’s Marathon special," Schneider said. "To ask supporters to stay home is not what we want, but it is what’s necessary so we can have the race and be good stewards of our community at the same time."
While most of this year’s changes are being made out of necessity given the current public health concerns, this innovative thought process may have created new and exciting possibilities for the race even past 2021.
"A lot of hard work has gone into getting this far," Bauer said, "and it’s also created a lot of excitement for what’s to come. Not only do we hope we can be back to a more traditional Grandma’s in 2022, but we’ve learned so much about what’s possible. Some of these new elements might be here to stay so we can continue to grow and improve our event into the future."
The 45th annual Grandma’s Marathon weekend is scheduled for June 17-19, 2021. For more information, please call our office at (218) 727-0947 or visit GrandmasMarathon.com.
ABOUT GRANDMA’S MARATHON
Grandma’s Marathon began in 1977 when a group of local runners planned a scenic road race from Two Harbors to Duluth, Minnesota. There were just 150 participants that year, but organizers knew they had discovered something special. Grandma’s Marathon weekend draws approximately 20,000 participants for its three-race event each June.
The race got its name from the Duluth-based group of famous Grandma’s Restaurants, the first major sponsor of the Marathon. Over time, the level of sponsorship with the restaurants changed, but the name stayed the same. Grandma’s Marathon-Duluth, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization with a 17-member Board of Directors and a nine-person, full-time staff.
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