The Twin Cities Marathon wasn’t exactly canceled Tuesday. But its conversion to a virtual event — with entrants running any 26.2-mile route on any day in October — will make the 39th edition of the race the most unusual in its history.
Twin Cities in Motion, which stages the marathon, announced it will shift the rest of its 2020 races to a virtual format because of pandemic-related restrictions on large gatherings. Runners will submit their times online, and race finishers still will receive their T-shirt and medal.
It will be a much lonelier road, though, without 300,000 spectators urging them on, Alan Page playing his tuba near Mile 3 or volunteers wrapping them in silver blankets at the finish line.
The marathon was scheduled for Oct. 4, the culmination of a weekend that also includes the TC 10 Mile, TC 10K and TC 5K. As many as 30,000 runners were expected to participate in those events.
Mike Logan, president of Twin Cities in Motion, said the group does not anticipate Minnesota’s limits on large group gatherings to loosen up substantially before October. Though race organizers held out hope they could conduct the event safely, they came to believe that was not possible after consulting with public health authorities and the race’s medical directors.
“We did the calculus on marathon weekend,’’ Logan said. “With 30,000 people over two days, and 22,000 the morning of the marathon on Sunday, it became clear. We don’t foresee the state changing things quickly enough for it to happen.
“We’re going to do as much as we can to give people a unique, special experience. But we’re gutted.’’
The Twin Cities Marathon typically attracts runners from around the country to tackle a course from downtown Minneapolis to the State Capitol in St. Paul. Other marathons in recent months, including Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth and the Boston Marathon, also have switched to a virtual format.
The 44th edition of Grandma’s was originally scheduled for last Saturday. In March, race organizers announced that entrants could run the 26.2-mile distance any place they choose and submit their results any day between May 4 and July 31. They can download an official race bib and finisher certificate, and all runners who upload results will receive finisher T-shirts and medals. Grandma’s popular half-marathon was canceled.
The Twin Cities Marathon will follow a similar template. Results from all the marathon weekend events can be submitted anytime from Oct. 1-31, and registration is now open for all virtual races except the TC 10 Mile. Runners can enter the virtual 10 Mile beginning July 9.
Twin Cities in Motion will suggest routes, while an app called Motigo will provide recorded cheering and inspirational messages. Logan said runners have responded positively to running the marathon without the crowd.
“We’ve looked at national survey data,’’ he said. “The overall sentiment is that it’s not equivalent but people appreciate the opportunity to use the training they’ve been doing, receive a medal and a shirt, connect with people online and set goals. There’s no question it’s not the same thing, but people understand.’’
Logan also said Twin Cities in Motion will provide a partial credit on entry fees paid for in-person races shifted to the virtual format. The entry fee for the Twin Cities Marathon was $125. Grandma’s did not refund entry fees, but it offered a 20% discount for 2021 registration and allowed runners to convert their fees to a charitable donation.
Other Twin Cities in Motion events that will go virtual include the Red, White & Boom! TC half-marathon, relay and 5K (originally scheduled for July 4, virtual version July 4-18); the Medtronic TC 1 Mile (originally Aug. 13, virtual version Aug. 13-20); and Women Run The Cities (originally Sept. 20, virtual version Sept. 10-20).