Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon organizers canceled Sunday’s marathon and 10-mile race due to the hot and humid weather conditions, which they said would be dangerous for runners.
Some runners had already headed to the start line when they received the cancellation announcement, which organizers say they sent “shortly before 5:30 a.m.” on Sunday; the 10-miler was due to start at 7:15 a.m., followed by the 26.2-mile race at 8 a.m.
The decision marks the first time the marathon has been canceled since the iconic event began in 1982 (it was held virtually at the start of the pandemic in 2020).
“The latest weather forecast update projects record-setting heat conditions that do not allow a safe event for runners, supporters and volunteers,” Twin Cities In Motion, the nonprofit that organizes the event, said in a statement early Sunday.
The statement continued: “It saddens Twin Cities In Motion and our partners to be unable to hold the races that runners have been pointing toward for months, but the safety of participants and the community will always be our primary concern. Extreme heat conditions can tax both runners and our emergency medical response systems. We ask the entire running community to come together for the safety of everyone involved.”
Hot and humid
The decision to cancel was made with data — and a meteorologist.
“Not a staff member, but one was dedicated to the event and had stations in three spots along the course,” explained Charlie Mahler, spokesperson for Twin Cities In Motion, in an email to the Pioneer Press
Sunday’s forecast is hot and humid with temperatures near 90 degrees, according to the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service, which said record-setting temperatures are likely by afternoon.
Many runners, including Brian Bluhm, of Prior Lake, questioned the last-minute timing of the cancellation.
“I appreciate the challenge in making this decision,” he said, “but what changed overnight? It’s frustrating for a lot of reasons.”
Other runners interviewed all asked the same question.
“We wanted to give ourselves every chance to get the races in,” Mahler wrote in an email. “No earlier point gave us confidence that Sunday would be safe, so we kept monitoring and waiting for what we hoped would be safe conditions to run.
“The early morning forecast predicted higher temperatures than it had prior.”
But why cancel when temps were in the 60s and 70s in the morning?
“Our medical team and our operations team considers a range of factors including not only the weather forecast but also the healthy and safety assets that are assembled,” Mahler wrote. “Despite mustering the largest medical volunteer team — more than 300 trained medical volunteers — and fantastic support and reinforcement from local and regional health and safety agencies, the deterioration of the forecast overnight tipped us over the line for putting on a safe event.”
Saturday’s temperature in the Twin Cities was 88 degrees, which was a record high for the day; the previous record of 87 degrees was set in 1897, the National Weather Service said.
More than 20,000 people registered for the marathon and 10-mile race on Sunday and another 7,000 registered for races on Saturday.
Marathon organizers said last Monday and as late as Saturday night that they expected to run the event under red flag conditions, indicating “extreme condition.” They had warned racers to prepare for high temperatures and high humidity.
But as of Sunday morning organizers said conditions are now black flag or “extreme and dangerous conditions.”
One of the deciding factors, Mahler said, was history.
Similar conditions in 2007
Mahler cited unseasonable heat and the subsequent toll it took on runners during the 2007 marathon as a bellwether to what runners might have faced on Sunday.
The Twin Cities and Chicago Marathons both took place on Oct. 7, 2007, the “same very hot, humid day. We had a difficult day medically and Chicago had to cancel during the race,” he said.
In fact, the marathon in 2007 was almost canceled in Minnesota.
At the time, Dr. Bill Roberts, medical director for all 26 years of the Twin Cities Marathon, said conditions were severe enough that organizers had been prepared to shut down the race if things worsened.
The Chicago Marathon was halted after four hours on that Sunday in 2007 when the temperature reached 88 degrees. The temperature at the marathon in the Twin Cities climbed from the mid-70s with 87 percent humidity at the start to 84.7 degrees with 65 percent humidity late in the morning. More than 250 runners went through the medical tent on the Capitol grounds, Roberts said, a record for the event, and several people came in with temperatures over 108.
“That body temperature is scary,” he added.
On that day St. Paul firefighters and paramedics responded to 48 participants in the marathon and took 29 of them to area hospitals, according to the St. Paul Fire Department. Most of the medical problems were related to the high heat and humidity, a fire department spokesman said.
During that marathon, race officials recorded the temperature, the wet-bulb reading and the sun index throughout the race, and the top reading involving a formula of the three factors was 80.5 at 11 a.m., Roberts said. If it had been 82, the marathon would have bee stopped mid-race, he said.
The Chicago Marathon is scheduled for Oct. 8 this year.
The race will not be rescheduled.
“It’s a massive logistical undertaking,” Mahler said. “For example, we depend on thousands of volunteers on race weekend that are recruited over the course of months. Rebuilding that vital workforce can’t be done can’t be repeated on short notice.”
Twin Cities In Motion told runners to expect an update about possible credit for the canceled event by the end of day Thursday.
On Sunday, some runners headed to the start line anyway, or what was the start line, with plans to proceed with their runs. There were also folks passing out water and bananas, and people continuing to cheer on those who decided to run.
Sunday was supposed to be Karsten Steinhaeuser’s third time running the Twin Cities Marathon.
“I was obviously disappointed,” Steinhaeuser said of the cancellation, “but understand that they have to do what they have to do.”
Instead of skipping the run altogether, Steinhaeuser compromised by running 10 miles from his home in St. Paul.
It was a chance to wear the custom shirt he and his family had created for the occasion: The runner and his wife, Lauren Steinhaeuser, and their two daughters are Taylor Swift fans, and they were wearing shirts they’d made for the day: “Go Karsten! Run Swiftly.” The back of the shirt said, “Dad Is a Swiftie Too!” and included 26 of Swift’s song lyrics – such as “Sometimes to run is the brave thing” – for each mile of the marathon.
After stopping at #10 on the t-shirt (“It’ll leave you breathless or with a nasty scar,”) the runner and his family cheered on people who were still running along Summit Avenue near Kowalski’s Market.
People wearing their race bibs were running on the side of the road, which would have been closed for the race.
“Nice job!” shouted Steinhaeuser.
“Thank you,” the runner replied.
Lilly Shapiro flew in from Chicago to run the marathon with her boyfriend, Isaac Teplinsky and friend, Max Gendler, both of Minneapolis.
They began running the race at the Lake of the Isles and came into the finish line amid cheers and whistling.
The three had been training for their first marathon all summer. When they weren’t visiting each other and running together, Shapiro and Teplinsky would check in daily with each other about their training.
The trio had big plans for Sunday. Nearly half a dozen friends had flown in from around the country to cheer them on. They had a giant family dinner planned and had booked—and paid for—massages.
During part of the race, a spectator said the runners were participating in “A Rogue Marathon,” Gendler said.
“We’re renegades,” Teplinsky joked.
Now that they had reached the finish line, they planned to go home and host a giant breakfast for all their friends who had come into town to support them, Gendler said.
But the trio also planned on trying to find another marathon to run within the next month or so, even if it meant flying across the country. They don’t want their 18 weeks of training to go to waste.
“We’re happy now,” Shapiro said, “because we just finished running, but at 5:30 a.m. we were not happy.”
Emily Soltis, of Rochester, had stayed overnight in the Twin Cities in anticipation of waking early and participating in the 10 mile.
“I was sad and then mad,” she said. “I question the decision and why it wasn’t made last night.”
Like so many other racers, she and two friends decided to run anyway, joining possibly hundreds others who ran along Summit Avenue.
Dozens of people lined the race course cheering them on. One person had set up an emergency aid station in their yard with a couch. Another woman had a table with bananas she was giving away, sting she had purchased more than 300 bananas for the runners.
Soltis and her friends said the outpouring of support from the community was heartwarming.
“You always hope for the best. We’ve trained in this weather all summer,” she said. “It’s been brutal all summer and we’ve trained without the support of the water stops and aid stations,” said her friend, Cosette Nasiedlac. “There is a ton of disappointment and anger, but people still came out. People still ran the race and the community support is beautiful.”
Two St. Paul firefighters, Capt. Kyle Bode and firefighter Bryan Buxton, had planned to jog and walk the marathon in their firefighter turnout gear to bring attention to the job-related risks to firefighters: cancer, cardiac problems and suicide linked to trauma that builds up from what firefighters witness in their work. Five active-duty St. Paul firefighters have died of such causes in the last eight years.
They didn’t head out to the course Sunday because they were worried about the weather, Bode said. They may run their own marathon on a cooler day or take part in next year’s Twin Cities Marathon.
Scott Wojahn was at the finish line with a bell and hearty congratulations for every runner who finished on Sunday. He and a few friends cheered people on saying, “Good job! You made it! Don’t stop!”
Wojahn said he’s run a dozen marathons himself and actually ran a canceled marathon about 10 years ago. Organizers of that marathon had left a box of medals at the finish line so he received a medal for finishing even though the race had been canceled. Because of this, he knew that after receiving news of the cancellation people would still run the race.
“I figure they’ve been training, they’ve got blisters, aching pains, they’re going to run anyway,” he said. “Some have been training for months. Some have been training their whole lives. People are running in memory of someone who has passed. People are running because they are cancer survivors. People are running with their best friends. They’re doing it for so many reasons.”
As he spoke, he began to choke up.
“There is no better feeling than crossing the finish line and seeing someone you love,” he said. “I’m getting teary. When I ran my dad would wait at the finish line. He was there for me during the last month of his life he was there. I was at his finish line just like he was at mine.”