July 14, 2024
It's the first cancellation in the marathon's history.

Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon was canceled because of hot and humid weather, which organizers said would be dangerous for runners.

Some runners had already headed to the start line in downtown Minneapolis when they received the cancellation announcement, which organizers say they sent shortly before 5:30 a.m. on Sunday; the  26.2-mile race was set to start at 8 a.m. The 10-miler, to start at 7:15, was also canceled.

More than 20,000 people were registered for the marathon and 10-mile race.

The decision marks the first time the marathon has been canceled since it 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 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 was hot and humid, and the prediction was accurate, with the mercury hitting 91, marking the hottest day ever recorded in October in the Twin Cities, according to the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service. The previous record was 90 degrees on Oct. 3, 1997, and Oct. 10, 1928.

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.”

Pam Sorenson (left) and Kailey Everett prepare to run the Twin Cities Marathon, despite the cancellation on Sunday, Oct. 1 2023. After training all summer, both runners were determined to race on Sunday morning. (Gabrielle Erenstein/Pioneer Press). 

“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.”

Marathon organizers said as late as Saturday night that they expected to run under the Event Alert System’s 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 the situation had gone beyond the Event Alert System’s red flag and into the black flag or “extreme and dangerous conditions.”

One of the deciding factors to cancel the event, Mahler said, was history.

Similar conditions in 2007

From 2007: Erika Randall doused her head in water as unseasonably warm weather in the 80s made it a difficult day to run the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007. The runner was at Mile 15 in Minnehaha Park in Minneapols. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press) 

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 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 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  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 been stopped mid-race, he said.

The Chicago Marathon is scheduled for Oct. 8 this year.

The Minneapolis 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.

Running anyway

A runner stretches before starting the Twin Cities Marathon despite the cancellation, on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Gabrielle Erenstein/Pioneer Press). 

On Sunday, some runners headed to the start line  — or what had been the start line — with plans to proceed with the races for which they had spent months training.

People wearing their race numbers could be spotted running on the side of the road, which would normally have been closed for the races.

There were also folks passing out water 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, “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.

Lauren Steinhaeuser, left, shows a “Swiftly” shirt she made in honor of her husband, Karsten Steinhaeuser, right, who was supposed to run the Twin Cities marathon Sunday, (Mara H. Gottfried / Pioneer Press) 

Sunday was still 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 27 of Swift’s song lyrics — such as “Sometimes to run is the brave thing” — for each of the 26 miles of the marathon, plus the remaining 0.2 mile.

After stopping at #10 on the shirt (“It’ll leave you breathless or with a nasty scar,”) the runner and his family cheered on people who were still running.

Out-of-towners

Lilly Shapiro flew in from Chicago to run the marathon with her boyfriend, Isaac Teplinsky, and friend, Max Gendler, both of Minneapolis.

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.

After reaching the finish line, they planned to go home and host a giant breakfast for all their friends who had come to 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.”

Kelsey West, dubbed “The Banana Lady,” bought over 300 bananas to give to runners participating in the Twin Cities Marathon. West has been doing her stand during the marathon since 2021 when she moved onto Summit Avenue. (Gabrielle Erenstein/Pioneer Press). 

Runner Scott Wojahn of Rosemount 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!”

Runners make a tunnel for a fellow runner approaching the finish line at the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 1 2023. Even though the marathon was canceled due to heat warnings, some runners didn’t let that stop them from participating. (Gabrielle Erenstein/Pioneer Press). 

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. I was at his finish line just like he was at mine.”

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