The COVID pandemic wiped out much of the 2020 marathon and 5K road race season. Among those races were large events such as the Twin Cities Marathon and Grandma's Marathon in Duluth.

But the pandemic also cancelled local races. Events that support nonprofit organizations.

2021 presents an opportunity for a comeback, not only for races, but for racers.

"We're optimistic about our ability to host an in-person event this fall," Twin Cities in Motion Executive Director Virginia Brophy Achman said in a news release. "Our team has consulted medical and crowd science experts and worked closely with relevant public agencies to get to this point. That work will continue until race day as we properly calibrate the event to this fall’s public health situation."

Registration for the 2021 marathon and other Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend events opens on Thursday, April 8. The marathon race runs from downtown Minneapolis to the State Capitol grounds in St. Paul.

Twin Cities Marathon races will look different, with changes to starting and finish line gatherings, reduced field sizes, masks being required pre- and post-race, reduced touchpoints and social distancing requirements.

"While there will be noticeable differences from pre-COVID days," Brophy Achman said, "we plan to do all we can to maintain the spirit and energy of the event despite the constraints. The power of the event lies in the thousands of personal achievements that culminate at our finish line, and we’re excited to return those moments to our participants’ lives after all they’ve endured."

More than 25,000 runners participated in the 2019 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend, including more than 7,000 marathoners and more than 13,000 10-milers. Participation will be limited to 4,000 marathoners in 2021.

At Grandma's Marathon, which stretches from Two Harbors to Duluth, the field size will also be capped at 4,000. That field is full already.

Partnering with crowd scientist Marcel Altenburg of Manchester Metropolitan University, using science software called Start Right, which employs a unique mathematical algorithm to help race organizers visualize, predict and control the flow of participants throughout the entire race, Grandma's Marathon officials feel confident for a successful 2021 race.

"Grandma’s Marathon is unique in its setup and all measurements of the event are very fortunate," Altenburg said in a release. "With the right adjustments, this race can be organized with social distance in the place at the start, through the course and at the finish."

RUNNING FOR RONALD

Gabriel Riegert was racking his brain, trying to come up with an Eagle Scout project. A cross country and track runner at Eden Prairie High School, he came up with organizing a 5K race.

"I always wanted to do a 5K. Basically I love running and when I started to think about what's important in my life, I thought about my family," Riegert said.

That's how Running for Ronald came about in 2019. A 5K fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House, the charity that supported Riegert's family two decades ago when his brother, Mason, was waiting for a transplant due to a congenital heart defect.

"There were a couple of different options for my family. They ended up going to Missouri for a heart transplant and they stayed at a Ronald McDonald house. They really helped through a tough time," said Riegert, not yet born at the time. He said his brothers Brett and Grady and parents were shown such great help in a time of need.

Unfortunately, Mason passed away before a transplant was available.

"I know they're going to help other families in need," Riegert said.

The charity race idea started in 2019, with 77 runners competing a 5K or one-mile time in 2020. Riegert said nearly $4,800 was raised, along with many non-perishable donations, for Ronald McDonald House last year.

He hopes to top those numbers in 2021.

"There was a lot I did not know, but what I learned from last year was how important it is to have really good communication with who's running the race. How to be more effective with email marketing, getting the word out," Riegert said.

The 2021 event, also virtual, will take place between May 20 and June 20. Any city, any state, any time, anywhere. Runners will submit their results online. For certification purposes, timers on such devices as an Apple Watch or FitBit, or even an activity tracker on one's phone, are advised.

Along with the run, a donation event is planned.

"My grandma didn't want to run the race, so she brought a bunch of non-perishable items. We have talked with a bunch of local business about donations. Last year we had pals out at churches, businesses, for people to donate as well," Riegert said.

Because of everything that goes into the event, Riegert has employed a team of fellow Eden Prairie High School teammates to help with the second annual event.

There's Isaac Hartman, lead runner recruiter, who is using his connections with members of Lake Conference schools to get people signed up. He is also in charge of talking with other nonprofit organizations.

There's Ben VanSloun, the financial guy, who works with businesses to develop sponsors and donations. Some of those sponsors are listed on the runner bibs.

And there's Tristan Lainhart, videographer and social media guru.

Registration, for those wishing to be guaranteed a race shirt and amenities, is open through May 6. Race packages range from $30 to $49.

Riegert, who is currently looking at the University of St. Thomas and University of Minnesota for college, said he is planning to keep the run going for years.

"I have the perseverance to do it for as long as I am living. My goal is to someday do a run for my grandfather, who had Alzheimer's," Riegert said. "We hope this is the last year virtually. We're hoping to build enough rapport that we can host a physical event next year. Round Lake would be the best spot, but I am also looking at an area around Purgatory Creek."

Visit Running for Ronald on Facebook and Instagram for more information, and RunSignUp.com for registration.

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