After the cancellation of the Twin Cities Marathon earlier this month, hundreds of runners turned their sights to the Mankato Marathon.
Organizers called off the Twin Cities race on Oct. 1 due to unseasonably hot weather. In response, the Mankato Marathon opened up 300 slots and had all of them filled by Oct. 3.
For Ved Gund, the last few weeks ran the gamut of emotions from disappointment at the cancellation to “positive vibes” finishing the marathon in Mankato on Saturday.
“I was thinking I don’t know what time I’m going to run,” he said afterward. “I’m just going to go out and give my best effort and I had a blast.”
Gund still went out for a long run around 6 a.m. on Oct. 1 just after he heard about the cancellation. He encountered other runners making a day of it despite their disappointment — some of them, including a friend from Seattle, had flown in for the race.
Knowing he wanted to run another marathon within a few weeks, he saw the Mankato Marathon was coming up and jumped at the chance to sign up. As someone who lived in upstate New York for years, he said he looked forward to the community feel that comes from running in a city of Mankato’s size.
The course’s wind, twists and turns were challenging, but the experience lived up to his expectations.
“I’d love to come back,” he said. “It’s an amazing race, amazing people.”
The extra runners signing up after the Twin Cities cancellation bumped up the total full marathon total to 650, said Joy Leafblad, sports and special events director for Visit Mankato.
“We were able to pivot really quickly,” she said. “The runners are really understanding and gracious and were excited to be able to have a race like this.”
All told, between the marathon, half-marathon, 5K, 10K, KidsK and relays, there were about 3,300 total runners. It’s an uptick from last year’s total just under 3,000, while not quite yet back up to some of the pre-pandemic levels.
Caryn Herrick was another who signed up for the Twin Cities race before switching gears to run in Mankato instead.
“As soon as it was canceled I signed up because I was worried about it filling up,” she said.
The switch turned out to be a stroke of fortune, as Herrick won the women’s full marathon race Saturday.
“I’m glad it happened this way,” she said with a laugh.
Peter Wikman joined her in running the full marathon. The two said they enjoyed the trail sections of the route the most, with Wikman saying he liked the current course more compared to what he ran in the past.
Mike Walentiny signed up and planned to run in both the Twin Cities and Mankato marathons. Recovering from an injury, he said not running in the Twin Cities might’ve been for the best.
A high finisher in past years, his only goal Saturday was to finish. It was his seventh time running the Mankato Marathon in person to go with one time participating virtually during the pandemic.
“I’ve only run about 70 miles in the past month, so I’ve met my goal of finishing and that feels good,” he said, adding that he felt the strain in his hamstrings.
Compared to his 40 or so completed marathons, many runners were completing firsts in one race or another Saturday.
Best friends Ashley Dahlman and Mandy Dake ran and finished a 10K together for the first time. They gave each other a big hug after crossing the finish line.
“Today is probably the proudest I’ve been of myself,” Dake said.
“We’ve been working to be better together,” added Dahlman.
They said a lot of walking and a lot of believing in themselves went into completing their goal. Starting with 10,000 steps per day, they built up endurance to do a 10K.
Having each other for accountability helped, too, as did people cheering along the way.
“When you see somebody along the route and they cheer for you, like a coworker or someone you recognize, it gives you a few extra steps to go quicker,” Dake said.
For Mark Helleksen, 58, Saturday was his first half-marathon and first race longer than a 5K. He considers Lake Crystal his hometown and came back to the area from his home in Utah to see family.
He wrestled at the University of Minnesota in the mid-1980s and had a 20-year career in the Air Force. Now a government civilian, the father of seven said he started hiking and running after his wife’s death in October 2021.
Getting back in shape was a way to show his kids he’d be there for them.
“A year and a half ago I never imagined myself running,” he said. “Even walking up hills at home and in the yard was quite a challenge.”
Saturday contributed to his streak of nearly 400 straight days running or hiking for at least an hour. The streak includes 173 miles run in August in response to a relative challenging him to complete 150 miles.
Since then he’s been running about four miles per day. The jump up to 13.1 miles in the half-marathon was something he wasn’t sure about doing until Friday, but his family encouraged him to go through with it.
“It was the furthest I’ve ran,” he said. “It’s nice to know that I’m able.”
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola