Without question, this weekend will lack an energy and electricity held in the hearts and minds of generations of Minnesotans excited for another Twin Cities Marathon. Until this year — and COVID-19 — it was 38 years and counting for the storied event. The Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis, the River Roads, the Capitol — they won’t look the same.

While expected, the decision in late June to convert the 39th Twin Cities Marathon to a virtual format was difficult for the organizers, too, but they’ve been lifted by the response of many runners. More than 3,000 have registered for the marathon, including 400 who signed up after the change. More than 5,000 more are signed up for the other distances, from the TC 10 Mile run to the 5K.

“The spirit of marathoners never ceases to amaze me,” said Virginia Brophy Achman, executive director of Twin Cities in Motion. “I’ve witnessed runners overcoming lots of obstacles during my years at Twin Cities In Motion, and I’m impressed with how runners are making something new and special out of their virtual races this year.”

Still, traits that are elemental to running — grit, confidence, focus — are burning bright this week and through October as runners take different routes to a distinction that remains: marathon finisher.

Here are some of their stories:

Keeping the streak

Paul Arbisi, 65, Edina • Mary Croft, 74, Bayport • Scott Knight, 59, Cologne, Minn.

Keeping their running streaks

Every October the past 38 years, Arbisi, Croft and Knight have started the marathon in Minneapolis and finished in St. Paul. It’s been tradition to meet up with others, compare notes before the gun and head off into making more history. The three remain esteemed charter members — currently among 14 runners and one wheelchair participant — who’ve done every Twin Cities Marathon.

Arbisi is treating Sunday as all the other TCM race days since 1982. He’ll do the route, hitting sidewalks if necessary and hop on the path along lakes Bde Maka Ska and Harriet when needed as he advances on the Mississippi River roads. It’s manageable.

“Damn straight,” he said, of sticking to the course.

His family and friends will be out, well-acquainted with where to get to and when, in support.

Arbisi said his training cycle has taken on a different milieu this year. There’ll be no drawing on the energy of spectators — and other runners. Too, at 65, he finds himself running alone most of the time anyway. Add them to the long list of other challenges all the charters have met in getting to the start line over 39 years.

In a first since the pandemic began, Arbisi ran in an organized event last month, the Trail Loppet in Theodore Wirth Park. It, too, has been part of his fall routine. He recognized its importance amid a health crisis that shows little sign of releasing its grip any time soon.

“There is a rhythm to our lives,” he said. “Summer training and fall and Twin Cities the first weekend of October has been a rhythm in my life for 39 years.

“We have lived through an unprecedented year on multiple levels, and to maintain that rhythm is important for me. I think it is just that I am committed to doing. For me, and not necessarily anybody else, it something that works.”

Another charter member, Croft, credits her late husband with starting her streak — he suggested she try the TCM. This year, she considered running part of the course but now plans to stick closer to home. She’ll run Friday with her boyfriend on a half-marathon course, doing an out-and-back from downtown Stillwater. One of her regrets will be missing one of the marathon’s grand payoffs: arriving at the Cathedral of St. Paul, near the finish, a phalanx of cheering spectators and the Capitol dead ahead. Another marathon completed.

This is her second virtual marathon this year. She did Grandma’s, too, over the summer. “I felt sorry for the people at [Twin Cities in Motion] because I know it was a hard decision.”

Croft, who said she runs at least four marathons a year, has no plans to end her streak. “I am just trying to keep going as long as I can,” said Croft, who has finished more than 200 marathons. “I am determined to go until next year, the 40th Twin Cities, and then maybe I can hang it up. Who knows?”

Knight planned to run Thursday in Carver Park Reserve. Moving safely, off the roads, was a priority. He said he looked forward to a different route and feel away from the hustle of a traditional marathon day. Quieter. Meditative. Maybe even a little more relaxing — even at 26-plus miles.

“You move forward, and as runners you run,” he said of this year’s change.

He’s also embraced this year’s void as an opportunity to run differently. He may be one of the youngest remaining charter members at 59, and he has no intention of quitting. Knight said training alterations are key if he’s to keep his streak humming. Attitude among them.

Knight has enjoyed the benefits this season of a walk-run regimen, knowing so much of the marathon tests the mind more than the body after several hours on the feet. On a 10-mile run, he’ll walk for 30-second intervals each of the last five miles, giving him a lot more energy toward the end.

He said he looked forward to reflecting Thursday in the beauty of the Carver reserve on his great TCM memories and people who have supported the charter members.

“Even though [the cancellation] is a bad thing, there are some good things coming out of this with runners, and it’s bringing more new runners in,” he said.

Linda Williams-Brettingen, 61, Eagan

Adding to the bucket

Her motto is “Pay it now, or pay it later.” Translation: Take care of yourself.

Williams-Brettingen, a proud 12-year breast cancer survivor, does by all means. She lifts weights, cycles, dances and, these days, puts in miles for a marathon. That the Twin Cities Marathon had to change to a DIY-version this year is but a speed bump for Williams-Brettingen.

The Eagan woman said she wouldn’t ordinarily do a fall marathon — she prefers winter/spring training because of the temperature — but the pandemic canceled her plans for the YWCA women’s triathlon. She joined the Eagan Run Club in June. After a fellow member encouraged her to register for the marathon, to run it together, she obliged. One final marathon is a life goal. (She first ran the distance in 2004 at Grandma’s.)

Since then, the friend switched to the TC 10 Mile, but Williams-Brettingen stood pat.

During the week, she trains on a treadmill in her basement. Her long miles are saved for Saturdays. She’ll loop (3.35 miles) counterclockwise around Cleary Lake while her husband, Mark, rides his bike clockwise, a rolling aid station.

She’ll return to her loops Sunday to grind out 26.2 miles, even if it isn’t as she’d hoped on the streets of the Twin Cities. Friends will run some of the day with her.

“I am checking this off my bucket list,” she said, laughing.

Then Williams-Brettingen can get on to other business. Paying now, as it were: When she feels safe returning to a club, she’ll work on her swim stroke in anticipation of next year’s Minneapolis YWCA triathlon.

Gulnara DeBoer, 45, Victoria

For her mother

DeBoer didn’t intend to run the Twin Cities Marathon when the event went virtual. Now, though, running is a balm in the months since the sudden death of her mother, Zumrude, from COVID-19. She died in April. The grief has been acute. DeBoer couldn’t travel to her mother’s country of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, to bury her and support her sister. The country has been in lockdown.

Welling with emotion, DeBoer said runs have helped her cope with the tragedy. She said her mother was “a young 66” but died within four hours of getting to the hospital.

DeBoer will run Sunday, weather permitting, with her mother on her heart.

“After I gathered my energy — and my family has been very supportive here — I decided to continue my marathon training and just run TC Marathon and do it in her memory,” she said.

DeBoer said her husband, Nick, has helped her make time for training, preferably early mornings, and the hours away that are a prerequisite. They have a daughter who is about to turn 2.

DeBoer ran short distances in her 20s, only to pick it up in recent years after a bout with cancer. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in early 2017. Looking to get stronger, she began running again, at first a mile a week. When she built up endurance to go 6 miles, she decided a marathon was possible.

DeBoer ran her first Twin Cities Marathon last year.

Her route Sunday will take her through the Carver reserve and around Chaska and Victoria.

DeBoer has carried a lot, and conceded that her story is inspiring.

“Hopefully it helps people that have a hard time coping,” she said. “[Running] doesn’t fix things, but it helps.”

Joel Huting, 40, Minneapolis

Beyond the personal

Huting tackled his first Twin Cities Marathon in 2011. He kept a quick pace (3:22 finish) and was inspired by runners 30 to 40 years older than him who did, too. In fact, really inspired.

“That’s where I decided, I am going to do this every year until I am 80.”

His plan: 50 consecutive TCMs, if Huting is able to see it through.

This week was his 10th toward that goal albeit on his terms rather than race organizers. Their main request is participants cover the 26.2 miles in one outing this month to make it official.

Lofty long-term goals aside, Huting had more important motivations as his marathon neared.

He’s disappointed that he won’t get to gather Sunday morning with thousands of others moving through the streets from Minneapolis to St. Paul. But, he said, the decision was a must: “I would call it a no-brainer. I don’t think there was safe way to put 10,000 people shoulder to shoulder.”

Frustrated by what he said is rampant disinformation during this public health crisis, Huting will set out Friday along his route in Minneapolis wearing a mask, a way of answering those who believe mask-wearing makes breathing difficult or unhealthy.

“People are wearing masks all day long in grocery stores,” he said. “Police, any sort of front-line worker, doctors, nurses, they are wearing masks all day long. I figure I can do a marathon in one, too, and try to make that point.”

Huting is mindful, too, of the racial inequities across the nation — and Minnesota — brought to the fore. He also planned to stop at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to pay his respects at the memorial for George Floyd.

“I want to continue to build on what I think is a potentially a tipping point, where society is largely finally waking up to these disparities,” Huting said.

He’ll post along the route, #maskedMarathonTCM and #runForRacialJusticeTCM.

Christy Gove Berg, 45, Forest Lake

Running river to river

Water figures prominently in Gove Berg’s family history. So when the marathon changed plans, Gove Berg got creative. Water will bookend her race plan, too.

She has set up a route she’s called “River to River” that will take her from St. Paul along the Mississippi River to a finish on the famed lift bridge over the St. Croix in Stillwater. In between she’ll cover miles on the Sam Morgan and Bruce Vento regional trails before a push along the Gateway and Brown’s Creek state trails.

The run will be Gove Berg’s first attempt at a marathon but a lasting homage to family. Her parents have had a cabin for 20 years on the St. Croix, and her father, Peter, helped form the Friends of the Mississippi River in addition to other advocacy work. She’ll also run for her grandfather, Will — a former marathoner like her father — and a familial North Star of sorts who’s also inspired volunteerism.

“I’ve always wanted to complete a marathon in his honor, and chose this year,” said Gove Berg, determined not to give up the dream or all her training since February.

“I was pretty internally committed to do it this year, at this age, at this time in my life. I sorted of figured, what will be will be.”

Originally, she planned to stick to the original route but became more excited about the idea of planning a route that has meaning for her. She said she’ll have more people in support than she would have had for the traditional run. Her children will cycle the beginning and the end, and a daughter will play violin to soften the aches. A good friend also will roll with water and snacks. She hopes to finish on the lift bridge — back on the familiar waters — to a small celebration.

“I am happy to doing this way, at this point,” Gove Berg said.

Ryan Shaddrick, 36, St. Michael

Sticking to the plan

Shaddrick sounds like a person always up for a challenge — and prepared to respond to one.

Shaddrick ran his first 5K last year, and a marathoning friend from work at the post office suggested he attempt 26.2 miles. He signed up last winter when registration opened and promptly signed up for several races in spring and summer to dovetail with his training. They were canceled or rescheduled, but still he’s continued to rack up mile after mile after mile around St. Michael, intent on delivering.

He gets out four days a week and uses a weekend day to cross-train. He also has an activity center membership that allows him to use the indoor track at St. Michael-Albertville High School.

His marathon goal and his young family have kept him motivated. He and his wife, Melisa, have a son, Lucas, 4, and a newborn daughter, Aliyah.

“I want to do something I can be proud of, and they can be proud of me at some point,” Shaddrick said.

Friends will join his family to watch and cheer him when he starts his race. He’ll do it Saturday or Sunday, and possibly on the indoor track, depending on weather. Seven laps per 1.07 miles sounds intense, but a climate-controlled setting with a restroom and water readily available is a good option, he said.


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