Get In Gear 1978-1985
Actually, it was called "Getting into Gear"
The idea for a 10k race came after meeting Joe Henderson, the editor of Runner’s World magazine. My wife and I and our two kids were visiting relatives in Los Altos, Ca. in 1976. I heard about a 3-mile race at Foothills Junior College, Los Altos, CA. I ran the mildly hilly course and recognized Joe Henderson, the editor of Runner’s World magazine, standing at the finish. I think he won the race.
We were both wearing Tiger’s and had a brief conversation about shoes that led to Joe describing how important running was to a community. Joe is still promoting running as a running instructor at the University of Oregon.
Running shoes were a growing classification of business at Dayton’s. I was the Fashion and Marketing Director for the Men’s Division and it made sense to develop a running event. It would go along with a lifestyle modification program that I had been developing with the YMCA and the Trib. Of course we reached out to our local Nike rep, Tom Adams, seeking their support and asked North Memorial Medical Center to act as co-sponsors.
We ordered 2,000 white t shirts from Nike. The race was free, no sign-up, we had no indication of how many runners would show up at the front of the Prudential Insurance building. April 15, 1978 was 48 degrees and clear. At 10:00 am, Dr. Alex Ratelle walked up to me and said, “God is with us today.” I said, “What do you mean?” He walked me up the hill and pointed to a mass of people stretching and twisting. I thought maybe 5,000 runners had come out of nowhere.
3,500 two-mile fitness runners ran the out and back course and gobbled up the t’s.
1,258 10K runners went down Wirth Parkway, along Cedar Lake around Isles and back. Paul Raether crossed the finish line with a time of 30:34 and grabbed tongue depressor # 1. Dr. Ratelle was the first senior across the finish line in 33:50 with tongue depressor # 17. Jan Arenz was the first woman in 37:21 with tongue depressor # 78.
At the 42nd minute up to 75 runners were crossing the finish line every 60 seconds. Tongue depressors with finish numbers on them couldn’t be handed out fast enough, anyway, we ran out of them. Nike’s Tom Adams yelled “Close the chutes. Forget it. Let em run through.” Thank goodness we had an expert there. The next day, we ordered another 4,000 t shirts. Runners picked them up in the Minneapolis Dayton’s Active Footwear Department on the second floor, close to my office.
The Kennedy dining room table was results central for over a week. Somehow, with the help of my wife Mary K., daughter Shannon and son Colin, we provided 436 runners with times.
The world has changed over the past 45 years, better finish lines, accurate times, immediate results for the world to see. But the excitement and sense of satisfaction that comes from watching people run freely for the pure satisfaction of reaching a personal goal will never go away.
Good thing I kept the Minnesota Distance Runner Summer Supplement Publication from 1978 and Maury Hobbs article from the December 22, 1985 Minneapolis Star and Tribune announcing my retirement as Race Director.
Here are the names of a few of the people to thank for all their hard work in making this first Getting Into Gear event fun and memorable. Tom Adams, Pauline Altermatt, Jeff Brain, Lee Canning, Susan Cushman, Doug Danielson, Ward Edwards, Todd Freeman, Charlotte Green, Bob Hawkins, Chuck Houdek, Mike Johnson, Jerry Kassanchuk, Mary K. Kennedy, Dave Larson, Lt. Puchtel, Jules Schulman, John Schwab, Paul Sollie, Nick Stocking, Chet Vorspan, Ken Ward, Jeff Winter, and the entire 11 O’clock Club.
Memories of that first race and photos can be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org Paulette Odenthal at
As written by Bruce Brothers, writer of running columns at Minneapolis Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press for many years through the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, covering Minnesota’s major marathons, the Get in Gear and a few other bigger Twin Cities road races, until discontinued by management. (we think this is unfortunate)
Big numbers and great atmosphere have been a constant for the Get in Gear through 40 years.
Here’s one personal example…
One middle-of-the-pack runner whose training was going rather well back in the early 1980s stepped onto Godfrey Road and inched uneasily to within 20 yards of the front-runners at the starting line. When the gun fired, he took off nervously, afraid to look over his shoulder at the massive group on his heels.
Even in the pre-timing chip days, his bold move led to a PR that still stands and never did take into account the four or five seconds required to pass the start line.
It was one of those mornings that becomes engraved into the memories of average runners of all ages and eras. They typically seized on the warmer early days of spring to log some decent training mileage and then happily jumped into what was known as Minnesota’s greatest celebration of running outside of the big marathons in the Twin Cities and Duluth.
It was the up-beat masses of people who made the experience more memorable than the numbers on the digital clock at the finish line.
Before being passed in size by the fields for Grandma's Marathon and the Twin Cities Marathon, Get in Gear not only drew big numbers but also such luminaries as Olympians Janis Klecker, Pat Porter and Lorraine Moller, Kenyans Jonah Koech and John Kihonge and most of the sport’s fastest from around the Twin Cities including Jan Ettle, Sabrina Dornhoefer, Mike Palmquist, Cathie Twomey, Lindsay Brown, Deb Gormley and Steve Benson.
Curt Kotsonas of Minneapolis, who won the 10K in 29 minutes, 49 seconds in 1996, came back a year later with nothing but praise for the event.
“It's a pretty popular race and it's a good course,” he said, noting that the big crowds enhance the atmosphere while a perennial the strong field encourages fast times.
Kotsonas, who was 25 when he won in ’96, remembered first running Get in Gear 10 years earlier when he was in high school and the best he could manage was in the very-decent 36- to 37-minute range.
Before 1978, the largest running event in Minnesota was usually the Hopkins Raspberry 5-mile, which on a good day attracted about 500 entrants.
Getting Into Gear, originally sponsored and promoted by Dayton's and the Minneapolis Tribune, had loftier ambitions. Bill Kennedy, the race director through the early years, convinced his employers at Dayton's that possibly as many as 800 might turn out.
Instead, “the beautiful weather and general enthusiasm for running caused the largest turnout to date for a race in the state of Minnesota,'' Kennedy wrote in the race results.
Nearly 4,000 converged like floodwaters on the Prudential Office Building near Cedar Lake in Minneapolis for the initial 10-kilometer race plus a companion fun run, neither of which required an entry fee.
That day altered the face of Minnesota running forever.
Moved to the more spacious Minnehaha Park a year later, the race thrived. More than 6,000 ran the 10K in 1983 and several thousand more participated in the 2-mile fun run, still free at that time even though its participants still got a T-shirt.
Later, numbers bounced to fewer than 4,000, then climbed back to more than 5,100 in 1996 as Get in Gear found a new but temporary staging area at the old Ford plant in St. Paul. Reversing the river roads course from previous years turned the stiffest hills in St. Paul into downhills and did no harm to the times of runners, according to two-time winner Deb Gormley.
“I like the changes to the course,'' she said after producing a time of 34:26 in 1996. “It was kind of fun; I ran a PR.”
After Kennedy departed in 1985, long-time MDRA president Jeff Winter directed the Get in Gear, continuing the traditions of precision timing and a party atmosphere.
Some time around then, a modest amount of prize money was added into the equation to attract a few faster runners from outside the area and help bolster the event’s identity among the local media.
In 1998, for example, Kenyan Cosmas Musyoka left the field of 6,300 behind not long passing under the bridge that connects to Ford Parkway in St. Paul. He ran all by himself, hitting the one-mile mark in 4:32 and finishing in a comfortable 30:09.
Like Musyoka, St. Paul’s Gormley ran away from the women’s field with a speedy first mile of 5:21 and finished in 35:05.
“I like the rush of that first mile,” Gormley later told newspaper reporters.
The top finishers that day each collected $1,000 prize money.
For most of those years, the Twin Cities daily newspapers covered the Get in Gear extensively and annually published lengthy listings of results.
People who were younger and faster in those days still look back on those times fondly and still can brag about finishing much earlier than they do these days.
The race has changed course a number of times because of road construction or other roadblocks, but most years it has begun and finished at the glorious Minnehaha Park.
It is there that fast finishers and those in the back of the pack gather when the race is through, hoisting a cup or two of cold water and downing a banana or something similar while re-telling each other about the joys and difficulties of their experience.
The daily newspapers might not take notice any more, but the average people who participate don’t really mind.
For now over 40 years, Get in Gear has been a race where folks can challenge themselves, partake of a genuine camaraderie and relish the tradition of an event that never stops evolving and yet is never less than outstanding.