Get in Gear
10 Mile Event Added
2K Becomes Pick Your Distance Fun Run
2K Moves To Friday Night
Incorporation As A Non-Profit Organization
Fit For Fun 2K
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.
1986 – 1998
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.
1998 – Present
“Enter 1998″ by Paulette Odenthal, Executive Director of Get in Gear, 1998-current
In 1997 I saw a part-time position open in the then MDRA publication to work with the Get in Gear under direction of Jeff Winter and to provide assistance as an operations manager. I applied and got the job and I worked with Jeff Winter for one year on Get in Gear to assist and implement the operations in 1997. This was during the Ford Motor Plant 3 year phase when Minnehaha Park was under renovation and the race could not be staged in Minnehaha Park for up to three years.
In 1998, Jeff Winter decided to step away from directing the Get in Gear and the Board of Directors asked me if I would consider becoming the new race director. I accepted the offer and was very excited about this new opportunity for an amazing race. There was a very small office on Minnehaha Avenue, part-time staff of one for assistance with the database but only during the busy race months and 4 large boxes of files that had the past 20 years of results from faded newspapers, articles and results from Bruce Brothers and Jim Ferstle, famed running writers during that time period. Every Sunday, runners across the twin cities looked forward to seeing their name published in newspaper results or even better, listed as a top male or female finisher.
The final year at the Ford Plant was in 1999 and what a beautiful day it was. Sun shining, blue sky and not a raindrop in sight. Execution of race logistics that were staged from the then Ford plant parking lot was an interesting and challenging task but it had also been the prior two years and many of the logistics were in place.
It was the year 2000 and the Get in Gear was “back to the park”. This was an exciting year after being at the Ford Plant for 3 years. Big crowds of thousands of runners and the Minnehaha Park atmosphere and ambience was amazing.
Things in the early 2000’s still involved timing and scoring that included using finish line chutes (six for the large Get in Gear), spindles for bib number tags that needed to be individually collected in the right order of finish, mail-in registration only where registrants were asked to provide self-stamped envelopes sent to the office for a registration form to be sent to them, paper registrations only and communication done only by mail or the newspaper. There was no website.
In 2001 a very basic website was created for Get in Gear and technology was beginning to surface in the form of online registration which was just beginning to happen but needed a very slow start as many could not and would not put their credit card information on a computer and could not embrace an additional processing fee which was new for race registrations. At the start of online registration for Get in Gear, the percentage grew over the years from only 10% that registered online with each year slowly receiving a bigger percentage of online registration and fast forward to current times when online registration is the only way to register and there is no paper registration. E-mail communication began with the ability to reach mass amounts of participants digitally and the combined website, e-mail and online registration electronically was a game changer for communications.
Also in the early 2000’s we decided to try chip timing as it was the new technological advancement (The Boston Marathon used the chip in 1996 for their 100th anniversary). Chip timing was here to stay.
In 2001 September 11th happened and with that came a different way to look at the world and safety in general for large gatherings. The transparent drawstring bag given the next year was a result of that with contents needing to be able to be viewed at any type of packet drop-off.
It also became obvious that some things needed to be modified to continue the popularity of the Get in Gear and ride the wave of its history. Attending conferences around the country and getting feedback from other leaders in the industry and what was happening with running began the germination of adding an event to the already popular Get in Gear 10K. An event that was one of the fastest growing running events due to the influx of new runners that wanted to take a dip into the world of road running and/or walking was the 5K and in 2005 we were excited to offer our runners a Get in Gear 5K with the 10K and already popular 2K kid’s fun run itinerary.
Continuing through the next few years it was clear to see that running was ever more and more popular and the idea of adding a longer event to the Get in Gear was born. Evidence across the country showed that the two most popular running distances in the nation were the 5K and also the half marathon. Again with guidance from industry leaders around the country, research on the logistics of adding a half marathon to our events and many meetings with officials, in 2009, the Get in Gear Half Marathon was added and was as popular as predicted.
Registrations continued to increase annually for our cumulative events and by 2012, we had our largest field yet with almost 10,000 registrants.
In 2015 the popular Get in Gear 2K fun run moved from the Saturday morning 8am start time to a Friday night fun run schedule. Being on site all day setting up for the Saturday events and having last day registration open until 8pm it made sense to give us a better opportunity to host the 2K without having to quickly move through it in order to start the next races. We were able to deliver a higher quality experience for the kids by adding both pre and post-race entertainment, giving of the medals, food and games in two hours as opposed to only one hour and rushed before the 9am start of the other races.
Later in 2015 the Get in Gear office building we had rented office space from was sold, and by February of 2016 we landed in a quaint rental office space in Mendota, only a few miles from Minnehaha Park, the Get in Gear race site. This Mendota office site has been the home of Get in Gear, Inc. since 2016. Hundreds of team meetings have taken place at the Mendota office which was often cozy by fireplace on the cold winter nights and the all-volunteer team worked hard on decisions that needed to be made leading up to the annual races. The Get in Gear team were some of the best examples of team leaders with pride and ownership of the event they put energy and time into of any out there.
In 2019 we decided that we would offer a 2K, 3K or 4K option for the Friday night fun run. This was designed to offer the opportunity for a young runner to choose their distance at the time they are running and not have to commit to any one distance until they start their run. The fee for the fun run was the same regardless of which distance chosen. This is a great opportunity for a young runner to test a longer distance than the 2K, yet less than the 5K, in preparation for a future 5K which was the ultimate goal in their future.
Also in 2019 we began to turn our thoughts to a 3 year roadmap to the 45th anniversary of the Get in Gear that would start in 2020 and end in 2022 with strategic planning for growth, sponsorship and leadership moving forward. Many ideas were on the table but the biggest one was to add a 10 mile distance to our running events due to the popularity of the distance. A course was chosen and registration was rolled out with the addition of a 10 miler. It was an exciting time.
In March of 2020 we were gut punched by the onset of the pandemic which included being forced to immediately cancel the event. This was a very challenging and difficult time to navigate and did not come without continued challenges that would bleed into 2021 and even 2022 due to the lack of monetary support by government relief which was only offered to organizations with a payroll. Get in Gear, a 501(c)4 non-profit company, has no employees, hence no payroll protection plan was able to be offered. The three year plan was in jeopardy.
In 2021, the pandemic continued and again there was not an opportunity to produce a normal Get in Gear but we did receive permission to produce a running event with conditions of only one distance and on run paths for a limited number of about 400 runners and with a strict CoVid Preparedness plan in place. We were happy to keep the brand alive and well despite the limitations however the revenue stream was very limited as well.
In 2022 the Get in Gear Board, Executive Committee and team discussed producing a 45th Annual Get in Gear events. With two years of little to no revenue due to lack of events, the Get in Gear was in jeopardy of a future. With our continued sponsorship by PreferredOne, a long time cash sponsor and two private donors we were confident we could produce a Get in Gear but with needed restrictions due to budget. Prize money was removed, awards were trimmed and the Friday night fun run was temporarily suspended. The budget was set for 3000 as a come-back number while still in uncertain times and we moved forward with the modified version of the Get in Gear 10K, 5K and Half Marathon.
The Get in Gear gifts to the running community that have sustained over the years and continued to be fostered and evolve with changing times is first, for the fast and focused runners, to be able to offer a race with accurate mile markers, quickly produced results and prize money for the elite finishers; second, for the recreational runners, to be able to offer an experience that includes pre and post race fun engaging activities, post-race food and a fun active village of engaging exhibitors and vendors; and third, for the younger and older runners, to be able to offer an extensive age group award system with special bonus prize gift certificates for those younger than 18 and for those older than 80 to provide an all-inclusive across the board age group award system. Offering these three gifts of the Get in Gear has been a mainstay of the Get in Gear that has continued to bring runners, old and new to the Get in Gear every last Saturday of April, as an Annual Rite of Spring.