While most races — including Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon — were held virtually in their entirety a year ago during the COVID-19 pandemic, northern Minnesota’s oldest road race found a way to continue on in person for its 49th running.

Now with its 50th running scheduled for Thursday and few restrictions in place, the 2021 Park Point 5-Miler and 2-Mile Walk is planning a post-race party to celebrate its golden anniversary. A creation of the North Shore Striders in 1972, the race will run down Minnesota Avenue starting and finishing near the Park Point Beach House.

The 5-Miler is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. while the 2-mile walk will get underway at 6:40 p.m. The party, featuring alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages from Grandma’s Restaurant, will start near the beach house at 7 p.m., with each finisher receiving a free drink ticket.

The Park Point Kids’ Races, which are free and open to children 12 and younger, will begin at 5:30 p.m. near the playground at Park Point.

“It's super exciting, and we feel incredibly grateful that we were able to hold the 49th last year,” race director Greg Haapala said. “Especially with the Park Point 5-Miler, it has the status as the oldest race in northern Minnesota, so if there was any race — outside of Grandma's Marathon — that we could probably choose to keep going through that time, it was fortuitous that this one was the one we came back with.

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A year ago, Haapala and the crew at Grandma’s Marathon spent about 14 hours out at Park Point conducting the 49th running of the 5-Miler, which took place in socially distanced waves throughout the day between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. The race featured 200 people running in person, plus virtual entrants.

“It was a very simple event, and this event started as a very simple event — no frills, a few people running and enjoying that process,” Haapala said. “It was nice to get back to that, and really, we are coming full circle this year for 2021. It's awesome that it's the 50th and we can get back to gathering 500-plus people at a start line for the 50th to celebrate this one. It's going to feel probably for the first time for a lot of folks like being back to normal.”

Melissa Gacek of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, ran last year’s 5-Miler, posting the top women’s time of 31:01. She ran in one of the earlier waves starting around 8:30 a.m., running with just 10 other people. She didn’t find out she won the race until later that night.

Gacek, a two-time U.S. Olympic marathon trials qualifier who has run both Grandma’s Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth, said last year’s Park Point 5-Miler was her first time running the event in at least 10 years, maybe longer. She came back to the race a year ago, partially out of curiosity as she herself is the race director for a 5K race that features 400 runners.

Aiden Kilibarda (right) of Afton, Minnesota, jumps to warm up while in the starting area of last year's Park Point 5-miler, which starts and ends at the end of Park Point in Duluth. Last year's race, the 49th running, took place in socially distanced waves spaced out between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. The 50th running this year will return to a normal mass start. (Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Aiden Kilibarda (right) of Afton, Minnesota, jumps to warm up while in the starting area of last year's Park Point 5-miler, which starts and ends at the end of Park Point in Duluth. Last year's race, the 49th running, took place in socially distanced waves spaced out between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. The 50th running this year will return to a normal mass start. (Clint Austin / File / caustin@duluthnews.com)

“As soon as Park Point launched that, I was like, “I gotta go up and A) See how they’re doing it and B) to support them,” Gacek, 45, said of running a year ago. “Even if it wasn’t an ideal situation, I was excited to have something to do.

“I was very impressed. It was very well organized. I couldn’t imagine how much work it was for the staff.”

Gacek is back for this year’s 5-Miler, though she said she isn’t expecting to defend her title with so many other fast runners in the state.

As of Monday morning, Haapala said they had 470 racers registered for this year’s event, which can often draws a significant number of walk-ups if the weather is nice. The event is capped at 900 participants.

The forecast for Park Point’s Sky Harbor Airport is predicting a mostly sunny day Thursday with a high near 74. There’s a chance of showers and thunderstorms, while winds will be out of the northeast at 10-15 mph with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Minnesota Avenue starting at 22nd Avenue on Park Point will be closed to traffic for the race from 6-7:45 p.m. on Thursday.