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Park Point 5-Miler may be running's new normal

With 30 start times and even more finishes, the Park Point 5-Miler still holds its 49th annual running.

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Aiden Kilibarda (right) of Afton, Minnesota, jumps to warm up Thursday while in the starting area of the Park Point 5-miler at the end of Park Point in Duluth. Kilibarda ran the race in 27 minutes and 35 seconds. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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The show must go on.

Despite requiring 30 different start times, social distancing and face masks, the Park Point 5-Miler carried on for the 49th consecutive year Thursday.

Count Daniel McCollor among those glad that it did.

The 14-year-old soon-to-be Wayzata High School freshman was among those competing who were just glad to be running in a timed event outdoors after a spring hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Other than mile time trials with friends, this is all we’ve been able to do,” said McCollor, who finished first in his 8 a.m. grouping in a time of 31 minutes, 25 seconds. “I was hoping to run a little faster, but my second and third miles were a little slow.”

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Mike Ward (left) and Benjamin Welch both of Duluth leave the starting area of the Park Point 5-miler at the end of Park Point in Duluth. Each wave contained a maximum of 25 runners that stayed six feet apart in the starting area and started the race in pairs to maintain social distancing requirements. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

No awards were presented nor winners crowned after the race, which also allowed runners to do it virtually as long as times are submitted by Friday.

As of Thursday night, Cameron Stocke, a 15-year-old from Mountain Iron, had the best men’s time of 27:20, and the 31:01 of Melissa Gacek of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, was the top women’s time.

McCollor came up with his family from their home in Plymouth, Minnesota, and camped in Two Harbors on Wednesday night before arriving at Park Point early Thursday.

“This was the reason for the camping trip, not the other way around,” said Deb Gormley, Daniel’s mother, who finished 3:20 behind him.

Gormley’s time was among the top five in the morning session, run under sunny skies in the mid-70s.

“It was like running a time trial on your own,” she said.

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Laura Seitz (left) of Duluth has her temperature checked Thursday by Laura Johnson of Duluth prior to entering the starting area of the Park Point 5-miler at the end of Park Point in Duluth. This is the first in-person running event put on by Grandma's Marathon since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Runners started two at a time in groups of up to 25 per time slot. Three waves of 10 races, in 20-minute intervals, went off from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Planning for the race took time, and a couple of attempts to get city officials to acquiesce to a permit.

“We put an eight-page plan together with all the guidelines for this race, based on the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and (Minnesota Department of Health) guidelines that were issued,” said Shane Bauer, executive director of Grandma’s Marathon, which puts on the race. “But even that wasn’t enough. It took two tries with the city to get a permit from them to be able to do this. Once we got their blessing, our medical director said he couldn’t imagine an athletic event being at lower risk than what we’re doing.

“It ended up being a pretty impressive plan, and now it could be a model that other races can follow.”

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Richie Rochel of Cloquet is the first runner to cross the finish line Thursday during the 6 a.m. wave of the Park Point 5-miler at the end of Park Point in Duluth. Rochel ran the race in 32 minutes and 42 seconds. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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Duluthian Jarrow Wahman, who ran in the morning wave with his daughter, Veronica, had been waiting to run “any race in any way.”

“I’m happy that Grandma’s Marathon and Park Point were able to figure out a way for us to get out here and go through the motions,” he said. “It’s almost halfway to normal.”

Wahman said his run didn’t turn out as hoped, however. The co-owner of Austin-Jarrow shoe store in Duluth said he hasn’t trained much in the past month after overtraining in the spring and his daughter experienced dehydration, so they both walked a portion of the race.

Veronica still outkicked her father to the finish.

“I told her earlier if I was going to finish ahead of her, I would have to take off with a couple miles to go,” he said, “because if it comes to a kick, I’m 59 and she’s 15. It’s no contest.”

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Sarah Steinbach of Hermantown wears a face covering Thursday at the start of the Park Point 5-miler at the end of Park Point in Duluth. Participants were required to wear face masks at the start and finish of the race but could remove them during the race. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Veronica Wahman is a sophomore-to-be at Duluth East who is hoping for a cross-country season. Whether that means attending class in person or using virtual learning from home doesn’t matter.

“Whatever is safest, I don’t mind doing it from home,” she said.

McCollor, who is on Wayzata’s cross country and ski teams, has a slightly different opinion.

“I really hope we have (in-person) school this year. Online learning is a little eh,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders.

Everyone had the same opinion, however, about running a race outdoors.

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Runners head out on the course during the 6 a.m. wave of the Park Point 5-miler at the end of Park Point in Duluth. This is the first in-person running event put on by Grandma's Marathon since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Deborah Sah, a transplanted New Yorker, ran a virtual Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in June after that race and Grandma's Marathon had been canceled. This marked her first Park Point 5-Miler.

“(Virtual running) is not the same, so it was nice to actually run on a course,” she said.

With the safety precautions used, Sah said she never worried about her health.

“It felt very safe, especially in my (morning) wave with only five of us. It was like a well-oiled machine, and I appreciate their effort,” Sah said of race officials.

Unless Minnesota relaxes its current coronavirus restrictions, Bauer said he expects a similar plan to be used for the Minnesota Mile on Sept. 11 and, possibly, for as-yet-to-be-approved Wednesday Night at the Races for youth.

“We’ll come up with something,” Bauer said. “Our staff is always good at adapting to these things.”

No matter the new normal, runners such as Wahman find it important that people have the chance to exercise outdoors.

“It’s just great to get outside,” he said. “More than runners, I’m seeing people walking. Families walking everywhere I go. We’re not in the shutdown mode anymore but that doesn’t seem to slow people down. The gyms may be open, or at least partially open, but I see more people outside.”

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