An unseasonably warm start to October resulted in the cancellation of the 2023 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, sparking frustration and questions.
The decision came in response to a record high of 92 degrees on Oct. 1, the day of the scheduled marathon and ten mile race. High temperatures the day before had affected runners in the 5K and 10K events, and more heat and more racers were predicted to stress emergency medical response.
The impact of this decision is still being sorted out. Many runners persisted despite the official cancellation and took to the course to complete the race. Those expecting for some kind of reimbursement will have to keep waiting as the race organization announced no decision would come before Oct. 20 regarding refunds or a race credit allowing entry into a future event.
While it is important to prioritize safety at large events, the way the cancellation was handled may raise eyebrows. Forecasts well in advance of Oct. 1 predicted the record heat, but no official decision was made until the morning of the race. By then, many runners had further financially invested to travel to the start line from across the country, expecting the opportunity to race. Furthermore, a high of 92 degrees may be blistering for Minnesota in October, but had the event been held in the summer, racing in that level of heat would be expected. That is to say, running in 92 degree heat is not impossible, proven by the racers who persisted to the finish line.
Whatever criticisms may be leveled against the decision, it should be noted the organizers were placed in a lose-lose situation, picking between canceling the race and disappointing many or perhaps putting the lives of participants in jeopardy.
If any finger pointing is necessary following this cancellation, it should be squarely at the climate chaos that is just beginning to take root this century. As the earth continues to warm, we may need to assess how feasible some endurance events will become under extreme conditions.
In the professional cycling world, the notoriously punishing Tour de France has turned even more grueling. Riders have battled European summer heat waves in recent years with ice cubes, towels, and even off-season training sessions in the deserts to simulate race conditions.
At the other end of the seasonal spectrum, warm temperatures threaten winter snow levels, prompting skiers and snowboarders to band together in groups like Protect Our Winters in efforts to create climate advocates out of outdoor enthusiasts. The cancellation of the Twin Cities Marathon was similar to when the 2017 American Birkebeiner was called off. That year, the largest cross country ski race in North America was faced with a shortage of snow and was canceled the day before the scheduled event, when much of its global community of racers had already traveled to Northern Wisconsin.
Regardless of whether or not the call to cancel the Twin Cities Marathon was right or wrong, it had real consequences for participants and may be a preview of the conundrum of how to keep racing in a warming world.