Canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon is back this fall, but with virus protocols mandated to keep runners in the 26.2-mile and the 10-mile runs safe.

With many people now vaccinated against the disease, the races are set for Oct. 3 with safety precautions in place, including reducing the race field sizes and requiring masks in indoor spaces, enclosed tents, the start area corrals where runners line up and the finish line walk-off area.

Racers won't have to wear a mask while running. But failing to wear one when required could result in disqualification.

The protocols are based on advice from the Minnesota Department of Health, local and national industry peers such as the Minnesota Running Industry Covid Task Force and a crowd scientist, race organizers said.

"We take health seriously, we take safety seriously, and we take COVID-19 and the delta variant seriously," Twin Cities In Motion Executive Director Virginia Brophy Achman said. "We wanted to do everything we could to help our participants feel confident when they are at our event."

To reduce crowding, the number of runners allowed in the races was cut from 8,400 registered marathoners in 2019 to about 4,500 this year. About 8,500 runners are registered for this year's 10-mile race compared with 13,500 participants two years ago.

The number of professional runners competing also will be down because organizers aren't offering prize money this year and have no budget to offset travel and lodging costs for them. Normally, the marathon and 10-mile events attract about 100 professional racers. This year, only about a dozen elite runners — most of them local — will toe the start lines.

Organizers also will control crowding through other measures, such as staggering start area arrival times, funneling runners into multiple lanes as they cross the start lines and discouraging spectators from gathering along John Ireland Boulevard to watch runners approach and cross the finish line by erecting a 6-foot fence to obstruct views.

Despite the prospect of thinner crowds and fewer participants, most runners who plan to compete are simply happy the race is back on.

Carli Bartnik, 28, of Minneapolis, found it difficult to stay motivated last year without a race to train for. She was re-energized when she set her sights on the 2021 Twin Cities marathon and started training months ago. Still, she said, she realized a COVID resurgence could again derail fall races.

"I just had to tell myself that it was happening to mentally get myself out the door," said Bartnik, who hopes to finish her sixth marathon in 2 hours, 55 minutes. Her husband, Aaron, who also will line up for the race hopes to finish in 2:30.

"I'm really excited to get out there," Bartnik said. "We live a few blocks off the [race] course so I know the energy that surrounds it."

The COVID-19 protocols aren't likely to dampen spirits on race day, said veteran marathoner Pete Miller, 52, of Excelsior.

"It's still the same beautiful course," he said. "Even though there won't be as many runners, there will be people on the road. It won't feel empty. And the great thing about the Twin Cities, you're never really in a place where there aren't spectators."

The marathon's return also is good news for those who live along the course and look forward to hosting front-yard parties during the race.

"They're also probably as excited," Miller said.

"It's good to have it back," said John Naslund,, who at 71 has racked up a couple hundred marathons and longer events.

He's run every Twin Cities marathon since 1982. Not wanting to break his streak when it was canceled last year, he ran the virtual race on the marathon course.

And come Oct. 3, he'll be back on the starting line.

"I like the camaraderie," Naslund said. "It's a fun event. You show up with a few thousand other people and it's rather festive."

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788