Participating in a marathon often is an emotional and inspiring experience.
But runners at Sunday's Twin Cities Marathon might have been riding on an extra wave of endorphins.
Competitors and spectators said the return of the 39-year-old fall tradition was especially meaningful after it was canceled last year because of the pandemic.
Among the marathon finishers on Sunday was St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. He called the race from downtown Minneapolis to the State Capitol grounds in St. Paul "an emotional victory for the Twin Cities."
"It means so much to our community," Carter said. "This race is a symbol of everything we've gone through in the past year." Carter said running the marathon was on his bucket list. It was his "first ever, last ever," he said.
On Sunday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also ran the marathon, and Gov. Tim Walz completed the TC 10 Mile.
"Perfect weather conditions," said Megan Frank, a Plymouth resident who finished the TC 10 Mile race under cool, mostly overcast skies. "It was so fun to be with other people for the first time in a long time."
"It was like a big party the whole 26.2 miles," said marathon finisher Katie Brennan, of St. Louis Park.
"There were way more spectators than I anticipated," said fellow marathon runner Laura Rambeck of Minneapolis.
Because of coronavirus, the field size for the marathon and the 10-mile race were reduced to about half the size of a normal year to make the event safer. Race organizer Twin Cities in Motion also required runners to wear masks on buses and in starting corrals.
But enthusiastic spectators showed up to cheer the runners on, lining Summit Avenue in the home stretch, making a din with cowbells, musical instruments and loudspeakers.
At some homes lining the racecourse, residents added to the party atmosphere by setting up brunch buffet tables and jumpy castles.
They waved homemade signs with sentiments such as, "Pain is temporary but internet race results are forever," and "You've come this far, you might as well finish."
"I feel like there's a big optimistic energy in the air. Families are lining the street. Everyone's happy to be out again," said Karl Noelle, who was playing dance music near mile 23 of the race with the help of a laptop, an audio controller, two speakers and a subwoofer powered by a portable generator.
"To me, it felt more joyous," said Steve Nelson, a St. Paul runner who finished the TC 10 Mile race, then dressed up in costume as soccer coach Ted Lasso, the hit sitcom character. Nelson headed back out to the racecourse to cheer on marathon runners holding a big yellow "BELIEVE" sign.
Brad Robb and Maria Christu, part of the Girls on the Run nonprofit organization, brought a bubble machine, maracas, cow bells and a gong to encourage tired runners.
"I'm so glad to see people back out running in person," Christu said. "It's been a long year and a half."
Lucius Nicholson resumed a tradition he started by blasting deafening music on speakers in front of his mother's house on Summit Avenue less than a mile from the finish.
"Ladies and gentlemen, you are so close," Nicholson shouted into a microphone. "You get a medal! You get a space blanket!"
Nicholson said the first year he did it, he played "Eye of the Tiger" for six hours straight.
"It bugged a lot of the neighbors, but the runners loved it," he said.
He said he's getting "a lot of smiles this year. I think people are happy to have some sense of normalcy."
To get a finisher time and a medal, runners had to beat a yellow school bus that creeps along the race route at a pace to get to the finish line in about six hours.
If you get passed by the bus, you're asked to either take a ride on the bus or move to the sidewalk so the roads can be reopened.
"We have one medal left," a volunteer shouted to the last person to cross the finish line ahead of the bus — Sara Nelson, of Wayzata.
"That was a big motivator," she said. "I wanted to stay ahead of the bus."
There were 3,192 official finishers.
But about 20 minutes after the bus came in, Dave Jones struggled along the sidewalk determined to cross where the finish line mats were before they were rolled up.
The 77-year-old St. Paul resident is a veteran of more than 200 marathons. But he was slowed by heart blockage that required three stents in 2019.
He got passed by the bus in that year's race. He got farther along the course before being passed this year.
He had to buy his own soft drink at a gas station midrace because the official water stops had been packed up. But he said it never crossed his mind to give up and get on the bus.
"I didn't even consider it," he said.