Rochester’s biggest race is back on Memorial Day weekend after two years, and the marathon relay racers won’t be the only ones passing on their batons.
On the 25th running of the Med City Marathon, Mark Bongers is handing off the race director title for the third-oldest marathon in Minnesota.
Evin Haukos is taking over the operations of the race, though Bongers will help in the transition this year. Haukos is a 2013 graduate of St. Cloud State who has operated many races in central Minnesota. His name may be familiar to runners in the state—his step-father Chris Haukos runs Pickle Events, a timing company, and his mother is the founder of a St. Cloud Half Marathon.
“That’s an exciting thing,” Evin Haukos said. “It’s great to see the traditions carry on. And [we hope to] make this a bigger national marathon in the future.”
Haukos said he is learning the details of managing a full marathon this year. He sees a big future for the race that finishes just blocks from one of the largest medical systems in the country: The Mayo Clinic, which generated $15.7 billion in revenue in 2021 and employs more than 70,000 at hospitals, clinics and research labs in Rochester and around the world.
“Rochester is America’s city of health,” Haukos said as he worked preparations for the race weekend Friday. “In talking with the city’s leadership, [they also want] the event to engage the entire community in health and wellness—and show off the local art, the local music.”
Haukos knows something of the local music scene too. He plays the fiddle in the folk rock group, My Grandma’s Cardigan, and he used his connections to help line up a strong afterparty band list for Med City’s marathon weekend.
The first party starts after Saturday’s two races. It all begins 5:30 p.m. May 28 when the kids line up for a free race sponsored by GLK Orthodontics. An hour later, the Altra Federal Credit Union 5K sends runners on the bankside paths of the Zumbro River, around Soldiers Field’s dirt track (though not on it) and back into downtown Rochester where a concert will set the tone at the finish line. The TerraLoco Heath and Fitness Expo goes through the day until 8 p.m.
Sunday’s racers may not want to stay at the concert too late—many will have a 5:20 a.m. bus ride to the starting line at the Rochester International Airport. The three major races start from there at 7 a.m.: the Gillette Pepsi Half Marathon, the 20-mile and the marathon. There is also a marathon relay option for runners who want to run the distance as a team.
Race organizers have included the 20-mile run as a part of the competition to appeal to those training for Grandma’s Marathon on June 18. Still, the largest number of entries is the half marathon. Overall, the race may not see the amount of participants from pre-pandemic years.
“We’re looking really good, in comparison to a lot of events,” Haukos said. “We’re about 10 percent lower than 2019. We have a lot of late registrations because people are nervous about [race cancellations].”
The Med City tradition started in 1996 with good support from the city. More than 400 people ran in the inaugural race. But in the 27 years of running, racers saw the cancellation of the race twice.
In 2020, the devastating COVID-19 pandemic first postponed the race to September before the cancellation of the race July 20.
In 2018, a heat advisory was issued for southern Minnesota, forcing all runners to downgrade to the half marathon. It was nearly a repeat of another hot year. In 2006, heat increased as the race went on, and officials called runners off the course after 3 hours. Many still finished, though Brett Evans’ first-place 2:56:43 remains the slowest-winning time of any year.
This year, the temperature is forecasted to be in the low 60s at the start.
“Looks like it’s going to be warm later in the day,” Haukos said. “Thankfully it looks like there will be cloud cover on the course. But regardless, our medical staff will be ready to rock and roll.”
Rochester’s own Pete Gillman set the course record for the race. In 2002, he lowered the course record to 2:30:06. He did it again in 2005, when he ran 2:25:54, still the fastest time on the course. He won the race two more times—in 2010 and 2012.
The women’s course record was set 20 years ago, when Kathy Neises came from South Dakota to run a 2:56:31. She is one of five women to break 3 hours at Med City. Another is Wisconsin’s Kathy Waldron, who has won the race more than any other woman: in 1999, 2000, 2001 (in a course record 2:57:15), and 2006 (at age 47 while running in red-flag heat). She also finished second in 2002.
There may not be any course-smashing times put up this year. Prize money won’t be offered. Still, Haukos said he could see a prize purse coming in the future.
“We’re keeping things pretty consistent for the first-year transition. We want to get one marathon under our belt and then next year we’ll work with local groups to make a big invitation for people to come out. We’re going to go all-out for it.”