Let’s face it, 2020 wasn’t our favorite year. Richfield restaurants were temporarily closed. We missed the 4th of July Fireworks celebration at Veteran’s Park. And our favorite race—the Urban Wildland Half Marathon & 5K—was entirely virtual.

The good news is that 2021 is already shaping up to be a different kind of year. This July, the Urban Wildland Half Marathon & 5K will once again offer in-person racing! Runners will still have the option of running virtually, but the race will have 250 openings for in-person running once again (register now here!).

As always, race proceeds will go to support Wood Lake Nature Center and its programming to help Richfield students connect to the outdoors and the environment.

Because we wanted to hear more about this great news, we sat down with Urban Wildland race director Brianna Rodgers to talk about safety protocols the race will have in place, the new race route, and feedback from runners about the in-person offering so far.

After making last year’s race virtual, how did you decide to offer an in-person component for the 2021 race again?

We decided to go hybrid this year. We really wanted to give people the option. We know some people still aren’t going to feel comfortable racing in-person. But, we also know for some, virtual racing just isn’t quite the same. Some people want that starting line. They want to hear the starting gun go off. We wanted to do as much as we could to bring the race back safely. So we have a COVID safety preparedness plan in place that’s good for 250 in-person runners. And we want our runners to feel confident with that plan.

Great transition! What steps are you taking to make the 2021 race safe?

First, we’re limiting the race to 250 runners. That will allow us to do a “wave start” where we let 20 runners go every 2 minutes. That should spread runners out on course. One other big change: we’ll hold the in-person 5K on Friday, July 30 at 4 p.m. and the in-person Half Marathon will be held at 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 31. This way, we can have 250 in-person runners for both events! The virtual races can be run from anywhere, at any time, but times must be submitted between July 25-July 31.

Our other big point of emphasis: We’re going to try to eliminate all touch points before, during and after the race. We want to keep people from lingering and congregating before and after the race. There will be no spectators this year—just the runners. We’ll have hand-washing stations throughout the course. We’re going cup-less and asking runners to bring their own water bottles. And, we’ll be providing virtual results instead of paper results on-site.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that these safety protocols may change leading up to the race. If numbers get better here in Minnesota, we could potentially open more spots. We’re going to start small and guarantee a fun race for all!

Let’s talk about last year’s race a bit. What did you hear from the runner community about the 2020 race?

Well, we had 450 people who completed the virtual race in 2020—that was down from the 1,200 runners we had in 2019. But we were excited to have them participate! Generally, the feedback we heard was largely, “Thank you so much for offering a virtual option; we wanted to support Wood Lake and Richfield Public Schools!” But we also heard they were really looking forward to racing in-person again this year!

What’s been the sentiment you’ve heard from runners so far about the race this year?

People are excited to come back! We’ve already seen an increase in registration numbers after opening that up in late January. In fact, as soon as we opened registration, we had 100 people sign up! Runners seem to be excited and confident in our safety plan!

Are there any other changes for this year’s race that runners should be aware of?

Yes—we’re finally offering our new course! You can find it right on the race homepage. The new course really highlights the wonderful parks in Richfield and our local businesses. The Half Marathon goes through seven different Richfield parks. It starts at Veterans Park, goes through Taft Park and meanders through Wood Lake. It really is a great mix between urban and wildlife. And, it’s a good flat course for runners looking for something a little less hilly.

Speaking of Wood Lake, can you talk a bit about how the race benefits the park?

All proceeds go directly to Wood Lake. We use the funds to offer two free field trips each year to kids pre-K thru 5th grade in Richfield public schools. It’s been a great partnership! Back in 2003, environmental funding was cut but we really wanted to find a way to get the kids back to that programming. This race, and the funds it provides, filled that gap. And, in 2020 and 2021, even though COVID has made things tougher, and the students haven’t been able to visit Wood Lake like they normally would, we’ve gotten creative. We’ve been taking nature to them by doing things like snowshoeing on school grounds.

Historically, the race attracts runners from not only the Twin Cities and Minnesota, but from the entire Upper Midwest! What makes this race such a draw?

On average, we typically have 130 cities and 16 states represented in the race. And last year, we added two countries because we went virtual! I think it’s a draw because the Half Marathon is certified and it’s a great time of the summer to prepare for the full marathons in the fall. Plus, it supports a great cause—Wood Lake Nature Center and our Richfield kids! Over the 19 years this race has been held, we’ve built a loyal following. We have a number of runners who say “I haven’t missed a race yet!”

You’ve had some relatively famous people run this race in the past. Who have those people been and how have they supported the run over the years?

Olympian Million Wolde, Fast Eddie Rousseau, and Sven Sundgaard are just a few of the most famous folks to run the Urban Wildland Half Marathon. And, Minnesota’s own Carrie Tollefson has been a really vocal supporter of the race.

Finally, you mentioned you have some good news to share for younger runners?

Yes! Through a county grant we received in 2020 we are able to offer 150 5k virtual and in-person registrations to youth 18 years and younger for the sole purpose of getting youth outdoors and moving and supporting a healthy lifestyle. After the year our kids have had, what a great opportunity to get out and run and compete this summer! If you would like to donate towards our goal of $5,000 so we can offer these registrations for youth next year, too, you can do that on the race registration page.