Run to Me: Twin Cities Couple Get Engaged at Eau Claire Marathon Finish Line

Sean Kelsey crossed the finish line Sunday, completing the Eau Claire Marathon in 4 hours, 54 seconds. The South St. Paul, Minn., resident immediately dropped to a knee, fumbled in his pocket and pulled out an engagement ring. He then proposed to his girlfriend, Dana Banitt.

"I got down on one knee, and fell on my butt," Kelsey said with a laugh.

Banitt, 28, had completed the half-marathon in 1:55:38, and she waited in the finishing chute for about 15 minutes, watching for Kelsey to come around a corner and complete his first-ever marathon.

Banitt's whole family was there - they knew a wedding proposal was coming. They had traveled from Cannon Falls, Minn., southeast of St. Paul, but Banitt didn't find that unusual.

"They all come to watch my sporting events, so I had no idea," she said. "But they all knew."

Kelsey, 30, had a shirt specially made for the day. On the front, it read "miles to go until I propose."

"I had little boxes on it," Kelsey said. "So every mile, I crossed out a box with a Sharpie. And on the back, it read, 'Will you marry me?' When my GPS went off, I pulled out the marker and crossed it off."

Banitt, a first-grade teacher in Richfield, Minn., hadn't seen the shirt that morning; Kelsey concealed it by wearing a long-sleeve shirt to the start line; then he tossed it aside at the last moment before the race started.

"I was worried she'd be on to me," he said.

Even as Kelsey approached the finish line, Banitt admits she didn't read the shirt.

"I still had no clue," she said with a laugh. "I hadn't seen it on him. I just went over and wanted to give him a hug."

So Banitt was a little surprised when Kelsey pulled out the ring and proposed. She immediately said yes. Their engagement was witnessed by multiple people at the finish line, family members and strangers alike.

The couple met with a dating website and have been together for 1½ years. They both enjoy running and outdoors activities.

"Exercise is a huge part of our lives," Kelsey said. "We're always talking about what races we have coming up and what injuries we're overcoming."

Kelsey, a manager at the Supervalu distribution center in Hopkins, Minn., said he came up with the wedding proposal idea last fall while watching the Twin Cities Marathon. He began thinking about when he wanted to propose to Banitt, and he began looking for a spring marathon date. That's how the couple wound up running in Eau Claire.

"I signed up, knowing I'd propose at the end," Kelsey said.

Banitt threw him a curveball by deciding to run the half-marathon as well. Kelsey wasn't sure where Banitt would be when he finished the race; she could have been in the crowd, or she could have still been on the course.

"I was a little nervous about the timing," he said.

It worked out perfectly, however, with Banitt's family keeping her in place for the surprise proposal.

Eau Claire Marathon race director Pat Toutant was thrilled when he heard about the engagement.

"We wish them all the best," Toutant said. "We are complimented they would choose our event to do this. We're honored."

No wedding date has been set, but they are thinking summer 2018. They do have one date marked on their calendar, though - next year's Eau Claire Marathon.

"It's got to be an annual tradition," Banitt said.