The 2016 Grandma’s Marathon Preview
The 2016 Grandma’s Marathon is being held Saturday, June 18. Here are a few things you should know about the expo, course and other details to help you have a fantastic race experience!
In 1977, 150 runners lined up just outside of Two Harbors, Minnesota, along the shore of Lake Superior. At the time, there was only one business in Duluth willing to put up the $600 sponsorship fee for the new event – newly opened Grandma’s Saloon and Grill. The sponsorship from Grandma’s, whose historic roots go all the way back to 1869 to “Grandma” Rosa Brochi, led to naming rights and Grandma’s Marathon was born.
Of the 150 runners that day, Minnesota native and 1976 10k Olympian, Gary Bjorklund was the overall male finisher with a time of 2:21:54. Mary Hovland finished first in the women’s race with a time of 3:23:39.
Today, 40 years later, Grandma’s (both restaurant and event) are iconic to Duluth. Grandma’s Marathon now has an operating budget of about $2 million and hosts the popular Fitger’s 5k, Grandma’s Half Marathon and Marathon, all in one weekend.
With that nugget of history, here’s how you can have a great race weekend, whether you’re running or cheering on friends and family.
On your way to or from picking up your race day packet, be sure to make time for the health and fitness expo put on by Essentia Health. The Arena of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC) fills with over 100 organizations and companies showing off their products and services, and is a great way to kick off a fun-filled marathon weekend.
Packet pick-up is located in Paulucci Hall of the DECC in the midst of the expo. Both activities are open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 16 and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, June 17th. There is no packet pick-up on race day.
The 2016 Grandma’s Marathon course starts just southwest of Two Harbors on scenic Highway 61. Winding down along the shore of Lake Superior, the course runs through what used to be small fishing villages, offering beautiful views of Lake Superior and surrounding bluffs.
The course is relatively flat, with a few rolling hills, but no inclines too challenging to worry about through most of the race, making it a great race for new and first time distance runners. The rolling nature of the course is a blessing in disguise with slight inclines and declines that change up the muscle groups used while running. This helps you to feel strong all the way through the race.
Around mile 19, the course enters Duluth proper and the party begins. What will have been a mostly serene run with pockets of spectators becomes an energizing, music filled, block party atmosphere. Running through the city, you will pass other Duluth icons, including Glensheen Manor and Fitger’s Brewhouse and Inn.
Of course, no race is without its challenges. There is one hill you may have heard about, the infamous “Lemon Drop Hill”. The course approaches Lemon Drop about 22 miles into the race, which is what makes this hill so deaded. It is steep, but short, and completely doable. Stay relaxed, power over the speed bump, and know you have conquered the worst of this course. After Lemon Drop Hill, a gradual decline for the next mile or so allows runners to recover and push to the finish.
In the final mile, as you approach the DECC, you will be confronted with another, more minor speed bump. Who would want an easy finish? By this time the crowds are raucous and the post race party is so close, you won’t even notice the hill. . With one mile left, adapting Coach Barker’s advice, “make it your best mile!”
If you are looking for the best places to cheer on family and friends, the easiest places to spectate will be along London Road and Superior Street, and in Canal Park in Duluth. Get to your spots early, especially if you plan to watch from the finish line, as traffic builds and course closures make it nearly impossible to get close.
While the expressway will be open for travel, traffic is typically very congested on race day. If you would like to venture outside of Duluth, setting up in one of the communities along Highway 61 will be your best option, since there are access roads from the expressway. You could even pay a visit to Knife River, Palmers, or French River during your visit. Please know that parking on the expressway is prohibited and there is limited parking on all access roads connecting the expressway to the racecourse.
Post Race Fun
After the race, it’s time to treat yourself! Runners are able to shower in the finish area (locations listed in the information packet) and get a free massage from professionally licensed therapists.. The massage tent is located in the runner recovery area and massages are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. For one last test of endurance, take a dip in Lake Superior and soak those battered feet and legs; how long can you last in the icy water?
Once the hard work is done, experience the race’s namesake, Grandma’s Saloon and Grill! The party will be in full swing with great food, drink, and music – a great way to unwind after a great accomplishment!
If craft brews are your passion, a few other great places to visit in Duluth are Fitger’s Brewhouse (great food, too!), Bent Paddle Brewery, and Lake Superior Brewing Company. My personal favorite, Castle Danger Brewery, is back up in Two Harbors. All of these establishments have tasty brews and growlers to round out your collection!
My Grandma’s Marathon Experience
In 2013, I ran Grandma’s Marathon for the first time. I approached the race with the audacious goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, for which I would need to finish in under 3:05. The day was cool and foggy with a misty rain, pretty ideal for running a fast marathon.
At the starting line, as per usual, I began questioning my training and race strategy. Was I ready? Could I really sustain the required pace? Instead of lining up with the 3:00 pace leader, I fell back closer to the 3:10 group. I figured this would help keep my pace in check at the beginning, preventing me from going out to boldly.
As the race unfolded, I kept the 3:05 pace group in sight, and eventually caught them right before Lemon Drop Hill. I stuck with them, then forged ahead on my own. Disaster struck around mile 23 when my left shoelace decided it had had enough of being in a knot. I stopped, made the quick decision to tuck the lace into my shoe, and sprinted on to make up for lost time. I knew I was cutting it close.
I ran hard down the cobblestone streets into Canal Park, legs screaming as loudly as the crowds. After the last turn, I remember hearing my sister and brother-in-law yelling encouragements as I churned my legs as hard as I could. Looking up as I crossed the line with a time of 3:04:17, I barely made it.
As I made my way through the finisher’s chute, weariness forgotten, I was jumping up and down, shouting to my family “We’re going BOSTON!”
That feeling, the feeling of accomplishing a long sought after, hard fought goal, is incredible.. It makes you feel stronger than any storm-whipped winds or waves on the nearby great lake. It makes your smile shine brighter than any star in the Northern Minnesota night sky. The feeling is impossible to describe, and I hope you get to experience it with me in June at the 40th running of Grandma’s Marathon!