I Ran Grandma’s Marathon for the First Time: Here’s What I Learned
Grandma’s Marathon doesn’t have the nationwide recognition some other 26.2-mile events do. In Minnesota, though, it’s about as well-known as a race can get. Even people who’ve never voluntarily run more than a few steps are familiar with the race.
While Grandma’s has been on my radar for years, I always found myself committed to a different race or living far enough away that travel seemed prohibitive. But then my sister mentioned she was signing up for the race last fall. I followed suit.
It felt so far away at first, especially during those early training runs in the dead of winter. That changed once spring began. Before I knew it, marathon day had arrived. (Spoiler: I had a good race.)
5 Things I Learned at Grandma’s Marathon
I’ve now had a little bit of time to reflect. I learned some interesting things about the race as well as some more personal lessons over that weekend.
1. Running a marathon in June is a huge weather gamble
Most runners have experienced some level of anxiety in the days leading up to a race with an iffy forecast. I’m no stranger to this, but nothing prepared me for the emotional roller coaster leading up to Grandma’s Marathon. Race day would be projected as cold and rainy one day, then hot and sunny the next.
Part of this has to do with the fact that Grandma’s Marathon is in June, the middle of Minnesota’s severe weather season. June is the month that typically sees the most tornadoes. Thunderstorms are even more likely.
Things weren’t looking great the night before the race. There was potential for nasty thunderstorms, which would mean race cancellation, and the temperature was looking a little hot. Everything changed when we woke up to see a forecast in the low 50’s with hardly any chance of precipitation. We lucked out.
2. The Grandma’s course is gorgeous
I’m not sure if it was because of or in spite of the fog present through most of the morning, but the race course was just beautiful. You pass through gently rolling hills in quiet, wooded areas for much of the beginning. And the first time I saw Lake Superior, it nearly took my breath away. Even the finishing area was picturesque.
3. The entire Duluth community gets involved
I could tell the entire Duluth community really cared about putting on a wonderful weekend from the second I checked into my hotel. The staff let me know about all the extra perks available for runners over the weekend. The expo and spaghetti dinner were even more phenomenal. Every volunteer was so friendly and excited for the weekend. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so welcomed by a community.
4. There aren’t as many cheerleaders as with other races
Don’t get me wrong, there are sections of the route that are packed with people screaming their lungs out. It just doesn’t compare to some of the bigger marathons like those in Boston or Chicago. Whether that’s a perk or drawback kind of depends on your attitude. I liked it more than I thought I would. Some of those miles-long stretches without fans were really peaceful.
5. An aggressive start makes the end feel brutal
I had a good race, but that doesn’t mean it went off without a hitch. I’ve never run slightly more aggressive at the start, and I thought this was a good opportunity to try. Starting off a little faster and slowing slightly later on generally leads to better outcomes anyway. Beginning a little too speedy didn’t seem like it would end terribly.
I was partially right. The race didn’t end in utter disaster, but I’ve never struggled so much during the last 5 miles. I didn’t die or even slow down much. It just felt incredibly hard.
6. Two good races are immeasurably better than one
I come from a family full of runners and many of us compete in the same events. The sad reality is that it’s incredibly rare that more than one of us will have a good race during the same competition. Until Grandma’s Marathon 2018.
Finishing in a time of 3:26:18, I ran my second fastest marathon. I was satisfied, but not nearly as satisfied as when I saw my sister in the finish area not long after. She achieved the Boston Marathon qualifying standard for the first time ever. A PR is always good. But a good effort coupled with a loved one earning a PR is so much better.