It’s hard to adequately put into words what all went into Grandma’s Marathon weekend. There were so many highs — and really only one low I can think of. The most obvious high is that I snagged a fairly substantial PR. I’m not the best marathoner on the planet so this was a huge turn of events for me. The second most obvious high is that I got to meet Gina and Kimberly (and Barb!) in person. And the low was Wendy’s absence, of course. (Not to worry, we have plans… 🙂 )
But before I go on, check out my other posts you may have missed about Grandma’s Marathon:
Grandma’s Marathon Race Review
I went to Duluth with zero, and I mean zero, expectations. I knew I wanted to return to some of my old stomping grounds and relax by Lake Superior, but as far as marathoning went? No goals, no expectations. I had heard Grandma’s was a well-oiled machine. It lived up to its reputation. Everything was well thought out and easy from the runner experience. It was one of the most well-organized races, if not the best, I’ve ever run. Today I’m going to review the race for you — and hopefully entice you to run it yourself!
The first thing people have asked me, usually through giggles and raised-eyebrows, is “why is it called Grandma’s?” Grandma’s Marathon started in 1977 with just 150 runners. The first major sponsor of the race was Grandma’s Restaurants. The level of sponsorships with the restaurants has changed, but the name has remained the same. So no, this race isn’t just a bunch of gray-haired grannies running down the road. It’s actually a restaurant and now a namesake for the race. 🙂
Grandma’s Marathon is a point to point course. There’s no parking at the starting line so all runners take either a shuttle or a train from downtown Duluth. There’s a teeny tiny spot for runner drop-off at the starting line but since it’s so small and there are so many runners, it’s generally frowned upon to drive if it can be avoided. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you ask), our resort was right in the middle of the race course which meant if I took the shuttle/train, I would have to backtrack about 10 miles. My husband and I utilized the tiny drop-off area and it was smooth sailing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the strangeness of where we stayed — our resort was literally on the race course. I watched the half marathoners run by as I was getting dressed for my race. But the only way in and out of the resort was on the closed course. Therefore, we had to park our car on the other side of the train tracks behind our cabin so we would be able to get in and out for runner drop-off and for my husband to meet me at the finish line on race day. Plus we got to see the runners riding the train from Duluth to Two Harbors which was fun and motivating. Kind of stirred up the excitement a bit.
My husband and I went to the expo, picked up my packet, and lo and behold — no race shirt! I was super disappointed. What race doesn’t have a race shirt?! I found out from Gina later they give you the race shirt after you’ve earned it — at the finish line! Duh. Brilliant.
There was also a race jacket available to those that registered before a certain deadline (I think it was New Year’s or just after). I dawdled and didn’t register on time for the jacket but Wendy had sent hers to Gina, and when Gina found out I didn’t have one, brought it to Duluth for me. So I ended up with a lovely Grandma’s Marathon jacket thanks to those two wonderful ladies. Thank you!
There are a few things you need to know about Duluth. First, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Like, seriously the middle of nowhere. Two, it’s not a huge city. Considering where it is, it’s fairly sizable but not huge. And three, the Grandma’s course follows along a very quiet highway which is closed to traffic on race day. In other words, there aren’t a lot of people and it’s very difficult to navigate to the race as a spectator.
Having said that, this was one of the most well-supported races I’ve run. I was expecting no crowd support, but there was a ton. I recognized a few people five or six times, so they were obviously location-hopping to see their runners in multiple places. But wow, the crowd support was amazing.
Either you love point to point, or hate it. I happen to love it. There’s something new to look at and there are no out-and-backs to psyche yourself out thinking you’re closer to the turnaround than you are. Plus this course meanders along Lake Superior which was a huge selling point to me in the first place. Any time I started feeling bad or negative, I looked out to the lake and reminded myself I was in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and had a wonderful view to take me to the finish line.
The aid stations were phenomenal. They beat out any other race I’ve run. Grandma’s as a well-oiled machine was a huge understatement when it came to the aid stations. The tables were clearly labeled with “water,” “gatorade,” “sponges,” and “ice.” And there was more than one table of each. For example, each stop started with water, then a sports drink, then sponges, then ice. And then there was at least one more water table after that and sometimes even another sports drink stop.
Additionally, aid stations were on both sides of the course so there was no mad dash from the wrong side of the road to make it to an aid station and risk cutting someone off or getting trampled. The volunteers were amazing and super helpful — and there were a ton of them. The only — and I mean only — complaint I have about the aid stations is that there was only one fuel stop and it was around mile 16 or 17 I want to say. I’ve never run a race with only one fuel stop. Granted it doesn’t affect me because I run with my own fuel but still… seemed odd.
Grandma’s Marathon Race Review
The post race atmosphere was unlike any other. There are obviously quite a few people that travel in for the race, and the race makes sure there’s lots to do and see through the weekend. There was live music on Friday night and then after the race there was another show as well. We didn’t participate on Friday because I need my beauty sleep before a race, and afterward my feet hurt so I needed to sit down and do nothing for a while. But immediately following the race I was given a water, a medal, a heat sheet, and then as I made my way to find Gina and my husband, I grabbed all sorts of food I couldn’t carry — it was great. After I found them, I stuffed my face promptly.
The weather was a roller coaster ride from the get-go. I don’t ordinarily weather-stalk too far in advance because I’m from Cleveland: the city where we have all four seasons in one day. So I know better than to weather stalk. But I had to pack several days before race day so I packed several different options. At one point in time it was going to be in the low 60s and rainy. Then it was going to be chilly but no rain. Then it was back to rain again. By the time race day arrived, it was going to be sunny and in the 70s.
It ended up being fairly cloudy at the starting line and I joked with Gina about how cold I was, but a few miles in and the clouds dissipated and we were met with wonderful sunshine. It was a little on the warm side but just when things started feeling oppressive, there was a large cloud providing much-needed relief. For the remainder of my time on the course, it was mostly sunny. There was a brief downpour after I finished.
I’m cutting myself off here. I started to write this post as one — both the race review and the recap together. But frankly, I’m tired from day 3 of traveling, so I’m splitting it in two. I hope you enjoyed the race review. Come back on Friday and check out my race recap. It’s gonna be chock full of awesomeness. Selfies, stories, shenanigans.
TALK TO ME!
What’s the most well-supported race you’ve ever run?
Choose one: point-to-point, out-and-backs, or loops.
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