• Grandma's Marathon
    • Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon
    • William A. Irvin 5K
          • 2023 Registration Opens on October 1, 2022

          • william a irvin 5k logo
          • The kickoff event to Grandma’s Marathon weekend, this 3.1-mile race starts and finishes near the historic William A. Irvin ore boat in Duluth’s Canal Park. A new racecourse offers a scenic tour of the city, making this the perfect race for beginning and experienced runners alike.

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    • Great Grandma’s Challenge
          • 2023 Registration Opens on October 1, 2022

          • great grandmas challenge logo
          • It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but the Great Grandma’s Challenge is the best way for runners to experience everything our event has to offer, starting with the 5K on Friday night and continuing with either the full or half marathon on Saturday morning!

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    • KP Challenge
          • yaf race winner
          • kp challenge logo
          • The KP Challenge is a series of three great, local races — Saint Fennessy 4K, Fitger’s 5K, and Park Point 5-Miler — that are strategically placed throughout the year to help participants build their endurance and stick to a regular training schedule.

    • Saint Fennessy 4K
          • saint fennessy 4k logo
          • Get your green on for the Saint Fennessy 4K, a festive fun run perfect for runners of all ages and abilities. Whether you’re a first-timer or looking to jump start your spring training, this is the race for you!

    • Fitger's 5K
          • fitgers 5k logo
          • A perfect challenge for new runners or a good training race for veterans, the Fitger’s 5K has grown into one of the area’s premier spring races and now welcomes more than 2,000 participants each year.

    • Park Point 5-Miler
          • park point 5 miler logo
          • Come enjoy the height of a northern Minnesota summer at the Park Point 5-Miler, which holds the crown as northern Minnesota’s oldest road race and features a racecourse sandwiched between the open waters of Lake Superior and the Duluth Harbor.

    • Minnesota Mile
          • one minnesota mile logo
          • The Minnesota Mile takes you on a scenic, 5,280-foot journey around Duluth’s Enger Park, treating participants to some of the best views in the entire city during the peak of fall’s color season.

    • North End Nightmare 5K
          • north end nightmare 5k logo
          • A spooky end to our local racing calendar, the North End Nightmare 5K brings with it plenty of scary surprises and haunted attractions to the North End of Superior.

    • YAF Youth Races
    • YAF Races
    • YAF Youth Races
          • Our kids. Our community. Our future.

            A central pillar of the Young Athletes Foundation is providing free and accessible programming for our area’s kids throughout the year. These programs are focused on our mission of building and providing pathways to the community’s children in their pursuit of active and healthy lifestyles.

          • Wednesday Night at the Races
          • Saturday Morning at the Races
          • Whipper Snapper Races
    • YAF Programs
          • Our kids. Our community. Our future.

            Since its inception in 1990, the Young Athletes Foundation has worked to support the organizations and individuals of its five-county region through a series of kids’ events, grants, scholarships, and other programs that are focused on promoting and providing pathways for kids to live healthy and active lifestyles.

          • Grant Program
          • Running Shoe Program
          • Scholarship Program
          • Fit-n-Fun Run
          • Winter Challenge
    • YAF Volunteer
          • Our kids. Our community. Our future.

            Our tremendous community of volunteers plays a significant role in helping the Young Athletes Foundation to create memorable and successful events for our runners. More than 1,000 volunteers are needed throughout the year to support our fundraising race events for the YAF.

    • YAF Sponsors
          • Our kids. Our community. Our future.

            The Young Athletes Foundation was created to serve the community, and for more than three decades we have done that with the help of our local and regional business partners. With events throughout the year, our sponsors assist greatly in our mission of  providing pathways of opportunity to youth in athletic programs and encouraging healthy lifestyles.

    • What to See & Do
          • Authentic Duluth

            Don’t miss out on the authentic Duluth experience! Grandma’s Marathon falls during one of the most beautiful times of the year in northern Minnesota, and there’s no shortage of outdoor adventures or fun activities for you to enjoy with your family and friends on race weekend!

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    • Where to Stay
          • Authentic Duluth

            There’s nothing more important before the race or more welcome after the race than the perfect place to rest, relax, and recharge. With the help of our many lodging and hospitality partners in the area, Grandma’s Marathon is committed to making sure each of our 20,000+ runners, not to mention our volunteers and spectators, have a place to stay on race weekend!

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    • Where to Eat & Drink
          • Authentic Duluth

            Every year since 1977, our community has thrown open its doors to runners and spectators in town for Grandma’s Marathon. As the race has grown, the service industry has always been there with a smile to welcome tens of thousands of runners along with their families and friends as they descend on Duluth for race weekend.

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    • How to Get Around
          • Authentic Duluth

            There is so much to see and do in Duluth and along the North Shore of Minnesota! Getting there couldn’t be easier with our transportation partners. Whether you need to know where to find parking nearby on race day or you are looking for a way to get around town, we are here to help.

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    • Sponsors
          • It Takes a Village

            At Grandma’s Marathon, we specialize in bringing people together for an unparalleled running experience. Over four decades of careful attention to detail has earned us the reputation as one of the most highly organized races in the country. More than 20,000 participants travel from more than 50 countries and all 50 states to join us each June on the scenic shores of Lake Superior, and your message can be waiting for all of them when they get here.

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    • Volunteer
          • It Takes a Village

            We agree with our runners — we have the most compassionate and energizing community of volunteers. Every year, we host close to 20,000 participants and we couldn’t take care of them without your help. Grandma’s Marathon is a world-class event with small-town charm because of our volunteers!

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    • Donation Campaign
          • It Takes a Village

            We couldn’t do it without you, and we wouldn’t want to! The passion our community has for Grandma’s Marathon is what gives our race its small town charm, and the contributions you’ve made over the years are what allow us to keep improving the world class experience for our participants, volunteers, and spectators.

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    • The Marathon
    • Annual Races
    • Young Athletes Foundation
    • When You Visit
    • Support Us

1977 Grandma’s Marathon

It was 45 years ago, June 25, 1977, that the first Grandma’s Marathon was held. I had the honor of chatting with two of the 116 finishers of that inaugural marathon, who many of you will recognize as being long time beloved cross country and track coaches at Central and East High School. Here are some of the great memories from Kerry Louks and Dave Wicker.

I knew that Louks was involved in the North Shore Striders (and was an officer for many years), the running group that created Grandma’s Marathon. So I asked for a bit of history on the inception. It all began in August of 1976, after the Billing Park 10K, one of the many races they organized for the Duluth/Superior area. As they were having a beer after the race, the North Shore Strider officers, and some key people, had a brief meeting. Maybe five to ten minutes, Louks remembers. The question posed: “Should we have a marathon?” Unanimously approved. What month? September was ruled out due to the City of Lakes Marathon, August had the Paavo Nurmi marathon, July could be hot. And so it landed in June.

I asked both Louks and Wicker about their training. Both were strong, consistent runners. Wicker was a UMD junior and had just set the mile track record and running three-mile races (metric races came years later). They both thought it would be a fun thing to try. Longest distance training run? Louks did a 20 miler, Wicker did 15 miles. The course started at the split of the Expressway and Highway 61 in Two Harbors. Marathon races were not a common event in the 70’s. And so, as the race started out following the red truck (driven by Gordy Nichols), cars pulled over and curiosity got the best of them. From their windows, the drivers would yell out, “Where are you running?” And then they would laugh when Louks would reply, “To Duluth.” “No, really, where are you going?”, they would ask again. “Really, Duluth.” Even bigger chuckles. They couldn’t believe that anyone would even think about running it. Now 45 years later there are 9000 runners who can’t wait to run that distance on June 18th.

Both Wicker and Louks remember that the marathon started in the late morning (10 a.m.) and that the day was hot with the sun beating down. Grandma’s Restaurant was the initial sponsor and the intent was for the runners to finish in Canal Park and then stay for lunch and beers.

Louks was on track to finish with a 2:36 time (under 6 minute miles). The temperature was rising to 85 degrees with sunny skies and high humidity. And so at about the half way mark, Louks stood a moment too long, under a hose shower on the course. His socks (100% cotton in those days) and shoes were completely soaked, resulting in the painful accumulation of blood blisters as the miles ticked by.

Another marathoner, Dr. John Leppi caught up with Louks. When Dr. Leppi heard of Louks’ blister dilemma, off he sent his son, who was biking alongside, to ride ahead and get his medical bag and a clean pair of socks. They all met up at Lester River, where Louks was handed a scalpel to slice open his more than 20 blood blisters (on each foot). Blood oozed out into the towel. With dry socks and wet shoes, Louks struggled into the finish line running on the sides of his feet. (Note: Louks still achieved a time of 3:28, even with his bloody blistered feet).

Wicker, hadn’t set a time goal, but was feeling pretty good despite the heat. Once on London Road, he ran on the sidewalk and an acquaintance was there on a bike, so she rode alongside encouraging him for quite a while. For the last few miles, Wicker was running by himself, still feeling pretty good except for sunburned lips. This resulted in a seventh-place finish with a time of 2:43:36.

By the way, Wicker’s girlfriend, now wife, Julie Horns, as a 19-year-old, was one of six women to complete the marathon that year. She ran quite a while with a 15-year-old male, who she was able to just barely eke out ahead of him at the finish line, with a time of 3:48:43.

Blisters weren’t the only obstacle that Louks had to contend with on the course. He actually had to stop for a red light and let the cars proceed. Louks spotted the traffic control person toodling back to his abandoned post with a beverage.

Louks, believes he was the first marathoner to get medical attention. He did have to cut his own blisters, but then when he went to the ER, to avoid infection, they had no clue a marathon was even happening that day.

Another claim to fame story shared by Wicker, his teammate, Neil Franz, a 1977 UMD graduate, dropped out of the first race, but has finished every other one since.

Wicker’s dad drove the trail car for the last runner, who came in with a time of 6:05. Who was the first place finisher in 1977? Garry Bjorklund, with a time of 2:21:54 (almost 5 minutes ahead of second place finisher). There are 8000 registered runners for the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon this year.

Louks has continued to be involved in running or volunteering with Grandma’s marathon, in some way or another, for the past 45 years. As you approach the finish line, Louks will be there, continuing in his volunteer position of the Finish Line Captain.

Some 30 to 40 years ago, Louks was offered $100 for his red finisher t-shirt from 1977. He almost sold it that day. Will this great piece of memorabilia show up at the North Shore Strider’s reunion being held on the evening before the marathon?

Thanks North Shore Striders, and those inaugural marathoners for paving the way 45 years ago to what has become a summer highlight for Duluth.

Patti Hallback

Patti is one of our Offical Grambassadors for the 2022 Grandma’s Marathon Weekend. Meet the rest of the ambassadors here.

Follow Her: InstagramFacebook

Favorite Grandma’s Marathon Memory: Growing up, I was the slowest kid on the block. I would never have dreamed that someday I would call myself a runner. But in 1991, I decided to join my brother in signing up for the inaugural Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. My brother laid out a training plan for me (on pencil and paper). I followed it exactly as written, and we were both surprised when I ran a sub 2-hour half marathon. I knew then I was a runner, all thanks to Grandma’s!

Favorite Running (& Life) Quote: “You’re doing the best you can!”  

Note: This is the encouragement folks in Ireland give to runners. I like it better than the standard “You’re looking good” since that isn’t usually true.

I Won’t Run Outside If: It’s 40 degrees and pouring rain.

Fitger's 5K History

The Fitger’s 5K began in 1990 and over more than three decades has now become Duluth’s premier spring running event.

The 3.1-mile race traditionally starts and finishes in front of the historic Fitger’s building. The scenic race course takes participants through downtown Duluth and Canal Park.

Below are the all-time Fitger’s 5K race records and winners from each year. NOTE: Some early records are incomplete and our staff is working to retrieve those dating back to 1990.

2022 Fitger's 5K Parking Info

The Fitger’s 5K course starts and finishes just outside the historic Fitger’s Lakefront Hotel in downtown Duluth. They travel eastward toward 23rd Avenue East on Superior Street, London Road, and South Street.

2022 Fitger's 5K Parking Info

The Fitger’s 5K course starts and finishes just outside the historic Fitger’s Lakefront Hotel in downtown Duluth. They travel eastward toward 23rd Avenue East on Superior Street, London Road, and South Street.

2022 Fitger's 5K Parking Info

Free parking for the event is available in the parking ramp located next to Fitger’s.

Fitger’s Complex
600 E. Superior Street
Duluth, MN 55802

2022 Fitger's 5K Race Packet Pickup Info

The Fitger’s 5K course starts and finishes just outside the historic Fitger’s Lakefront Hotel in downtown Duluth. They travel eastward toward 23rd Avenue East on Superior Street, London Road, and South Street.

2022 Fitger's 5K Swag Items

The Fitger’s 5K course starts and finishes just outside the historic Fitger’s Lakefront Hotel in downtown Duluth. They travel eastward toward 23rd Avenue East on Superior Street, London Road, and South Street.