I can’t stay away from Duluth. I have been participating in a Grandma’s Marathon event since 2014. When the opportunity presented itself to become a Grambassador, (race ambassador) I couldn’t pass it up.
Once I was notified that I would be representing the race, I had to choose the race distance I would like to run. I decided to run the Great Grandma’s Challenge. I would run the 5k on Friday night and the marathon on Saturday morning.
Let the excitement commence, er the training. The last marathon I had run was Grandma’s Marathon 2021, so it had been a while. I picked a training plan and tried to enjoy the process. It was nice to have a group of Grambassadors to discuss the process.
Fast forward to race weekend. My husband, Josh and friend, Carol were along for the fun. We departed Iowa on Thursday and made it into Duluth late that night. If you are familiar with this event, you know lodging can be a bit challenging. However, our don’t give up attitude had us staying blocks from the finish line. This would be a first in all the trips to the race.
Friday: I had a day full of things to do. I stopped by the Grandma’s Marathon office to snag a bag of goodies and then I needed to report to the expo for my volunteer shift. I would be helping with the photo booth area. I would take photos for people and answer questions about the race. I was worried I would be on my feet too much the day before the marathon, but there was a chair!!!
I was also able to grab my race bibs. I just presented my race email and walked to the Great Grandma’s Marathon Challenge sign, very simple! The bag that we were given would also double as a gear check bag for race day. I received my 5k shirt, a challenge pullover and a pair of socks, I would get my marathon shirt at the finish line.
It was a fun time seeing people excited or nervous for their races, but my shift was done and I needed to be on my way to meet the Grambassador group near the finish line.
We got to meet each other in real life for the first time, but it was quick as I needed to get changed and to the start of the 5k. The perks of our hotel being so close to everything!! With just 52 minutes before the race began, I was ready to go.
It was a pleasant, sunny evening for running, maybe even a little warm for Duluth. There were A LOT of people in the 5k. They started with groups of people going in about 5 minute increments. There were so many people that by the time I started, the lead runners were almost back through.
My goal for this event was to use it as a shake out run and to keep my run streak going. I believe this would be my third time running the 5k and every time it’s been different. Race planning and road closures can be a pain, and with the amount of people it was a congested event. However, I enjoyed the run and the views of the lake. There were many people cheering and there was a water stop along the way. I made it to the finish and received my medal. There were lots of food options, almost too many. I was also given a beer ticket to be redeemed in the park. There was live music on stage. I didn’t stick around too long, I had 26.2 miles to run in the morning.
I met Carol and Josh and we walked to the pasta dinner at the DECC. A perk of being a Grambassador was a free ticket to dinner, wahoo!! However, we arrived at peak times. It was amazing to see so many volunteers, just cooking noodles and clearing tables. The pasta dinner included noodles, with meatballs and sauce if that’s your thing. I heard there was salad, but they ran out. Cookies, bread, and ice cream. It’s nice to not have to worry about finding a place to eat. I got an extra plate of noodles and my ice cream, then called it good. We made our way back to the hotel to rest up for the early wake up call.
At O’dark thirty we were dressed and ready to walk to the buses at the DECC. There is also a train you can take to the start, but we did not wake up that early. Even though it was early the sun was shining bright and the temperatures were near 50.
Oh, the bus ride to Two Harbors or the starting line, it’s always an adventure. This year it included entering the exit ramp of the interstate, and then doing a u-turn in the middle of it. Thankfully that stretch of road was closed to traffic. Once we were on the correct route, we had no more issues.
We departed the bus at Two Harbors and joined with everyone walking to the starting area. There were bins set up to leave your gear check bags, Biffy’s (port-o-potties) as far as the eye could see and many excited runners.
Loud music pumped over the speakers and announcements were made. As the starting time approached, people were encouraged to line up into the corrals. This always creates a weird thing with people getting overly excited to get to the front. I like to remind people you have the entire road to spread out and your time starts when you cross the mat, so I just find a place near the back and wait.
The National Anthem was sung and I kept my eye to the sky as I thought maybe there would be a flyover. I think last year was the first ever, but I hadn’t heard if there was going to be one this year. Then out of nowhere, two jets soared overhead. It was time to run!
This would be my 35th overall marathon, my 7th Grandma’s (8th if we included virtual.) I knew what to expect out of this course, I knew to expect the unexpected for 26.2 miles. The weather was perfect.
The first few miles went by and I always try to run on the dirt shoulder when possible. The guy that runs to the start, from the finish passed me, but this is normal to me, always good to see he made it to the start. The spectators in the first few miles are great too, from the residents to the friends getting access on side roads.
In addition to the great weather, the lake views were spectacular.. It was just the perfect day to run a marathon. There was even a tailwind. However, at mile 8 my back started to give me issues. So from then on, I walked at every mile to keep it from seizing up. I made sure to eat my snacks along the way and check out all the course had to offer.
There was a water stop this year with reusable silicone cups. This is a great idea, road races produce a lot of trash. I am all for cutting down on the amount of cups that get thrown out. The volunteers did a great job with this station as it requires just a little bit of extra work to make sure the cups get returned.
I was looking forward to the fruit stop, but I am not sure if I had my mile markers mixed up, there was no fruit. They did have pickle juice though. Eventually I would come across bananas near mile 19 I believe, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself and forget the mile 18 stop with Jolly Ranchers, fun signs and costume. The support from residents is top notch.
I was nearing the city limits by this time and the sun had gone under the clouds, which was great, who wants a sunburn? The aid stations had sponges, blue Powerade and ice as well. I would occasionally wipe the sweat from my eyes. I spotted the troll dolls and listened to a band playing some music.
Just before Lemon Drop Hill, near mile 22, I saw the remnants of watermelon, yikes I needed to get there sooner. I love me some watermelon. I made it up the hill and called Josh, just to check in. He had finished his race and felt good.
I kept moving and enjoyed the cheers from all the people in downtown Duluth. It was nice to have the race course go down the main street again. Just a few more turns to go and I would be at the finish line. Yes, even though you think you are getting close, there is always another turn to make.
I made the last turn and could see the balloon arch. Josh was sitting in the bleachers and I was able to wave at him before crossing the finish line. I made it to the finish line in one of my slowest times ever, but I made it!
I claimed my finisher medal, grabbed a bottle of water and a heat sheet. Next I had to get my finisher shirt, that’s right you earn the shirt! I was also handed a post run beverage ticket. I wish I had an extra bag to put things in. I walked to the post race food area, I grabbed a fruit cup and downed a chocolate milk. There were some bagels and spread, spicy dill pickle chips, apples and bananas (which a volunteer begged me to take.)
As part of my Grambassador package, I was given a VIP credential, however that party was over before I finished my race. So, I used another VIP perk and sat on the bleachers to watch Carol finish her race. As we sat there, Grandma came by and we said hi. Then we spotted Carol, she ran by and finished strong.
After we had all finished, it was time for our post race meal at Little Angie’s, which is at the finish line. I am not sure how it even started, but we have been stopping there ever since 2014, probably because Angie is a great name!
We were all tired, so we took a nap before heading to the post race event at Bayfront Festival Park. Somehow with the volunteering, the Grambassador program, finishing the race, we had about 10 drink tickets between the three of us.
Josh and I walked over to the park, the feels like temperature was in the high 30s, we were cold. We redeemed some tickets for some drinks, found chairs under a tent and listened to the live music. We couldn’t drink all of our tickets, so when we were about frozen, we shared our tickets with the people nearby and met up with Carol to get some hot soup at Grandma’s restaurant. It was fun to chat about our day.
Sunday morning we took advantage of our time in Duluth. I went on a mile run to keep my streak going, it was another beautiful day. It was also Father’s Day, so I called my dad. There is a live camera on YouTube of the Lift Bridge, so while I called him, I waved to him on his TV. Then we gathered our things and checked out of the hotel. We took a short drive to Two Harbors for breakfast, then drove the course to start our journey back home.
I have run a lot of races, but Grandma’s is the one I keep returning to. The people embrace the event and make you feel at home all weekend. Duluth is a hidden gem in the summer, it’s just a bonus I get to run 26.2 miles too.