Race Recap: The Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota

The 42nd edition of the Grandma’s Marathon was held on Saturday June 16, 2018 in Duluth, Minnesota.

The race was first started in 1977 by a group of local runners who planned a scenic marathon from Two Harbors to Duluth. There were 150 participants that first year. It has since grown into one of the top 15 largest marathons in the United States.

Runners come from all 50 states and from over 50 countries.

The City of Duluth

Duluth is a major port city on Lake Superior and situated in the far SE corner of Minnesota. It was originally the home of native tribes but due to the fur trade several forts were established for trading. The city was officially incorporated in 1857. It is currently the 4th largest city in MN with a population of around 86,000 people.

The city has a lot of small town charm. Duluthians are friendly and helpful. Duluth was voted Outside Magazines “Best Outdoor Town” in 2014. They have great trails and parks which provide many outside activities for the whole family. There’s also camping nearby which we took advantage of because hotel rooms sell out quickly and tend to be rather costly if you register close to the race date.

Pre- Race Meet Up

The pre-race meet up was held at Grandma’s Saloon and Grill (where the race got its name as the first major sponsor). This establishment was founded by Italian immigrant Grandma Rosa Brochi in 1869. She opened a boarding house and became affectionately known as “Grandma” by her clients. She returned to Europe to help with the war effort in 1944 and was never heard from again. In 1976 her grandson opened the restaurant in the same building.

MTA Meet up in Duluth

MTA listeners braved the torrential downpour of rain to get to the restaurant and we had a great time.

Race Expo

The expo was held at the DECC Arena (on Thurs from 4-8pm and Friday from 10am -11pm). They had 100+ booths with vendors giving out samples including beer, wine, chips, soda, chocolate milk, massages, and more. The race bibs were easy to get and race shirts were given out at the finish line. The race did send out a nice race jacket when I registered for the marathon so I was able to enjoy that a few months in advance. They also sent out regular email updates and have a helpful website.

Race expo. Can you find me?

The marathon put on an all you can eat spaghetti dinner running Saturday afternoon and had several guest speakers during the day including MN native Dick Beardsley, Carrie Tollefson, and Kara Goucher (who was running the half marathon).

Race Morning

The marathon began at 7:45 am and they don’t allow anyone to drive to the starting line. Because of this they bused approximately 15,000 runners to the start of the half marathon and marathon from 16 locations in and around Duluth. There’s also a train that the first 1,000 runners can take to the starting line. The starting line is located in Two Harbors, MN near a car dealership.

The race had a well organized bag check and rows and rows of port a pots. The weather was overcast, a bit foggy, and in the mid-40’s. They did some pre-race announcements, played music, saluted the flag with a group singing the Star Spangled Banner, and then played the song “Chariots of Fire.” The marathon had pace groups and runners lined up according to expected pace.

The Course

The course was a point to point course starting at Two Harbors and ran along the waterfront into Duluth along Highway 61. There were several timing mats located along the course along with time clocks. The course was well marked with large helium balloons at each mile marker (yellow for the marathon and teal for the half). There were marathon pace groups ranging from 3:05-5:30 and half pacers from 1:30-2:45.


The roads were moderately filled with runners but not overcrowded. After the first mile things opened up well and you could easily hit your pace. The highway was also closed to traffic.

The course starts at 740 feet and ends at 610 feet. The route is run along the world’s largest freshwater lake with a scenic point to point course along the shore of Lake Superior. There are over 32 rivers, creeks, streams and beautiful views (on a clear day). You can also take a dip in the lake after the finish to cool off. Unfortunately it was too foggy this year to see much of the lake views.

While there weren’t any big hills along the course there are plenty of gradual up and down sections. They advertize it as a fast, rolling flat course. Because of the net downhill elevation many runners find this a good place to PR and BQ each year. The weather stayed in the upper 40’s to low 50’s with wind off Lake Superior and it was mostly overcast with a brief heavy rain shower followed by some mist. Mostly, it was ideal marathon weather.

There were a good number of fans along the course, with several sections at which family members were able to see their runners. From around mile 20 on the fans were especially enthusiastic and often in costume. I saw one spot where there had to be 100+ troll dolls lined up along the course.

photo credit: #Grandmasmarathon @ocir1320

There were several local bands playing everything from gospel to rock and a senior citizen’s dance brigade. The marathon had a 7 hour time limit (and the half marathon a 3 hour time limit).

A couple of runner’s costumes that stood out during the marathon was a guy dressed in tie die and peace signs and another called the Rubber Ducky Runner who was shirtless and had fashioned some bottoms out of a yellow terry cloth towel to which he had attached a couple rubber ducks. His hat was made to look like a duck bill.

Aid Stations
They had 15 official aid stations along the course, about every 2 miles starting at mile 3 (and every mile after mile 19). The aid stations were stocked with two sections of water and sports drink so it was easy to get what you wanted.

I fueled with 1 UCAN snack bar pre-race and carried 2 bars with me. I ate ½ bar every 5 miles washed down with water. Use the code MTAGRANDMAS to save 15%.

  • According to race information they use 500,000 cups at aid stations, 30,000 sponges, and 5,000 gallons of water. 6,000 volunteers are needed during the weekend and the races have 120 sponsors.
  • The race is working on becoming a zero waste event by recycling, providing transportation, and donating discarded clothing and extra race shirts to Goodwill.
  • There were a number of unofficial aid stations along the course giving out everything from lemonade, bacon, beer, hard liquor, and candy. At one spot it looked like a frat party was going on and one runner was chugging a beer.

My experience

Overall the vibe and organization of this race were great and it would be a good location to PR if you were aiming for a fast time.

I wasn’t feeling the best going into the race because my period had started the day before and I was feeling bloated, dealing with cramps, had some muscle aches and low energy. Plus, I’d dropped a can of soup on one of my toes a few days before and it was sore and tender so I hadn’t run the week before the marathon. That probably contributed to me feeling a bit stiff (plus traveling for 6 days in our camper). Thankfully the toe didn’t bother me much during the race.

I saw our friend Eric Strand out on the course around mile 24 looking strong after running over 50 miles. He does the Grandma’s Double- a self-styled ultra where he runs the course from finish to start and then start to finish to train for the Leadville Trail 100 miler.

I felt fairly good through the half and that split was around 2:01. Then I started fading from miles 16-23. I got a second wind around mile 24 and was able to bring it in strong and I crossed the finish line in 4:21:46. It was my 53rd marathon and 42nd state.

The Finish Line Area

They were giving out water, heat sheets, nice medals, and then we funneled into the food area which had orange juice, bananas, strawberries, chips, Clif protein bars, chicken broth, chocolate milk, bagels and peanut butter, and yoghurt.

There was also a drink area and each runner got a free alcoholic drink of their choice. The changing tents were perfect because the weather was still cool and I was getting chilled in my wet clothes. Then I found a spot to meet Trevor and the boys.

I call this my bag lady look.

The total number of finishers for the marathon was 6,093.

  • The male winner was Elisha Barno with a time of 2:10:06.
  • The female winner was Kellyn Taylor with a time of 2:24:28 (and she set a new course record).

The number of half marathon finishers was 7,579.

  • The male winner was Panuel Mkungo with a time of 1:02:50
  • The female winner was Monicah Ngige with a time of 1:09:55
  • Kara Goucher finished 21st in 1:18:15

According to the race website, a prize purse of $100,000 was awarded to the top marathon finishers and $26,000 was awarded to the top finishers in the half marathon.

After the race I saw this posted on social media:

“Congratulations to John Lunz who completed his first marathon at age 80! He finished the Grandma’s Marathon in 5:26:55, won his age group, and ran negative splits!!!”

You are never to old to start running!

Also Mentioned in This Episode

Quick Tip: How the Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Marathon Training

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Shout Out

With Academy Member Ryan Hoffman at the MTA Meet Up

I ran 3:55:39 at Grandmas Marathon with basically an even split! Sure makes a difference when you don’t go out too fast! Great conditions too. I got to run the last 3 miles with a guy who wanted nothing more than to go sub 4. It was a great feeling to cross the line with him and get a hug from a complete stranger who thanked you for keeping him on pace. Runners are awesome. Also had lunch with some celebrities at Grandmas on Friday! Great to finally meet you Angie and Trevor and everyone else there! Hope everyone had a great race! Ryan H.

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