by Bob H.
For a number of years, I have wanted to run Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. Every report I’ve ever seen about the race gushes about how well the race is “run,” about how beautiful the course is and about how nice and accommodating the people are in Duluth.
Except for course beauty, I can verify all the above! It was so foggy all weekend, we never got to take in the absolute beauty of the Lake Superior coast line.
We arrived in the area Friday afternoon and our first hint that this was not going to be a typical June marathon came when we crossed the city limits of Superior, Wisconsin, just south of Duluth. Suddenly, our car’s automatic air conditioning system switched from cool to heat. I looked at the thermometer, which just a short time ago had shown 82 degrees, and it showed 46. I immediately wished I had brought my blue jeans and Experience Triathlon team jacket.
The main tourist attraction in Duluth seems to be the “lift bridge” built in 1905 and updated in 1929. I read that if it was clear, we may see the bridge very early in the race. We saw it AFTER the finish as we ended the race about two blocks from the bridge. Even then, we could barely make it out through the fog. I’ve been in a fog for years, but this was ridiculous.
Saturday morning “dawned” foggy, damp and cool. About 45 degrees. Luckily, I bought some gloves at the pre-race expo. The race is a point-to-point, beginning in a town called Two Harbors and running down what the locals call the Scenic Highway. We were bussed to the start area and spent about an hour trying to stay warm and getting ready for a great day.
When we finally started, I was glad for my new gloves and at times wished for the long-sleeved shirt I discarded at the start. At times we could tell we were closer to the lake because the temperature would drop more, the wind would pick up and the fog would intensify. There were rolling hills but nothing worse than we see on a weekly basis at Herrick Lake.
I had no real race plan, but decided at the start line to stick with the 4:00 group until the midpoint, then “take off” and see if I could run around 3:55 or so. I was able to stick to this plan until about 10 miles when I felt good and decided it was now or never. I picked up the pace and was able to hold between 8:30 and 8:45 pace until about 17 miles when I developed a pain in my right hip extending to my knee. This was a new pain for me, and probably more in my mind than in my hip, but it still hindered my plan. At this point, I had to do some walking but was able to walk about one minute then finished the mile running. I did this until mile 20 when I began a 45 second walk to 1:15 run sequence. I was able to hold this most of the way to the finish and used the crowd to help me finish strong.
I thoroughly enjoyed the race. It was very well run, from a runner’s standpoint. Like any point-to-point race, it is not very spectator-friendly. The main highway runs adjacent to the race course, but there are few places to stop and watch. That said, course support was excellent and there were many spectators on the course. We had our quiet times, but where there were people, it was LOUD! There was no water stops for the first three miles and then only every other mile until mile 15, but there was plenty of hydration (and two gel stops) from then on. I carried Gatorade on my fuel belt (a first for a race for me) mainly because the race hydration was a type of Powerade I did not like. I was glad I had the Gatorade because the humidity was VERY high (100% most of the time) and, even though it was cool, my sweat rate was extremely high. I drank some Gatorade every mile until mile three, then alternated Gatorade and water every mile until the end. I still did not drink all my Gatorade and now realize I probably should have worked harder to drink more.
I would recommend this race to anyone, especially someone trying to set a PB or qualify for Boston. There are rolling hills, but nothing terrible. Even the worst hill on the course, which comes at 22 miles, was “only” about 1/3-mile long and only about as steep as the Hillside St. hill in Naperville. I’m sure that in a year with no fog, this is a beautiful course. Maybe not as beautiful as Big Sur, but not many can touch the California coast.