Grandma’s Marathon: The Official Race Review

Pretty pretty racecourse! So pretty!

WEATHER: Humid and hot



WHERE TO: My bedroom and downstairs and up again, lugging boxes for the big move-out.

MOOD: Lazy.


How did it go?  Phenomenally, that’s how!  C. got a PR, I ran my fastest Grandma’s ever, and much pizza/burrito/beer was consumed afterward. But objectively, how exactly did Saturday stack up?  Oh, honey.  Allow me to give you the scorecard:


Course: A-

Flat, pretty, lots of lakefront views, lots of quaint little villages/communities through which one passes.  But two caveats: (1) it’s a super-winding course.  This guy near me was saying that, if you just run down the center line of the road and don’t cut the corners as close as possible, you can end up running like 42 miles or something.

And (2) speaking of winding-ness, the course is a mindf**k of David-Lynch proportions once you get to mile 23 or so.  There, to your left, just a block or two away, is the finish line.  “Almost done!” says your rational brain.  But then again, you are at mile 23, fueled only by inhaled mosquitos and the evil that is Powerade (more on this later).  So your rational brain is, maybe, not bringing its A-game.

But still.  Roughly one hour later, or so it feels, you approach mile 24.  “OK, NOW I am there,” says your brain.

No, Dumbface, you are not.  For the race people have decided that you need to go up over a steep little bridge and then pound your poor little whimpering quads as you go down the bridge, and then go around the convention center, then around this big boat in the harbor, then under a bridge, then answer a riddle, then through Shelob’s Lair, and only then finally — FINALLY — do you encounter a mile marker.

“Mile 24.1,” it says.



Clientele: B

Nearly everyone in the race was a delightfully friendly sort from Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Fargo.  Not North Dakota, mind you — just Fargo.  I don’t know exactly why this is true, but it confirms my suspicions that nothing exists in North Dakota outside of Fargo, aside from a flat, barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland dotted with abandoned nuclear missile silos and a few feisty hangers-on, not unlike The Stand or The Road.  These runners are a joy to run next to, since they’re just so pumped to be out and about.

“We thought God gathered in all the heathens after the sun burned off all the crops!” they chirped merrily at mile 24.


“Usually in North Dakota we cannibalize a Clif pacer at the finish line!  But we hear there are Dippin’ Dots!” they continue, oblivious.




Pacers: B+

Pacers are great when they are actually, you know, on pace, which in my experience only happens around 40 percent of the time. But my particular guy actually did it right, which was refreshing. Of course, he did adhere pretty closely to the universal pacer archetype.  I.e., he told us about how many dozen marathons he has run in the last lifetime/year/week, and eventually pulled out the offensively-inoffensive jokes.  Haha, pacer guy!  It sure is funny how husbands like to golf, and wives want husbands to help with housework!  Those darn wives!  <slaps knee>

But I do give respect to pacers, because I imagine the job to be relatively unpleasant, because you are surrounded by this pack of people who have decided that, against all odds, no matter what the cost, no matter what kind of digestive or metabolic distress, they will most definitely stick to you.  They tether themselves to your drawstrings, they lean on you (literally) when the race gets hard, they clutch your legs and try to bribe you with leftover gels and filthy unspeakable acts new jokes for the ol’ repertoire if you will only piggyback them for the next 12 miles.

So the pacer did a good job of dealing with me, for I was most certainly obsessively RIGHTONHISHIP for a good most of the race.  I was going to hit my goal time, dammit, or cross the finish line in sorrow, at which point I would perform ritual suicide with a foil race blanket.

I would raise the blanket high, where it could whip in the wild Lake Superior winds.  “I did not give 145 percent.  It was more like 104.”  And here I would drop to my knees, continuing my final lament: “And I have brought dishonor upon my family, my competitors, and my sport.”  And slowly, but with honor and dignity that I did not show at mile 21, when I relieved myself in front of Fitger’s Brewpub, I would stretch it over my face and breathe my last.

“You want a ticket for the postrace beerfest?” the nice Minnesotan volunteer lady would say.

“Yeah, OK,” would come the muffled response.

So, yeah.  Pacers get a B+.


Spectators: C-

They were eerily quiet and didn’t yell our names, despite the fact that we had lovingly inked said names onto our arms for all the world to chant joyfully as we trotted past, splattering delighted children with ponytail sweat.

But then, at the finish line, in the chill of the summer Duluth winds, I spotted a woman with coffee.

“Excuse me, but where is the coffee?” I pitifully whimpered.

“Oh, just take this one,” said the middle-aged lady who I have christened Saint Phyllis.  “It’s vanilla flavored and hot, and I don’t really need it anyhow, so- oh hey.  Hey now.  I just got my hair permed.  Let me go.  That’s quite a bear hug you got there.”

Fortunately for you, spectators, St. Phyllis saved your asses.


Shirt: A

It’s short-sleeved and attractive and — in a change-up from previous Grandma’s Marathons i have run — it is a nice technical sweat-wicking magic shirt.  Nice upgrade, Grandma’s!


Maria Bamford Sightings: F

She’s only, like, the coolest person ever to come out of Duluth.  So I expect to see her there every time.  No luck yet.


Food: D

Back in the day, when you ran Grandma’s, you got Ultima (Slogan: “You bet it tastes like ass.”) at every stop along the way.  And while the high-electrolyte beverage tasted like the church Kool-Aid (Slogan: “Food coloring and water work in a pinch.”) from when you were little, made by pragmatic Midwestern grandmas decided that you didn’t need to have all that sugar, it did the job.

But Powerade (Slogan: “Yes, we’re trying to ream out your stomach and other-digestive-tract-parts.”) was the drink of choice this year.  I suspect that this foul concoction is what has been behind my vom-related woes at previous races.

Furthermore, the first two free-runner-food stands I saw at the finish line were (a) Dippin-Dots-style ice cream and (b) chocolate milk.  Yeah, I know this is Minnesota, where one sucks down a nice cold pint of half-and-half after a hot day of exercising in the sun, but my God, some of us were born with digestive systems that are not made of titanium.


Finish Line Area Shrubbery: A+

As I stood in the 50-mph Lake Superior winds in the 45-degree cold in the family meeting area, waiting for C. to finish, I shivered and considered whether I could pass out on command, just so someone would transport me to the warming glow of the med tent.

And then I saw him.

“Hello,” he seemed to say.  “As you can tell from my bushiness and full foliage, I can shield you from the elements.  C’mere, baby.”

I was hesitant, but then I spotted a Fargo resident nearby, looking all hungry and crazy-eyed.  She spotted me and sized me up.  And deciding I was exhausted and alone and easy to pick off from the herd, I decided to take my chances with the bush.

And so it was that C. found me huddled beneath a shrub that I christened “Buford,” rocking and giggling with warm, happy, non-windy delight.


Volunteers: A

They’re Minnesotan.  Enough said.



No, it isn’t an average of all of the above scores, but this isn’t science, so back off, Broseph.  Do Grandma’s.  It’s awesome.

One response to this post.

  1. There are at least two people cooler who came out of Duluth.


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