Grandma’s Marathon: The UNOFFICIAL Race Review [Guest Post]

7% of these people are triathletes. 100% of them have complexes about it.

Dear Humble Readers of The Running Log,

I have been tasked with offering a counterpoint to DJ’s race review (see the last post). As an amateur blogger and former resident of Washington, DC, I fancy myself an expert on most every topic. So why not add marathons to my repertoire, right? Right.




Once upon a time, there was a Grandma’s Marathon….


Nutrition: C

Let’s be honest: for most of us (excluding DJ), marathons require a lot of effort. You might spend six months training for a specific race and feel soreness for up to a week afterwards. The least the race organizers can do is try to make the experience a bit easier to handle by offering you some real food and drink options during the event.

Grandma’s takes it on the chin in this category both for what they offer runners during the race as well as for what they don’t offer. We’ll start with the ultimate sin: Powerade. Do you like knots in your stomach? Perpetual nausea? That dreadful, sinking feeling that you get when you see your boss walking down the hallway to “chat” about a mistake you made that someone important saw, forcing s/he to stay up all night to fix? Then perhaps you would enjoy Powerade, the bastard step-child of Gatorade/HEED/every legitimate sports drink. Maybe this was the deal that Grandma’s struck with the Boston Athletic Association to allow such a flat marathon course to qualify for the BM (“We’ll cripple them with crappy drinks to slow ‘em down”). Maybe Lutherans are prohibited from drinking Gatorade on Saturdays. Maybe all the Duluth-ians invested their life savings in Coke stock (the owner of Powerade). We may never know.

Now, stemming from that, imagine you’re a runner plodding through the marathon course. It’s fun! You’re excited! Look at all the new friends you’ve made in the last two hours (except for that weird 60-year old guy who just wanted to talk about how many Ironmans he’s finished and how he doesn’t like to race the “corporate” ones anymore because they have too much “hoopla”) and all the good ‘ol Minnesotans who have come out to support you. Just thinking about this makes me hungry. But wait. What’s this? There’s no food except for one gel offered at mile 17, and even then, the volunteers are hiding from you. C’mon, guys – we’re not claiming to be dying of starvation out there, but I think we’d all be willing to pay an extra $4.75 in entry fees to have more gels offered along the course. For those of us who aren’t experts at predicting our nutrition needs for a 26-mile run, we’d appreciate a little room for error.

Now, the race does pick up some nutrition ground for the frat boys who, for reasons unbeknownst to me, are hanging out at 10am on a Saturday in 45*F weather, offering you paper cups of beer at mile 24. If I hadn’t been so sick from the Powerade, I might have enjoyed a bit of Heineken, or whatever firewater the Northern Minnesota populace drinks to help them forget they live in Northern Minnesota.

Weather: B+

This grade is essentially an average of two parts. The directors get an “A+” for in-race temperatures and weather: They managed to stop the rain just as we were getting started and keep the temperature at about 50*F the entire morning, even in mid-June. Impressive. As a bonus (hence the A”+”), we had a consistent 5mph-10mph tailwind through the entire course. You feel better about yourself as a runner, it provides you with little boost when you’re tired, and it helps you get those Justin Bieber-inspired, hair-blowing-forward-over-your-eyebrows race photos.

Grandma’s weather grade gets demoted because the race directors don’t know when to stop. As soon as I finished the race, the aforementioned tailwind became an extreme nuisance, as it whipped across the finish area, causing hypothermia risk and difficulty with locating and walking toward exits.

My suggestion: learn when you’ve gone too far, race directors. There is a subtlety to everything, even the weather.

Other racers: B

I’ll admit it: I’ve been spoiled in the past by racers. Growing up in Northern California, the Bay to Breakers and San Francisco Marathon attract all manner of crazy gitups and costume-coordinated teams. Even in Chicago, you find the occasional guy running a marathon in a Darth Vader costume or neon tube socks or something. It’s a great reminder that we’re all out to have some fun and not to take ourselves too seriously. Plus, costumes are a great distraction from the pain of running near the end of a race.

Nothing doing at Grandma’s. Stoic, functional clothing was the only attire. Except for all the damn Ironman hats every other person seemed to be wearing, projecting an image of “Oh, I’m just here to train for my Ironman in Wisconsin/New York/Jakarta. Pure marathons are below my endurance abilities.” <Inhales deeply of own fart, holds breath.> To compound this, it wasn’t even sunny out. The hats functioned like those “MV” bumper stickers: people wore them solely to broadcast their self-perceived superiority to the world. At least they provided clear targets to pass/smirk at on the way to the finish line.

BUT. But. Everyone was very friendly during the whole race (even at mile 23, when all you want to do is FINISH THE RACE so you can get home and watch the season finale of Glee to find out if Rachel and Finn finally get back together, because she’s the only one who really, truly, understands him), in that pleasant Minnesota “How ya doin’? Ohhh, saahrry I was in your way” style. How refreshing.

Bathroom options: A

This is, by far, the easiest category to score. I’ve never seen so many porta-potties at a starting line. It was magical. DJ’s and my wait times for the hour before the race averaged about three minutes. It almost seemed as though the race directors had put some sort of operations person in charge of determining the correct number of sani-johns to order. Way to go, Little’s Law!

As a bonus, there were frequent bathrooms scattered along the race course. It was easier to find one than to get a drink of water (ironic? Perhaps). Plus, bonus bonus: most of the run was through wooded areas with plenty of trees and foliage for the distressed runner to patronize. Way to go, Grandma’s!

Course: A-/B+

The trajectory and topography of Grandma’s was nothing special. Which seems boring until you compare it to other races and realize that a flat, straight, simple course along Lake Superior is actually exactly what you in a race. No running in a gigantic circle. No wacky landmarks the race directors feel compelled to direct you past. No hills to ascend and quickly descend for spectators’ amusement. (Don’t think that this is relevant? Go watch the San Francisco Marathon at the bottom of the Mile 21 hill. Pure, unadulterated pain.)

Now, the drawback to this course is that there really aren’t any crowds until mile 19 or so, when you finally (finally) enter the outskirts of Duluth. So you need to rely on internal motivation to get you there. Which actually dovetails well with the friendliness/chattiness of all the other runners, who distract you (not with costumes, obvi) until the crowd-inspired adrenaline-rush kicks in.

However, when I say that there weren’t too many spectators on the course during the first 75% of the race, I am excluding the two guys with megaphones who were trying to convert the racers, en masse, to whatever strange religion tells them that proselytizing during a marathon is God’s will. I am genuinely curious whether these fine fellows thought that a runner would stop and say,” You know, you’re right. I do feel like a sheep who’s lost my shepherd. Marathons are just pagan rituals that have usurped our attention from worshipping the one true Buddha. Show me the light and the path, and I shall follow you. <Weeping> Thank you, brother. Thank you.”

[Praying that lightning cannot penetrate several floors of reinforced concrete.]


Anyways, last gripe about the course: the end. DJ has already mentioned this (at great length), but it’s worth repeating. You cross a hump that feels like a mountain at mile 25. You can see the finish line, hear the crowds dance (or, in my case, “dance”) to the Black Eyed Peas they’re playing at the end. But for some reason, the race directors have decided that what you really want to do is run in and out and around every single convention center building. And then turn 130° four times in two minutes, all the while apologizing to your quadriceps for the terribly inconsiderate treatment they have received on an otherwise pleasant morning.

It doesn’t make your Powerade taste any better, race directors.

Logistics: A

All the information we needed for the race was clear and on the website. The expo was easy to find, lodging arrangements were reasonably priced, and transport to and from the race site was well-executed. I have nothing bad to say about this. Again, one of the organizers must have taken an operations class at some point in his/her life.

Post-race: A-

My grade for this category rests largely on one factor: the ease with which I can obtain and consume a sleeve of chocolate chip cookie dough after the race. The answer in this instance is “reasonably easily.” Although we had to take a bus back to the dorms and then get in the car (try working a clutch after a marathon – it’s loads of fun) to drive to the local SuperOne, the store had several varieties of raw cookie dough on sale. I was paralyzed with happiness, until DJ pulled me away and told me to PICK SOMETHING SO WE CAN GET OUT OF THE REFRIGERATED AREA.

Along those same lines, Duluth has many, many pizza restaurants for your post-race food consumption pleasure. This makes sense, since it’s a big college town (complete with frat boys and girls), but just being able to wander into Sammy’s home-styled brick-oven fresh-ingredients family-owned pizzeria and sit at a table endeared me to the city.

The “-“ part of the category grade stems from the drive from Duluth to the Twin Cities. Never in my life have I seen so many pro-life/anti-abortion billboards. Yes, I understand that some people’s conviction overwhelms their sense of the appropriate time to broach certain subjects. And yes, advertising prices north of MSP aren’t getting any cheaper. But seriously, Michele Bachmann-land. Can you tone in down a bit? A photo of a baby saying “I had toenails after two months” conjures images that are best left unconjured. And they don’t aid the recovery process at all.


Overall: A-

Ending a marathon race report on a note about abortion seems wrong, doesn’t it? So we’ll end with an overall score.

Grandma’s Saloon puts on a good show. I recommend it, but expect some low-key, conservative Midwest entertainment for the first 19 miles. And, also, BYOG, since they only serve Powerade. Otherwise, enjoy a fun morning, some small-town charm (just like it says on the T-shirt), and some good running.

Peace out, homies.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bear on July 3, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    LOL. Genius.


  2. Thanks for the recap! I’m running Grandma’s marathon this spring and this recap helps me plan ahead!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: