Friday, June 16, 2017

Grandma's Marathon Means Crowded Streets, Too Many People and a Big Weekend in Duluth

Just as robins herald the coming of spring, the runners on area roads are a sign that summer is on its way, and with it Grandma's Marathon. The weekend is filled with traditions. For some its a great time to get out of town. For others, there are spaghetti dinners, bands, parties and the event itself, in various configurations. Tonight it's the William A. Irvin 5k Run, and tomorrow the main events, the Marathon itself, both for runners and wheelchair racers, and the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon.

The scale of this event is quite impressive. In addition to the 8,000 marathon runners (I'm uncertain of the exact number at the moment), the race involves massive quantities of staff and volunteers, including race officials, water station supporters and medical personnel. (They take safety quite seriously around here.) There's also transportation (shuttles that run the runners up to the start of the race in Two Harbors) and massage tents at the end.

Nearly every runner has a support base, so you have fans and friends joining the throng, which means some serious organization to make sure people get fed, have bathrooms and places to stay. Naturally the city welcomes all these visitors, and the race itself is a great way to showcase Minnesota Nice to those who come from a distance.

One of the more unusual groupa of volunteer regulars is the team at Valentini's on London Road, a little past the halfway point. John Bushey, host of the Highway 61 Revisited radio program on KUMD, has been coming out for years to set up a sound system that plays Dylan music, inspiring runners for the second half of the run while reminding them that Bob Dylan was born here in Duluth, and that across the street there is the Historic Duluth Armory where a teenaged Robert Zimmerman saw Buddy Holly a few days before "the day the music died."

For the runners and fans who are unaware, this is the same Highway 61 that runs all the way down into the Deep South where the Delta Blues was born. From Two Harbors to Canal Park, hugging the shoreline of the largest freshwater lake in the world, this has to be on of the most beautiful marathons in the world to run.

The 5K, which takes place later today, is a much smaller loop (just over three miles) beginning and ending at the William A. Irving ore boat that is docked in a slip alongside the DECC. Last night and today runners have been picking up their race packets, which include bib numbers that have a chip affixed to them so that officials can accurately track their time as the cross the start and finish lines. Grandma's now even has an app that enables race fans to follow the leaders and see how soon they will be arriving at the corner where you'll be standing to cheer them on.

Whether you stay for the race or flee, it's always helpful to know which roads are open and which are going to be closed for much of the day. Here are the details on Grandma's Marathon Road Closures.

Here's a link to another blogger planning to run this weekend, Steve Wagner's Addicted to Running blog.  He expresses the same affection for this race as many of the runners who come when he writes, "Few cities embrace the marathon like Duluth. Race officials nail the logistics and organization, volunteers genuinely care about the runners and residents turn out to support and cheer on participants — making the final 3-4 miles a magical experience. Add a truly terrific point-to-point course and you end up with an amazing experience."

Tonight's my first 5K. I've not run three miles in nearly 40 years, so we'll see how ready I am. The race starts at 6, but there will be activities all day for the devoted. The anticipation has been fun, creating its own sense of energy, though simultaneously I've got jitters as regards where to park, how early to arrive and all the practical elements that experience teaches you. Vamos a ver, as they say.

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Meantime, life goes on all around you. Be part of it.

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