Making of a Marathon

Making of Grandma's Marathon

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June 1977, history was in the making.

“We knocked on the doors of Grandma’s Saloon, they gave us $600, we named the race Grandma’s Marathon after that $600 sponsorship. I’m not even sure Grandma’s would’ve even started it if wasn’t for their sponsorship,” Retired Executive Director of Grandma’s Marathon, Scott Keenan said.

The Northshore Striders Running Club decided to make a 26 mile run for muscular dystrophy, a course all could enjoy.

“The June date was picked because that was an opening on our North Shore Striders calendar back in 1977,” Kennan said.

In the beginning, Grandma’s Marathon only had 150 people running the race.

Kennan said the success of Grandma’s Marathon is that it’s owned by the citizens of this town.

By only the third year, they sat at 1600 people running the race.

In 1984, Jarrow Wahman ran his first Grandma’s Marathon.

“I’ve ran the marathon 17 times and I’ve never not broken 3 hours,” Wahman said confidently.

But it’s not the only marathon he’s ever ran.

He’s ran the North Country Marathon in Walker, Minnesota. The Long Driver Marathon in Hayward. The Salmon River Run in Idaho. The Charlotte Marathon, Las Vegas, Columbus, Ohio and one in Sacramento, California too.

40 marathons over 40 years, and he says Grandma’s has set itself apart from the rest.

“I’ve had some good experiences elsewhere, but Grandma’s really has the best operation going; the volunteers, the race directors and the course is wonderful. We have the lake, it’s not totally flat it’s rolling, we’ve got trees, the railroad and bridges, it’s all good,” Wahman explained.

With Grandma’s sponsorship and the fastest running course in the country, only one more thing helped get Grandma’s to where it is today.

As Garry Bjorklund once said, ‘what else do you want in a marathon, it starts in the woods, runs along the beautiful shores along Lake Superior and it finishes at a pub.’

Garry won the first Grandma’s race back on that hot day on June 25, 1977 with a time of 2:21:54.

“Garry is special. A 1976 10,000 meter Olympian, born in Duluth, raised in Twig, went to Proctor High School. We needed Garry to run his first marathon in his hometown Duluth.,” Keenan explained.

Since that first race day, Grandma’s has changed quite a bit over the years.

“We did the best we could, without having any police officers or highway patrolmen helping us, so we did a pretty good job with that. We made signs that said ‘marathon in progress, please use expressway’ to get people off the old scenic road,” Kennan said.

Not only were they lacking patrolmen, the finish wasn’t always so spectacular.

“At the finish line there used to be a junk yard there, my dad got Pittsburgh Paint to donate 100 gallons of paint and my friend Brian Larson from Grand Marais and I, we painted the junkyard fence so it would look better for the finish of it,” Keenan said.

But for Grandma’s Marathoners, it’s the end that gives them the runners high.

“That’s the best part of it is the last stretch down to the finish line,” Wahman said.

Now a race with over 6,000 race day volunteers, runners from all 50 states and over 40 countires, Grandma’s is one of a kind.


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