Cancellation Not Breaking Runners’ Stride on Grandma’s Race Day

Out of the 18,000 that registered this year, about 3,000 are doing virtual races.

DULUTH, Minn.- While the Grandma’s Marathon finish line in Canal Park was considerably emptier this year, shoes still jogged across, pushed by cheers, as some runners still ran the Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon themselves.

“Being a Duluth resident you just partake in this event, and obviously being different this year but still fun to do it,” said Sierra Johnson, running her third half marathon.

For some like Amanda Rau, not having an official race was a chance to stretch their legs in the nature of the Northland. “It was actually more peaceful than, compared to running with thousands of people.”

“I noticed that I could hear the waves crashing, you could smell the flowers, it was a really nice experience actually,” she said.

Yet running 13 miles without race crews can be difficult.

“I think the biggest challenge was probably not having the provisions along the race course this year,” said 3rd time runner Matt Johnson. “So I had to stash some water and find places to recycle my empty bottles along the way.”

And without the normal mass crowds of spectators, all runners had were themselves.

“Definitely had to encourage each other versus having the crowd encouragement, 6,000 plus other runners around you. But fun regardless to run around the shore,” Sierra said.

But when pushing your body to those limits, even the smallest encouragement can give you a boost to keep going. “Even if you get one friendly wave along the way from somebody who kind of points and gives you a nod it’s like, that’s all you need,” Matt said.

Grandma’s Marathon attracts runners from across the nation, and some still came despite the cancellation.

“We had the time off and we’ve never been to Duluth, so might as well at least enjoy a good run up here while we can,” said Erin Howland from Des Moines, Iowa.

“I was disappointed,” her running mate Shanna Harrington said. “Same,” said Howland, “Cause it also would’ve been my first marathon as well.”

When the marathon was cancelled, upwards of 18,000 runners were registered. But so far about 3,000 have sent in their times for the virtual races, which go through July.

“This was number 11 and it’s on our roster as having completed this race as if it was Grandma’s happening non-virtually,” said Steve Mattson, who ran his virtual races in June.

All these runners say at the end of the day, despite not having the fanfare of a typical race year, they feel accomplished. “Still completing your training and having something to celebrate all of that training at the end,” Rau said.

Because after 13 hard miles, the rush of pride is the same when crossing the finish line.

“We’re not counting this one as a pass,” said Mattson.

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