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There is a reason that so many people told me "Grandma's Marathon is on my bucket list". If it's not on yours, you need to add it. I ran a PR race here this year which likely influences my thoughts on the race, but I truly think that even if my time wasn't a PR, I would have loved it.
Logistics: I had heard that lodging can be difficult so best to secure this as early as possible. We stayed at the Comfort Inn West which did a great job accommodating the runners. They had refrigerated water bottles, rain ponchos and granola bars available at all times and the staff wore green Grandma's Marathon t-shirts all weekend. The best part was that this hotel was one of the shuttle locations to take to the start. All I had to do on Saturday morning was wake up, get dressed and walk out my hotel to board a shuttle. The race also has a train that you can take to the start, which I might do in future years.
Expo: I had to take my two young kids to the expo with me and we all had a good time, except it was fairly crowded, as all Expos seem to be. You had to pay $5 to park at the expo location. Packet pickup was very efficient. There were a lot of high quality vendors at the expo.
T-Shirts/SWAG: The finisher shirt is awesome - and you have to finish to get it. They have women's cut and men's cut shirts, and the sizing was good. (Sometimes I find that the women's cut shirts don't fit me very well - not so with these.) The medals are also very nice - they are heavy and showcase the amazing pine trees that line most of the course.
Aid Stations: The aid stations were well placed and well supplied. Volunteers were amazing. I liked that they had the water and powerade clearly marked and on both sides of the course which made it easy to grab and go. I had looked what the sports drink was going to be prior to the race and am not a fan of Powerade but because I knew that was what was going to be supplied, I could make accommodations.
Course: The course is gorgeous. Very rural and tree-lined for the majority of the race, with sporadic views of Lake Superior. There are many images from this course burned in my memory but one thing that I wasn't anticipating is the smell. Around mile 7, I loudly announced, "You can smell pine trees!!!" . It was incredible. Also, even though it is rural, there are plenty of spectators cheering for you the whole way. Duluth really comes out to support their marathon! The course had to be re-routed this year due to construction so I don't know what the last few miles normally are like, but the detour seemed fine to me.
Elevation: This is a net downhill course, with some rolling throughout. Nothing really felt like a hill. There is "Lemon Drop hill" around mile 24 (I think) which didn't feel great running up, but was more of a blip than a hill. If it was placed earlier in the course, you wouldn't even feel it.
Race Management: This year was the 42nd annual Grandma's Marathon and clearly they have the race management down. I experienced no difficulties with any part of this race. The morning shuttle driver did miss our drop off, which made our bus have to walk a bit more to get to the start, but nothing crazy. The porta potty configuration was a little weird and resulted in some line confusion. I loved that I could take my gear with me to the start and gear check it at the start. They gave you a clear bag which you placed a color-coded numbered sticker on and dropped it in a trash can with your color. Could not have been easier! The miles were very clearly marked with these huge balloons, that were fun to hunt down. The tracking app worked beautifully - I had many friends and family tracking me and based on the text messages I had on my phone when I powered it on after the race, it worked just fine for them! The finish line snacks were great and I liked that you got a beverage ticket so you could choose what beverage you could get (I opted for the coffee). Bananas, fresh strawberries, Clif bars, chocolate milk, fresh OJ, water was all plentiful. Oh! And potato chips!!! I have never had potato chips after a race and I am now going to start. YUM.
Thank you Duluth and Grandma's Marathon for an incredible race. I will for sure be back!