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Beverly Godfrey column: Something to cheer for at Grandma's Marathon

Marty Emeott rings a cowbell and shouts encouragement to Grandma’s Marathon runners while his son, Bo, 1, catches a nap. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)1 / 3
Mary Beth Kalkbrenner (left) and her mother, Mary Kalkbrenner, wait along London Road to cheer on their friend Kristin Goman during Grandma’s Marathon. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)2 / 3
Beverly Godfrey3 / 3

This year’s Grandma’s Marathon needed more cowbell. But when I got up at 5 a.m. to drive my son to the water station where he was volunteering, I couldn’t find it. Like a runner without her shoes, I was a cheerleader without her bell.

Still, I gave it my best shot. At first blush, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that watching people run would be entertaining. But let me assure you runners — it is. As every wave of you passed my spot at Mile 22, a different kind of athletic — and psychological — event was happening before my eyes.

First, approaching almost too fast to see them coming, were the wheelchair racers, with arms so strong, they looked like they could finish the course in a walking handstand.

Then excited voices were heard down the street as the men’s leaders approached on quiet, birdlike steps. This year’s men’s race was won by Dominic Ondoro of Kenya. In his wake, he left a couple of excited young Mormon women — Molly Szabo of American Fork, Utah, and Cortney Simpson of Star Valley, Wyo. They’re in town on their mission trips and volunteered to pick up cups discarded by racers. When Ondoro raced by and threw his cup at their feet, they took pictures of themselves holding it. Szabo then tucked it into her pocket.

“It’s pretty cool, right?” she said.

I agreed that it was and asked to hold it myself. Runners, don’t underestimate your star power; we’re all in awe of you.

Back to the race, my attention quickly turned to the women’s leaders and other elite men passing. Their expressions were forced-relaxed, if that’s possible. They were focused and serious, and I wondered whether they even hear me, but I cheered anyway.

Next, a solid bunch of runners passed who seemed like successful college athletes with no body fat and professional outfits. These guys had some energy left for the remaining four miles.

Following in the mix were runners who maybe started too fast and were struggling. They were keeping up the pace, but their faces showed it was a long way to Canal Park. The responses to my cheering grew. I could yell, “Go Oregon!” to the guy in the Oregon shirt, and he’d probably smile or raise a fist.

Slower-by-plan, even-pace people were next, and groups huddled around the pace coaches. I started to see my first costumes — tutus and super heroes being popular. Two women’s matching shirts suggested they were training for the zombie apocalypse. Here’s where my cheering got its first audible “thank yous,” some people even turning to nod my way or smile.

In the end, there were people in real pain. Some looked right at me like they needed a friendly smile. These brief, personal moments are always the biggest surprises of the day — and yes, I’m including that full-on Joker costume in the half-marathon. I cheered for people who had no energy to wave or smile or anything except to keep going.

I heard two people declare “I’m dying,” and one guy encourage his friend by saying, “It’s 10 times worse if you walk.” But none of them stopped.

It used to be easy to get so inspired; I’d think I, too, should try racing. But I’m past that now. I’ll call it a sign of maturity to recognize that running isn’t something I can do, and all these people are more fit than me. And as long as they’re running, I’ll be happy to don my wool socks and rain jacket to cheer them on.

Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com. Her hands are still a little numb from clapping.

Beverly Godfrey
Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com.  
(218) 720-4104
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