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Grandma’s Marathon again living up to cool-weather reputation

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Grandma’s Marathon again living up to cool-weather reputation
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

This is more like it.

Fog, a little rain, temps in the 50s and wind blowing out of the northeast. Welcome to summer in the Northland.

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For at least this weekend, however, there won’t be many weather complaints in Duluth, not with more than 18,000 runners in town for the 38th Grandma’s Marathon and its affiliate races. If the forecast holds true — and when doesn’t it in Northeastern Minnesota? — today’s conditions along the North Shore should be favorable for runners once again.

The National Weather Service expects temperatures in the 50s this morning, with cloudy skies that will progressively clear. Overnight rain should subside by the time the running starts at 6:15 a.m. for the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon and 7:45 for the full. It likely will be humid, but that should be offset by a runner’s best friend — a tailwind of about 5-10 mph.

For the fourth consecutive year, Grandma’s figures to be run amid excellent conditions, but that hasn’t always been the case. The race’s cool-weather reputation was severely tarnished by an uncharacteristic spate of heat and humidity from 2006-10.

At the 7:30 a.m. start of the 2009 marathon, the temperature was 66 degrees with 78 percent humidity. Officials briefly considered canceling the race. And although 66 turned into 75 by 10 a.m., the humidity waned just enough to give it a go.

Weather is a dominant storyline for any race, which makes it all the more maddening for those in charge.

“It’s one of those things you can’t control,” Grandma’s Marathon executive director Jon Carlson said. “It’s the biggest frustration of all, and I’m sure every race director or executive director around the country cringes when they think about what could happen with the weather.”

Carlson had to be beaming Friday. In Canal Park, it felt more like mid-    October than mid-June.     A breeze blew, drizzle dropped and jackets replaced tank tops.

It was reminiscent of June 22, 2013, when Mother Nature served up a runner’s paradise for the 37th Grandma’s Marathon — 50s, overcast, misty and a tailwind.

Good weather equals good running and good memories.

“When you’re a marathoner or a half-marathoner, you’re always looking at your PR,” Grandma’s public relations director Bob Gustafson said. “Most people know where their PR is, and a PR usually means a fast course and it was a good day.

“It’s those years like last year that we have to relish and pray for the following year.”

In 2006, black flags, signifying dangerous heat, came out for the first time at Grandma’s. That year the humidity at the start of the marathon was a brutal 91 percent. Combined with a starting temperature of 64 degrees, runners were advised to slow way down.

The starting-time temp for the subsequent four marathons was 60 degrees or higher, a streak that finally ended in 2011 when it was 49 at the beginning of the race. In 2012, it was 65 at the start but cooled as the race wore on.

Ben Nelson, in his fifth year as the race’s medical director, said the main concern with heat is runners’ inability to cool themselves.

“On hot, humid days we’ll generate two to three times as many patients in the medical tent because of the heat,” Nelson said. “It’s challenging because some of these people are really sick. Heat stroke can be life-threatening.”

Last year at the finish-line medical tent, about 220 people were treated. That number was 577 in 2009.

Carlson remembers working at the Friday Whipper Snapper races a few years ago and it looked like the weather was going to be perfect for the marathon and half-marathon the next day.

“I remember making the comment to everybody over the loudspeaker system when we were lining up that ‘This is exactly what we want tomorrow,’ ” Carlson recalled. “When I drove up the course that night to do my final course check, I could see my breath. I went, ‘Awesome, this is going to be great.’ I woke up the next morning and it was, like, 60 degrees. I went, ‘Oh, oh, wind shifted; we’re not going to have ideal conditions today.’ ”

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Louie St. George
(218) 723-5306
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