Kerri Nelson swore off distance events after running last year’s Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.

So why was she back in line waiting to pick up her half-marathon packet at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Thursday?

“I know I said I didn’t want to,” the Superior resident said, “but I had to confirm it was really that bad.”

Nelson joined hordes of other runners and gluttons for punishment as they waded through a kaleidoscope of exhibits at the Essentia Health Fitness & Health Expo in order to grab their bib packets and goodie bags.

There was so much neon, it was as if the entire running world were a spaceship that landed in Canal Park. The runners appeared eagerly beamed into the fray.     

There were products as diverse as anti-chafing remedies engineered into gels and fanny packs engineered to disguise the fact that they’re fanny packs.

Legendary marathoner Frank Shorter wasn’t there, but his gear was, and his shorts and T-shirts were on clearance.

People wore sandals, platform heels, Vans, deck shoes, flip-flops, cowboy boots and more - 36 hours before they would all be wearing the same shoes.

Matt Larson of Duluth, a promotional advertiser moonlighting as a running shoe salesman for the National Running Center, debunked the myth that one had to wear broken-in shoes for Saturday’s races.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Shoes are designed to come out of the box and run.”

A veteran of 15 marathons, Larson said he preferred a heartier, common-man-type shoe. The elites, he said, used a sleeker, more disposable type of shoe. (No word if the aforementioned Nelson would throw hers away should the half go bad again.)

There were a pair of counters featuring chip testing - and not of the crunchy potato variety. One vendor gave away proof that Grandma’s Marathon has every angle covered in the form of a mile-by-mile elevation chart of the course that never deviates more than 130 feet, tip to tail.

Another booth featured a carnival barker touting headphones that allowed runners to concentrate on running and not on their ears.

“The headphones that will never fall out!” she claimed.

The same can’t be said of the runners, a small share of whom inevitably will fall out of the races. Whether their bodies are simply spent or they’re chafing so hard not even a neon gel can help.

One person likely to run through the finish line and keep on going: Minneapolis’ Mindy Fadell.

She appeared with her family in tow, including four blond kids between ages 2 and 7. What looked like a supportive crew was, uh, not always so much. It’s fair to say Fadell was in the storm before the calm.

“It’s nice to get away from the support,” she cracked wise, “to do long runs.”

Her engineer husband, Paul, pushed the side-by-side stroller featuring twins Charlotte (a girl) and Shelby (a boy).  

“She found her passion,” Paul said of his wife, who was about to run her second marathon.

Paul’s passion?

“I’m an engineer,” he said. “I like to tinker.”

Whether he has any suggestions to build a better fanny pack, he didn’t say.

Marathon preparations Thousands of runners, thousands of volunteers and thousands of spectators will gather in Duluth this weekend for the 38th annual Grandma’s Marathon and its associated races.

Courtesy of race officials, here are some statistics that show what it takes to stage this year’s marathon, the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon and the William A. Irvin 5K:

  • 7,964 runners registered for Grandma’s Marathon, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 44 countries.
  • 8,498 runners registered for the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon.
  • 2,029 runners registered for the William A, Irvin 5K.
  • About 6,000 volunteers and more than 130 sponsors.
  • 15 official water stations along the course.
  • 400,000 cups used at water stations.
  • 5,000 gallons of water for runners.
  • 30,000 sponges for runners.

Spaghetti dinner The Michelina’s All-You-Can-Eat Spaghetti Dinner - to be held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today at the DECC’s Pioneer Hall - serves the following:

  • About 8,000 plates of spaghetti, including 2,500 pounds of dry pasta and 5,000 pounds of sauce.
  • 600 loaves of bread.
  • 15,000 cookies.

Grandma’s grand total In the past 37 years, there have been a total of 181,239 Grandma’s Marathon finishers.