Pickles, bacon, beer and troll dolls were among the schwag set out for runners on Duluth's London Road during Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday.

As some Duluthians participated by running, spectating and volunteering, others chose to stay close to home and dole out whatever they thought would best encourage the runners. For some, this was free food, drinks and words of encouragement. For others, it was witty signs, loud music and dancing.

The smell of bacon wafted down London Road throughout the races as two groups faced off — trying to win the title of “best bacon house.” Runners took notice, and many cut across the street and headed to the groups for their free pieces of bacon.

At the “20 mile bacon station,” Chad Peterson was frying rows of bacon. This year, Peterson estimated his group will hand out 30 to 40 pounds When it’s really cold out, he said they can give out up to 50 pounds.

“We’ve all lived in Duluth forever. It’s you either leave or you join, so we decided to join,” Peterson said.

The other bacon house, located just down the road, was also holding its annual giveaway.

Brenda and Mark Grim got their start in the bacon business 12 years ago when a runner stopped to ask for some as their family was eating breakfast while watching the race. Now, they keep the free bacon going to support the runners and use it as an opportunity to gather with friends, Mark Grim said.

Farther toward the finish line on London Road, groups of runners flocked to a table where they grabbed handfuls of pickles.

For the last four years, a house near Duluth East High School has handed out pickles, pickle juice, water and ibuprofen, as well as offering a free breakfast to volunteers and anyone else who may come by.

“There’s people coming by every year saying, ‘you saved us last year,’” said Alyson Lundberg, who was helping hand out items.

Alexi Hansen, left, and Phillip Lafrinier, both of Minneapolis, are dressed as cows as they cheer on runners at Grandma’s Marathon along London Road on Saturday morning. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Alexi Hansen, left, and Phillip Lafrinier, both of Minneapolis, are dressed as cows as they cheer on runners at Grandma’s Marathon along London Road on Saturday morning. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

While they've always been fans of the marathon, they only recently got their start in pickle distribution. A woman approached them four years ago asking if they had pickle juice. Her husband was going through chemotherapy, and she said he was experiencing cramps as he ran. The juice apparently eases cramps, Lundberg said.

Lundberg said they handed out 6 gallons of pickles last year. This year they expected to hand out even more.

“We add to our community every time. … It’s fun to be a spectator, but to give back is even more rewarding,” Lundberg said. “And we get to yell ‘pickles’ all day.”

One group near the 23-mile marker on London Road opted to hand out a drink not commonly associated with peak marathon performance: beer.

Chelsea Verhel, Jacky Scholer and friends lounged on a balcony with drinks in hand. Over the past five years, they’ve encouraged runners who are over 21 years old to grab a drink because “if you ran the marathon, you deserve it,” Scholer said.

As of 9 a.m., Scholer said they had already handed out more than five pitchers to half-marathon participants.

“It is truly the best weekend of Duluth summer,” Verhel said.

Near the free beer were the “flamingo fans,” a group donning pink leis, accessories, clothing and decorations. Their goal was to draw the runners' attention, then give them an extra boost of support — whether it was snacks, Gatorade or cheers of encouragement.

Josie Jansen, 11, uses chalk to draw an “Almost there” message on London Road for runners passing the 22-mile point in Grandma’s Marathon. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
Josie Jansen, 11, uses chalk to draw an “Almost there” message on London Road for runners passing the 22-mile point in Grandma’s Marathon. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

“People love the support. It’s amazing how many runners we don’t know will still say, ‘thank you.’ This seems to be a good spot where people need a little boost,” flamingo fan Steph Harney said.

The Duluth East dance team had a similar idea: to energize runners by performing along London Road, said coach Kim Chick.

“(The runners) like the energy. … There’s kind of a lull right here on London Road before you get to Canal Park. So it just kind of gives it a little bit of a bigger atmosphere," Chick said.

One spectator group was especially eye-catching along London Road, as they sat near a long line of troll dolls placed along the curb.

When a group of children approached the doll lineup, Barb Collette told them they could take a doll — if they promised to take care of it for the year. They could return to the same place the next year and switch the doll out.

“It’s just an empowering thing for them … when they can take care of that little guy for a year and bring him back,” Collette said.

The dolls also encourage the runners, she said. Runners “light up” when they see them, giving them “more of a pump to finish the race.”

Setting up the dolls is an annual tradition for the Collette family, she said. This year, they started with 140 trolls they had gathered throughout the year. Some years, they’ve had up to 200 trolls, which extends down nearly an entire block when lined up, Collette said.

“It’s a lot of work putting them out, but it’s a lot of fun,” she said.

Jeremy Smith, 50, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., eats a pickle as he runs along London Road near 40th Avenue East Saturday, June 22, 2019.  Adelle Whitefoot / awhitefoot@duluthnews.com
Jeremy Smith, 50, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., eats a pickle as he runs along London Road near 40th Avenue East Saturday, June 22, 2019. Adelle Whitefoot / awhitefoot@duluthnews.com

There are also groups that decide morning of the race to do something extra for the runners.

A small group set up a homemade sign that said “Give me your best snot rocket.”

After reading the sign, Joel Kolmodin said hundreds of runners have taken them up on the dare.

“We were looking for something that would make everybody laugh, and that was interactive and that everybody could participate in while running,” Kolmodin said.