Getting 9,000 runners from Duluth to the starting line of Grandma’s Marathon, 26.2 miles up the North Shore in Two Harbors, is no easy task, requiring hundreds of buses to ferry everyone up there by the 7:45 a.m. starting gun.
But a railroad running parallel to the race route makes life a bit easier.
Up to 1,000 runners boarded the North Shore Scenic Railroad train outside the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Saturday morning and took it north to the starting line in Two Harbors.
As runners boarded at the DECC, railroad general manager Ken Buehler, wearing a tuxedo at 5 a.m., welcomed them aboard.
“Welcome to the world-famous Boston Marathon!” Buehler shouted.
On board, runners filled every available seat while others opted to curl up on the ground in the corner for some last-minute sleep. Lines of nervous runners stood waiting for the bathrooms.
Shawn San of Rochester drove through the night to get to Duluth, arriving at 5 a.m. to board the train. He sat on a folding chair in the area of a car with large open windows. Out the window to his right, the sun rose over Lake Superior.
“It’s not too bad,” San said. “Just looking outside the window and enjoying the view of the waterfront there. I can relax, sleep and not have to be on a bus.”
The train started bringing runners to the starting line in 2009 after Department of Public Safety rules ended the use of 91 school buses from area districts.
Throughout summer, the heritage railroad holds daily trips following tracks through eastern Duluth and along the North Shore once used by the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway.
“It’s kind of interesting because you can’t really take a train anymore,” San said.
Elsewhere on the train, several runners even used the train’s seatless car to do a few butt kicks, high knees and other warm-up drills to stay loose during the hour-long ride.
With headphones in, Willie Fox of Minneapolis spread out on the train car’s floor to bend and stretch his legs.
“It seems like the easiest way to get to the start line,” Fox said, noting that he rode on the same train car before last year’s marathon. “I can listen to my music, get fresh air and stretch.”
Kali Erickson of Duluth has also become a regular on the marathon train, opting to take it to the last five Grandma’s Marathons she’s run.
While she did take a bus to her first marathon, it was stressful. On top of being nervous for her first marathon, she was cramped into a full bus and had to rush out of it as soon as it arrived to the starting line to make room for other incoming buses behind it.
“You get there and they’re like, ‘Get off! Everybody off! Go Go! … It was like we were storming the beach on D-Day,” Erickson said.
So although she was still nervous before Saturday’s race — worried about nagging injuries that might flare up during the race — she found the train more calming before the race.
“It’s so much more relaxing,” Erickson said. “It’s warm and if it’s raining, you don’t have to get off until they kick you off.”