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'Udder' enthusiasm on Grandma's Marathon sidelines

Fans with costumes and signs cheer on runners along Duluth's London Road.

Alexi Hansen, left, and Philip Lafriniere dress as cows as they cheer on runners along London Road
Alexi Hansen, left, and Philip Lafriniere dress as cows as they cheer on Grandma's Marathon runners along London Road on Saturday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — Runners, wheelchair racers and spectators woke to a sunny Saturday morning for Grandma’s Marathon events. A brisk northeast wind assisted competitors during the 26.2 miles (full marathon) or 13.1 miles (half-marathon) along the North Shore to Duluth.

To many Duluth visitors and residents, this year is the first traditional celebration of the annual races since before the COVID-19 pandemic — and the energy of this year's crowd reflected the excitement for "regular" editions.

“Just moo-ve it!” read one of the five signs Alexi Hansen and fellow cheerleader, Philip Lafriniere, held up along the 18th mile of the route, on London Road. Meanwhile, “I Like to Move It” by Reel 2 Real seemed to shake the ground beneath racers' feet. Hansen and Lafriniere were styled in full-body cow costumes and accompanied by an array of encouraging cow-themed messages.

Marlowe Tupy, 5, blows bubbles in front of her brother, Arthur Tupy, 4, as they wait to cheer on runners
Marlowe Tupy, 5, blows bubbles in front of her brother, Arthur Tupy, 4, as they wait to cheer on runners along London Road during Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The running companions travel to the Twin Ports from St. Paul nearly every year to participate in Grandma’s events. Lafriniere had just ran the half-marathon when he reappeared along the route to cheer on the full-marathoners.

“I love the people along the run. It is so much more fun than just a training run,” said Hansen, whose cow suit was topped off by a unicorn crown.

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The cow suits were originally intended to celebrate the Beef-A-Rama festival in northern Wisconsin, which has an annual 5K. The two ended up running the entire race in their cow suits. “We got some good looks for that,” said Lafriniere.

In his first completed marathon since a 2019 injury, the Grandma’s marathon course record holder returned for a win and the second-best race time in the event’s history.

Other "real" animals lined the route to cheer on racers. If you were a participant, you may have been barked at by a chunky corgi, sniffed by a golden retriever or chased by a Labrador.

According to Lafriniere, such encouragement is needed as racers approach the infamous “Lemon Drop Hill.” Many spectators gather there to watch competitors agonize uphill.

Former Duluth News Tribune reporters Kevin Pates and Mark Stodghill debate over which one of them coined the term "Lemon Drop Hill" in the early 1980s. Where London Road reaches the terminus of Interstate 35, marathoners have 4.1 miles left until the finish line.

Tad Sears, of Duluth, tosses a rock into Lake Superior at the mouth of the Lester River for his dog, Mikko, as they wait for runners
Tad Sears, of Duluth, tosses a rock into Lake Superior at the mouth of the Lester River for his dog, Mikko, as they wait for runners during Grandma’s Marathon. “He can smell the water,” Sears said with a laugh.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“Grandmas for Grandma’s” is what Abeeda Asfoor calls her fitness group from Snap Fitness in the Lakeside neighborhood. The group set up in front of the former car wash on London Road and encouraged crowd members to join a live Zumba class. According to Asfoor, the purpose is to keep the runners optimistic and spectators entertained.

She looked forward to this year's race because some competitors came as far as Trinidad, which is where the long-term Duluth resident was born. “It is just exciting,” she said.

MORE ABOUT GRANDMA'S MARATHON RACES
From the column: "I started crying. Instead of seeing these racers as strangers, I felt the way I would feel watching my own children starting the race."

Related Topics: GRANDMA'S MARATHONDULUTH
Peyton Haug is the intern reporter for the Duluth News Tribune for the 2022 summer.
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