Saturday will mark the end of an era.

For the first time since Grandma’s Marathon debuted in 1977, Joe Johnson of Menominee, Mich., is not entered. He, along with Jim Nowak of Cornell, Wis., and John Naslund of Bloomington, Minn., had comprised the “Iron Three,” the only runners to have completed each of the first 42 marathons.

Duluth native Nowak and Two Harbors native Naslund will attempt to make it 43 in a row on Saturday. Johnson, though, had a stroke earlier this year and is thus unable to participate.

Number crunching

Once again, more than 20,000 runners will take part in one of three weekend races.

As of June 2, 8,571 had registered for the marathon, up from 8,232 entrants in 2018. There are 9,237 signed up for the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, down slightly from a year ago (9,284), and another 2,394 expected to toe the start line of Friday evening’s William A. Irvin 5K.

Add it all up, and that’s 20,202 pavement pounders descending on Duluth this weekend.


Every year, Grandma’s Marathon recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions since the event’s inception.

This year, those folks include:

  • The late Dan Conway, who is the Ron Daws Ambassador Award winner. Conway, a Superior native, was a four-time Grandma’s master’s champion. He remains the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon record-holder for the men’s 65-69 age group — Conway covered 13.1 miles in 1 hour and 25 minutes in 2005, when he was 66.

Conway died from pancreatic cancer in May 2018 at the age of 79.

  • Wendy (Hovland) Cregg is the recipient of the Scott A. Keenan Founder’s Award. Cregg was the first Grandma’s women’s champ, winning the 1977 race in a time of 3:23:39. The Iron Ranger was 18 at the time.

  • Kevin Peterson, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2013, is the 2019 Grandma’s Marathon Hall of Fame inductee. A lifelong Superior resident, Peterson’s ties with the event ran deep. He was a member of the founding organization, the North Shore Striders, served on the Grandma’s board of directors and was a longtime volunteer.

  • Mike Tipple is being honored with the Don Fennessy Volunteer of the Year Award. A Hermantown teacher, Tipple has long coordinated the wheelchair participants at both the start and finish lines.

  • Country Hearth Breads is receiving the Award of Excellence.

  • Jim and Alan Evans are being given the Thousand Miler Award. After Saturday, the brothers will have put in more than 1,000 miles in various Grandma’s races.

  • Jake Benson is the Marsh Nelson Media Award winner. Benson is the owner, publisher and editor of the Proctor Journal, Hermantown Star and Floodwood Forum.

  • Joe Tarnowski and Phil Olsen are the recipients of the Rudy Perpich Public Service Award.

Mile markers

2009 remains the last time an American man won Grandma’s. Chris Raabe of Washington, D.C., was victorious 10 years ago in 2:15:13. Prior to Kellyn Taylor’s dominance here last June, 2009 also had been the last time an American woman was first to the finish line (Mary Akor of Hawthorne, Calif., in 2:36:52).

  • There have been 213,693 finishers through the first 42 years of Grandma’s Marathon.

  • The Essentia Health Fitness Expo officially kicks off marathon weekend at 4 p.m. Thursday at the DECC. The expo, free and open to the public, goes until 8 p.m. Thursday, and then runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Almost 100 exhibitors will be on hand.

  • Dick Beardsley and Carrie Tollefson again will host a pre-race talk show at 4 p.m. Friday in the DECC’s Edmund Fitzgerald Hall. Their guests will include Jordan Hasay, one of the country’s top female distance runners, and Jeff Galloway.