Andrew Krueger column: Running the half-marathon, one high-five at a time

Never pass up a high-five along the race course. If I had one piece of advice to offer fellow runners after completing my fifth Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, that would be it. I'll let others offer tips about hydration and training and pacing. B...

High five
Mark Hutchins of Duluth gives out high fives and words of encouragement to Grandma’s Marathon runners at the top of Lemon Drop Hill. (Steve Kuchera /

Never pass up a high-five along the race course.
If I had one piece of advice to offer fellow runners after completing my fifth Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, that would be it.
I’ll let others offer tips about hydration and training and pacing. But one thing that really stood out to me from my back-in-the-pack position this year was the pick-me-up a simple high-five can provide.
I high-fived someone in a lion costume and someone in an otter costume. I high-fived a guy on a bike. I zig-zagged across Scenic 61 - after making sure I had a clear path - to high-five spectators I didn’t know. Each time, without fail, that simple gesture provided a boost of energy for a quarter-mile or more.
It was better than a cup of Mountain Berry Blast Powerade.
Why? In part, it must be the momentary distraction from the pounding of feet against pavement. But more so, it’s an exclamation point to all the cheering and support provided by complete strangers along the way. And there was so much support this year, again, despite the cool, damp conditions.
Spectators and volunteers, know that your efforts - cheering, handing out water, cowbell-ringing, raking discarded cups and, yes, high-fiving - really do mean a lot to runners.
And runners, savor the cheers and collect your high-fives - you’ve earned them, and they may just provide the boost you need to reach the finish.
Here are some more observations from the back of the half-marathon pack.

Wait, that’s not…

This year’s race was déjà vu in so many ways to the 2013 event: the same foggy conditions, a wind off the lake and temperatures in the 40s. If anything, it was a few degrees colder than last year; my car thermometer read 41 degrees on the drive into Duluth, with wind chills on the first day of summer dropping into the 30s.
Heading down Mesaba Avenue before 5 a.m., descending into the pea-soup fog enveloping downtown, I spotted a pair of orange flashing lights approaching me. The chill in the air, and not-too-distant memories of our brutal winter, made me momentarily think that a salt truck was heading my way.
But no, it was just a street sweeper, probably coming from cleaning the course. Icy streets for the marathon are a phenomenon that’ll have to wait for another wild weather year.

Finding your way

I caught one of the last buses to the start, and settled into the back of the crowd slowly making its way onto the course several minutes after the race began.
It was an interesting, at times nerve-wracking dynamic back there, with runners of so many different paces jumbled together and sorting themselves out. It required patience, and courtesy, and making sure of your footing.
At times it seemed like everyone was playing their own game of Frogger - five strides forward, three quick steps left, two more forward and so on - to find the place and pace that worked the best.
Slowly but surely, everyone found their spot and turned their attention to the long road ahead.


Up in the sky

Spotted hovering above the half-marathon starting line, and at least one other point along the course: Drones.
A Grandma’s Marathon first? I don’t know, but I don’t remember seeing them in prior years.
From the ground, it was slightly disconcerting. But whoever it was shooting video from above, I’m sure the footage will be great.

Depot Drop

Former News Tribune writers Kevin Pates and Mark Stodghill each claimed to have coined the phrase “Lemon Drop Hill” to describe the incline on London Road near the 22-mile mark; the name came from a restaurant that used to be located there.
It certainly is a landmark and a challenge to runners, but I’ve found the most jarring moment on the course often is the short, steep descent on Fifth Avenue West from Superior Street to Michigan Street, and then the climb up and over Interstate 35. After a mostly level course with gradual hills, the sudden down-and-up is a minor assault on sore feet, ankles and hamstrings - at least to those of us back in the pack.
I’ve always thought that spot should have a name but nothing ever sounded right, until News Tribune sports editor Rick Weegman offered a suggestion in the newsroom on Saturday: Depot Drop, after the landmark Duluth building located at the bottom of the hill. Perfect.
So I nominate “Depot Drop” for inclusion in the race lexicon, for that last hurdle before reaching the finish line and well-deserved celebration in Canal Park.

Share your thoughts

With thousands of runners come thousands of unique experiences and observations. Share your stories of this year’s Grandma’s Marathon and Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon on the News Tribune’s Facebook page.

Andrew Krueger is multimedia editor at the News Tribune, is happy with the 2:03:43 half marathon time he posted this year, and hopes to descend Depot Drop again next year. He can be reached at .

What To Read Next
Get Local