Brandon Veale column: Making a spectator of myself at Grandma's Marathon
A look back at Grandma's Marathon on Saturday from the viewpoint of an "official unofficial" spectator.
The first June I spent in Duluth, I ambled down to the part of the Grandma's Marathon course nearest my apartment and ran into a coworker wearing a T-shirt that read "Official Grandma's Marathon Spectator."
Six years later, I still find that funny. Back then, my newspaper responsibilities on Grandma's Marathon Saturday didn't start until well after the winners crossed the finish line. Things have changed a little now, but this year I tried to keep work at work, at least for a few more hours, and see the day like you do. I don't have the T-shirt yet, so I guess I'm an unofficial official spectator.
The first thing you notice on Grandma's Saturday is how bright it gets early. I am outing myself somewhat as a "night person," but almost every year, I hear the sounds of vehicles buzzing up and down my street (on a main detour), look at a clock and realize:
- It's 5:45 a.m.
- The sun has been up for a half-hour
- There are thousands of people getting ready to do a big thing while I contemplate whether or not I am going to give myself 90 or 120 additional minutes before rolling out of bed.
This year, I settled on 90. There was a half-marathon runner I wanted to support. I left the house at 7:40 and started walking, downloading the official Grandma's Marathon app while crossing the street. Not advisable, but neither is any pre-coffee activity.
I searched for a name, tracked the bib number and found I still had time, as they were short of Lemon Drop Hill. While waiting for them to arrive, I found myself perplexed. Do I just clap randomly into the void like former Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and hope the runners find it encouraging? I'm a loud and scary clapper. Should I shout platitudes like "Way to go!" or "Not far now!" Will anyone buy it? My traditional vantage point is on London Road near the McDonald's, roughly 22 1/2 miles in. I'm not that close to the end.
I also figure silent acknowledgement goes a long way. Even for the half, we're looking at folks that have run 9-plus miles. Dialogue is probably not a high priority.
I didn't have time to make a funny sign. I thought about painting the road like they do for mountain stages of the Tour de France. Turns out that's illegal, so I didn't do it. But maybe it should be?
I checked the app again. Two or three blocks away. I start feverishly scanning numbers, which involves a lot more staring at people that I'm comfortable with, even with tinted glasses. Folks are streaming through at a rate of at least 15 or 20 per minute. Nervously, I clap randomly while hoping, like Wordle, I can get a clue of how many digits I have correct.
I check the app one more time, and my person is now three blocks past me. I have failed in my mission. But because it's Grandma's, sometimes friends find you. Two people from my church see me while running. I have time to stick out a hand for Steve to slap and shout "Hi!" to Jeanne.
The half-marathon has wound its way past me, so now it's time to trudge up the hill, order McDonald's breakfast from a kiosk and contemplate what went wrong. I even wore a brightly-colored hat in my friend's favorite color. I look on the bright side. I have coffee now. The bank below the McDonald's used to be sharp rocks and is now grass, so I have a place to sit until the marathoners come by. And there's a puppy, a sleepy six-week-old Newfie. Conditions were perfect for the runners. All my friends finished. It's a great day for Duluth, and thus, the world.
Here come the wheelchair racers, too fast to even get a camera phone shot. By this point on the backside of Lemon Drop, they're cruising as fast as cars go through this intersection.
Then the men's and women's leaders come through. I record them and post to Twitter, both because I'm a reporter and because if I'm working my phone, I don't have time to contemplate how slow and overweight watching elite athletes in person makes me feel. As we get to the runners who are merely "really good," I realize it's time to be a newspaperman again, but I decided to head downtown on foot both out of solidarity and to observe.
Crowds seemed better than last year, at least in some places. Our photos near Lemon Drop Hill seem as bare as 2021, but there were pockets of vocal support, near Sir Benedict's Tavern on the Hill, the corner of Lake Ave., and Superior St., and of course, in Canal Park.
On the way, I was hoping to hear some anecdote or find a story to tell like a pedestrian Charles Kuralt. Near the Duluth Armory, I stopped to identify the Bob Dylan song playing, hoping that I just walked into a lead for my column. It was "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest."
And he just walked along, alone / With his guilt so well concealed / And muttered underneath his breath / “Nothing is revealed”
I suppose Bob Dylan didn't write any songs about marathons, but I think he wrote about writers, even if "My Back Pages" isn't about the sports section.
It was time for us to do our thing, while the runners enjoyed the fruits of their efforts. If you didn't see it on Sunday, we've got 24 pages of stories and results coming in your mailbox on Wednesday.
Until then, I've got about 360 days to train for better spectating next year.
Brandon Veale is sports editor of the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.