Grandma's Marathon entries back up

Minnesota's oldest marathon will celebrate a milestone with a numbers increase June 18. The 35th Grandma's Marathon will have about 8,300 registered runners, up by more than 900 from 2010, stopping a two-year entries drop. The accompanying 21st G...

Grandma's 2010
The pack moves through the first mile shortly after the start of the 2010 Grandma's Marathon in Two Harbors. (File / News Tribune)

Minnesota's oldest marathon will celebrate a milestone with a numbers increase June 18.

The 35th Grandma's Marathon will have about 8,300 registered runners, up by more than 900 from 2010, stopping a two-year entries drop. The accompanying 21st Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon will have a record field of about 7,300 runners and the 18th William A. Irvin five-kilometer race June 17 will have record field of about 1,800.

Grandma's Marathon sold out for 14 straight years from 1995 through 2008 before being a victim of three straight warm-weather races and America's economic recession. Registration for the 2011 half-marathon and 5K are closed, while marathon entries will be taken through Wednesday.

"We were skyrocketing in 2008, along with the running boom, then got crushed by the economy and snake-bitten by the weather," said Grandma's Marathon executive director Scott Keenan. "People didn't want to spend the money to travel when they could maybe run a race closer to home. And some were telling me they wouldn't be back after three years that were hot; not luke warm, but hot.

"We had good weather last year and, realistically, we'll need another year like that to get some of those runners back. Our best hopes for this year were to have 1,000 to 1,200 more runners in our three races, and we're on target for that."


Northeastern Minnesota hotel rates have also been a point of contention for runners through the years, and Keenan says it is an on-going issue. Of 85 lodging sites in the Duluth-Superior area and along the North Shore, 33 list a full occupancy for the 2011 race weekend, according to the Visit Duluth website.

Grandma's Marathon ranked No. 17 among United States marathons in 2010 based on timed finishers, yet was the second-largest among those held outside of metropolitan areas, trailing only St. George, Utah.

Ryan Lamppa of Running USA reports that the appeal of 26.2-mile races in the U.S. continued upward in 2010 with a record 507,000 finishers in more than 625 marathons. There were just 200 American marathons in 1985 when the first running boom pushed Grandma's Marathon into the national spotlight because of fast times along the North Shore and fast-rising entry numbers.

Five of the world's 10-largest marathons are U.S. based, including New York City (a world-best 44,977 finishers) and Boston, which produced the fastest time in history in April. The Twin Cities Marathon, from Minneapolis to St. Paul, is No. 10 at 8,197 and officials report that the 2011 field limit of 11,200 for the Oct. 2 race is 85 percent filled.

In 2010, a majority of the large-city marathons reported sold-out or record fields. Grandma's Marathon had a record field of 9,888 in 2008 followed by 8,377 entries in 2009 and 7,384 in 2010. The 2011 Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon will have an increase of nearly 500 this year, while the William A. Irvin 5K will have an increase of about 100.

"The big-city marathons have continued to do well, while races from smaller population areas, have taken more of a hit," said Keenan. "I don't think it was anything we did that caused the decline in numbers, it was just a combination of things. We still put on good, high-quality races, we still have the runner as our top priority, but we aren't on the main road, we're a true destination marathon.

"We've made a slight recovery and it's a tremendous sign for us. We're excited. We've always wanted our growth to be manageable and we're still challenging our systems to handle the number of runners."

Registration fees will account for more than $1 million of the $2.04 million budget for the three 2011 Grandma's Marathon-related races. As of Saturday, there were 8,114 entries in the marathon, 7,213 in the half-marathon and 1,765 in the 5K.


The elite fields for the 2011 Grandma's Marathon are larger than normal with athletes seeking qualifying standards for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials on Jan. 14 in Houston. Men must ran 2:19 or faster and women 2:46 or faster, with an A standard of 2:39. Returnees include defending men's champion Philemon Kemboi of Kenya and former champion Christopher Raabe of Washington, D.C., in the men's field, and former three-time winner Mary Akor of Hawthorne, Calif., and former St. Scholastica runner Jen Houck in the women's field.

The 2012 and 2013 USA Half-Marathon Championships for men and women will be held in conjunction with Grandma's Marathon.

Largest U.S. Marathons in 2010
By Number of Timed Finishers
1. New York City 44,977
2. Chicago 36,088
3. Boston 22,672
4. Los Angeles 22,580
5. Washington, D.C. 20,180
6. Honolulu 20,180
7. Orlando 16,923
8. San Diego 10,650
9. Philadelphia 8,956
10. Twin Cities 8,197
11. Portland, Ore. 7,850
12. Houston 6,287
13. San Francisco 5,992
14. Sacramento Calif. 5,887
15. Phoenix 5,741
16. St. George, Utah 5,702
17. Grandma's 5,611
18. Las Vegas 5,180
19. San Francisco 5,091
20. San Antonio, Texas 4,675
Source: Running USA

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