Grandma's Marathon notebook: Crowds return to cheer on runners along North Shore to Canal Park

A reduced field in 2021 due to COVID-19 led to fewer spectators along the course. Sold out races in 2022 brought people back to cheer on the runners and racers.

Near the midpoint of Grandma's Marathon.
Jaylen, Caden, Renn, and Lee Lipka offer hand slaps to Grandma’s Marathon runners near the race’s mid-point Saturday, June 18, 2022. Jaylen and Renn are brothers and cousins to Caden and Lee.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Last year, race capacity on Grandma's Marathon Saturday was capped at 50% due to COVID-19 and there were noticeably fewer spectators along the course in 2021, too.

But this year, full capacity returned and registration sold out. And with more runners came more spectators.

Rosie Edwards, the women’s Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon champion from the United Kingdom, said the crowd’s cheering was energetic — even before 7 a.m.

“The crowds were insane,” Edwards said. “It was such a positive environment.”

Race crowds and even the volunteers are important to the runners, according to four-time champion Elisha Barno.


“When they have the crowd, we feel like we get energy,” Barno said. “I see the kids, they are giving us water and they are caring for the athletes because they are giving us water. They motivate you even when you want to stop…They tell us ‘Keep moving, keep moving.’”

Emily Francis (5635) gives a high five to Nate Saul, of Minneapolis, as she gets to the top of Lemon Drop Hill
Emily Francis (5635) gives a high five to Nate Saul, of Minneapolis, as she gets to the top of Lemon Drop Hill during Grandma’s Marathon. “You are doing all of the miles,” Saul screams to the runners.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

North Shore makes half marathon winner feel ‘quite at home’

Edwards was born in Manchester, England, and spent time in Wales growing up.

Now she trains in Arizona, but the race course along Scenic Highway 61 reminded her of the Lake and Peak districts in England. The Lake District is a popular vacation destination that includes Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England, and the Peak District is a mountainous area mostly in Derbyshire.

“There’s this huge lake, Lake Windemere — it’s nowhere near as big as Lake Superior — but there’s a lot of water there and we were always surrounded by that as kids,” Edwards said. “Then the actual area of the Peak District is very hilly and green, which reminded me of just driving through with the rolling grass and the trees. I just felt quite at home here, I think especially after being in Arizona which is so dry.”

Volunteer Derek Grafmyre, of Duluth, hands out bananas to runners along London Road
Volunteer Derek Grafmyre, of Duluth, hands out bananas to runners along London Road in Duluth during Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

No food, no problem

Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon champion Daniel Kemoi didn't eat breakfast before his race. He just drank some water before toeing the start line at 6 a.m.

And during the race, he didn't take any energy gel or drinks, either. That isn't unusual for the 35-year old from Kenya. He'll only grab water if it is really hot, which Saturday, with temperatures in the 50s through the morning, was not.


Asked if he usually runs on an empty stomach, Kemoi said, "I eat dinner at night."

Minnesota Nice

Grandma’s Marathon has a reputation among runners for being a course where you can put down a fast time. The course is mostly flat and the weather is often ideal, as was the case Saturday.

“My goal was to come to a course where I could run a fast time in the spring, and I got what I wanted today,” said Grandma’s Marathon women’s runner-up Sarah Sellers, who bettered her personal record by more than six minutes with a 2:25:43.

But there is something more, something special that often keeps them coming back. None of this was lost on Sellers, of Ogden, Utah, who was also runner-up at Boston in 2018.

Sellers said Grandma’s was on her “bucket list,” implying a one and done, but now she’s not so sure. Her brother, Ryan Callister, also ran the marathon, finishing with a PR in 2:33:39.

“I hope to come back because it’s the best experience,” she said. “I’m actually staying at the condo of one of the race volunteers (St. Scholastica professor Neil Witikko), and he’s been the most welcoming person I’ve ever been around. It sounds cliche, but I think Minnesotans are just the nicest people.”

There’s no place like home

Grandma’s Marathon women’s champion Dakotah Lindwurm of Eagan, Minnesota, joked that Duluth is her adopted home. It’s no wonder. She has won the event the past two years after finishing fourth in 2019.


“I’m going to keep coming, as long as they’ll have me,” she said. “This race is like none other. Boston is great. New York, Chicago, those are great races, but if you want just the most hometown type of race, so much fun from start to finish, you got to come to Duluth.”

At the midpoint of Grandma’s Marathon.
Grandma’s Marathon runners pass spectators, and Lake Superior, near the race’s midpoint on Saturday, June 18, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Cooler by the lake

While there have been hot years, Grandma’s Marathon generally has been lucky when it comes to getting good “running weather,” some might even call it blessed. It’s uncanny.

Longtime Grandma’s Marathon scribe Kevin Pates said of all the years, this year the race may have been the most fortunate.

Duluth had back-to-back 80-degree days leading up to Saturday, then just like that, the wind came off the lake and cooled everything down. The rest of the 10-day forecast calls for highs well into the 70s, possibly even hitting 90 Monday, but not on race day. Not this time.

Temperatures Saturday morning stayed in the 50s, which kept runners cool.

Several elite runners used the word “perfect” to describe the weather.

Later in the morning, a breeze off the lake and on the runners’ backs helped push them down Highway 61 and through Duluth.


Grandma's Marathon runner-up Sammy Rotich broke a 14-year-old personal record with his finish in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 7 seconds and was happy with the North Shore weather.

“It was a good day, it went according to my training plan,” Rotich said. “I had trained to run a 2:12 and I was happy because the weather was in our favor. I did good, I’m happy with the second-place.”

Grandma's medical director Ben Nelson said it was "a great day for a marathon," with only 154 runners from the two races combined dropping out.

Nelson said, on average, a little more than 200 runners drop out and the number has been more than 600 on especially hot and humid marathon days.

While it made for great weather to run in the morning, it might be a little cold for those enjoying the music and drinks at Bayfront Festival Park well into the evening.

Vasichek completes post-transplant marathon

Just over seven years after receiving a liver transplant because of a rare disease and 13 years after completing her last Grandma’s Marathon, St. Scholastica women’s hockey coach Julianne “Montana” Vasichek finished in 4:31:37.

Since her diagnosis with a rare liver disease, St. Scholastica women's hockey coach and former Minnesota Duluth All-American Julianne "Montana" Vasichek has become an advocate for those with the disease and organ donation.

Friedrich finishes for Girls on the Run

Katrina Friedrich was one of 175 runners participating in the Grandma’s Marathon weekend who was also raising money for a charity. Friedrich and her husband, Chris Saladin, both ran the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon to raise money for Girls on the Run Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that uses running to empower young girls in elementary and middle school. Friedrich finished in 2:25:19 and Saladin finished in 1:27:07. They raised a combined $1,000 for Girls on the Run, where Friedrich is a coach.


Around 175 runners are taking part in the 46th Grandma's Marathon weekend to not only race, but raise money for charity organizations. Katrina Friedrich is running this year to raise funds for Girls on the Run Minnesota, where she is a coach.

Adams makes good on run for Ruff Start

Angie Adams of Two Harbors started fostering Dax — a rescue border collie mix — when he had a broken leg. Her family feared it may need to be amputated. Four years later, Dax still has all four legs and Adams has a running buddy. Adams fostered and adopted Dax through Ruff Start Rescue, based in the Princeton, Minnesota. Adams ran the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon as a charity runner on Saturday. She finished in 2:03:17 and raised $749.62 for the organization, which she continues to work with fostering dogs.

Angie Adams of North Shore Mental Health Services is one of the charity runners taking part in Grandma's Marathon weekend. She'll be running the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon to raise funds for Ruff Start Rescue, an organization she fosters dogs for. It's also where she has adopted two of her three dogs.

Raskin hits goal for mom

Aaron Raskin was inspired to run a marathon after finding a poster and learning his mother, Susan, had run Grandma’s in 1988. His mother died by suicide when Raskin was 6 years old and he ran Grandma’s Marathon last year with a time of 4:13:38 while raising more than $3,000 for Suicide Awareness and Voices of Education (SAVE).

Minneapolis runner raises money for suicide prevention and education as part of the nonprofit SAVE.

This year, Raskin planned to run the half-marathon with a goal of finishing in 1:35. He raised more than $2,000 prior to this year’s race and finished with a time of 1:34:32.

Iron Two endure

John Naslund and Jim Nowak are now 46-for-46 at completing every single Grandma’s Marathon ever run along the North Shore. Of the over 225,000 people who have ran Grandma’s Marathon since it first started in 1977, they’re the only two who can say they’ve finished every single race.

Naslund, 72, of Bloomington, Minnesota, finished in 4:17:18 while Nowak, 71, of Cornell, Wisconsin, crossed the finish line in 6:18:30 on Saturday.

Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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