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Grandma's Marathon: Entertainment, encouragement line Grandma's route

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Clara Kinney, 2, of Duluth rings her cowbell for the runners near 42nd Avenue East along the marathon course Saturday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Just past the 23 mile marker was the clenched fist of Gunnar Tubbs. Clasped in his hand was a rubber tube connected to a funnel, pinched at the bottom so no Keystone Beer could escape.

"Beer bongs for runners," he called out to the street.

This is Tubb's third year of offering charitable contributions to the runners. He usually goes through a case a year.

"Being in the spirit of Grandma's Marathon means being in the spirit of Duluth," Tubbs said. "We're looking to boost a little morale, put a smile on the runners' faces and give a few lucky participants the opportunity to get an ice cold refreshment."

Even if most runners didn't take him up on his offer, the spirit of Grandma's was in full effect Saturday. Thousands of spectators gathered along the race course, eager to continue the Duluth tradition of distraction, through choreographed dance, motivational posters and even the occasional free beer.

Farther down London Road stood another participant offering another not-so-typical treat.

"I ran marathons in the early 2000s, and they used to hand out licorice," said Zane Bail. "So now I run the half, then I walk back here and hand out Twizzlers. "

Bail has misjudged how many she would need in the past, needing to run up to the Super One Foods to get more. She came prepared this year, bringing 10 bags.

"The fast pacers don't always take them," she said, "but the five- and six-hour people really appreciate it."

It was a different test of endurance for the fans during this year's marathon. Brisk temperatures and blankets of fog didn't make for the perfect cheering weather, even if it did for the runners.

"There's no typical Grandma's weather," said Marlene David, a marathon spectator. "Two years ago, people were collapsing from the heat."

Farther down London Road was a couple holding out a branch of grapes, offering them to any interested takers.

"Our friend is running, and we asked, 'What do you want when you see us?' and she said, 'I need grapes. I absolutely need grapes," Lizzie Easter said.

Her friend agreed.

"Grapes are a great little sugar boost, a little water boost, and it's a great distraction to chew on," Liam Fawcett said. "It's a little cold outside, so they're starting to get that crunchy texture, too."

If the fans weren't offering sustenance for encouragement, they made their presence known with words.

"You're looking awesome, guys!" shouted one spectator. "Keep it up everyone, you look great!" shouted another.

Matching the shouts of motivation was the colorful array of encouraging posters that dotted the landscape as well.

One woman carried a sign reading, "You run better than the government!" Another said, "They're almost out of beer at the finish line!" Even a little girl contributed, holding up a poster that read, "Touch here for power" with a large yellow star stamped beneath the words.

More than one jogger took advantage of the offer. Judging by the smile stretched across their face afterward, it seemed to be working.

Large speakers set up in parking lots played music both live and recorded. A group of men performed AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," while Lady Gaga's "Born this Way" boomed near McDonald's. Even the blessed rains of Africa made their way into runner's ears when Toto started playing.

Not to be outdone by more professionally-recorded music, a man dressed in gray khakis and a white sweatshirt with a small speaker draped around his neck serenaded runners with his own rendition of "America the Beautiful."

Halloween came early this year for the runners as well. One man was dressed like a clown, with a rainbow-colored afro and a cherry-red nose. Cruising along 30 minutes later was a runner in a chef hat and apron, carrying a large metal pot. Others wore large Hawaiian t-shirts.

While everyone was there to offer support to the runners, many were waiting next to the course for someone in particular.

"This is his 83rd marathon," said Mark Babcock, talking about his brother Mikey. "He would say it's upwards of 60, but my guess is it's his 83rd. He has placed 67th twice in this race. Forty guys do this for a living, so as a ranked amateur, that's awesome."

For Mark, who has run 21 marathons himself, cheering on his brother is a necessity. They come from a family of marathon runners.

"It's really a family affair, is what it is," he said.

Marlene David was there to cheer on a friend and former student of hers. Royce Durhman had his eyes glued to the course hoping to get a glimpse of his sister.

"My sister's been training for a whole year," he said. "She almost qualified for the Boston last time, so I wouldn't miss this for the world."