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Marathon - and a marriage proposal: Grandma's runner gets a surprise at the halfway mark

Ethan Mackey goes down on one knee to propose to Ellen Heine just past the halfway point of Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday. Heine said yes — and the Maple Grove, Minn., resident finished the marathon in 4 hours, 7 minutes, 42 seconds. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Tracey Gibbens, director of the Proctor Community Band, dips low during a quiet passage of "Charter Oak." The band performed on Superior Street near the Holiday Center in downtown Duluth for Grandma's Marathon on Saturday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 3
Belly dancers perform for Grandma's Marathon runners on Superior Street in downtown Duluth on Saturday afternoon. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 3

Running Grandma's Marathon is Ellen Heine's favorite thing to do, and her boyfriend, Ethan Mackey, decided to add a special moment to the weekend this year.

Mackey waited for Heine at about the halfway mark of the marathon course, and as she neared, he got down on one knee with an engagement ring box. She, however, almost ran by him without noticing.

"We gathered a big group of her close friends, and we ended up needing all of those close friends because the most difficult thing was getting her to stop long enough to propose to her. At first, she didn't know what was going on even though we had eight signs held up for her. She didn't see a single sign — just overwhelmed by the spectacle," said Mackey, of Maple Grove, Minn.

Heine said after the race that she "was totally confused" and didn't understand at first.

"I'm running a marathon. What are they doing?" she said.

When she did stop, she said yes to Mackey's proposal, receiving congratulations from passing runners.

After she said yes, Heine took off to finish her race. She said that afterward, she realized she probably didn't need to take off so quickly. She ran slower and slower during the second half of the race as the proposal sank in, she said.

"It was really amazing. It was a beautiful day for a race, and I was having a great morning, and that made it more great, for sure," Heine said.

Mackey said he couldn't feel happier. He said he had been thinking about proposing for a while now, and organizing it with her friends worked out.

"We all made a pact that we would act 'business as usual' and so nobody gave up the secret and she was surprised, to say the least," he said.

Wyatt Andersen shows his support for sister-in-law Colleen Gadel during Grandma’s Marathon. Steve Kuchera / DNT

A few miles from the finish line on Superior Street, Amy Prielipp's sign about running toward cupcakes and bacon caught the attention of a few Grandma's Marathon runners as they passed by her on Superior Street.

"You want bacon! Bacon and cupcakes for you!" she cheered to the runners, prompting a man to stop running to see if she had bacon. A woman eyed Prielipp's sign as she ran by and yelled, "You're speaking my language."

Prielipp had decided at the last minute to drive to Duluth from St. Louis, Mo., to cheer on four of her hockey teammates running Grandma's Marathon. It was the first marathon for three of them and it was her first time as a spectator at a marathon, she said.

"It's so inspirational. I've never run a marathon, and I've been watching them train for the last four months. On Facebook, they post things and I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, I just want to go and see it all turn out,'" she said.

Grandma's Marathon was Prielipp's first experience visiting Duluth, and she said she enjoyed the excitement of the race. She watched the race at mile 12 before moving to downtown Duluth to see the end. She said it was "amazing" to watch runners at every level taking on the challenge, especially runners "that could be you," she said.

"It's beautiful here. This morning, I saw the sunrise over Lake Superior. Talk about an inspirational weekend," she said.

At Superior Street and Lake Avenue, groups of people cheered as a friend or family member ran by, and the entire crowd got louder when a runner motioned for the crowd to make some noise. Audra Donnelly of Madison was waiting with her two children for her husband, Michael Donnelly, to run by, a sign saying "Super Dad" hanging from her stroller. Although this was his ninth marathon — most of them in the Midwest — Saturday was his first Grandma's Marathon. He was excited about the race, she said, adding, "We've heard a lot about it."

She and the kids had stayed in one spot to watch the race and, following him in the race using Grandma's Marathon tracker, she was expecting him to run by soon. Their kids were excited to see him in the race, she said.

"We're just having fun watching the race," she said.