Floridians spend Summer Solstice 2003 at Grandma’s Marathon – Duluth, Minnesota


By Jay Silvanima


Marathon Running demands lots of hard work including several varieties of hellish training, learning how to consume things one would be more inclined to flush down the toilet, discovering how to be stubborn enough to train through certain injuries, and smart enough to know when to give it a rest. Enough can’t be said concerning the planning required for a marathon. So, it makes sense to be finicky in choosing which marathon to run.

To this end, Reid Vannoy, Larry Kirch, and myself chose the 2003 Grandma’s Marathon as a goal marathon for 2003. There were several facts that lead us to this foundry of marathoning excellence. The Course is a point to point from the town of Two Harbors to Duluth, Minnesota following the scenic shores of Lake Superior. It is regarded as a ‘fast’ course with a somewhat challenging final 4 miles or so. The reasons given for this are a predictably cool climate in June, a slight elevation loss of perhaps 130 feet, and a rather straight, rolling path.

This year the race happened to fall on the day of the summer solstice. This day, the longest of the year, is generally reserved for exemplar festivities, and extraordinary feats of partying. I checked the Gregorian Calendar and it appears that it’s going to be another 129 years until the summer solstice falls on the third Saturday in June, coinciding with Grandma’s marathon. However, the deciding factor, for at least one of us, was the fact that this year the Women’s Half Marathon National Championship was being held there. And this meant that lots of nubile women would be in town for the party that would follow that Saturday Night.

With this information running around our brains we each applied for the race which is limited to the first 9 or 10 thousand entrants. Applications may only be submitted by US mail, no faxes, or emailed applications. Prior to the postmarked date on which applications would be accepted, a room was reserved near the finish line. This so that walking (and driving!) would be unnecessary. Fortunately we all had our applications accepted. Yippee, we were going to Grandma’s.

All did not go well with our training. One of us developed some form of foot affliction which is still referred to as either a ‘stress fracture,’ ‘plantar fasciatus,’ ‘some mutated form of athlete’s foot fungus,’ or ‘monkey pox transmitted by a Black-tailed Prairie Dog residing near the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota.’ Another of us just didn’t quite find the time to train for the marathon. And finally another one of us nearly had to resign his current position in State Government just so that he could have enough time to train for this ‘Longest Party’. However, this did not deter us. We were going to Grandma’s come hell or high water!

The Floridians met with Larry of LaCrosse, Wisconsin at the hotel near the Mall of America in Minneapolis. The Floridians were rather distraught to discover that Black-tailed Prairie Dogs live on the running trails near this hotel, and furthermore are fearless, and confront runners with a menacing grin, full of 4 large incisors. All this, after one of us jokingly stated that he could grab one, and proceeded to dart up to a colony of half a dozen or so individuals.

Exit Hotel, enter Larry’s Truck for the drive to Duluth on Friday, June 20th. We will not belabor you with the details but let it be known that Larry’s truck did not make it to Duluth. For that matter neither did the first rent-a-car (which we decided either had 4 square wheels, or two bad CV joints). Once in the third vehicle things were starting to look up, that is, until we hit the worst traffic jam any of us has ever experienced. The only good thing about the traffic delay was that we listen to vintage Beatles, Who, & Johnny Lee Hooker CDs which definitely got us in the partying mood. Fortunately, we got an upgrade of sorts for our troubles with the first rent-a-car, and, for the remainder of the drive, we had easy access to the cooler in the trunk through the reclining rear seats. We justified this act by noting that we moved a grand total of 4 miles in 30 minutes and thus were essentially stationary.

Eight and half-hours later, entering Duluth. The three of us check-in to the Inn by-the Lake, and jog to the expo to pick up our race packets. We do the customary expo shopping binge, then each of us load up on two plates full of pasta, bread, and salad. Fortunately for us, by the time we were done with the shopping binge, most of the hoard had consumed their dinners, so we had no wait, and all of the food we wanted.

Back to the hotel where we go through the pre-race ritual (shamanism?) of pinning race numbers to singlets, stashing GU, Ibuprofen, and various other pharmaceuticals into our shorts, mixing Endurox R-4, and experimenting with the new tastes and effects of Ultima Replenisher (since this is the replacement fluid being offered tomorrow). We decide the Gods owe us a good day tomorrow, after the one we had just been through, and make it to bed by 11 PM, and sleep fitfully.

Come 4:45 AM, and what’s this, it’s daylight shining through the blinds on our faces! Goodness we really are in the far north. Attired to race, we dash down stairs to gobble up one last meal of carbos and jog to the bus stop two blocks away. Once on the bus we all marvel that we only paid 50 bucks for this scenic bus tour of the shores of Lake Superior. And within minutes we are at the staging area near the start of the race. Once out of the bus we notice the line of Port-o-lets, and then the tree line full of runners emptying their bladders. Interesting enough, it is a coed scene, not the guy only thing you see at most marathons. Cool! These women have grit!

We mingle with a running club from LaCrosse, Wisconsin and in no time we are migrating toward the start of the race. Unfortunately, we start this migration late and get no where near the designated paces we believe we will run. Two of us end up starting with the 3:45 pace group, and the other is nowhere in sight behind us (he later confides he barely made it to the 5 hour pace group before the blow horn belched out the starting signal). Thank goodness for Championship Chips!

The marathon itself was almost anti-climatic in comparison to Friday’s vehicular hell. I suppose all three of us decided that our bodies were better machines that any stinking Ford or Mitsubishi (these of course where the makers of the vehicles which failed us!). The weather cooperated for the Floridians, with a start temperature of around 55 degrees F with high humidity, and a slight tailwind. Unfortunately the tail wind made it feel like you were running in a vacuum until the winds shifted and started to blow across Lake Superior. This was a welcome change somewhere around the halfway point, in that it was a cool, light to moderate, crosswind. We did see some interesting things during the marathon. There was a commode on the street at around mile 11 with a stuffed sturgeon in it with a sign attached reading ‘Pee on Me’. There was the Bare Foot Guy running at 3 hour pace who bailed out at the half. There were the pace team leaders running with a stick in each hand, one with three balloons, the other with a pace time flag.

The hills the locals talked about didn’t seem to materialize. There was something like a slight to moderate grade at mile 22.5 called Lemon Drop hill, which may have been a half of mile long. Then there were the bridge crossings to get to the Canal Street area, which, occurring on the last mile of the course, did take the wind out of some runners. However, there were so many screaming rabid fans along the last five miles of the course, one hardly seemed to notice any elevation changes. We should mention that there is one item which all the marathoners should avoid seeing, yet can not. It is the Lift Bridge near the finish line, which is easily seen from the halfway point. Once it is spotted we recommend turning the bill of your visor or hat so that it quickly becomes invisible. For those of you who have run the 30K in the Wildlife Refuge and stared at the lighthouse for 6-8 miles, you can appreciate this.

Race completed and the three of us meet up at our designated monument. Jay reported a PR (2:59:09) and post-marathon depression, Reid a good time and the commitment to see a podiatrist, and Larry survival and the directions to some of the best micro brew the Floridians have ever drank. We then proceeded to enjoy the festivities of the Summer Solstice Party! And the author must report that waking at 5:00 AM the following day to return to the Twin Cities was brutal.