Grandma’s Marathon: A World-Class Event With Small-Town Charm And Fast Times

By Kyle Merber

June 22, 2022

Why does Minnesota punch so much above its weight class when it comes to churning out great distance runners? Is it the cross-country skiing to cross-country running pipeline? The terrible, character-building winters? The fact that people there just seem to celebrate it?

If it’s the latter, then Grandma’s Marathon is a terrific case study. It’s a Duluth institution that forces runners from all parts of the country to grapple with the fact that they’re not exactly positive where Lake Superior is on the map. Advertising itself as a world-class event with small-town charm, it’s the perfect opportunity to run fast in a well-organized race where you don’t have to qualify or enter a lottery to get in.

Grandma’s is named for a local restaurant that ponied up $600 in 1977 to sponsor the event and has now captured the title in perpetuity. Good investment!

For a race with just 6,000 finishers and a budget a fraction of the majors, it’s pretty damn good at attracting elites. That’s partially because the schedule is bare of much domestic competition during June. If you want to get two marathons in during the year, it’s a great alternative to schedule opposite a fall major. But it doesn’t hurt that it’s a relatively flat and legal point-to-point that can occasionally get a favorable wind. Every few years the Midwest does that thing where it becomes the hottest place on Earth, but that wasn’t the case this year.

The men’s race was won once again by the 2014 champion and course record holder, Dominic Ondoro of Kenya. I once suggested that a good career path for a marathoner would be to collect all the non-majors from decent-sized cities. That’s more or less what Ondoro has done — he has won eight different smaller/local marathons like Helsinki, Melbourne, and Houston. Despite having lined up for 27 marathons and owning a personal best of 2:08:00, he has never once even run a major.

On the women’s side, the story is all about Dakotah Lindwurm. The Minnesota-native won this race in 2021 in 2:29:04, but returned this weekend to repeat as champion and subtract four minutes off her time from a year ago to run 2:25:01. If you were tuning in to the local radio station that oscillated between race coverage, general sports talk, and the occasional country hit, you definitely heard plenty of people with very lovely Minnesota accents expressing their excitement over the hometown kid repeating as champ.

When the new Olympic Trials Marathon standards were released, I made the prediction that 200 men and 200 women would run under the new 2:18/2:37 barriers. Just over six months into the open qualifying window and there are 47 men and 43 women. Feeling pretty good about that still…

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.