Last weekend, thousands of well-meaning tourists convened on the North Shore to watch throngs of humble Minnesotans get absolutely dismantled by our brothers and sisters from Kenya. It’s called Grandma’s Marathon, and it happens every year.
Dependable as December snowflakes on the shore. Obvious as clear ice on the waterfront. The Kenyan runners came and beat us and beat us thoroughly.
You could set your watch to defeat in Minnesota and it’d always be on time.
This is emblematic of who we are as people and our pathetic (if scrappy!) identity as a state. It’s just who we are for better or worse. Of course we do this to ourselves. We’re Minnesotans. It’s a reality of our humanity that today we will not explore!
Instead: What’s the deal with Grandma’s? Why do we do this to ourselves? What do the real people of Duluth think about this ignoble tradition? Also, what does God look like? And seriously WTF are we really running from?
As Bob Dylan might croak, “How Does It Feel?”
Maybe we’ll learn something. Who knows? Here’s a strange piece of journalism told by the real people who survived Grandma’s. May God have mercy on City Pages.
Matt, 19, Duluth
City Pages: Tell me the truth. What’s the worst part of the marathon?
Matt: All the people it brings. Canal [Street] gets shut down for the weekend. The city gets shut down for the weekend.
CP: Would you run a marathon for your grandma?
Matt: No. I couldn’t run a marathon to save my life. For my grandma I would try.
CP: Why is this a thing?
Matt: Someone realized they could make money off of distance running. They capitalized on it like any good businessperson would.
CP: What are your thoughts on race?
Matt: I think it’s cool. I was the kind of kid that always got last in elementary school. Good job to the people that get first place but I’m not one of them.
Bubba, 50, Duluth
CP: What’s the toughest part of Grandma’s weekend?
Bubba: Having to work through the weekend and fighting the crowds. I can just imagine it’s going to be terrible out here.
CP: Do you think this is all a conspiracy by “Big Grandma?”
Bubba: Grandma’s got to have her day, you know? Minnesota and all.
CP: Why do you think these people do this to themselves?
Bubba: I have no idea. That’s been a question in my mind for so long. Sure, they might look good when they die; I don’t know. I just think it’s crazy. They brutally train for this. I just don’t get it at all.
Eric, 27, Duluth
CP: Why do you do this to yourself? It doesn’t make sense.
Eric: Ha! Signing up for the race gives me motivation to train. I’m always ready to run.
CP: What is it that you’re really running from?
Eric: I’ve had that question yelled at me by people driving by me in their cars. More than once. I wonder what motivates someone driving to ask me what I’m running from, you know? I don’t think I’m running from anything.
CP: You nailed this interview.
Clara, 7, Duluth
CP: What’s been your favorite part of this weekend so far?
Clara: Going on vacation.
CP: Your mom tells me you’re racing at the “Whippersnapper” level this weekend. Are you excited to run?
Clara: I’m going to be a ninja when I grow up.
CP: That’s adorable. What’s the worst part of Grandma’s weekend?
Clara: The worst part is I mostly don’t win.
Joseph, 19, Duluth
CP: What’s so bad about Grandma’s Marathon?
Joseph: Oh, the traffic for sure. The streets are always clogged. It’s just hard to get wherever you’re going to.
CP: What do you suppose all those people are running from?
Joseph: If they’re really running from anything, they’re running from the truth.
CP: Can you tell me why this a thing?
Joseph: I have no idea and I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m guessing it had something to do with a grandma at some point and then they made it a tradition to run around the city and see who wins, I suppose. I don’t know. Hey, I’ve got a Soundcloud. I’m a producer.
CP: Cool dude. I’ll totally link to it in my article.
David Bazan, 41, Seattle
CP: Would you run 26 miles for your Grandma?
David: I would attempt to run 26 miles. I tend to walk four miles a day, but I haven’t run in quite some time.
CP: But if your grandma’s life depended in on it you might?
David: Oh shit yeah, but I really hope it doesn’t come to that.
Anne, 15, Duluth
CP: What is it about this weekend that you detest so much?
Anne: It’s busy and there’re tourists everywhere.
CP: The tourists are pretty bad, huh?
Anne: I don’t really care about them, I don’t know.
CP: Is there anything you find particularly fun about the weekend?
CP: Would you run 26 miles for your grandma?
June, 47 and Jason 44, Duluth PD
CP: Tell me about your experience at Grandma’s Marathon.
June: Well, I ran the whole marathon three or four times, I can’t remember. And I’ve run the half marathon probably three times, too.
CP: Can you tell me why you do that to yourself?
June: I love exercising.
CP: What about you, Jason? You ever run the marathon?
Jason: No, I just watch it.
CP: What’s the best part of your weekend?
Jason: The best part of my weekend? The end of it. No. I do think watching the racers is inspirational.
CP: What’s the worst part of the weekend?
June: I don’t really think that it’s bad. I enjoy our city. I enjoy all the people who come to our city during this time and it’s a great marathon to run. I’m sorry, I don’t have anything negative to say about it. It’s a great weekend.
CP: Are you in the pocket of “Big Grandma?”
June: No. No, I’m not.
Jason: It does bother me sometimes being from Duluth; some people come here and act like it’s their playground. But usually it’s a pretty calm weekend.
Sam, 28, Minneapolis
CP: What’s the hardest part of surviving grandma’s marathon?
Sam: Getting up Saturday morning for the race.
CP: Are you running?
Sam: No, I mean getting up to watch the race after going out the night before. Just want to make sure we don’t miss our friends running it.
CP: Would you run a race for your grandma?
Sam: Yeah, I would for sure. Grandma Arlene. I’d run for you.
CP: And what do you suppose all those people are running from?
Sam: Girls. Girls of the past. Exes. Responsibilities.
CP: What are your thoughts on race?
Sam: I love it. Very entertaining. Oh wait, I thought you were saying the race.
CP: Bad joke. Why would anyone do this to themselves?
Sam: That’s a great question. I’ve heard many people who’ve run it say they’ll never do it again and that’s really all I need to hear.
CP: When did you become such a vehement race-ist?
Sam: Like, 2012.
Carol, 73, Vancouver, WA
CP: Tell me something good about the weekend.
Carol: The Lakewalk. Look.
CP: What’s going to be the worst part of the weekend?
Carol: When we have to leave Saturday afternoon.
CP: I’m sorry if this is presumptive, but are you somebody’s grandma?
Carol: Yes. I have grandchildren.
CP: Would your grandchildren run 26 miles for you?
Carol: Oh, I don’t know. They’re only seven and five. That could be kind of long.
Andy, 45, Duluth
CP: What’s the worst part of the marathon weekend?
Andy: Not being able to get into some of the bars I like to go to.
CP: What are all those people really running from?
Andy: I think they might be trying to take their minds off of politics.
CP: Okay. Why is this a thing?
Andy: I think the Grandma’s empire has done a nice job promoting the event. It’s a nice ritual.
CP: So you don’t think all this fuss is in any way a conspiracy orchestrated by Grandma?
Andy: Yeah, I’d rather not go there.
Liz, 29, Chicago
CP: What do you think about the race?
Liz: It’s so exciting. There are so many people here. I brought the dog. The weather turned out really great. But it’s awesome. All the runners looked really great and strong out there. I’m here supporting my boyfriend. He ran.
CP: You’ll probably make the cut for this article on account of the cute pup. How do you take a little lump of a goob like this and turn it into such a good boy?
Liz: Patience and alcohol.
CP: How did she get so cute?
Liz: Good parents. Meaning me and my boyfriend. She is pretty cute.
Kaari, 29, Chanhassen
CP: Why are you doing this?
Kaari: I wanted to run a half-marathon and I grew up in Duluth. It seemed like an obvious choice. I like having a challenge and a deadline. This is a good way to force that.
CP: How do you respond to allegations that Grandma is ruining Duluth?
Kaari: What, like, the people? I don’t know. I love my grandma. Are you talking about the restaurant? They have great onion rings.
Aaron, 23, Blackduck, MN
CP: Why did you run the race?
Aaron: My grandma actually passed away a year and a half ago. That was my main motive for the race.
CP: So you’re literally running Grandma’s marathon…
Aaron: For my grandma, yeah.
CP: How do you feel now?
Aaron: Really tired but I’m happy. I made it through my first marathon.
Amy, 25, Duluth and Corey, 26, Duluth
CP: Why are the tourists so insufferable?
Amy: It’s a little hard to get around today but they’re not so bad.
Corey: Depends on how you look at. It’s a big event in Duluth; I think people look forward to it.
Amy: Have you ever done anything like that before?
CP: No. What do you think God looks like?
Amy: Hmm… God looks like…
Corey: The scenery here.
Amy: Yeah, I think this is God right here.
Corey: It’s beautiful.
Kelly, 33, Apple Valley
CP: How does an experience like this help you deal with pain?
Kelly: You push your body. You learn your pain tolerance level. You learn your limits, and you learn to respect those limits.
CP: What are you going to remember about this?
Kelly: The beautiful views. It was just gorgeous.
Emery, 34, Duluth
CP: What’s dumb about working this weekend?
Emery: The tons and tons of people that don’t live here wandering around. Tourists congesting Canal Park even more than usual. That’s pretty much it. From a local's perspective, anyway. There’s just way too many people. But it’s good, too. It’s certainly good for business. We make lots of money, obviously.
CP: Do you sell more liquor when Grandma comes around?
Emery: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s 10:30 and we’ve sold more liquor than we usually would have by noon.
CP: What is it about running that makes people want to get shit-housed?
Emery: Mental recovery maybe? I don’t know.
CP: Would you run 26 miles for your grandma?
Emery: No. No I would not.
David, 54, Duluth
CP: Is this the King of marathons?
David: No, but the reputation has been very good. It’s a great event that shows the beauty of northern Minnesota.
CP: How would Elvis do in a marathon?
David: I’m an Elvis buff.
David: Elvis would do good. He’d say, “Thank you very much.”
CP: Hail Satan.
Aaron, 31, Champagne, IL (Wheelchair Division Champion)
CP: How’s your day been?
Aaron: I won the men’s division for wheelchair.
CP: You won?
CP: How did you prepare?
Aaron: To prepare? Stick to a routine. Stay hydrated. Keep everything normal and try to run a smart race.
CP: How did you get involved?
Aaron: I was injured when I was 13. I started with a club team in Virginia and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve actually been training with the University of Illinois for like, 10 years.
CP: How does a person get so fast?
Aaron: Training with other fast people. Find the fast guys, train with them.
Ellen, 36, Kenya (First Place Women’s, Third Place Overall)
CP: How did you feel when you saw the finish line?
Ellen: Oh, I was tired.
CP: Why did you do this today?
Ellen: I like to run. I want to win. Simple.
CP: Why do you run?
Ellen: It’s my talent. I like it. It’s what I’ve done since third grade. I run.
Geoffrey, 29, Kenya (Second Place Overall)
CP: How did you do? Was this your best race?
Geoffrey: I finished in 02:13, I think. This was my first real marathon.
CP: No shit? I’d say you did pretty well. You think you’re going to keep this up?
CP: Tell me what you’re really running from.
Geoffrey: Pain? Is that what you mean? This is our job. It’s my job to run. It’s been my job 14 years. You have a job. I have a job. I run.
CP: I do a different kind of running I suppose. Are you going to win this race next year?
Elisha, 28, Santa Fe and Kenya (First Place Overall)
CP: How did you win the race? What’s the secret?
Elisha: I run one race. I’m fast.
CP: Why do you run?
Elisha: Because running is my business. It’s my occupation.
CP: Why did you start running?
Elisha: When I was young I started running in school.
CP: We’re you always good at this?
Elisha: Yes, I was always good.
CP: What are you running from?
Elisha: From? I’m running from Kenya.
CP: Thank you and congratulations.