I was first introduced to the spectator sport of watching marathons in 1999, when I traveled to Illinois to cheer on my college friend Jen as she ran in the Chicago Marathon.
What a rush it was—watching the runners go by, a stampede of pounding feet and sweaty determination. Some ran effortlessly; others needed every ounce of encouragement they could get.
It became my mission to find the runners with their names on their shirts, the runners who seemed to be struggling to keep going, and cheer loudly for them. Sometimes the runners would look up and smile when they heard their names, a welcome break from the inner monologue that was probably going something like “Ow, ow, ow” or “I have how many miles left?!” or “I could really go for a beer right about now.”
I just have so much respect for the training, the focus, the mental and physical battles people overcome in order to earn the title of “marathoner.” It is so inspirational to me.
And while I may have watched my first marathon in Illinois; it was Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth that stole my heart.
I have traveled to Duluth solely to be a spectator at Grandma’s Marathon on three separate occasions, first staying in the UMD dorms, then at a hotel, and then with friends in a nearby city—cheering for my friend Lisa and my husband Aaron. Every time was memorable, in only the best way possible.
The city of Duluth really knows how to roll out the red carpet for runners and spectators alike. What a beautiful city and what a well-organized race. It’s such a pretty course—with sections of the run right along Lake Superior—held annually in June, when the temps are (usually) just about perfect. Thousands of runners participate, thousands of volunteers step up to help out, and thousands of people cheer from the sidelines. I like to watch at miles 16 and 24, when the crowd really gains fervor. It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement.
Watching a marathon never gets old to me (I’ve also been a spectator a little closer to home, at the Twin Cities Marathon—another beautiful course—held annually in October).
Every time I watch a marathon, I’m in awe of those draped in the goofy-looking shiny thermal blankets after they leap (or stumble) across the finish line, and those wearing their official race medals. I think: “Feel proud! You just ran 26.2 miles. That is a phenomenal accomplishment.”
This year, Grandma’s Marathon is on Saturday, June 16. Consider taking a road trip to Duluth to become part of the magic. I might even be there, holding a sign that says “Hello complete stranger! On this day, you are my hero.”