Map of events
Joe’s Diner Logo

Home » Endurance » Running » Marathons » Grandmas 2006

Grandma’s Marathon

After a horrible race at Grandma’s Marathon the prior year and postponing my trip to the Boundary Waters, I felt the call to head back north. On the edge of the prairie I could vindicate myself at that race and complete my canoe expedition. Exploring the Boundary Waters was my main driving force though. In fact, if the race had not been a convenient detour on my trip, redemption would have had to wait.

Also, being a “veteran” marathoner (one successful race), merely rerunning the marathon would be too easy. This race would also be for enjoyment (an odd term if you think about it) and not a PR attempt so I could relax my fixation with the clock. Instead of focusing on my time I would explore the lighter side of endurance sports by wearing a head-to-toe Scooby-Doo outfit during the race. I cannot fathom how I convinced myself to wear this alternative racing suit. The idea planted itself in my head and was continually recycled until it blossomed into this venomous plant, ready to infect the person naive enough to touch it.

Runners walking to the starting line

The mass of humanity debarking the armada of buses at the starting area.

After having already registered for the event, I belatedly considered my choice further (something usually undertaken prior to mailing the check). In view of my ambitious weeklong expedition through canoe country following the event and my planned racing attire, the half marathon would have been a wiser choice. Not to brag or belittle, but I could run a hair over thirteen miles without overly stressing my body. My legs would not be sore or cramped for days afterward, which had accompanied my prior marathon journeys. Not suffering from these ailments would be advantageous as I meandered throughout the Boundary Waters after the race. The shorter distance would also assist my plot to wear a Scooby-Doo suit since the race would be half as long and start an hour earlier, avoiding more of the day’s heat. The organizers forbid switching races though, so I was stuck with the full marathon distance.

I was apprehensive about wearing the outfit. Besides being in the wrong race, by dressing in an idiotic costume I would be throwing down the gauntlet to complete the race without bonking too hard. Sympathy is generally extended to those suffering through a marathon’s last miles, epically battling against one’s own fatigue and desire, but not so much when the participant intentionally increases the difficulty of running 26.2 miles. If I did not reach the finish line, I would justly be chastised for my ludicrous behavior.

I did not want to offend or demoralize the racers around me either. Although they might chuckle, everyone else also invested countless hours and miles preparing for that morning, and I did not want to be a complete jerk to the people I would presumably beat or pass during the race. An idiot in a Scooby-Doo suit making a mockery of his sport should not detract from their accomplishment and celebration.

To Be or Not To Be

The foggy staging area for Grandma’s Marathon

The fog which nudged me to green light my ill begotten plan.

Nevertheless, after an excruciating internal debate, I brought the Scooby-Doo outfit on the bus ride to the starting line. I could always abort and just quietly send it to the finish line with the rest of my extra warm up gear. Even in the staging area near the start though, I continued straddling the fence. I had never even run in the outfit, being too embarrassed for a practice run around my neighborhood. I did not know how the costume would react to running, which definitely violated the “do not try anything new on race day” rule. Despite the misgivings and possessing exclusive knowledge about the scheme, I still did not want to retreat from my disaster prone plot. As race time neared, a thick fog enveloped the area and severely reduced visibility. This omen was the little extra encouragement I needed, since the haze would keep the morning cool and cloudy, although the thermometer still registered in the mid sixties at race time (that is eighteen degrees Celsius). Of course, I forgot that fog has a tendency to lift as morning drifts away.

Even without being able to find a phone booth, I underwent a transformation away from prying eyes. Emerging from behind parked cars, Scooby-Doo headed towards the starting line accompanied by all the other runners. I donned otherwise normal breathable fabric underneath my disguise to try to mitigate the detrimental effects of the impermeable outer layer.

Partaking in a stunt of this caliber was out of character since I shun being the center of attention. I usually prefer to pass anonymously through the background and refrain from creating big waves. That would difficult to avoid dressed up. Although many people offered strange looks and comments as I walked to the starting corral, I still remained pseudo-anonymous. No one at the race knew me, and no one from home knew I was at the race. I would be able to slip in and make a fool of myself without having to deal with any flack afterwards. The Duluth News Tribune interviewed me for a short article covering people attempting the marathon in an unconventional manner which included my name and hometown, but fortunately few people from Iowa subscribe to that newspaper.

The Madness Commences

The time for any doubts or second guesses had passed though as I was packed into a sea of runners waiting for the race to begin. I did not have a time goal and would let my body (and costume) dictate pace throughout the race. I guestimated around four hours though (sorry Steve), which would still be an hour faster than the prior year.

The gun finally sounded, and thousands of people and one dog crossed the starting line heading towards Duluth. I settled into an easy pace during the packed early miles and enjoyed the sheer stupidity of my undertaking. It was easy to talk and joke with the runners around me, and we had a good time. Spectators both cheered and heckled as I trotted past. As expected, the suit soon became very warm and did not breathe. I sarcastically commented that dogs do not sweat so the costume was not made from porous materials.

To compensate for my eccentric behavior and have half a chance of not succumbing to the elements, I hit every water station and drank at least one cup of fluid, usually two. Later in the race when volunteers began dispensing damp sponges, I would stick one under my hat for extra cooling. The improvised system worked as well as could be hoped, and I continued moving forward in blissful arrogance.

Throughout the race it was uplifting to hear people yell “Go Scooby,” especially through thick crowds. Some were not so quick to cheer though, starting blankly at my putrid, self-inflicted predicament. Others just shook their heads in pity. From the runners with which I had a short chance to converse, the typical reactions were:

Q: “Did you lose a bet?”
A: “No, I’m just an idiot.”
Q: “Oh my, aren’t you hot?”
A: “A little.” Although I should have quipped, “You should see what is underneath.”
Q: Some almost witty comment about Scooby snacks.
A: I mumbled something in return about the aid stations not stocking them.

Although in costume I still tried to keep my marathon routine and respect the challenge (at least as much as I could under the conditions). I consumed GUs around 9, 13, 15, and 19 to keep the tanks full in addition to resupplying at the aid stations. I actually felt fine through the first half of the race, despite sweating profusely the entire way. It was extremely muggy inside but somehow bearable. I even managed to pass quite a few people who were probably feeling like I did my first time.

The Marathon Rebels Against Being Mocked

My crazy antics and the marathon’s difficulty finally hit with a vengeance shortly after the course departed from Scenic Highway 61, around mile twenty. My upper thighs cramped, and I slowed noticeably. I did not fully crash into the wall but definitely bumped it. The race became exceedingly more difficult as I entered Duluth, but Scooby-Doo was not about to quit.

The heat of the day also drained my energy. The fog that encouraged me to undertake this unwise endeavor had long since burned away, leaving a sunny sky to bake the runners. I later learned that the weather conditions were a “Black Flag” day, which Grandma’s Marathon describe as:

BLACK FLAG (Extremely High Risk): All runners should slow their pace, drink extra fluids and those with previous heat stress problems or heat stress problems or heat disease should consider not running.

Wearing heavy, non-breathable fabric does not exactly conform to that advice. Apparently many people who dressed intelligently and took sensible precautions dropped from the heat’s power. It was amazing that I did not pass out. I knew from the beginning that the race would be horrendously scorching and uncomfortable though, so perhaps I was just prepared for the torment that assaulted me.

The entire race I eagerly anticipated entering Duluth. Due to the layout of the course, much of Grandma’s Marathon was a little sparse on spectators, and runners turned to each other for encouragement and entertainment. For about the last ten kilometers as the course wound through the city though, the crowds grew considerably. I expected they would provide extra support and carry Scooby-Doo through the finish. The Marathon decided I would have no such assistance or pleasure though, claiming its revenge for being mocked. My energy stores dwindled to near zero, drained by the heat and distance, resulting in tunnel vision focused solely on reaching the finish line. I struggled through those last miles, not enjoying myself much. The crowds could not lift this disheartened dog. I continued running almost the entire way though, looking like death the whole time.

Scooby-Doo Finishes a Marathon

Scooby-Doo after finishing Grandma’s Marathon

A triumphant (and stupid) marathon finisher.

Eventually though, I completed the circuit through Duluth and made the finial turn to the finish in Canal Park. I actually savored the moment and enjoyed the finish, which was a new experience. (The prior year I was preoccupied with keeping the contents of my stomach off the street and at St. Louis I was sprinting towards the end). As I waved to the crowd, goose bumps caused by the energy emanating from the other finishers and the voluminous fans enveloped my body.

The announcer noticed my attire and speculated if I had worn the Scooby-Doo outfit the entire way. Of course I had, to do otherwise would have been cheating. I yelled something to that effect at him, but my weakened cry was lost in the drone of the crowd. I miraculously crossed the line in 3:41:18, about nineteen minutes faster than I speculated and only eighteen minutes slower than my PR. The time was not quite a BQ for my age, but I was still surprised to run that fast under those circumstances.

I declined the Mylar blanket designed to keep finishers warm, since that was not an issue. My outfit palpably trapped heat inside, and I was soaked, covered with sweat. I grabbed some of the copious grub to replenish my body after the extended effort. The massages line was long so beside many other finishers I took a dip in the cool water of Lake Superior for immediate relief. This pseudo ice bath was refreshing, and playing in the water with so many other people made me feel like a little kid at the beach again.

Marathon finishers swimming in Lake Superior

The only day people willingly swim in Lake Superior in Duluth.

I continued consuming calories and wandered around Canal Park, still in costume. Literally half the people present asked me if I wore the outfit the whole way, and after affirming, the inevitable questions related to the heat would ensue. I did not get anyone’s number but did end up in a few strangers’ picture albums. How do you like dem apples?

I later returned for a deep leg massage so I would have at least some chance of portaging a canoe over the next week. As always, it felt great and the masseuse was only slightly creeped by working on a guy dressed as a dog who just completed a marathon.

An added bonus for Scooby-Doo was extra alcohol from the beer tent. Each finisher received a complementary adult beverage (which really meant it was included in the race registration fee), but I managed to convince the lady dispensing drinks that I deserved and needed an extra one. This, despite the fact that I cannot stand American brand-name beer and do not drink much regardless.

While finishers and their families were enjoying the post race activities, a storm of biblical proportions descended upon Canal Park, and everyone dashed to the DECC for protection. I barely found sanctuary before the heavens opened. During the downpour a couple runners were still making their last turns before the finish, and those standing dryly under shelter cheered wildly for them. With the storm splintering the post race celebrations, Grandma’s Marathon 2006 was in the history books for me. After all, this was just the first stop during my Boundary Waters adventure.

Since I finished the race successfully, wearing that outfit again is not very high on my list of marathon goals. I had my fun and was fortunate enough not to succumb to heat stroke. I danced with the devil once and came away clean. To do so again would be begging for trouble. Although if I had a team of suitably dressed, fool-hearty racers, my mind could be changed with minimal effort. Any takers?

Time Warp Forward

As an after note, I must have made at least a little, lasting impression. I watched the Des Moines Marathon wearing the same Scooby-Doo outfit to support the runners, and a couple of them actually recognized me. Midwest marathoning is a small and crazy world.


Splits for Grandma’s Marathon
MileSplitTotalComment MileSplitTotalComment
18:438:43 147:561:57:16Passed large crowds
28:2617:09 158:062:05:22
38:1525:24 168:002:13:22
48:4134:05 178:002:21:22
58:2342:28 188:032:29:25
68:3851:06 197:462:37:11
78:2259:28 207:542:45:05
87:421:07:10 218:152:53:20
99:071:16:17Mile marker seemed off228:343:01:54
108:091:24:26 238:573:10:51
118:251:32:51 249:383:20:29Walked up short hill
12?:???:??:??Missed mile marker258:593:29:28
138:151:49:20Avg over last 22610:023:39:30Walked up short hill
Half 1:50:06 Finish3:41:18

Pace vs. Mile Chart

Pace vs. Mile