Grandma’s first: Half-marathon outdraws fullThe 36th annual 26.2-mile Grandma's Marathon is expected to be passed in entries for the first time by its companion race — the 22nd Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon — on June 16.
The popularity of 13.1-mile races in the United States is undisputed. The half-marathon has been the fastest-growing distance event for six straight years, according to Running USA.
And Grandma’s Marathon can attest to the rising numbers.
The 36th annual 26.2-mile run is expected to be passed in entries for the first time by its companion race — the 22nd Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon — on June 16.
As of Saturday, the marathon had 7,413 entrants and the half-marathon a record 7,605. The marathon is taking registrations through June 1. The half-marathon is full.
“We realized early that not everyone should be running a marathon. We wanted to get runners in the right race for their safety and ability, and we added a half-marathon to our race weekend (in 1991),” said Grandma’s Marathon executive director Scott Keenan. “A lot of people just don’t have the time to train for a marathon, and the interest in half-marathons is just phenomenal.”
In 2011, there were an estimated 1.6 million finishers in 870 U.S. half-marathons. There were 518,000 finishers in 367 marathons. Both participation numbers were records, according to USA Running. There were 30 first-year half-marathons in 2011.
A lottery determines the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon entrants, with the race receiving about 2,000 more applicants than its capacity. The entry limit was raised by about 400 from last year.
Grandma’s Marathon, ranked No. 13 by size in the U.S., has about 1,000 fewer entries than last year when a 35th annual celebration brought 8,319 runners to Duluth. The race had sold out for 14 straight years through 2008 when there were a record 9,888 entries.
“We’ve grown all our events at a managed level,” said Keenan, who helped start Grandma’s Marathon in 1977, and operates on a $2.2 million budget.
“We have to make sure that we provide a high-quality event for our runners at the starting line, on the course and at the finish line. We don’t do anything without thinking about it; we’re not going to risk the welfare of our customers. A big race is not necessarily a better race.
“We’ll look at how things go this year (especially in the half-marathon) and if we’re able to handle the increased numbers, we’ll add a few hundred more. If we can’t, the entry number will be frozen.”
During the 1980s running boom, in the formative years of Grandma’s Marathon, some runners from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area would hand-deliver their entry forms to assure getting into the race. When the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon was added, the race took only in-person registration the first year, at Grandma’s Sports Garden, and entrants stretched along Lake Avenue South almost to the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Yet entry limits have been necessary because of logistical concerns. Approximately 250 buses are needed to shuttle runners to two starting lines, and there is limited space at the Canal Park finish line area, which now handles more than 13,000 finishers.
Grandma’s Marathon could get a boost in entry numbers this week because of recent weather-related problems in other Upper Midwest races. On May 6, the La Crosse (Wis.) Marathon was canceled because of heavy rain and lightning; the May 20 Green Bay Marathon was shut down by organizers 2½ hours into the race because of 80-degree heat; and today’s Madison Marathon was canceled because of predicted highs in the mid-90s. An accompanying Madison half-marathon is scheduled to be held today.