The Not-So-Great Grandma’s Challenge

The invasion has begun, and will continue in full force tomorrow. This is my third summer living in Duluth, but I turned into a blasé townie rather quickly and look at Grandma’s Marathon as more of an inconvenience than an iconic event. I mean, it’s pretty cool that a relatively big-deal marathon happens in little ol’ Duluth, but I can’t haul myself out of bed early enough to truly spectate. Last year I did some spectating with a friend, but this year I’m going to be off on a long run on the trails, away from the crowds. I hope everyone clears out well before I roll up to Dunkin’ for my iced latte.

Last year, Grandma’s Marathon introduced a new feature: the Great Grandma’s Challenge. Participants in the challenge run the William A. Irvin 5K the night before the main event, and then run either the Garry Bjorklund half or the full Grandma’s. The major incentive to the challenge is guaranteed entry into the half (which has a lottery) or full (which sold out this year in October). The challenge is capped at 500 people, which I didn’t realize meant 500 people per race, until I asked the Twitter account and they clarified. The final total reported in the paper was 1079 challenge participants (including sponsor entries, I guess).

The Irvin 5K is capped at 2000 people. Anyone see a problem with this?

You know, not everyone wants to run a marathon, or even a half. Or maybe they do, but they just don’t want to run this one, or they can’t right now, or they want to someday and are working their way up. The Irvin 5K is a great way to get more people involved in the biggest weekend of the year in Duluth (sorry Tall Ships). So why cram the 5K with half and full runners? Why not let 1079 additional people join in the fun?

I would maybe understand it if the race wasn’t popular, or if the challenge was limited to, say, 250 people (12.5% of participants, rather than 54%). 1600+ people ran this race before the challenge started, so it’s not like this boosts numbers significantly.

Many of the runners of the 5K are there to support a marathoner/half-marathoner. Those 5K runners might be taking care of children, or meeting the runner at set points along the course for support, or volunteering during the main races. Now it’s full of marathoners/half-marathoners who could potentially be just walking the race in order to get around the lottery. Since the guaranteed entry appears to be for this year, it seems like they don’t even have to show up.

That’s not to say all the runners in the challenge are treating it as a joke. My friend Joe took up the gauntlet last year and ran the 5K in a fairly fast time, and then ran the marathon the next day. Of course, he also told me that he wasn’t happy with his marathon performance and had gone out too hard in the 5K…

The goal of the challenge seems odd to me. Keeping potentially another 1079 people from running the 5K and participating in the weekend doesn’t appear to be a good strategy. I haven’t heard of anyone planning to sign up for the 5K only to find it’s sold out, but that’s got to be a disappointment to anyone who makes that one of their target races. Allowing marathoners and half marathoners to crowd out people who prefer the 5K distance, who aren’t ready to run a marathon, who are new to running, or are supporting runners of the other two races is exclusionary to me. Elitist, too; I mean, this is probably partly me projecting my own issues, but the snobby attitude that 5K runners aren’t “real” runners or that the marathon/half marathon distances are more “serious” so it doesn’t matter if they’re crowded out (they’re probably all fat hobbyjoggers walking 6 abreast and taking selfies, AMIRITE??? I’ve gotta stop reading Let’s Run…) really bugs me, and this challenge gives credence to that mindset, even if it was unintentional.

I hope they can tweak the challenge to make the weekend more inclusive, while still providing a new level of difficulty and intrigue to runners who are looking for something more.

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