Grandma's Marathon - Jun 21 - Duluth, Minnesota
You can still find plenty of available lodging for this year's Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota; that is, if you don't mind sharing a room with a hammerhead shark or Burmese python.
In one of the most innovative approaches to alleviating its race weekend overcrowding, Duluth's Lakes Aquarium has decided to open its doors to overnight guests on June 21 and 22 for Grandma's Marathon. At $50 a night (with a two-night minimum stay), lodgers may bring their own cot or sleeping bag to sleep among the expansive glass tanks and dive pools housing scaly creatures, from snakes to crocs to local Lake Superior trout.
The scheme may seem awkward (or unconventional at the least), but with less than a week until the starting gun, marathoners and their guests have little choice left. Most of town's 103 hotels are booked solid for the race weekend, leaving visitors to either widen their hotel search to commutable towns like Proctor and Two Harbors or go "under-the-sea" for a unique slumber party experience.
Quirky as it may be, the aquarium's makeshift lodging was an inevitable answer to the problem of providing in-town housing to the growing number of runners - along with their families and friends - that besiege Duluth for Grandma's each June. The 26-year-old Grandma's is now the 10th largest marathon in the country, and its popularity has risen steadily since local Duluth runners founded the race in 1977. While only 150 runners registered that year, the 1987 race saw 5,698 at the starting line. In 2001, the number had jumped to 9,159.
This February, Duluth's Pioneer Planet newspaper ran a feature article reporting on the how quickly race registration was nearing its quota, an apparent warning to prospective attendees that they needed to secure their accommodation plans ahead of time (that is, put down the newspaper and call Holiday Inn NOW!). Yet by then, it may have already been too late. Entry forms went out Jan. 24 this year, and half a dozen were received by return mail the next day, along with 600 more in the following Monday's mail.
With all the entries tallied, Grandma's reached its field limit of 9,000 in record time, filling in just 13 days (the 2001 race closed in 14 days). Out of the registered racers alone, surely no more than three-quarters were able to secure one of the mere 4,200 hotel rooms in Duluth - and that's assuming they left all the kindred fans at home!
Grandma's Marathon, which has brought the 84,000-person town international acclaim and enthusiasm that it may never have received otherwise, has become part of the town's livelihood. Organizers pride themselves on being able to put on a "world class event with small-town charm," along Duluth's scenic Lake Superior shore. Therefore, neither race promoters nor city commissioners would likely consider imposing more controls on the size and esteem of the event, which generates such signature excitement, entertainment, and revenue.
While Duluth does not have enough conventional lodging space to accommodate the mammoth crowds that Grandma's draws each year, the small town has opted to invent a temporary solution for the weekend's population surge rather than mar its quiet, pastoral landscape with high-rise hotels and more structural sprawl. The Lakes Aquarium camp-in solution should help the town squeeze a couple more hundred visitors into Duluth's already bursting seams, and from a small-town perspective, it's the best and least imposing way to accommodate the beloved marathoners.