There's always something new at Grandma's marathon and this year, the 35th running of the race, is no different. As runners pick up their stride outside of Knife River, they will be greeted with a sweeping S-curve in Scenic Highway 61 that falls under the new railroad bridge there. Gone is the narrow passageway between two unforgiving concrete abutments and sharp turns leading into it.
Road crews made finishing touches this week on the road. The runners might not get a chance to see new signs planned for the bridge touting the scenic byway through St. Louis and Lake counties and the North Shore Scenic Railroad. It was decided that the bridge required the railroad company tradition of marking the bridge.
A headless and footless Pierre the Voyageur is expected to be upright by race day near the starting line staging area west of town. The Two Harbors icon was moved to the Earthwood Inn this winter and has been reposing on his back while crews there work on a platform to support him. He has a new coat of paint and work will continue on the mechanics in his head that allow Pierre to speak and rotate his head like in his early days. New feet will also be constructed because they were lost when he was moved from the Voyageur Motel site in February.
It will be a tighter fit near the starting line this year as race organizers no longer have the luxury of empty car lots at what is now the remodeled Sonju's Superstore car dealership. Race organizers were sure they would find room for the 200-plus portable bathrooms.
"There's a few more challenges," Two Harbors volunteer organizer Gordy Anderson said. He said Grandma's has worked with Sonju's and it was decided to put the bathrooms in later rather than a week or so before the rae. "It makes sense," Anderson said, to not have all the bathrooms there when Sonju's is trying to sell cars.
Lake County Sheriff Carey Johnson said "it will be interesting" as deputies will not only be on the lookout for those who chose to use the great outdoors for pre-race duties, they will also make sure the cars at Sonju's are protected.
"We hope everyone acts appropriately," Johnson said of what can be a madhouse scene at the start of the marathon. Any incident would "hurt Grandma's," he said of what has been a great tradition in Two Harbors.
Anderson said his volunteer team is full and ready. There are more than 1,100 more runners this year than last - 8,500 at last count. Volunteers arrive any time after 5 a.m., Anderson said, and the place is cleared out by 9 a.m. "If you sleep to nine," he said, "you won't even know it was here."