Although the eyes of the running world will be transfixed on the Father's Day 8k this weekend, a lesser known, but still significant, family member-themed road race will be unfolding in Duluth on Saturday: Grandma's Marathon and Gary Bjorklund Half Marathon. Six Pacers GRC runners made the trip to Duluth this weekend with the objective of putting in performances that will help pull Grandma's Marathon out of Father's Day 8k's shadow.
Sam Luff, Evan Jurkovich, Dickson Mercer, and Charlie Ban are representing the club in the full marathon. All available data suggests that Mercer, an experienced marathoner, is poised to run his opus. Although his PR is 2:29, in October Mercer put in what I submit was his best performance at the marathon distance with a 2:34 on an unfavorable day on Marine Corps Marathon's challenging course. He built off of that performance - and a couple weeks focused almost exclusively on speed work - to run 1:09-high this spring at the Scranton Half, breaking a PR that stood for seven years. While you cannot put too much stock in any single workout, Mercer, seen below making hand gestures, notched every hard effort this season, consistently hitting better splits than he achieved during prior marathon cycles.
As an example of the sort of hard training that has occurred in preparation for Grandma's, Mercer, Luff, and Jurkovich ripped out 16 miles at marathon goal pace on Beach Drive with a helpful assist from Chris, Luke, Phil, and Blur. An effort of this quality provides reason for optimism. This is especially true because Luff, a marathon debutante, and Jurkovich also got it done on the other end of the spectrum by closing out a 4 x 1600 workout last week with 4:34 and 4:37, respectively. "Sam is fit to make a very strong marathon debut," said Coach Jerry Alexander. "He's had success at the half marathon distance in Duluth, and if the conditions cooperate, he has great shot at breaking into the GRC top 5 in his first time out." Jurkovich, a Minnesota native, will no doubt draw inspiration from past Grandma's champion and fellow Minnesotan Dick Beardsley to take a serious crack at a marathon PR, set previously at the nearby Twin Cities Marathon. Ban, who hit his marathon PR at a hilly Marathon in Chancellorsville, Va., which he decided to enter the week of the race, has struggled with injury as of late and has not hit the times in recent half marathons that he wanted to. But here's the thing about Charlie: he has been putting in the work for the past three years and has consistently chipped away at his half marathon PR. And here's the thing about the marathon: it can be difficult to predict when the hard training will pay dividends - hard training sometimes manifests itself when you least expect it. So I for one, would not be at all surprised to see Charlie dominate Duluth.
Patrick Kuhlmann and Kyle W are running the half. Although Kyle is taking it easy, Patrick is looking to do something big. Kuhlmann is easily one of the best masters runners in the country and he is sure to be competitive not only in his age group but in the race in general.
While temps will be a little higher than optimal, the racerunners will not be facing wind or rain. I predict some big performances. Stay tuned for details.