Northland's 'Iron Two' Keeps Grandma's Streak Running on Virtual Race Day

Alicia Tipcke
Updated: June 25, 2020 05:50 PM

Grandma's Marathon was established in 1977 and a lot has changed since then.

"It's different, it's different," said John Naslund.

John Naslund of Two Harbor's and Jim Nowak of Duluth raced in the inaugural event. Naslund finished 5th overall with a time of 2:41 and Nowak 52nd with a time of 3:32. 

The Northlanders enjoyed it enough to come back. Racing the full 26.2 mile course every year for the past 43 years, they earned the named the Iron Two. 

"You look at the past marathons, there's thousands of people out there and here we are with 161 runners out there and I think we had one lane blocked off," said Jim Nowak recalling the first Grandma's Marathon.

"We knew the people that were putting it together and it sounded like a good idea at the time," added Naslund of the Iron Two.

In the past Nowak and Naslund trekked along the marathon route from Two Harbors to Duluth through rain, construction and growing crowds. This year they decided not to let a virus ruin their tradition, so they completed the virtual, and 44th, Grandma's Marathon.

Nowak recalled, "when [the Coronavirus] hit it was like jeez I don't even know if I want to train, but after a while I said we've got to keep this streak going."

Naslund chimed in that they've always "got to show up."

For the first time in over four decades the Iron Two ran different routes. Nowak paced along much of the traditional course, while Naslund went from the Canal Park finish line to the Gary Bjorklund half marathon starting line and back.

"I have to do it, it's just it was too bad that the bridge [was] up so I couldn't run the regular course. But it actually worked pretty well, going out and back like we did," said Naslund after finishing Saturday's virtual marathon.

Not crossing the finish line with hundreds of others and then enjoying post race festivities, Nowak and Naslund said, was disappointing. But they were happy to complete their goal as the Iron Two of keeping their Grandma's Marathon streak alive.

"I'm glad be done, looking forward to number 45. It's always good to put it in the books and then be able to relax and recuperate," said Naslund.

"Hopefully we can all be out with the regular crew for the 45th," added Nowak.


Alicia Tipcke

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