The Legend of Lemon Drop Hill

Created: June 12, 2018 11:14 PM

Duluth, Minn. - Imagine you're nine miles into the half marathon or 22 miles into the full. You have roughly four miles to go and things are looking up. Then, you're really looking up as you get to it. The signature spot of the Grandma's course. Two newspaper guys coined the name Lemon Drop Hill.

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The mere mention can cause smiles and scowls. According to previous reports, it is about 1,700 feet in total length and has a rise of 60 feet. It is not a bad incline really, but it gets a bad rap because of the area in the race that it falls.

"Here is where you are going to be made or broken," says Kevin Pates.

"It doesn't compare to Pikes Peak or a number of other races. But, for this race and being in this spot - it is a difficult little challenge," says Mark Stodghill.

"What most coaches will tell you - if you have the ability - when coming up to a hill, you need to get up and over the thing as fast as you can," says Pates.

Retired Duluth News Tribune Journalists Mark Stodghill and Kevin Pates are known for writing and running. Both have finished many marathons. Both are are also coined the name Lemon Drop Hill. It started appearing in print in 1981 and the name has stuck.

"In the early years of covering the race - both Mark and I - in order to get some significance into Grandma's Marathon looked to the world's best known marathon. We looked at this hill at 22 miles and at the Boston Marathon at 21 miles, which is Heartbreak Hill," says Pates.

"I used a line in a story that this hill might look like it was named after people sucking on lemon drops as they were coming up after the hill, but it was actually named after the restaurant," says Stodghill.

"What most people probably don't realize is that there was a restaurant there (named Lemon Drop) and that is where we got the name. It is long gone with the freeway extension. That was about a 10 year period and actually, the hill was knocked down a little bit, so the grade isn't as steep as it was in the early years,"

Even the ones who hope to win are well aware of Lemon Drop Hill.

"At 22 miles, I don't care who you are, if you are the elite runners upfront or a first timer, you are going to feel that hill," said then-course record holder Dick Beardsley during a 2014 interview with Eyewitness Sports.

"I think there is some motivation - to attack it, get up and over it and you almost look forward to it as something else in the race to take your mind off the race itself," says Pates.

WDIO will be streaming the 2018 Grandma's Marathon LIVE beginning at 6:15 a.m. Watch on, the WDIO mobile app, and other digital platforms. For more details, click here.

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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