DULUTH — There are two ways for runners to get to the starting line of Grandma's Marathon — either by North Shore Scenic Railroad or a shuttle bus, according to the official race guidelines.
Eric Strand has another routine. He gets there on foot.
Strand returns for his 10th "double marathon," a run that he will start at 2:30 a.m. at the finish line. He will run to the starting line and turn around and take the same route again — this time alongside the thousands of other runners competing in just one marathon Saturday.
"It's amazing to see the city in darkness, first of all, then to see the race course wake up as you head to Two Harbors — see the sunrise over Lake Superior," he said. "Most runners don't see that."
The St. Paul native who lives in St. Louis will log 52.4 miles in about nine or 10 hours, he predicts. Year after year, Strand has chronicled his feat on social media and snagged the interest of other runners — some who say they will join him.
Few actually do.
"We had never met Eric and told him via Twitter we would be there," said Dan Polski, of Maplewood, who ran the double marathon with his wife, Rachel, in 2017. "All he ever said was, 'Sounds great, everyone says that.' Well, we proved him wrong."
Andrew Ruthenbeck, a native of Virginia, Minn., saw one of Strand's videos about the run and it landed on his to-do list. He and his wife ran the double marathon last year.
"We all meet and greet — just a bunch of random strangers meeting at 2:30 in the morning," he said. "It's really interesting. A lot of people's nights are just wrapping up. They're screaming at you and cheering. It's a unique experience."
Strand completed his first double marathon in 2012 as a way to train for the Leadville Trail 100 Run — an ultra-marathon through the Rocky Mountains held annually in mid-August.
"There was a method behind the madness," he said. "The whole idea of training for an ultra is not so much about speed as eight to 10 hours on your feet moving forward. That's the best thing you can do."
Strand has found a rhythm to these runs. He starts around the time bars are closing, with patrons offering encouragement from the sidelines. Then he sees the street sweepers. He cruises up the North Shore as volunteers are setting up aid stations and mile-markers.
Someone always tells him he is going the wrong way, he said.
He watches the sun rise, listens to the chatter of birds and the lapping of waves, and banters with the wheelchair racers and elite runners. Strand usually crosses the starting line about 30 minutes before the marathon officially starts.
Then he does it again — the conventional way. But, he adds, no matter how many times he asks, he only gets one medal.
He plans to complete Saturday's double marathon with or without other runners.
"It's fun to have people come along," he said. "But if it ends up there is no one else there at 2:30 a.m., I'll have a good time with that."