This coming weekend marks the 11th annual Grand Rapids Marathon & Half Marathon, an event that attracts thousands of runners to Michigan’s second largest city. MRG recently checked in with Race Director Don Kern to learn a bit more about this year’s races, set for Sunday, Oct. 19. (We were especially curious about his tradition of congratulating each runner at the finish … and we’d been hearing about pickle juice making an appearance on the race course … after watching the Youtube video below, I’m considering trying it myself with my next marathon!)

First, is there anything new this year with the race and/or race weekend?

We added a new event this year that took place on Sept. 13, the Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon. It was a joint effort between us and our friends in Fox Valley, who also held the same event the same day. The goal was to get people into Boston. We had a very high percent of Boston qualifiers at both locations.

Also, we have our own beer this year, brewed at New Holland. Mile 27 Pilsener Lager. Easy to drink, great for marathon recovery.

How would you describe the race experience? 

The goal here is to make this the best race experience ever. Runners are all given personal attention and communication. Our event is a very “convenient” marathon, with tons of free parking within just a few hundred yards of the start/finish area and showers available at the YMCA.

I’ve also heard that you make a point of personally congratulating all runners as they cross the finish line — how and why did you start this tradition?

In 2005 when we moved downtown for our second year, it just happened. I stood at the finish line, shaking hands, hugging friends. The next thing  I knew the day was over. Then my inbox was full of people telling me how cool it was that the RD was there to shake their hands. I’ve been doing it every since.

Can you tell us about the pickle juice?? We’ve heard that every runner can have pickle juice on the course at some point…is this true?

[Dr. Rick Ganzi, Grand Rapids Marathon Pace Team Director and pickle juice guy, answers this question.]

We serve pickle juice along the marathon course at two locations. We do not offer it to the half marathoners since they really shouldn’t need it. Here are some of the pickle juice-related things we have done over the last couple of years — it’s been written about in many other places as well, but these are a few highlights:

And, this Youtube video:

Are you running in Grand Rapids this weekend? What are you most looking forward to on race day?

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