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Spaghetti dinner raises money for young athletes

In this 1996 photo, Nina Mullakandova loads spaghetti noodles into steam trays to be seasoned, heated and served at the DECC's pre-Grandma's Marathon spaghetti dinner. (Duluth News Tribune file photo)1 / 3
In this 2014 photo, Cullen Burns of Duluth sticks his tongue out while running during the Whipper Snapper Races for Kids at Bayfront Festival Park. (Duluth News Tribune file photo)2 / 3
Scott Behling, a local runner who grew up running the Wednesday Night at the Races, now competes in many marathons. (Photo submitted)3 / 3

With dozens of events, thousands of runners and even more spectators, Grandma's Marathon has an impact on Duluth which goes far beyond one weekend in June.

Some stand on the side of the road and cheer, some ring cowbells, some play music and some provide water and ice for the runners. But another way to show runners your support is to sit down and eat a spaghetti dinner with them.

The dinner has been a tradition since 1977 for runners to fill up on carbohydrates ("carbo-load") before the race, maximizing energy storage in the muscles.

"The dinner is one of the biggest ways that we raise money during marathon weekend and since Grandma's Marathon is a nonprofit corporation, fundraising is really important to keep us going," said Shane Bauer, executive director of Grandma's Marathon.

The spaghetti feed takes place 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 19 at the DECC, open to the entire community. It is an all you-can-eat buffet with spaghetti, meatballs, salad, cookies, ice cream and more. Cost is $12 for adults, $6 for children 5-12 and free for children 4 and under. Proceeds go directly back towards the Grandma's Marathon nonprofit, which supports programs like the Young Athlete's Foundation.

Right after Grandma's Marathon and continuing through July and August, the Young Athlete's foundation sponsors Wednesday Night at the Races. This series of competitions brings kids from the community together on summer evenings at different tracks across Duluth, encouraging them to get outside exercising and having fun.

"These races are my favorite event of the year, besides the marathon weekend, that is," said Bauer. "Kids just show up and run a race with different heats for different ages, it's a really fun atmosphere, there are refreshments, and ribbons for everyone that competes."

Many children that compete in the Wednesday Night races continue racing throughout high school and college, and then continue running as adults. Local runner Scott Behling grew up running the Wednesday Night Races and has since built a successful career in the area, running and winning many local races.

"My parents brought me to the Wednesday night at the races when I was six and my dad would run along side with me," said Behling. "I liked being able to meet my friends at the races and trying to improve my times every week. It was a fun thing to do once a week during the summer. A few years later I got more into the sport of running, which has been a large part of my life as I have met so many people and have progressively gotten better in the sport more than I ever thought I could, thanks to Wednesday Night at the Races starting me out."

The Young Athletes Foundation also puts on the Whipper Snapper Race for kids during marathon weekend and Fit-n-Fun Run for Duluth Public School elementary schoolers each spring.

"These kinds of programs are important in our community because it is free and gets kids moving while being able to spend time with family and friends in a positive environment," said Behling. "Plus our area has such awesome places to run, I'm glad I got into running at a young age."

If you go

WHAT: Spaghetti dinner

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, June 19

COST: Adults $12, ages 5-12 $6, 4 and under free

WHY: To fill your belly and show support

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