Shane Bauer Making Grandma’s Marathon Run - Community Leader Profile Series

Shane Bauer - Making Grandma’s Marathon Run

Shane Bauer, Executive Director of Grandma's Marathon

Every June, the Northland is abuzz with excited runners, their families and friends, and local residents, who all take part in what has become the premier annual activity and kick-off to summer in Duluth, Grandma’s Marathon. 2023 will be the 47th annual run, with this year’s weekend of activities scheduled for June 16-17.

According to their website, “The race was started by a local group of runners in 1977, and has grown from just 150 participants its first year to now one of the largest and best-known marathons in the United States. Widely regarded as a world-class event with small-town charm, the race now welcomes more than 20,000 participants each June and brings close to $21M of economic impact to the region.”

Grandma's Marathon Starting Line. Photo

At the helm of this ambitious endeavor since 2015 is Executive Director Shane Bauer. He succeeded Scott Keenan, the founder of Grandma’s Marathon in 1977, who led the event as Executive Director for 37 years.

Bauer is not from the region originally but moved to Duluth in 1990 from North Dakota. He earned his degree in Design Technology with a minor in art from Bemidji State University.

Shane’s wife Jenny is a dance teacher of 23 years, mostly at Madill Dance Center and now in local preschools. She also works at the Duluth Airport.

Their daughter Hartley is a freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology in NY for Design/Illustration and is also a nationally recognized rock climber. Son Brock is a sophomore on the Denfeld track team who also likes curling.

Shane Bauer with his wife Jenny, with their daughter and son, Hartley and Brok. Submitted photo.

Artist, Entrepreneur, Event Coordinator, Grandma's Marathon

Shane worked as a graphic artist for the DNT until 2001, when he was hired as the Design Director and Expo coordinator at Grandma's Marathon. He and his wife also started a design business called Laughingstock Design in 2007, and opened a store called Happy Space in 2010.

His work in the community included establishing Art Jam for kids and working on the annual WDSE art and writing contest. Bauer also started the Twin Ports Bridge Festival in 2011. The event was a pep rally for humanity under a different theme each year (mental illness, water conservation, etc.). He had to end the Bridge Festival in 2015 when he took the Executive Director job at Grandma’s.

When he applied for the position, Shane was motivated by a desire to use his skills for Duluth. “At Grandma’s, I thought it was the best place for my contribution to the community,” Bauer said. “It has been my goal to set plans to deliver an extraordinary running experience for people from all over the world, and help kids to be active and conscious of living a healthy lifestyle.”

Quick to deflect credit from himself, Bauer added, "It’s a team effort that requires a completely different set of tasks each day. I work with a staff of nine full-time, year-round, plus a few part-time helpers and seasonal staff leading up to marathon weekend.”

He explained that every single day includes planning for the big marathon weekend. The next year is already being planned prior to the previous year’s event. Any remaining time is spent on all their other events throughout the year, including their Young Athletes’ Foundation which has given more than $1.3M back to the region's kids through grants, scholarships and more.

The Young Athletes Foundation is a Grandma's Marathon initiative. Photo from Young Athletes Foundation Facebook Page.

Bauer is also pleased about the international connections of Grandma’s including leadership with their sustainability initiative. He added, “We’re a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and our Program Director just returned from the Sport Positive Summit in London. We’re a signatory of the UN program and that’s where the carbon-neutral goal comes from. This is the first year that participants from all over the world can buy carbon offsets for their travel to Duluth in our registration process.”

He said, “On a more personal note, we also paid for all of Wesly Ngetich’s kids' schooling in Kenya over the years after he was killed by a poison arrow during the conflict over there in the earlier 2000s. He was a two-time champion of Grandma’s.”

Bauer credits the community, volunteers and sponsors of the race who are essential to making all the events surrounding the race work. “We are proud of the support from the community and the reputation of our events as a result of that support. Our volunteers are quite literally the heart of the event. They are the reason runners love to come here year after year. And Grandma’s Marathon weekend is impossible without their help.”

He explained, “Along with our volunteers, many of our sponsor relationships are decades long, and some of our sponsor contacts are like family. A majority of the budget each year is from registration, and sponsor support is by far the next biggest piece of the pie that allows us to put on a world-class event.”

“We are always looking for improved activities and events each year. For this summer, one focus is the Friday festival for kids/Whipper Snapper Races  Other goals are improvements in the broadcast of the race with our partners at WDIO and Townsquare Media, and also looking at improvements to the post-race experience,” Bauer added.

For more information about Grandma’s races and activities, visit their website at or visit their Facebook page.








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