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Grandma's Marathon reverses headphone ban

DULUTH - Grandma's Marathon runners with a love of portable music no longer have to risk disqualification by listening to their favorite tunes.

The Duluth road race chose Tuesday to allow headphones and other electronic devices on the

26.2- mile course after USA Track and Field lifted a two-year ban.

USA Track and Field, the national governing body for road racing, voted in December to amend its rule banning headphones, but left it up to individual races to do the same.

The Grandma's Marathon board of directors voted Tuesday to lift the ban, beginning with the June 20 event and accompanying Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon. Executive race director Scott Keenan, however, said entrants still are urged not to wear headphones for safety reasons.

"I think you need all of your senses to run a safe race. You need to be aware of what's around you," Keenan said Wednesday. "Yes, we have a closed course, but things can happen even on a closed course. And our course has so much to offer with spectators, volunteers, entertainers and a beautiful lake."

Marathoner Kim Avenson of Grand Rapids was thrilled with the headphone news. She's already entered in the 2009 Grandma's Marathon and will be wearing an iPod Shuffle openly instead of hiding it as she did in last June's race. Runners were asked to surrender music devices brought to the starting line the past two years.

Avenson, 46, put her iPod into her running shorts and brought it out later in the race.

"I was devastated when Grandma's banned headphones [in 2007]. That's what I use every morning when I'm up at 6 a.m. and running in the pitch black in the countryside," said Avenson, lab manager at Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital. "I primarily use music as background noise, to distract me and to give me the drive to keep going and be more positive. It's a real encouragement.

"I don't feel at risk at all by listening to music. I don't find it hazardous. I keep the volume level low so that I can still hear what's going on around me."

Avenson, who has run in Grandma's Marathon nine times, figures she's got about 500 songs on her iPod and listens to everything from Conway Twitty to AC/DC. She said when getting to the Duluth city limits last year, where the crowds increase at about 19 miles, she took her iPod off and enjoyed the atmosphere. She finished in 4 hours, 28 minutes, 42 seconds.

Grandma's Marathon officials along the course were asked to report the race numbers of runners wearing headphones the past two years. In 2007, there were 25 runners reported and they were disqualified, said Keenan. There were no reports in 2008.

Before 2007, Grandma's Marathon had urged entrants not to wear headphones and then made it mandatory for two years because USA Track and Field made it mandatory. Grandma's Marathon is sanctioned by USA Track and Field.

Keenan said that two Grandma's Marathon sponsored races -- the Fitger's 5K on April 8 and the Park Point Five-Miler on July 17 -- will continue to ban headphones because the race course cannot be completely closed.

Registration for the 33rd Grandma's Marathon opened two weeks ago and so far had had 5,471 entrants. The field is limited to 9,500 and was filled by April 7 in 2008.