By Nicole Duritz
I ran my first two marathons in 1999 and 2000, then I got married and had twin boys. My life got a little crazy and as a working mom, I had to fit in my exercise where I could. I woke up at 4:00 AM and rode a stationary bike in my basement. I started distance running again in 2007 when the boys were five but didn’t enter a race until 2010. My first race was the 2010 GW Parkway Classic 10 miler. I was 44 years old and I set my sights on another marathon. I decided to wait until my boys were a bit older and I decided on 2016 to celebrate my 50th birthday.
Over the next several years I ran a bunch of 10-mile races and a half marathon. I joined several running groups allowing me to run safely in the very early mornings. At 49, I was set to run my second half marathon when I broke my foot during a workout. After nine weeks in an orthopedic boot and three more weeks of healing, I was cleared to run again. I starting slowly rebuilding miles and signed up for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN, in June 2016.
Last weekend I ran and finished Grandma’s Marathon!
Most people consider distance running an individual sport but nothing could be further from the truth. I was lucky enough to train with an amazing group of women who supported and inspired me. We shared hundreds of miles, hours of conversations and laughter. We generally started our weekday runs at 5 AM so we ran in darkness, through rain, wind and snow. But we were treated to beautiful sunrises, eagle sightings and amazing monument runs. I also had tremendous support at home. My husband and boys encouraged me and cheered me on, celebrating mileage milestones and accomplishments with me.
After months of training, it was time to run and again I had my team. My mom flew to Minneapolis from Santa Fe to join my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for the race weekend. My husband is from Minneapolis and the family still lives there.
We drove up to Duluth and made it to the Expo for packet pick up just as the 5K was getting underway. Grandma’s Marathon is a celebration that lasts the entire weekend, including a 5K (3.1mile fun run), a half marathon (13.1 miles) and a full marathon (26.2 miles). After picking up my race bib and exploring the Expo, we headed to dinner at a lovely restaurant situated at Mile 11 on the racecourse. After dinner we drove the course to figure out where my family could see me during the race then we headed to the hotel.
The morning of the race my fabulous sister-in-law drove me to the train at 4:00 AM. Grandma’s is a point-to-point marathon so the runners have to take a bus or train to the start. I decided to take the North Shore Scenic Railway to enjoy the full experience. I sat with three lovely strangers and we chatted about running the entire ride.
One of the many factors that attracted me to Grandma’s was the mid-June race date; in northern MN that usually promises cool temperatures – perfect race conditions. However, it was not to be this year. By 7:00 AM, the day was already quite warm. When the starting gun was fired at 7:45, I was excited and feeling great. I fell into a comfortable pace and enjoyed the beautiful north woods scenery. Around Mile 8, a runner commented on my shoes and we started chatting. Her name was Emma, she’s a junior at the U of MN. It makes me smile to think I was comfortably pacing with a 21-year-old. At 13 miles, I was only a few minutes slower than my half marathon race pace and quite pleased. Unfortunately, just a few miles later the heat starting to get to me. I told my new running buddy I was going to slow down a little and she sweetly and asked if I wanted her to stay with me. I told her I was good and she should run her race. By this time the race directors had posted “Extreme Heat Risk” warnings – it was BRUTAL!!
My cheering crew met me at Mile 20 and it was a great pick-me-up to see my mom, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. After a quick hello, I headed out with and my sister-in-law joined me. She was a lifesaver! She took photos, carried water, sang, and got the crowd to cheer for me. She lifted my spirits and encouraged me. Those last six miles were tough, tougher than I expected. Grandma’s has hills at Mile 22 and 25 and I was drained. The finish is tough too because you wind around a great deal and can’t see the finish line until you’re about 100 yards away.
Throughout the race I received encouraging messages from friends and family across the country who were tracking my progress through Grandma’s race app. My SP colleague, Jennifer Quermann, sent me a “Run Forrest Run” text early in the race causing me to laugh out loud. At Mile 25, my husband sent a text reading, “Finish Strong,” so I dug deep, picked up my pace and ran hard through the finish line. My finishing time was a bit slower than I had hoped for, but given that the average women’s finish time was 30 minutes slower than last year, I’m OK with my result.
When I think about running and my work life I see a lot of parallels. To successfully train for any race whether it’s a 5K or a full marathon you need to identify your goals, analyze the situation, set your team and develop the strategy to reach your objectives. Goals vary race to race from new distances to faster times but to be successful you have to have a plan. We take a similar approach at SP. We work closely with our clients to understand their goals and analyze the environment. Most importantly we tap the deep and varied expertise of our Senior Partners to develop a strategy for success.
Like so much in life, individual achievement is often made possible and certainly made sweeter when you are part of a team and I can’t thank my team enough!
I took Sunday off to travel home but at 5:00 AM Monday morning I met my running buddies for a three-mile shake out run. It’s been a little over 72 hours and I’m ready to get to work on my next race.
Nicole Duritz is a Managing Senior Partner specializing in healthcare and strategic communications at SP Consulting and a long distance runner.