Grandparents run Grandma's
Jeannine Julson has fresh legs. The fact that she's used those same legs for more than 78 years is almost beside the point -- she's been running marathons only since her 58th birthday. To date, Julson has completed 48 marathons, including every G...
Jeannine Julson has fresh legs.
The fact that she's used those same legs for more than 78 years is almost beside the point -- she's been running marathons only since her 58th birthday. To date, Julson has completed 48 marathons, including every Grandma's Marathon since 1987. Sometimes it takes 6½ hours, but Julson likes to finish.
"I love doing it," said Julson, of Bloomington, Minn. "Once you have completed one, it's such a great feeling. It's what gets me out the door every day."
Julson is part of a category of runners that scarcely existed when Grandma's Marathon began: grandmas and grandpas running Grandma's. Five women and 35 men older than 70 are registered to run Saturday's marathon, with a few hundred more in the 60-69 age bracket.
"It's very important to us to recognize all age groups," Grandma's Marathon exexecutive director Scott Keenan said. "It's always been a citizen's race; it's not just for elitists. We've wanted to be known as a runner's race."
Actual grandmothers can check a box indicating their status on the marathon entry form, and organizers recently added an "age 80 and over" category -- the field includes three runners this year. "Pretty soon we'll probably have a 100-and-over category," Keenan said.
Marathon officials have long kept the timing clock running for six hours to accommodate all categories of runners. That lengthy timer has been an attraction for Mary Mitzel, 61, of Shoreview, Minn. She said it makes slower runners such as herself feel welcome.
"I've been running off and on for the last 20 years," Mitzel said. "The last 10 have been more off than on; I've really turned into a fat old lady."
But one of Mitzel's lifelong dreams has been to run a marathon with one of her grandchildren, and this year it's finally going to happen. Mitzel, her 42-year-old daughter and 18-year-old granddaughter all are entered.
Older bodies can take the physical strain of running, with two considerations: durability and conditioning, said Dr. Steve Harrington, Grandma's Marathon medical director and a sports medicine physician for the Duluth Clinic.
Harrington said it's not true that running will wear out knees, ankles and hips, whether young or old.
"We don't have scientific evidence that running on normal joints causes them to break down," Harrington said. Injured joints, on the other hand, will gradually crumble under the rigors of running.
Older people also have a higher likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems such as hardened arteries, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Those who want to start running at a later age should first check with their doctor, Harrington said. But once someone is cleared for training, the activity should help improve their overall fitness.
Harrington cited a study that included runners from the Twin Cities and the Boston marathons that found a person's risk of dying while running a marathon was 1 in 50,000.
A person's risk of sudden death while watching a marathon? One in 50,000, Harrington said.
Ed Bruchez of Superior was watching Grandma's from those sidelines 21 years ago when he made the bet that turned him into a runner. Bruchez turned to his daughter as the runners passed by and said, "I bet you I can do this next year."
It took six weeks of training before Bruchez, who until then had been a smoker, could run a full mile. Gradually, he and his daughter built up their training schedule, and a year later both finished the marathon.
Bruchez's daughter has since stopped running, but he kept up the habit through his 50s. An industrial accident at age 60 slowed him down for a while, but he began training for Grandma's again a year and a half ago. He dropped 60 pounds, turned 70, and is hoping to finish Saturday's race in 4 hours, 43 minutes.
His training includes running in the Billings Park neighborhood five days a week and a motivating treat afterward.
"I have a real craving for ice cream when I'm running: vanilla with any kind of topping," Bruchez said. "About an hour after my run, I can hear that ice cream calling my name: 'Ed, Ed.' "