Local View: Grandma's Marathon changed how I view the world

From the column: "I started crying. Instead of seeing these racers as strangers, I felt the way I would feel watching my own children starting the race."

2007 News Tribune file photo / The Grandma's Marathon starting line near Two Harbors is always crowded -- and can be confusing.
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On a whim, I decided to watch the start of Grandma’s Marathon this year. Biking from my house in Two Harbors, I arrived at the starting line just in time to hear the national anthem. Looking around, I realized all the people around me had numbers on their shirts, and it slowly dawned on me I was in an area just for racers. I self-consciously skirted the perimeter and past the marathoners nervously shifting from one foot to the other in anticipation. On the other side of the starting line, instead of seeing the crowd of spectators I expected, there were only a few TV cameras and newspaper photographers. Apparently, the start of Grandma’s Marathon is reserved for media personnel only!

The race officials signaled a 30-second countdown. With no other option, I turned to watch. As far as I could tell, I was the sole spectator at the starting line.

The horn sounded, and the elite men’s race began. After a couple minutes, the horn sounded again for the rest of the racers, with elite women leading the largely silent charge.

I videoed the racers crossing the starting line. Some made eye contact, likely wondering how a lady with a cellphone ended up with the media crew. I grinned back encouragingly. As more racers made eye contact, I was suddenly filled with a rush of pride. They were so brave.

Each racer had his or her own story, a reason why they were willing to endure hours of training, tremendous physical and mental strain, certain pain, and potential long-term injury. I was humbled.


And then something interesting happened. I started crying. Instead of seeing these racers as strangers, I felt the way I would feel watching my own children starting the race. Making eye contact with as many people as possible, deep pride flowed.

With each person who passed, my heart opened wider and wider until it felt like it would burst. Within minutes, a full floodgate opened and I was openly sobbing, chest heaving and all. Seasoned media guys awkwardly edged away as I veritably and truly lost my s**t.

At this point, one could not be blamed for thinking I’m a highly emotional person, prone to excessive displays of expression. In truth, for most of the past four years, the opposite has been true. I’ve suffered from dulled emotions. Basic human feelings like love, joy, and even jealousy and anger, have largely been absent.

Several months ago, I finally got back on the emotional spectrum. But apart from plant-based medicine ceremonies in Latin America and deep meditation, what I refer to as “global empathy” still eluded me. I could feel empathy for people close to me, but not for those with whom I didn’t share a personal relationship.

For example, I emotionally stood on the sidelines as the rest of the world wrung its hands over the war in Ukraine. I pretended to care. But in truth, I couldn’t access the deep well of compassion that was once central to my personality. And that bothered me.

Watching the racers at the start of Grandma’s Marathon finally opened my heart to global empathy in an unexpected way. I was elated, deeply grateful, and feeling overwhelmed.

Back on my bike, riding back toward Two Harbors, tears still blurred my vision. So I asked my heart, “What do you need?”

My heart replied, “A hug."


The only people in sight were two police officers sitting in police cars. One was playing music with the windows rolled down. Tears streaming down my face, I walked up to the other officer and asked for a hug. After not more than a second’s pause, the female officer got out of her squad and met me in an embrace. For some reason, it didn’t feel awkward. I just melted into her arms and sobbed.

Treating me with dignity and grace, she normalized the experience. There was nothing wrong here. Just a normal person having a normal empathetic reaction to a very emotional event. We both laughed as she apologized that I had to hug her through a bulletproof vest.

Feeling the need to create space to continue processing this newfound empathy, I biked to a private little beach along the trail connecting Burlington Bay to Agate Bay. It was warm and sunny in this little cove, protected from a cool breeze blowing down the lake.

Pulling a Thermos of coffee from my backpack, I took a sip and sat down on a board that had been propped between two big rocks to make a bench.

Looking out over the lake, it occurred to me that the water connecting Lake Superior to the ocean eventually reached the Black Sea through the Bosporus Straits. I thought of the children in Ukraine who had lost their friends, families, and childhood homes, of the parents who lost neighbors and careers, and of the elderly who were robbed of the peace and tranquility that should have accompanied their golden years. All these people have been violently uprooted and will likely spend the rest of their lives permanently separated from culture and family.

For the first time, I truly felt grief for the people of Ukraine. Feeling divine power in equal measure to the grief, my heart finally opened with deep compassion.

Grateful for the poignant beauty of the moment, I decided to drive to Duluth to watch the end of the race. Other spectators at the finish of Grandma’s Marathon expressed how they, too, had been moved to tears by the courage and raw tenacity of the racers.

I want to publicly thank the racers for acting boldly. Your inspiration touches different people in different ways. Inspired by your example, I was finally able to tap into a wholeness that was previously inaccessible.


Today, I see the world from a fresh, new perspective, one of empathy and connectedness. After all, each human has the courage, raw strength, and beauty of a marathoner in their hearts.

Christy Rounds of Two Harbors is the CEO and founder of Escape Bound (

Christy Rounds.jpg
Christy Rounds

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