The cancellation of Grandma’s Marathon earlier this week left many Northland runners in despair, especially those who were training for their only long-distance race.
However, rules implemented during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic about social distancing and staying at home ironically might be creating a running boom not seen since the 1970s and ’80s.
Outdoor exercise — as long as not done in groups or in closer proximity than six feet — is allowed, and it appears, anecdotally at least, that running is on the upswing in what already is a run-happy community.
“I have never seen so many people out and about on a daily basis, families, single people, couples, people walking their dog,” longtime runner Jarrow Wahman said. “Any which way you turn, you can see people out. People do need to get out, and they are.”
Likewise, Katie McGee, another veteran distance runner, says she has seen many people out taking advantage of the temperate Duluth spring.
“That really has been a saving grace for me, that I can go out and get fresh air and get sunshine, get time for myself to think,” McGee said. “This could be the beginning of a new running boom, people are saying, because you can’t do group sports or go to the gym.”
Others are more hesitant to take to the roadways.
Kelly Erickson, who has been part of a Duluth running group for a number of years, agrees that the number of runners has likely grown but says their training regimen will be altered dramatically by Grandma’s cancellation.
Few have had their training interrupted as dramatically as Erickson, who dropped out of Grandma’s three weeks before it officially was called off Tuesday. She claims long-distance running lowers one’s immunity, something she wasn’t comfortable risking.
“Because of coronavirus I wanted to drop out and stay healthy.” said Erickson, who runs a small payroll processing company in Duluth. “I had to put my family and business first before I could consider continuing to train. I am in a different situation because nobody was dropping out when I dropped out.”
Count Jessica Hehir as another runner who has been cautious during this pandemic.
The Duluth resident began running 13 years ago and has competed in a handful of Grandma’s marathons despite being diagnosed with asthma six years ago.
But that breathing issue has her concerned that she is more at-risk for the COVID-19 disease, which attacks the respiratory system.
“I’ve been concerned about having a compromised immune system right now so I have been taking it easy and backing off,” said Hehir, who has reduced her training sessions to between 3-5 miles. “Part of me was relieved that (Grandma’s) was canceled because it takes that pressure off. Once you sign up for a race, no one wants to be the one who quits.”
The higher number of runners out on the roads and trails also concerns Hehir.
“That does make me nervous,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to take a run by where I live near UMD because there’s so many people out. I wouldn’t want to breathe in their exhaust, so to speak. I usually run early in the morning so I feel safe about that.”
McGee, who trains Lake Superior College students for a running class, also is an online coach for McMillan Running. Some of her clients live in coronavirus hot spots.
“I have athletes all over the country and the world, and we’re all saying the same thing,” McGee said. “In New York City, I have some athletes waking up at 4 a.m. to run so they can get out before anyone else is out. That’s saving them from despairing about everything going on.”
From the Boston Marathon to the Summer Olympics, races are being canceled or postponed all over the world. Grandma’s was only the latest and certainly not the last.
“I know so many runners who have had other races canceled and have been looking forward to Grandma’s as a hopeful bright spot in this whole CO-VID deal,” McGee said. “Maybe by (the time) Grandma’s (was scheduled) we can all resume doing what we love.”
Wahman, an owner of Duluth-based shoe store Austin-Jarrow, has been running competitively for 44 years and doesn’t expect his regimen to differ much throughout the spring.
“I’ve been training the same and won’t change too much with Grandma’s not happening,” he said. “I might not do the extra-long runs, like the 20-milers.”
Still, Wahman has hopes of running the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon in mid-July.
“The irony is that I’m in as good of shape as I’ve ever been in the spring because the training has been going so well,” he said. “But we’re not going to be able to test ourselves in a race to find out.”