Grandma's Marathon: Girls on the Run teaches life skills to Minnesota runners young and old
Around 175 runners are taking part in the 46th Grandma's Marathon weekend to not only race, but raise money for charity organizations. Katrina Friedrich is running this year to raise funds for Girls on the Run Minnesota, where she is a coach.
DULUTH — After running throughout high school and college, Katrina Friedrich said it was tough to stay motivated as a runner following her graduation from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.
“For eight years, I always had teammates to run with and it was always a ton of fun,” said Friedrich, who ran both cross country and track and field for the NCAA Division III Vikings. “Then you graduate and that atmosphere is not there anymore.”
It was in Iowa City while she was working as a research assistant at the University of Iowa that Friedrich was introduced to a new team by a friend. That team was Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization that uses running to empower young girls in elementary and middle school.
Friedrich coached with Girls on the Run in Iowa City for three seasons before moving to Minnesota, where she has been coaching for two seasons now. She also serves on the associate board of Girls on the Run Minnesota and will be running the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon on Saturday, June 18, as part of Grandma’s Marathon weekend.
Girls on the Run Minnesota is a charity partner of Grandma’s Marathon. Friedrich and her husband, Chris Saladin, are both running the Bjorklund to raise money for Girls on the Run Minnesota, with a goal of raising $500 each.
“What's super amazing about Girls on the Run is just it's so much more than a running organization,” Friedrich said. “Yes, we are having girls practice and do laps and set goals, but the curriculum is really where it's at. We teach life skills along with running and make them applicable to their lives.
“Growing up — especially in elementary school and middle school — can be a confusing and stressful time. Everybody's going through puberty, things are changing, and I think Girls on the Run really gives you those life skills to tackle those problems as you age.”
Friedrich works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Minneapolis as a research coordinator, working with veterans who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injuries.
She never considered herself an athlete growing up, but began running when she was 13 to help her cousin train. That led to her joining the cross country team in high school. In 2018, she ran her first marathon — the Chicago Marathon.
“I loved it. It was such an amazing experience,” said Friedrich, who is eyeing the Twin Cities Marathon as her second full marathon this fall. The Bjorklund will be her first race since the COVID-19 pandemic began. “You get to the starting line and you’re surrounded by all these people who are crazy enough to do the same thing that you want to do. That atmosphere and energy pushes you to the finish line.”
Girls on the Run reaches Duluth
Girls on the Run Minnesota was initially known as Girls on the Run Twin Cities before expanding across the state to cities such as St. Cloud, Rochester and in the last year, Duluth.
Girls on the Run held its second 5K race event in Duluth on Sunday, June 5, at Leif Erikson Park featuring runners from Lowell Elementary School and Ordean-East Middle School, as well as Great Expectations School in Grand Marais. The first 5K event was in the fall featuring students from Lowell, Ordean-East and Lincoln Park Middle School.
Heidi Schuchman was on the microphone Sunday directing the party at Leif Erickson Park. She is a teacher at Lowell, parent of an Ordean-East student and coach for Girls on the Run. She reached out to Girls on the Run about expanding after moving to Duluth from the Twin Cities three years ago. Schuchman said she was surprised Girls on the Run hadn’t made it to Duluth, yet, based on how active the city is with its rich running tradition.
Schuchman said she would like to see Girls on the Run expand to more schools in the area, but more volunteers are needed.
“It’s still a work in progress because it’s run by volunteers — highly trained volunteers, but still volunteers. People have to be able to step up and donate their time to be a part of this,” Schuchman said.
Girls on the Run is an inclusive program open to girls, or anyone who identifies as a girl, in grades 3-5. There is also a program for girls, or anyone who identifies as a girl, in grades 6-8 called Heart & Sole.
Schuchman said the Duluth programs in the fall and spring featured between 50-75 kids in each session, with 40 kids coming from Lowell.
“Volunteers are really key to making Girls on the Run work, and a wish to help kids,” Schuchman said. “It's really less about running and more about life lessons and learning how to be a human, and learning how to be resilient. Moving your body is one part of that. Really anybody can be a volunteer. They don’t have to be a girl, or a runner.”
Sunday’s 5K in Duluth was one of a number of 5Ks put on that weekend by Girls on the Run, with the Twin Cities, Rochester and St. Cloud also hosting events.
Kathleen Cannon, program director for Girls on the Run Minnesota, said there were 150 Girls on the Run teams throughout the state this spring. It’s been exciting to see the organization expand across the state, she said.
“The level of community support is just unbelievable. It is such a gift to see so many folks stepping up and saying, ‘OK, I want to see this in my own neighborhood or my own school. How do I get it going?’ Cannon said. “The ripple effects are way past today. They're into adolescence and beyond. Especially now, when it feels like so much of the world is on fire, seeing these happy moments and the momentum behind it, it is a gift. It is just beyond rewarding, so I'm grateful to be part of it.”
An ‘incredible’ community
Friedrich coaches middle school runners in the Heart & Sole program. Many of the lessons and skills she teaches to her runners — positive self-talk, how to express your emotions — are applicable in adulthood as well, she said.
“The girls teach me things every practice and see things in a different perspective than I ever would have thought,” Friedrich said. “It's really cool to see.”
Friedrich called the staff and community of volunteers she works with at Girls on the Run “incredible,” and that they’ve been very warm and welcoming to her since she moved to Minnesota.
Coaching the kids, however, is the highlight of her week.
“Those little girls, I look forward to seeing them every week. They bring so much joy to me,” Friedrich said. “I love learning about what they're learning about in school, what their favorite foods are, all their different, fun personalities. They are just, they just brighten up your day. It's so much fun to see them cross that 5K finish line and see that look of, ‘Oh my gosh, I did this! I can accomplish this, and if I can do this, I can do anything.” I think that's so important for young girls to realize.”