By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – The COVID-19 pandemic has created many problems, some of which continue to concern the world today.
It did some good, too — just ask Anna Gruesen, senior at Notre Dame Academy.
Gruesen, a traditional sprinter for the Tritons, used the pandemic as motivation to run longer miles and train for her first-ever marathon.
About four months after she committed to running the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, Gruesen saw her dreams come true on May 15 with a time of 3:20:55.
After taking first place in her age group among five other women, Gruesen can now call herself a Boston Marathon qualifier.
“It was an overwhelming sense of pride and excitement to know that I qualified (for Boston),” said Gruesen, who placed seventh out of 219 women marathoners. “The first thing I did was hug my mother. The plan is to sign me up (for Boston) and see if I can get in. The process is intense because so many people want to lead it.”
“I just ran”
Gruesen said she “didn’t really do a training program.”
“I just ran,” she laughed. “I know that was brave of me but I knew I had to gradually increase my mileage so I did it slowly. My mom used to bike with me on my long 20-mile run. I would get up at 4 a.m. to train before school.”
Gruesen said she felt fine for most of the race.
“I went into the race just to finish and I had no expectations of a specific time,” she said. “I was at the start line between the 3:30 and 4 (hour) pacer. When the gun went off (at the start), I started slowly, at my usual pace. Three miles went by quickly and I was out on the 3:30 Pacer. I felt so good and kept running.”
Gruesen said at mile 6 she passed the 3:30 pacer.
“The Pacer was pretty far behind me at this point,” she said. “Having small talk with other runners along the way has helped. My pace kept picking up — it also helped to have my dad and mom on the class and to get motivational text messages through my Apple Watch.”
Gruesen said she went through a rough patch at about mile 18 but recovered after that.
As the runners took a lap at Lambeau Field before the finish, Gruesen said thoughts of her childhood flooded her mind.
“I passed my elementary school, my church, my high school, and I ran the Fox River Trail,” she said. “Running at Lambeau Field was amazing.”
Running during COVID
Gruesen said she used running as an outlet during COVID.
“It helps relieve stress,” she said. “The more I started running (longer distance), the more I fell in love with running. I enjoy pushing myself and seeing how far I can go.”
Gruesen said her body has also changed.
“As a 400-meter sprinter, I’ve always been muscular,” she said. “When I started long-distance training, I changed physically. This can be alarming from a parent’s perspective, but I have a good support system that makes sure I’m taking proper care of my body, both in recovery and in nutrition. I wasn’t used to running such long distances, so I needed support.”
Gruesen will be attending Boston University this fall – a perfect place to prepare for the world’s oldest annual marathon.
“Fortunately, I’ve always been able to reconcile many things at once,” says Gruesen, who is going to study medicine/biology. “That’s because they have good role models as parents — they’ve always emphasized time management and the importance of academics first.”
Sports editor’s note: Gruesen also played golf at Notre Dame for four years, ran cross-country skiing last season, ran track and field until her senior year, and cross-country skiing with Bay Nordic for four years.