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Notre Dame’s Gruesen uses COVID-19 pandemic as motivation to complete marathon

By Rich Palzewic
Sports Editor

GREEN BAY – The COVID-19 pandemic caused many problems, some of which the world is still dealing with today.

It also brought some good – just ask Notre Dame Academy senior Anna Gruesen.

Traditionally a sprinter for the Tritons, Gruesen used the pandemic as motivation to run longer miles and train for her first-ever marathon.

About four months after committing to run the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, Gruesen saw her dreams come to reality May 15 with a time of 3:20:55.

After finishing first in her age group among five other women, Gruesen can now also call herself a Boston Marathon qualifier.

“It was an overwhelming sense of pride and excitement to know I qualified (for Boston),” Gruesen, who finished seventh among 219 women who ran the marathon, said. “The first thing I did was hug my mom. The plan is to sign up (for Boston) and see if I can get in. The process is intense because so many people want to run it.”

‘I just ran’

Gruesen said she “really didn’t follow a training program.”

“I just ran,” she laughed. “I know that was bold of me to do, but I knew I had to increase my mileage incrementally, so I slowly did that. On my long 20-mile run, my mom biked with me. I’d wake up at 4 a.m. to train before school.”

Gruesen said she felt good for most of the race.

“I went into the race simply wanting to finish and had no expectations of a certain time,” she said. “At the start line, I was standing between the 3:30 and 4 (hour) pacer. When the gun went off (at the start), I started slow, at my usual pace. Three miles went by fast, and I was with the 3:30 pacer. I felt so good, and I kept running.”

Gruesen said at mile 6, she passed the 3:30 pacer.

“The pacer was pretty far behind me at that point,” she said. “Making small talk with other runners along the way helped. My pace got faster and faster – it also helped to have my dad and mom on the course and getting motivational text messages through my Apple Watch.”

Gruesen said she went through a rough patch at about mile 18 but recovered after that.

With runners taking a lap inside Lambeau Field before the finish, Gruesen said thoughts of her childhood flooded her mind.

“I passed my grade school, my church, my high school and ran on the Fox River Trail,” she said. “To run inside 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 it. I enjoy pushing myself and seeing how far I can go.”

Gruesen said her body also transformed.

“Being a 400-meter sprinter, I was always muscular,” she said. “When I started long-distance training, I underwent a body change. From a parent’s perspective, that can be alarming, but I have a good support system – making sure I take care of my body properly, both in recovery and in nutrition. I wasn’t used to running such long distances, so I’ve needed support.”

The future

Gruesen will be attending Boston University beginning this fall – a perfect spot to prepare for the world’s oldest annual marathon.

“Luckily, I’ve always been able to balance many things at once,” Gruesen, who will be studying pre-med/biology, said. “That stems from having good role models as parents – they’ve always stressed time management and the importance of academics first.”

Sports editor’s note: Gruesen also golfed four years at Notre Dame, ran cross country this past season, ran track up until her senior year and Nordic skied with Bay Nordic four years.

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