Photo Credit: Matt Moses
Please note that while this year’s Grandma’s Marathon event currently remains scheduled for June 20, 2020, changes due to COVID-19 may occur. Please see Grandma’s Marathon for further updates. Team members continue to train hard for this event. Your support is needed now more than ever. Click here to donate to a member of this year’s AFSP Team for Grandma’s Marathon.
Mar. 31, 2020 – Grandma’s Marathon is a race that takes place along Lake Superior’s beautiful North Shore in Duluth, Minnesota each June. The event, which gets its name from its first major sponsor, the Duluth-based Grandma’s Restaurants, began in 1977 and regularly draws over 18,000 people. This past year, for the first time, my local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention chapter decided to put a team together to run and raise awareness and funds for our cause.
The loss of my sister Katherine to suicide in 2012 is the driving presence behind all of my efforts as a volunteer for AFSP. The night before the marathon, in the presence of other runners, I shared stories and pictures of my sister, in the hopes of starting (as we refer to it in AFSP’s popular campaign) a #RealConvo about mental health, opening the door for others to share their own experiences.
The day of the race was June 22, 2019. I’d stayed overnight in a hotel to be close to the race, and my morning began at 4:30 a.m., as I received a hug and tears from a hotel employee who, hearing why I was there, shared with me about the mental health struggles experienced by their own immediate family. This wasn’t an uncommon experience. I’ve found that just letting people know of your own experience, whether it’s through language or by wearing an article of clothing with an AFSP logo on it, people are indeed eager to connect through these sorts of #RealConvos. As a testament to this, I had written on the back of my jersey over 30 names of people whose stories had been shared with me about their own connections to suicide.
We had 23 people there representing Team AFSP, and three of us happened to have decided to meet that morning in the starting area. We’d each decided to write the hashtag #StopSuicide on our arms as a way to spread our message for all spectators to see, as well as providing ourselves personal motivation for when the race got tough.
A common saying of long-distance runners is that the first ten miles of a marathon are run with your body, the next ten are run with your head, and the final six are run with your heart. But for the first ten miles, it felt like we had skipped right ahead to running with our hearts.
I loved the feeling of running side-by-side in our AFSP jerseys. We looked and felt like a team, serving a common purpose. We each also wore tags on our shoes and yelled out messages of inspiration written on them, such as, “dream big,” “run strong,” and “I can do this.” Each of these positive mantras had kept us going for over 400 miles of training in preparation of running the marathon, and coming back to them on the day of the race served us well.
The three of us had each trained differently, and we actually hadn’t planned on running the full marathon together. But between miles 10 and 20, we had bonded so thoroughly that we realized we could rely on each other for energy and motivation, and decided to finish the race together.
There’s a picture taken of the three of us who ran together from our team of over 20, just before we finished the race. In the photo, you can see our smiles, and the finish line. What you can’t see in the photo are our personal stories and our struggles, the people we had lost, the tears, our healing journeys, and the amazing network of support behind each of us, provided by our AFSP family.
That day, running 26.2 miles together, Team AFSP raised over $20,000 for suicide prevention, funds that will go toward research, education, public policy efforts, and support programs. Team AFSP came in third place for charity teams at the event.
I felt proud to be a part of this special North Shore tradition, and I invite you to join us this year.
Each time I look at the photo of the three of us at the finish line, I’m reminded not just of a race, but that none of us are ever alone.
Click here to donate to a member of this year’s AFSP Team for Grandma’s Marathon.
Click here to learn more about Team AFSP events in your area.