Qualifying for the 2013 Boston Marathon isn’t for the faint of heart. All told, more than 300,000 runners set their minds and crossed the lines at 50 sanctioned races.
And with spots reserved for only 27,000 runners, Boston also upped the ante for the first time in more than a decade by requiring all age groups and both genders to run five minutes faster to qualify for a coveted spot.
Meet Jennifer Grosshandler, 46, of Highland Park, IL who is on her way to her first Boston Marathon after qualifying and placing third in her age group at the 2011 Prairie State Marathon in Libertyville, IL with a time of 3:49 08. Last year 833 Illinoisans ran Boston, and this year Grosshandler will be among them. As she makes final preparations for the 117th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15 (aka Tax Day for the less athletically inclined), she is feeling a mix of both awe and anticipation – especially when she realizes how far she’s come.
“I started out running really just as a way to get in better shape,” Grosshandler says. “I completely struggled with weight when I was younger. Running in college, I’d gag and dry heave when I ran. A doctor ran a treadmill heart stress test on me and checked my BMI, and I was 25 pounds heavier than my ideal weight.”
In the years since college, Grosshandler began to train for a mix of triathlons and running races while honing her diet. She typically exercises five to six hours a week, with a minimum of one hour a day. With Boston approaching, she’ll run 55-60 miles a week and combine running and strength training for 2+hours a day. Beyond the workouts, the rest of her life is far from routine, as she juggles consulting work for top Chicago public relations agencies along with raising four sons with her husband, technology executive John Grosshandler.
“You just do what you gotta do,” Grosshandler says. As an athlete buddy once told me, ‘Just get 'er done.’ “
One happy surprise awaited Grosshandler on the road to Boston. She recently had the treadmill stress test repeated after all those years, and the cardiologist laughed saying she performed higher than any other patient but one in the past five years.
“Redemption,” says Grosshandler.
Another vital part of her training has been support from Fleet Feet’s Chicago-based “Boston Bound” program in Chicago. She credits the program with making her feel more connected during winter training.
“They've figured out a cool way to connect us all. Competitive runners are desperate for training tips, insider information on race courses and the newest gear, and they totally hook us up,” Grosshandler says.
At the Boston Marathon, 80 percent of the field is comprised of athletes who have met the qualifying standards. The balance consists of invitational entrants, many of whom run for local charitable organizations, with a $4,000 fundraising minimum being the norm based on last year’s totals. Some runners, like Grosshandler, are qualifiers who also raise money for a cause.
And while Grosshandler’s fast time and strong mind helped her qualify for Boston, it’s her big heart that will leave its mark long after the 2013 Boston Marathon has ended. Grosshandler has raised nearly $20,000 through races over the years for a multitude of children’s causes, and this year has selected Chicago-based Bear Necessities as her charitable touchstone.
“To know this organization is to be inspired to reach beyond the possible,” Grosshandler says. “Bear Necessities supports families and young cancer patients being treated at hospitals all over the city. With so many personal touches, they brighten the life of a child going through cancer. They also provide immediate family support for financial burdens and essential needs.”
In addition, the charity awards medical research grants aimed at finding a cure and therapies for various types of pediatric cancer.
Grosshandler wears a special bracelet designed by Bear Necessities and keeps the image of the courageous young boy Barrett (nicknamed Bear) in mind to motivate her on training runs. Working closely with Bear Necessities founder Kathleen (Barrett’s mom), currently Grosshandler is more than halfway toward her fundraising goal and developed a series of “Jen Runs Boston” videos (with giant purple bear in tow) to help get the word out about Bear Necessities. To watch the videos or contribute to the charity, visit: www.crowdrise.com/jenrunsboston
Photographs courtesy of Jennifer Grosshandler