• Laura Johnson

    Laura Johnson

    Senior Admissions Counselor
    Duluth, MN
    Communication’06; MBA ’11, St. Scholastica

    Laura's Bio:
    Hi everyone, welcome to my Follow Me page! My full name is Laurajae Johnson, but you can call me Laura. I have been a part of the Saints community for nearly ten years, as a CSS student (twice over), as an active member of our Alumni Board of Directors, and as a counselor on our fantastic Admissions team—I am St. Scholastica through and through! Hopefully this website will allow you to explore our College, meet fellow Saints, and see exactly what makes our campus truly unique. Looking forward to connecting with you all soon!

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Race day recap!

Well, I survived 26.2 and lived to tell about it.

It’s funny, immediately after the race I made a quip about how running a marathon was almost harder than childbirth, and then later reneged on that thought when I remembered laboring women get epidurals. Marathon runners do not. Having a baby: 1, marathon-ing: 0.

Only half kidding. (And of course I realize not all women opt for an epidural. I did, though, and would do it again in a heartbeat.)

The race was actually pretty wonderful. Despite a fretful night of sleep plagued by nightmares that I’d miss the bus, I woke up feeling refreshed and ready. Like, really truly ready. After my peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich breakfast, I sent a flurry of text messages to friends who were getting ready to board their half marathon bus, and was met with a flurry of text messages sent back, all wishing me well. Tip – if you’re considering tackling a marathon, I suggest telling EVERYONE YOU KNOW. They’ll keep you accountable, but most importantly, they’ll keep you motivated, even at 4:45 in the morning.

I made friends with a girl on the bus – she was running her first marathon, too – and we chit-chatted the whole drive, stopping every couple of minutes to wonder aloud if we were there yet. Earlier in the week, Keith had asked me if I wanted to take a drive up the North Shore to mentally prepare for race day to which I’d replied, no waaaay. Good call, too. The drive to the start turned out to be pretty demoralizing. I don’t think I’d care to experience that twice.

When we finally arrived in Two Harbors I checked my watch and saw I had exactly one hour to the start. And it was misting. And cold. But runners are some hardy folk and I found I could kill time (waited in the porta-potty line. Twice.) and stay warm (stomped and shivered and jogged in place like an idiot) just fine before we lined up. Before I knew it, the gun was going off and I was getting ready to cross the start line of my very first marathon.

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Now, this might sound a little nuts, but the next sixteen miles were kind of a blur. Honestly. Sure, I was paying attention to the mile markers and checking my watch here and there, but it wasn’t until mile sixteen that I realized, “Hey! I’m running a marathon right now!” I think I’d gotten so caught up in trying not to feel so caught up that I let go of those debilitating thoughts runners are often troubled with, and just set out to go for a run. With 6,000 of my friends.

I did stop to go to the bathroom a couple of times, and at mile 13.1 I knew my goal of 4:20-4:30 was likely out of reach. Even still, I tried to maintain positive thoughts. By the time I got to 17, I was doing the math in my head and realizing I was officially single-digits away from crossing the finish line. And I felt awesome.

And then I did something. Maybe it was dumb, I don’t know. It’s hard to pinpoint when the beginning of the end actually happened, but it might have been around mile 17.

I decided to walk a bit. I didn’t have to. My legs weren’t sore. Physically, I felt awesome and mentally I felt even better. I just figured I’d give myself a preemptive break before I really needed it. Looking back, I don’t know if that brief stretch of walking impacted my time that much, but I’ve definitely been re-living that moment and wondering if I should’ve just plowed on. I knew I still had it in me.

Regardless, it didn’t last long. A couple blocks into my walk, a hairy-armed man from Jacksonville, FL beckoned me to run with him for a little bit (maybe I looked like I needed a buddy!) so I picked up my stride and we chatted our way through the stretch of highway right before Brighton Beach. Incidentally, he was one of five “friends” I made during my race – one of the things I love most about Grandma’s weekend. Such warm-fuzzy runner camaraderie!

Hairy-armed Jacksonville turned out to be quite a bit slower than me so I ended up passing him and just like that, I was at mile 19. I saw Keith and his family first. By that point, I was on my second (or third?) wind so I breezed right past them, stopping only to drop off my water bottle belt and blow a quick kiss to an awestruck Layla. A couple blocks later I saw my girlfriend Amy and her noisy clan of cheerleaders. Never, ever discount how amazing it feels to hear your name called out during a race! It’s the best. Finally, at the bottom of Lemon Drop hill, I saw my girlfriends, equipped with ChapStick (a request I’d made at 7am that morning) and coconut water. “Only five miles left!” they chirped. And, “You look great, except for the mascara all over your face!” 

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So. Lakeside was in the rear view mirror and I was still feeling great, albeit a little self-conscious of my raccoon eyes.

I opted to walk up Lemon Drop hill. My pace had slowed significantly and I gauged that a brisk walk would be just about on-par with the slow jog I’d adopted. I repeated my run/walk cycle for a few more blocks on London Road. And then I hit a wall.

Suddenly I was aware of every muscle in my body and each one seemed to be screaming at me to stop. My stomach was gnawing and I felt especially vulnerable since I had just passed a water station and wouldn’t arrive at another one for a whole mile. I was also battling some hardcore self-loathing. Here I was, situated at a spot on the course where there were the most spectators I’d seen all morning and I was walking.

I passed The Reef where a bunch of college kids were handing out shots of beer. I legitimately gave pause to that idea before pressing on. Instead, I grabbed an orange from the Super One station right before turning up Superior Street and thankfully it was just enough to satisfy my suddenly-insatiable hunger. Pretty soon I was within two miles from the finish.

My mom surprised me near Pizza Luce and I was overjoyed to see her, though I probably looked anything but when she greeted me with some more coconut water. Keith, Layla, and his parents were there again, too, cheering and shouting, but this time it took all my energy not to stop. Quitting had never entered my mind (okay, that’s a lie. I thought about it briefly when I ran past my car on London Road before remembering that my keys were in my sweat bag) but by that point, I knew my time didn’t matter and ohmygosh how nice would it be to just REST ALREADY. “How are you doing?” Keith had asked, pushing Layla in the stroller and jogging alongside of me. “I’m ready to be done,” I panted. And I think he said something reassuring but I can’t remember. All I knew was I was 1.5 miles away from a finish and at the rate I was going, they were going to be the hardest 1.5 miles of the race.

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My body was basically jelly. It wasn’t so much painful as it was…throbbing. Even my fingernails seemed to be pulsing. My mind had entered that weird runner’s twilight zone where a minute felt like ten and a block felt like a mile. I was hot and I was cold. I was starving. I was miserable.

And then, a miracle.

But first, a back story.

I had spent a good chunk of the spring training with my friends Carrie and Amanda, two veteran runners who were gearing up to run their second Grandma’s half marathon together. They also work at CSS, so we could squeeze in lunchtime runs when our schedules would allow for it. The three of us were following pretty rigorous training plans and it helped to have a buddy now and then to get through the mileage. Strength in numbers! When the weather finally started to cooperate we switched our indoor runs to the Lakewalk and even tackled Glenwood Avenue one sunny afternoon – for you non-Duluthians it’s one of the steepest and longest hills in the city. The girls saw me through dozens of miles, and were never short on motivation or gossip (my very best fuel!). The week of the race, Amanda sent us daily inspirational tweets to get us fired up. We were a lean mean training machine. And we were ready.

At some point, I had lamented to the two of them about the fact that I wasn’t sure anyone would be at the end to see me finish. I didn’t know what Keith’s plans were yet and didn’t want to assume he’d be able to make it to Canal Park with a toddler in tow. In response Amanda offered to meet me at the Depot and run in the last mile, knowing that I would probably need the companionship and more importantly, the boost. I agreed that it was a nice idea, but promised not to hold her and Carrie to it. After all, they would just have run 13.1 themselves, who knew what kind of running spirits they might be in by then. Also, I wasn’t sure how accurate the running tracker alerts would be. Last year Keith had signed up for them and noticed that the time splits notifications for me had had a couple minute delay. If they missed me even by a minute, they’d still be waiting and I’d be en route to the finish line solo. We made a “whatever happens happens” agreement and I texted Carrie a picture of what I’d be wearing, just in case.

Fast forward to race day, mile marker 25…I heard them before I saw them. Two guardian angels screaming my name and jogging in place and ready to scoop up what was left of my jellified body and get me to that finish line. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to see two people in my entire life! They hopped right onto the course with me and we fell into our familiar rhythm, though this time they did most of the talking while I focused on keeping one foot in front of the other. Still I was incredibly grateful for the rescue. Amanda and Carrie stuck with me until I was within blocks of the finish line, then they ducked back into the sidelines with a promise that they’d see me at the finish. I crossed at 4:36:06 and later learned that my 25th mile had also been my fastest throughout the whole race. Now those are some running buddies.

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The next hour was more or less a daze. I crossed the finish line and let someone hang a medal around my neck before crashing onto a curb, literally I fell onto it, to rest my aching legs. The girls had been such a good distraction, I’d forgotten about the state of my body for one fleeting mile. Now that the race was officially over, everything felt tired and heavy. Carrie and Amanda found me slumped over in the finishers’ corral and brought me back to life with a banana, some chips, and chocolate milk (so if anybody’s keeping count, they saved my life not once but twice during the race. I think I owe them a happy hour). At some point I had called Keith, who had made his way to the finish after all, to let him know that I was alive (good news) but couldn’t move my legs (bad news). He told me to take my time, so I did, and when C&A had finally nursed me back to health, I went to find him, only to learn that he had went to find me in the medical tents. Ohh, Keith! I’m still laughing about that one. Such a thoughtful guy.

I spent the rest of the day resting, popping pills and downing Gatorade before meeting up with everybody for celebratory dinner and drinks (always my favorite part of race day!). My first marathon was in the books and even though I’d enjoyed the first half a laaa-haaaawt more than the second, I’d definitely consider doing it again. I don’t know if it’s Grandma’s weekend in particular, the infectious energy of the other runners, or just the fact that runners are a unique breed of folks who take care of one another – it’s probably a culmination of all those things – but something about this race serves as a powerful reminder about why I started running in the first place. And why I just might be crazy enough to do it again some day, so long as Amanda and Carrie are waiting for me at mile 25.

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