Area marathoners dash through fog, cold during 2013 Grandma’s Marathon

Just outside of Two Harbors along the north shore of Lake Superior, Monica (Headlee) Dorn stood at the starting line of Grandma’s Marathon last Saturday morning amid a sea of other runners. Ahead of her was a 26.2-mile route to Duluth enveloped by a thick fog. Behind her were 11 months of getting back into shape after giving birth to her first child, Rachel.

In her first race since welcoming her daughter into the world, the former collegiate cross country and track standout showed she can certainly still run at a high level. Dorn, a Hendricks resident, finished her fifth marathon in a time of 2 hours, 57 minutes, 32 seconds. Not only was it a personal best for Dorn by four minutes, but it also placed her 18th out of 2,343 females who completed the race.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that Dorn had even considered marathoning, but she said her decision to start has been incredibly rewarding.

“I thought marathoners were crazy. I thought there was no reason to run 26 miles,” said Dorn, who was an All-American cross country runner at Black Hills State University (S.D.) in 2000. “Then after I had run a few of them, the first two marathons I ran were about 3 hours, 40 minutes, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m never going to get much faster than that.’ But I just decided to really commit myself to the training and seeing what I could do and ran more half marathons, which led into more full marathons and I’ve kind of become an accidental marathoner.

“It’s actually worked out really well for me and my body seems to respond better to the longer distances than it ever did to the shorter distances.”

Dorn was one of several local runners to compete in Grandma’s Marathon, which saw 5,618 runners cross the finish line this year. Marshall resident Chris Foley was one of them, though unlike Dorn, this was his first time tackling the grueling challenge of a marathon.

Foley, 36, had planned on running the race with his sister, Cathy Foley, but she got pneumonia early in the training season and wasn’t able to be at the starting line with her brother. She did, however, join him with 10 miles remaining and completed the race with him.

Chris Foley finished the marathon in 4:08:24, which put him in 1,958th place out of 3,275 male runners.

Temperatures in the upper 40s and a light drizzle caused race officials to post hypothermia signs along the route, as they were concerned the runners’ exposure to the cool conditions could lead to some issues on the road.

With the thick fog, Foley said the runners were denied a view of Lake Superior during the race, but the other weather conditions suited him well.

“I actually had a great time. The temperature was perfect for me,” Foley said. “That’s actually what the weather has been like here until June, so that’s what I was used to training in. I’m kind of a sweater myself, so every time I looked at the forecast and it said 50 I was thinking ‘This is gonna be perfect for me.'”

Foley said he trained for the race by himself, doing some reading on what it took to run a marathon and practicing using a treadmill during his lunch breaks and running long distances during the weekends. With the conditions to his liking on race day, Foley found his groove in the large field of runners.

“I thought that was going to be hard for me but I got into a little zone and didn’t really focus on anyone but myself,” he said. “When my sister jumped in and started running with me with about 10 miles left, afterwards she said she could just tell that I was in the zone.”

While Dorn ran her best time ever, she said she wasn’t at the top of her game. The conditions were also to her liking, but her body wasn’t cooperating how she had hoped.

“I actually didn’t feel good the entire race. It was one of those races where from the time the gun went off my legs were just not responding the way I thought they would,” Dorn said. “They felt really heavy and I had a lot of cramping starting at about mile 16, so it was really a fight to get to the finish line, but my training paid off. I was able to hang in there and still get a good time even though I didn’t feel like I had my best of days.”

Dorn said she thought on a good day she would be able to run a time of 2:53 or so, and on an OK day run a 2:58. She was happy to learn that even on a bad day she could run just under 2:58.

Before moving to Hendricks, Dorn taught at Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and was the track coach there. She said she’s in “baby-raising mode” now, but has a desire to eventually return to coaching to help young kids experience the rewards that come with running.

“Running has really gotten me so far in my life,” she said. “It hasn’t gotten me money and it hasn’t gotten me fame, but it’s one of those sports where if you work hard you’ll see yourself improving, and that’s such a positive message to send on to kids. I’ve enjoyed my years coaching and I’ll definitely get back into it at some point.”

Now that he’s got his first marathon under his belt, Foley also has the runner’s itch. The positive experience at Grandma’s Marathon has him already setting his sights on lower times.

“If my heart’s still beating and I’m still upright, I’ll probably do a couple more,” he said. “I’d like to shoot for under four (hours) and possibly even closer to three at some point.”