For one morning, Grace Kassander was transported to another place. For a few hours, the mom, the wife, the teacher, the business owner, was someone else.
A marathon runner.
Grace had trained for months, since February, when there was still ice on the sidewalks and darkness outside the morning windows. She had nursed an injured hamstring back to full strength. She worked at her nutrition to get her through her taxing long-distance runs.
And then she recently took her place among 1,700-plus at her first ever marathon, the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon.
Three hours, 37 minutes and 9 seconds later, with mixed emotions, she crossed the finish line.
Grace was elated that she accomplished her first goal – she finished. She was exhausted from accomplishing her second goal – under fours hours. And she was a little exasperated that she missed her third goal.
Grace would have been an automatic Boston Marathon qualifier in her age group with a time of 3:35. She missed it by a mere 2 minutes.
She rested her hands on her hips and looked up at the clear blue sky.
It was with this swirling mixture of thoughts that Grace collected her marathon medal, posed for a photograph with it, and took a water and a small bag of food from a race volunteer. Oh did her legs hurt.
But so did this thought: What if she hadn't taken that bathroom break at Mile 17? That was 2 minutes. How does anyone run that far and that fast without a bathroom break?
"Mile 17. And then I just sat there for an extra 10 seconds," Kassander said. "And I said, this feels good.
"Yeah. In a porta-potty. For an extra 10 seconds. My feet hurt so bad. I'm like, 'I'm not in a rush. I got this.'
"I started with the pacer guy for 8-minute miles," Kassander said. "I went a little faster than him, but I was still there. And then at the potty break I lost him. I couldn't even find him.
"Every single water stop I took something. I couldn't have done this without that."
And then the vision of her family waiting for her at the finish line snapped her right back. Grace wanted to sit and rest, but she walked over to them, full of gratitude for them, and their support, when her oldest son spotted her and said:
"I'm hungry, Mom. I need a snack."
Grace scrambled to look in to her bag of goodies for something to hand over to her boy while her husband pointed out that Mom was wearing a huge medal.
"Well, I got three and a half hours to myself!" Grace said on the side with a big laugh.
For the next 10 minutes as Grace nibbled on bits of banana and bites of a pretzel, with her three children picking through her lunch bag and calling "Mom!" about three dozen times, Kassander talked about her marathon. With her husband and parents and other family so obviously proud of Kassander for what she had done, Kassander couldn't resist giving in to that nagging little number. Two minutes.
"I'm kind of just thinking about those two minutes – because I'm never going to do this again," Kassander said.
"I just wanted to say I qualified.
"But I didn't."
Kassander ran the first half really well, running 13.1 miles in 1:42:54.
"I was smoking it," Kassander said. "And I saw all my family at the start of the race and then Concordia. I was like, this is sweet."
Kassander even noticed neighbors who came out to support her and people she went to high school with.
The end of the race had a surprise, however. The wind.
"It sucked! They should tell you that! No one tells you, oh at the lake, it's windy!"
Mile 20 was the monster mile for Kassander. Her shoulders were OK, her head was fine, her back was good, her mind was clear, but her legs, tucked in compression socks, were on fire. Her toenail was just miserable for her.
And she wasn't sweating, so she knew she was dehydrated. And she dropped one salt tablet on the ground and lost it – and wondered if it would matter.
"I'm like, OK, I have 6 miles to go," she said. "I think my body just gave out. It sucked to see the mile markers. I'm sorry. It sucked."
Kassander would not rather see those mile markers, but they are pretty unavoidable.
"I think at Mile 22 you're like, 'OK! I'm at the lakefront!' But – you're still four miles from the finish line. At the end, I was dumping water on myself. That's when I got worried."
When some male runners around her started walking, Kassander thought, I can walk too. She had to talk herself out of it. Spectator support all the way down the race, and her music, kept her going.
"And having your name on your bib, people say, 'good job, Grace.'
"It was a beautiful course. If you're thinking of doing a marathon, I would do this one. Or I would be a volunteer here to give back to what people did for me. It was a nice course, very organized.
"Honest to gosh, I thought I had that Boston qualifier," Kassander said. "I'm like, 'I got it! I got it.'
"But I finished. I did it. I can honestly get my bumper sticker and say, I did a marathon. And I'm done."