Suzanne Gruendling, 44, of Shelburne completed back-to-back marathons this month as part of the Mississippi Blues, Mobile First Light Back2Back Challenge. She ran the Blues Marathon in Jackson, Mississippi on Jan. 9, where she placed 23rd in the female 40-44 age group. Then she headed south to Mobile, Alabama for the First Light Marathon on Jan. 10 where she placed 11th in her age group. To date, she has completed 39 marathons.
Gruendling is an elementary school principal at Summit Street School in Essex Junction. She’s a married mother of twin 14-year-old girls. She said the key ingredients for successful running are having a supportive family, and to just get out and run. “It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, just run,” she said.
A double marathon was a challenge and Gruendling wasn’t sure if she could do it. “There is an appeal to standing on a start line and not knowing if you can make it,” she said. “Life can be hard, and there is a lot of strength that comes from knowing you can do miles 20 to 26.2 on an easy day and also on the hardest days.”
Running gives Gruendling balance, she said. “I usually run in the morning,” she said. “I like to watch the world wake up. I like the quiet of training and the chaos of marathons.”
As for marathon running, Gruendling said she is enamored with the 26.2 distance. “It’s the feel of the start line, the anticipation and the intensity of getting to mile 20 and locking in the last 6.2 miles to 26.2,” she said.
Marathons illustrate what is great with the world, Gruendling said. “You see cities from a view on the pavement, where strangers you will never see again volunteer for water stops or stand outside their houses cheering for you. That humbles me every time.”
Gruendling said she has always thanked volunteers and police officers on the course. “While thanking people in Alabama, a volunteer responded, ‘you are worth it.’ That is what is right with the world.”
For her big double-marathon weekend, 400 runners came from all over to run. Gruendling dodged lightning and endured thunderstorms and torrential rain in Mississippi. In Alabama the weather was a cool 30 degrees but it was sunny, beautiful and dry.
“Without a doubt, I have been lucky,” she said. “I have run races with great people all over the country from the east coast to San Francisco to Hawaii. I feel very lucky.”
Inspiration comes from the three months of the year when she coaches with the Vermont City Marathons Junior Youth Relay Program, Gruendling said. She trains about 70 middle school and high school runners from a wide variety of backgrounds. “We train to accomplish running either a five-person relay leg or a half marathon leg,” she said. “They are incredible to me, most who never thought they would run more than one mile in their life, get themselves to 6 or 13.1 miles.”
Gruendling would like to thank the drivers of Charlotte and Shelburne who leaving runners room on the road. “I am the runner out there with the yellow jacket, pony tail and sometimes eating a scone from Village Wine and Coffee while I run,” she said. “The extra room is appreciated.”