Twenty six and a quarter miles. It's nearly the driving distance between Fairmont and Trimont, and is also how far marathoners have to run from the start to the finish line.
Martin County West graduate Leah Hartung successfully covered that distance last weekend, racing in Grandma's Marathon in Duluth and qualifying for next year's Boston Marathon with her personal-best time.
"Grandma's was the fourth marathon I've ever run," said Hartung. "I ran my first one with my cousin. She was doing the Twin Cities marathon in 2012 and my goal was just to finish under four hours. I finished in 3:30 or so, and I was hooked."
QUALIFIERS — Leah Hartung (right), Carmen Jaskulke (left) and Holly Neusch (center) pose for a picture after racing to their qualifying times in Grandma’s Marathon last weekend in Duluth. Hartung, Jaskulke and Neusch are all hoping to race in next year’s Boston Marathon. (Submitted by Leah Hartung)
Running is not something that Hartung is a stranger to, having run both track and cross country for Martin County West in high school.
"I played softball when I was younger, and then I wanted to try track and field because my now husband was on the team. And it turned out I was pretty good at it," said Hartung.
Although Hartung started out as a sprinter, her natural endurance and speed soon helped her to become a strong distance runner for the Mavericks.
"Stanetta (Svoboda) picked me out and thought that I might be a good distance runner. She has a good eye for that kind of thing, and with her help I got to be a good runner," said Hartung.
During her high school career, Hartung competed in the state track and field meet in both the 4x800 relay and the 1,600-meter run, and in the fall raced her way to the state cross country meet as an individual her junior and senior seasons.
Once she got to college though, Hartung started competing for fun in longer races, like half marathons before switching over to the challenging marathons.
"I always have enjoyed running, so I did half marathons in college, I've raced in eight of those. Once I ran at Grandma's for my second marathon I was only 1 minute 40 seconds from the Boston qualifying time," said Hartung. "So being a competitive person I really wanted to see if I could make it."
Training this last year with friend Holly Neusch and Carmen Jaskulke helped to push Hartung, and just one week ago she finished the 26.2 mile race in 3 hours 31 minutes and 10 seconds.
"To get ready for a race like that it was helpful to have those girls there for the long runs. We built up to 20-mile runs, but we try to do core training and some cross training so it isn't all running," said Hartung. "Working with the pigs on the farm is also a good way to get some strength work in."
With a personal-best time Hartung, along with Neusch and Jaskulke have each earned the chance to race in the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, it isn't a certainty with 10 months before the race out East.
"Everyone that races a qualifying time for a marathon like that is eligible to register for the race. The unfortunate thing is that they go by times in the age brackets, so potentially we could miss out on the chance," said Hartung. "The three of us are really hoping to get the chance to do that though. It would be great."
Whether or not Hartung gets the chance to race in Boston, she finished 162 out of 1,397 runners in her age group and 245th out of 2,714 women in the race in Duluth last week.
"There was some pressure I felt before the race last week because I did want to qualify, but the weather was perfect and that race is just awesome. Once you reach the 20-mile mark it's like the energy and everything just builds, it really makes that last six miles go by faster," said Hartung.
The time and effort that Hartung has put into training helped her race to a Boston Marathon qualifying time.
And with a little luck, Hartung and her friends could be back on another historic 26.2 mile course in April.