When Gwen Jacobson ran in her first road race a decade ago, the Rochester woman was in her early 50s -- with no idea of the revolution running would create in her life.
It started as a New Year's resolution. Eleven years ago, Jacobson and a group of co-workers pledged to train for a 5K race to support a co-worker whose husband was diagnosed with cancer.
After finishing, it dawned on Jacobson that running "was kind of fun." To keep herself going, she made a point of entering a local 5K every month that benefited a charity.
From there, distances became longer and longer: From 5Ks, Jacobson graduated to half-marathons, then from half marathons to full 26.2-mile marathons.
Jacobson has never stopped running. This month, she ran in her 84th marathon.
Jacobson competed in the London Marathon earlier this month, on the 10th anniversary of her running her first marathon in the Twin Cities. She came in third-place in the 60-to-64 age category in the Abbott World Marathon majors, part of the London Marathon. Eight days later, she ran in the Boston Marathon, running a 3:23:08, her second fastest time, and came in first place in her age category.
Jacobson has run marathons in each of the 50 states. At the time she made the resolution, Jacobson thought what better way to see the country. She completed the 50-state circuit two years ago in Des Moines, Iowa. The choice of Iowa's capitol city was by design, because Des Moines was her birthplace and where she grew up. More than 30 friends and family made the 3 1/2-hour trek from Rochester to celebrate her feat.
"It was amazing," she said.
Jacobson worked at Federated Insurance in Owatonna for more than 40 years and retired in December 2018. She now works as a supplemental concierge in the International Center at Mayo Center.
Jacobson didn't play sports in high school or have much of a fitness background when she took up running. She dabbled in running in her early 30s, but dropped it to raise her children. She picked it back up after her children graduated from high school.
"Running is something you can do on your own schedule," she said. "And to me, it really is an emotional release when I go out and run. I let everything go from my mind, and I just enjoy nature."
Today, Jacobson, 63, doesn't have to find the motivation to run anymore. The desire stirs internally. What Jacobson has had to learn is how to pump the brakes, how to pace herself.
When COVID-19 hit last year, Jacobson did nothing but run. She wasn't able to get in to gyms for her strength training, an essential part of her physical regimen. When racing season started last fall, Jacobson traveled to Arkansas to compete in a marathon there and broke her right femur. It was her third stress fracture in 10 years.
"It was eye-opening because I am older. My doctor said, 'you can't run everyday anymore. You need to do strength training. You need to cross-train,'" she said. "I discovered I had osteoporosis. So now, I'm treating that. I'm getting the proper calcium and doing all the right things."
Jacobson doesn't run every day anymore. She limits herself to about three days a week. Still running two marathons -- London and Boston within an eight-day period might seem like pushing it.
"As long as I don't run every day," she laughs.
There are still more continents to conquer. Jacobson's long-term goal is to finish the Abbot World Majors and to achieve what marathoners consider the race's greatest prize: Becoming a six-star finisher. Runners compete in six marathons, three in the U.S. and three overseas. Jacobson has finished four of them.
"I believe you are never too old to start running," she said.
Jacobson's tips for beginners
1. Get fitted with the right running shoe. Terra Loco running store offers a running analysis as does Active PT.
2. Find a Couch to 5K program that fits your lifestyle.
3. If you don't want to run alone, the Rochester Running Club is a resource. Rochester has more than 80 miles of paved running trails and is a runner-friendly city.
"I don't have to run alone unless I want to," Jacobson said. "The support of and community of my fellow runners makes the miles fly by."