A quick 26.2

A quick 26.2

Meg Grindall's morning was not going well. The night before, she'd drunk two cups of coffee at dinner before she remembered she needed a good night's sleep, and then her mother-in-law knocked on the door at 6:15 a.m., an hour sooner than expected. Four hours of sleep is no way to prepare for a 26.2 mile race, but the race is run on schedule, and so Grindall pulled on some old shorts and the shirt she'd bought the night before, braided her long, curly hair, pinned on her number and lined up. Three hours, four minutes and forty-four seconds later she would surprise everyone and cross the tape as the women's winner in the 2006 Fargo marathon, notably ahead of two runners who some had heard were in town to try to qualify for Olympic trials.

Those women missed that mark, no doubt frustrated by the strong north wind that blew against them all morning and their own troubles of the day. They probably don't begrudge Grindall her win, but they might blanch to learn that this woman who ran faster doesn't train, she just runs. One of the first rules they teach you in marathon school: never wear something new. Grindall isn't defying the rules, she doesn't know them. Unlike nearly everyone else on the course, she's not obsessed. She doesn't time herself on training runs, and only estimates how far she's going, but it's probably not more than about twelve miles, more often five to ten. The rest of the field, from the serious to the slow, is glued to a schedule -- a holy bible of specific days, paces and distances, including several training runs of eighteen to twenty miles. They wear wrist-sized global positioning systems that feed all kinds of details about pace, distance, even heart rate, allowing runners to meet the demands of the schedule precisely.

Grindall won the second race she ever entered. She ran 3:31:38 for 7th place in the 2005 Fargo marathon. Both times she qualified for the Boston Marathon, the ultimate achievement of many marathoners, but she's not going. "I just wanted to improve my time over last year. There's no rhyme or reason to why I finished where I did." She doesn't say "I won" very much. Though she is modest, her competitive spark flared up during the first twelve miles as she and another woman, who Grindall had noted at the start was wearing a serious looking outfit, took turns leading. But she got annoyed when the other runner seemed to try to cut her off, so she decided to pass her and stay ahead. After crossing the tape at the finish, Grindall was surprised to see her time, and happy to be done. "I wasn't overexhausted," she says, "I just didn't want to run any more."

She's 25, a 2004 graduate of the dietetics program at North Dakota State University. Back then, her name was Meg Twomey. She got married in August 2005, but has been too busy with an internship to have had a honeymoon yet. In addition to the $500 purse, she won a round trip airline ticket, so she and Shaun are going to Florida late next winter. They've decided she'll run the race again in 2007, but then take a break to start a family. She feels no pressure about defending her title. "If I get the same time, or better, that's fine. If not, it might not be my day."

No competitive track in high school, none in college. She started running in high school, just a couple of miles a day for her own relaxation, and maybe four miles a day in college. After graduation, she lived on the edge of town near a road that stretched for many miles, so she ran it. She decided to enter the marathon after her boss ran the Chicago marathon, a huge affair of 40,000 runners, and urged her to do it the next year. She's not up for that kind of crowd, but did enter the fledgling Fargo race. In 2005, the first year a marathon's been run in Fargo since the early 1980s, 711 people ran the full marathon; in 2006 that number was up to 982. More than 5,000 runners competed that day, in the full, the half marathon and the 5 K.

She is interested in improving enough to have gone out to Scheels sporting goods store the day Dick Beardsley was there to answer questions. Beardsley is a running guru, has a number of marathon achievements, including having run the fourth fastest men's marathon in U.S. history, and hosts a half marathon in Detroit Lakes, Minn., each fall. He gave her a few tips and talked to her about taking a shot at the Olympic trials. She'd only have to shave another fifteen minutes or so, but to Grindall that sounds like it would involve a lot of structure. "I'd rather do it for fun."

--L. McDaniel