On the weekend, Justin Grunewald of Minnesota, husband of runner Gabe Grunewald, who died on June 11 after a long battle with cancer, won The North Face Wisconsin 50 Mile race in six hours, two minutes and 44 seconds. In the process he raised more than USD $10,000 for the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, which funds research into rare cancers. It was Grunewald’s first 50-miler.
Update: @JustinGrunewald wins @thenorthfaceECS Wisconsin 50 Mile in 6:01 and some change, raising several thousand dollars for rare cancer research in the process (sending my $97 in now). So proud of this guy. @bravelikegabe #runningonhope https://t.co/aBdSVOhfYg
— Mario Fraioli (@mariofraioli) September 14, 2019
The couple’s friend, ultrarunner Ladia Albertson-Junkans, decided to honour Gabe’s memory by donating a dollar for every mile he ran, and another dollar for each minute that he went under 6:48, which they thought (though they were never able to confirm this) was the 50-mile course record. This resulted in multiple donations of $97.
It wasn’t Grunewald’s first ultra–that was last year at Afton Alps, a 50K in Minnesota, which he also won, running 3:30:14.
In an Instagram post, Grunewald describes struggling in the last few miles of the race, much of which takes place on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin’s scenic Kettle Moraine State Park: “At 46 miles I was really struggling,” he writes. “Had already vomited 3x and was ready to walk it in. Fortunately the female second placer in the 50K was there to pick me up. A stranger, she asked if I’m @gigrunewald’s husband. I immediately had to start moving again. As I moved out of sight she yelled “Brave Like Gabe!” and I felt I could go another 50 miles… I can only imagine Gabriele sent her.”
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Justin, You've cried far more than you've slept. You've charged up mountains until you feel like you'll explode, and then you charged some more. You've run into the pain you can control cuz it's far more comfortable than the other pain you feel every second of every day. You've poured yourself into the @bravelikegabe Foundation; every free moment spent working towards a future full of treatment options for rare cancer patients. You've given so much but you're not running on empty tomorrow — you're running on hope. On the hope that you've inspired in all of us cheering you on, sending you love, getting out our own door because of you. I told you I'll be donating a dollar for every mile of the race plus another dollar for every minute you run under 6:48. A few friends have pledged to join me (thanks, @mariofraioli & @vliegendelies!). I didn't tell you that I'll be doubling that donation cuz Gabe will obvi be with you (one-stepping ya 😄) every step of the way and she deserves some credit for those miles too 😉🤗 And since you'd rather that I donate my running instead of my dollars (😜), I'll also be dedicating every mile of my long run to you and G. Cuz you're my reason for getting out the door — and that's a simple act that isn't always so easy to do but that without fail changes my day in profound ways every day. So thank you. We love you no matter what happens out there tomorrow 🤗💛🌈 #bravelikegabe #runningonhope
The previous weekend, Grunewald had supported Albertson-Junkans in an FKT (supported female) on the 40-mile Timberline trail, which circles the base of Oregon’s Mount Hood. Together, they ran it in 7:02, the previous record of 7:15 having stood for more than 35 years.
“My coach, Mario Fraioli, wanted me to get in something longer. Two weeks ago I had done 40 miles with Ladia, to support the FKT for female time. I was thinking I’d lay low and skip the 50 miler, but Mario wanted me to get in a 50 miler… I’m running the TNF 50 miler in the (San Francisco) Bay Area in November and I registered for three to five different 50 milers to 100K races which ultimately just didn’t work out, due to health stuff and busy life and all that… so it was time to start getting stuff in,” Grunewald told us by phone today.
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“I hope what people see is that you can still do something beautiful & powerful in a really bad situation” – gg💛 That’s exactly what we see, gg — thanks to you, thanks to Justin, thanks to Abby, thanks to so many others following your lead. That’s what I hope we’ve honored with this Timberline FKT. When Justin first suggested it, I said let’s do it without believing I actually could but knowing I needed to try. I admitted to him that my body had been feeling really blah but didn’t add that I’d been struggling to get myself out the door most days. The record of 7:15:17 was stout AF & hadn’t been touched in almost 38 yrs; it was a very high bar to chase even at my best – a “best” that felt (feels) both far away & completely irrelevant these days. I knew Gabe would love that the bar was set so high; that she’d relish the chance to try her best to set it even higher. I knew Justin was choosing to do something beautiful & powerful in a really hard situation every day. And here he was inviting me to channel grief into strength on the trail right along with him. It was just the kick in the 👖s I needed 🤗 It ended up being one of those technicolor days. We could feel Gabe moving through us & with us, laughing & loving every minute of it. She was both our wings & the wind beneath them. When I started vomiting around mile30 (per usual😅), a long-time friend I hadn’t seen in years appeared on the trail – a trail angel sent by Gabe herself to lift me even higher & fill me with even more love for the final 10 miles. Only G knows how much this person means to me. This trail was my longest run ever by ~14 miles when I first did it back in 2016 & it was Justin’s longest run ever this time around. It was Abby’s first time even hearing the term FKT let alone crewing for one (& now she’s hired for life🤗). My time of 07:02:48 x 2 = 14:05 (Gabe’s lucky number🍀). Thank you so much to everyone who donated & sent extra sparkles our way. Y’all are just so awesome. I hope my time has fired up some lady(s) to go smash that 7hr mark💪 I hope Gabe & Justin’s example of making something beautiful & powerful in a really hard situation continues to inspire you to do the same✨
Gabe Grunewald was initially diagnosed with a rare salivary-gland cancer in 2009, and experienced recurrences in 2016 and 2017. She had a very successful career on the track, graduating as an NCAA All-American in the 1,500m, and pursued a professional running career despite dealing with several surgeries and chemotherapy. In 2014, she won the US indoor national championship in the 3,000m. Grunewald was sponsored by Brooks.