By Starrla Cray
COKATO, MN For Leah Borg of Cokato and her three sisters Hannah Behrens, Naomi Behrens, and Sarah Borg running is about perseverance, teamwork, and faith.
The four women have participated in a combined total of 20 full marathons.
“It’s been quite the adventure,” Naomi said. We love the challenge of having a personal goal and sticking to it.”
Their most recent 26.2-mile trek was Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth June 19. Although they’ve each done several marathons, this was the first one all four sisters have run together.
They grew up in Winsted with their parents, Dave and Mary, along with other siblings. Dave and Mary have since moved to Lester Prairie, and the girls have moved to other areas, as well.
Sarah Borg, 30, lives in Georgia with her husband, Mark, and 1-year-old daughter, Keziah.
Leah Borg, 28, is married to Mark’s older brother, Tim. The Cokato couple has four children under the age of 6.
Hannah, 26, works in real estate in Texas, and Naomi, 24, lives in Winsted and is a dental assistant in Watertown and Winsted.
The June 19 marathon experience varied greatly for each of the four girls. Leah earned a personal record with a time of 4 hours and 16 minutes, while Sarah suffered from a foot injury and struggled to complete the race.
Throughout it all, however, the girls supported and encouraged one another, as they do in other areas of life.
“Life is often a race where you have to endure,” Hannah said. All four girls said that running parallels their Christian walk with God.
“We all have challenges in life that come our way. Running is a physical reminder to challenge and stretch ourselves,” Hannah said. “We can often push past the limitations that we think we have physically and spiritually.”
“Life is not a sprint, but a marathon,” Naomi added.
The sisters, who were home schooled, started running as a way to stay in shape.
“All of us girls owe a lot to our parents for teaching us the importance of staying active and living a healthy lifestyle,” Naomi said.
“Our parents were both runners when they were younger, and I think it just trickled down,” Sarah added,
Even though Sarah and Hannah live farther away now, they still encourage one another in their training.
“It’s been really fun as we’ve gotten older,” Hannah said. “In the last six years, we’ve become really close.”
Leah and Sarah ran their first marathon in 2001.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Leah said, explaining that marathon runners typically attach a computer chip to their shoes that tracks their time. “We had no idea about any of that stuff.”
“We don’t even know what our time was,” Sarah laughed.
The girls have come a long way since that first race, participating in marathons in various parts of the country.
Grandma’s Marathon was Naomi’s third marathon this year.
“It hasn’t always been a bed of roses,” Naomi said. “I ran the Disney marathon in January after having had an awful case of food poisoning the day before.”
Last year, she ran Grandma’s Marathon with an injured iliotibial (IT) band muscle.
“Making sure you listen to your body is key,” Naomi said. “Also, getting regular chiropractic care from Dr. Brent Schank in Winsted helps to keep the muscles and joints working properly.”
Race day in Duluth
For this year’s Grandma’s Marathon, Naomi and Hannah “took it easy,” and both crossed the finish line with a time of 5 hours and 2 minutes.
Sarah had plantar fasciitis in her left foot, so her time was 6 hours 22 minutes.
“I basically was in pain the entire time. At mile 25, I sat down on the curb and started crying,” she said.
Talking to her husband on the phone gave her renewed encouragement, however.
“I had one shoe off and one shoe on for the last mile,” she laughed. “I am really grateful to have finished.”
Before the race, the sisters befriended a Kenyan named Henry, whose goal time was 2 hours and 14 minutes.
“We then realized that this could be the guy who would win the entire Grandma’s race sitting right beside us,” Naomi said.
After the race, the girls checked his time: 2 hours and 18 minutes. He placed eighth overall, and fifth out of the men.
Henry was only minutes behind the overall winner, 36-year-old Philemon Kemboi of Kenya, who finished in 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 44 seconds. Kemboi earned $10,000 for the victory, plus a $900 bonus for finishing in under 2 hours and 16 minutes.
“You never know who you will meet at these events and races,” Naomi said.
According to the Minnesota Distance Running Association, the 2010 Grandma’s Marathon had 7,387 registrants and of those, 5,786 runners started the race and 5,631 finished.
Seeing the variety of people at the race is inspiring, Sarah said. Some are cancer survivors, others have prosthetic limbs, and many run in memory of loved ones.
Training for a marathon takes time and effort, the girls said.
“If you’re going to train for anything, it’s one of those things you have to work up to,” Sarah said. “You don’t just go out and run 20 miles one day.”
“We try to keep ourselves healthy and not overdo it,” Naomi added.
Leah said she enjoys running early in the morning.
“It really helps the outlook of my day,” she said.
During training, she’s sometimes out as early as 5:30 a.m. Her longer runs range from nine to 18 miles, but when she’s not in training, she usually does about three to five miles at a time.
“I love just being outside,” Leah said. “It’s a great way to keep in shape.”
“For me, I think it’s that runner’s high,” Sarah added.
All four sisters said running is also a great way to clear their minds and worship God.
“It gives me time to pray and talk to God and just feel really alive,” Hannah said.
For more information about Grandma’s Marathon, go to www.grandmasmarathon.com. The 2011 race is scheduled for Saturday, June 18.