Running for more

Running for more

UW-Superior’s Jessie Pooler has overcome adversity to run in this weekend’s Grandma’s Marathon

Among the thousands of participants and tens-of-thousands of spectators in Duluth, Minnesota, on Saturday, June 22, for Grandma’s Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon will be UW-Superior TRIO Student Support Services Academic Coach Jessie Pooler.

In her second time running in the 26.2-mile race from Two Harbors to Duluth’s Canal Park, Pooler has juggled many obstacles to participate in the 48th annual event and feed her hunger for competition – which began at a young age with an introduction to the world of running.

“In middle school, the high school track coach would come and have all the eighth graders run a mile,” said Pooler. “I was the first girl to finish and there was only one boy in front of me. The coach walked right up to me and said, ‘you’re going to be in cross country.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’”

That was the beginning of Pooler participating in cross country and track and field for Northwestern High School in Maple, Wisconsin, and an introduction to races.

“Nobody in my family runs,” she said. “At my high school graduation party, my great uncle showed up after Grandma’s Marathon, which he just decided one day he was going to run, and he did it. He said he passed out at mile 22 or 23 and then he got back up and finished.

“He was laying in the back of a truck at my grad party, just half dead I think, and I thought that was so amazing. I’m gonna run this race someday in his honor.”

Pooler went on to participate in track and field at Minnesota State University Moorhead before being diagnosed with a heart condition.

“Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my desk doing nothing and my heart rate will jump up to 160,” Pooler said. “And then sometimes I’ll be running, and my heart rate should be at 140 but it’s at 60. When it drops like that, then I pass out.”

While Pooler has been dealing with the condition, she reports improvement, and she hasn’t had any incidents in years.

“I learned when to stop pushing and listen to my body,” she said.

As a graduate student and with her heart condition manageable, Pooler joined the school’s triathlon team before suffering another setback.

“While training, I got hit by a car on my bike,” she said. “So, I never got to compete.”

After recovering from the injury, Pooler began running again with friends and competing in local races – and winning multiple 5K and 10K events around her home in Colorado.

In 2019, Pooler took part in her first Grandma’s Marathon.

“I was training with friends that had run the Boston Marathon,” said Pooler. “I’m like, these girls are so bad ass. I’ll never run that fast. And then I beat some of their times.”

For her inaugural marathon, Pooler set the goal of 3:33 – a time in memory of her brother that passed away while she was in high school and the uncle that ignited the desire for marathon running.

“When I ran it the first time, there were people along the whole course, and if my legs didn’t carry me, the people’s energy would have,” she said. “I just I love that.”

Pooler’s Grandma’s Marathon time was fast enough to qualify her for the Boston Marathon, but that race did not come with perfect timing.

“I trained really hard, and I was on course to run a three-hour marathon,” she said. “And then the 2020 Boston Marathon got canceled because of Covid.”

After applying for five years, she also got a lottery spot in the Mount Marathon Race. Set in Seward, Alaska, the race is billed as “the toughest 5K on the planet.”

“In a mile and a half, you go up 3,022 feet,” said Pooler. “At some points you’re literally holding onto roots and pulling yourself up and sliding in the mud. It’s very intense.”

Yet another injury on a bicycle, followed by the birth of her child, pushed an attempt in the Mount Marathon back another year.

“My pregnancy was really, really awful,” she said. “I was in and out of the hospital. And then I had the baby and was hospitalized again. Race organizers had deferred my race to the next year after I found out I was pregnant, and I ran it four-and-a-half-months postpartum. When I applied before the deferral, I trained to be in the top 10, but I was somewhere in the middle of the crowd. I was nowhere near the front. I hadn’t run the whole pregnancy because I was so sick.”

However, that delay made finishing the race even sweeter.

“I came around the corner to the finish line and I just started bawling,” said Pooler. “I was like, oh my gosh, I’m finally here and it’s OK that I’m not in the front. And that was the first time that I felt like it’s OK that I’m not crushing this. I’m crushing it as a four-month postpartum person who hasn’t run for over a year.”

That race helped to convince Pooler to race in this year’s Grandma’s Marathon. Training for the race has also come with a new set of challenges involving a 15-month-old child.

“I soon realized that having a kid also means that anytime she’s sick, I can’t run,” said Pooler. “When she’s sick, that means I’m probably going to get sick and then I’m still not going to run. And then if I don’t have childcare or if there’s a family emergency, I can’t run.”

Pooler did manage to find opportunities to train – even running in the recent Pike Lake Races – and has a positive outlook for this week’s Grandma’s Marathon.

“I wanted to run my three-hour time,” she said. “I gave up on that idea after I realized that’s just not possible this year. Maybe in a couple of years when my daughter’s bigger and a little more independent, but I’m feeling pretty good about it.”