Roche runs Grandma’s, qualifies for Boston

Dan Miller

Melissa Roche went to bed early Friday night before competing in the 2004 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn.

Roche, an All-American member of Minnesota’s rowing team, went into the race only weeks after finishing her senior rowing season.

“I didn’t have much time to train,” Roche said. “But I thought, now that rowing is done, what adventure is next?”

Grandma’s Marathon was next.

In all, 6,751 participants from all over the globe took part in the marathon portion of the event Saturday. The 26.2-mile course runs along the shore of Lake Superior starting just outside Two Harbors, Minn., and running into Duluth.

The race first began in 1977 and has grown into a world-ranked event that draws thousands of participants each June. The marathon section of the event is structured by divisions ranging from 18-34 to 70 and over.

On Saturday, Vladimir Tsiamchyk from Belarus crossed the marathon finish line first with a time of 2:17.59.

Fira Sultadova-Zhdanova of Gainesville, Fla., was the first woman to finish with a time of 2:35.08.

Finishing with a time of 3:24:22, Roche reached her goal of meeting the Boston Marathon’s qualifying time of three hours and 40 minutes.

She finished 560th overall and was 44th in her division of 18- to 34-year-old women.

Roche is no stranger to running. She competed in five cross country state meets while attending Albert Lea High School.

Wendy Davis, Minnesota’s rowing coach who coached Roche for four years, emphasized another factor in her ability to perform well.

“It shows how fit she was coming off her rowing season,” Davis said.

While Roche seems to be going back to her roots with distance running, Davis said she hopes the All-American will eventually get back in a boat.

But Roche cannot try out for the U.S. Olympic team until she is finished with school, and she still has a year left. She plans on studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, next year and will have time to think about what she wants to do next.

“Going for the Olympic team is not something you just go after half-heartedly,” Roche said. “It is definitely a lifestyle.”

Roche said she will use the year off to think about whether she wants to take on the commitment of pursuing the Olympic team and rowing beyond college.

In the meantime she said she will enjoy running to stay in shape.

“I would say my heart has always been in running, but I plan on getting back in a boat,” Roche said.

While Davis is anxious to see Roche row again, she said it is good to try different things.

“She is a very multi-faceted person,” Davis said. “It seems to me this is a good time for her to see if she misses the rowing.”