When she crossed the starting line in 1977, Wendy Cregg didn’t aim to be the winning woman in the first Grandma’s Marathon. As she got started, though, Cregg’s competitive side took over.
“Around 15 miles I thought, ‘I feel really good,’” she recalled, and she sped up. A friend told her that someone up ahead was the woman in first place, and Cregg’s curiosity if he was right helped her raise the rate even more and overtake the woman in front.
The concept of women participating in marathons was so new that no official thought to take Cregg’s picture at the finish line after the 18 year old outpaced six or seven other women and beat around 110 of the 150 men running, too.
Duluth’s Grandma’s Marathon may have started small, but the race is now in its 43rd year with 9,000 runners. It is older than even the Twin Cities Marathon, which started in 1982, according its website.
Cregg, now 60, moved on from her win quickly and never ran another marathon, but the race’s founders remembered her. After event organizers transcribed their pencil-and-paper records of the first few races and rediscovered her achievement, the Eden Prairie resident got a call this winter from officials, who told her they’ll be honoring her with the Scott A. Keenan Founder’s Award.
On Saturday, June 22, Cregg will receive her award and welcome runners to the finish line with Keenan, who helped organize the first Grandma’s Marathon and still oversees the race, Cregg said.
“There’s a big to-do over the weekend and I’ll be at the finish line with Scott,” she said. “I didn’t get much attention at all when I crossed the finish” in 1977, she noted. “Nowadays the college coach would probably call you up.”
Winning Grandma’s Marathon at 18 was hardly the end of Cregg’s athletic career. She grew up on the Iron Range and participated in as many women’s sports as were available to her: cross country running, cross country skiing, and track and field. Running on back country trails felt like an extension of her childhood adventures, she said.
“You say goodbye to mom in the morning, you stop by for lunch maybe, and you’re outside all day,” Cregg explained. “We just roamed.”
Cregg and her husband, Casey, raised their three children to be just as outdoorsy as they are. The family travels around the world to kayak, hike and ski with each other. While Cregg has stayed fit her whole life — joining running clubs, biking with a women’s group called the Hot Flashes — those family gatherings are part of her motivation to keep working hard.
“The better shape I can stay in, the longer I can do things with my kids,” she explained. “Some people will not be surprised by this, but I like working out hard.”
In a life that’s involved plenty of outdoor adventures, being the first woman to win the first Grandma’s Marathon is a footnote.
“My original thought was, I just wanted to see if I could do it,” she remembered. “It’s just one of those things I did.”