He was still going to run.
On June 13, 2019, no matter the circumstances, Spring Lake Park’s Jason DeShaw began running at least a mile a day, a streak that was to take him to a full year just before the 2020 Grandma’s Marathon. So when the call came at the end of March that this year’s race was officially canceled due to the coronavirus, he wasn’t about to simply set all of that preparation aside.
No, if DeShaw couldn’t go to Duluth for Grandma’s Marathon, he would find a way to bring Grandma’s Marathon to him. And, as it turned out, his entire neighborhood.
“Pretty much I knew right away when it was canceled I was going to figure out something to do,” DeShaw said. “Part of the whole momentum of running every day for a year was Grandma’s.”
Still committed to racing, next up was finding a course. Somewhere to cover 26.2 miles while still being able to have access to water and aid stations, maybe even a spectator or two to offer moral support along the way.
It turned out, there’s no place like home.
“My wife grew up in the house we live in now,” DeShaw said. “She knew that three times around the neighborhood was two miles, so she said, ‘What if you ran 39 times around our neighborhood?’ I laughed and said, ‘Ahhh, yeah, that’d be so hard.’ You’d have 39 opportunities to quit, but also just running the same thing over and over again I thought would be redundantly hard mentally. But we joked about it for a while and just a couple days later, I said, ‘You know, why not?’
“We started talking about that, and we thought about ways it could be really cool for our neighborhood. Seeing our neighbors go through the same hard things we were because of quarantine and not being able to connect with them, help or reach out, we thought that would be a way to rally our neighborhood together and let them know we’re thinking of them and have it be fun together. If it takes me being a goofball running around the neighborhood 39 times, I’ll do it. That was a big part of it — we both have a big heart for our neighborhood.”
The route set, DeShaw’s wife began to spread the word throughout their neighborhood, organizing community support for the June 20 race day. Originally billed as a solo marathon, it transformed into something far greater.
As communication and interest between neighbors grew, it was discovered that several people had a connection to the charity Feed My Starving Children. The organization, which facilitates volunteers packing meals designed to assist reversing and preventing undernutrition, is near to DeShaw’s heart. He has been closely involved with it for 15 years, first while doing youth ministry and continuing now as a pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fridley.
“Kids would have that experience and see the amazing ways they were able to impact the world,” DeShaw said. “They absolutely changed people’s lives. It’s very impactful ministry for me, and as a pastor I have worked with them pretty closely in bringing groups out and funding in my church role.
“But this time we were just wanting to help an organization that was profoundly impacted by COVID. They had to figure out a whole new model to accomplish what they needed to do. They’re still only running at half the capacity, and they’ve had to figure out ways to automate to get it done. It was a great organization at a great time. We found all kinds of connections from my neighborhood with them as an organization. Everything came together, and it was really amazing.”
Three weeks before the marathon, there was not much left standing in the way of reaching the starting line. With the heavy pounding of training complete and confidence growing as race day neared, an idea came that would make another silver lining out of racing at home by involving the community in raising money for Feed My Starving Children.
“I’ve never done anything like that,” DeShaw said. “We didn’t start fundraising until pretty late because I didn’t want to commit to something like that and get injured. It wasn’t like I was running marathons all the time. It wasn’t until I was sure I could do it that we asked people to be a part of it.”
Running has been part of DeShaw’s life since his first marathon in 1995. He completed five more leading up to this year, the last coming seven years ago.
Seeking the positives he knew running and being active provides, he began his continuous running streak.
“I hadn’t trained or anything, not seriously until the last year,” DeShaw said. “I tried one other time running every day for a month. It had a lot of really great benefits. Then I tried a couple other little things like that. Running was always the thing I could stick with.”
DeShaw has found a variety of deep benefits on many levels along the road, leading to the goal of running a mile a day and training for a marathon.
“When I started thinking about running every day, I was mostly thinking about the physical health benefits,” DeShaw said. “It had been a long time since I had felt in shape, so I was really hoping for those kind of benefits — those kind are the hardest benefits. Since I first started running every day I’ve lost about 35 pounds. Before I had a resting heart rate in the mid-60s, now I have a resting heart rate of about 43, 42. So that was a big change.
“What I’ve been most surprised about are the benefits from a mental health and spiritual aspect. From the mental health aspect, my experience is 100% that the chemistry of the brain is affected by exercise. My experience is that any struggles I was having mentally, I’m better able to cope. Not that I don’t face the same struggles as before, but I feel I’m more resilient to cope with the emotional ups and downs, particularly coming into COVID and even what’s going on in the world, I’ve been recognizing things about myself personally in all of that. I think my ability to cope is so much different than even a year ago.
“Spiritual benefits are harder to quantify, but to have anywhere from one hour on a regular day to putting in the longer training miles of four hours — that’s a lot of alone time, and I think it has been really good to connect myself as a Christian Lutheran pastor, to have that time in prayer connected to God is amazing and transformational to me. I’ve felt a significant impact by running every day.”
The journey led to race day and an outpouring of support from neighbors. Including some who couldn’t resist hopping on the pavement and joining in at various stages. Lap by lap until 39 trips around home were done.
“I can’t express how amazing our neighborhood is,” DeShaw said. “It just really came out and supported. There were cheering stations, water stations, all the way around the loop. There’s about 75 houses, and it seemed like most of them were somehow around or part of it. There were lots of people and lots of kids that ran with me, as many as 12, 13, 14 at a time. A few people who ran lots of laps, six, eight, 10, 12 laps with me at a time. It was just incredible.”
After the race was over, the numbers were in: 39 laps, 13 swings through the cul de sac, 26.2 miles, a running streak chugging past 365 days. And over $6,500 raised for Feed My Starving Children.
“That just blows my mind,” DeShaw said. “We had hoped this would be something to bring together the neighborhood, but I don’t think we ever imagined it would be as effective at doing that as it was.”
After such a strong showing, there were more than a few neighbors already speculating about a new annual tradition.
There’s nothing set in stone yet. But also no signs of slowing down.
“There were people who were running with me far better and more accomplished than me,” DeShaw said. “When it was just getting started, the first few laps people were saying they were wanting to be a part of it the following year.
“There are no promises, nothing concrete, but I think our neighborhood is definitely expecting something. I would love to do it again.”