Podcast: Episode 31 with Gabe and Justin Grunewald

By Mario Fraioli |

“I grew up with faith and I do think that my life has a purpose—and maybe it’s not what I thought it was going to be, but I think that it does help me at some junctures with this disease. This isn’t how I would have chosen my life to turn out at all but maybe this is my way of fulfilling my life’s purpose and trying to raise awareness for these rare diseases that really do actually need it. I would never have raised my hand to do this, but someone has to.”

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I’m super excited to have one of running’s most impressive power couples joining me on the podcast this week: Gabe and Justin Grunewald.

Gabe is one of the top middle-distance runners in the United States. She has run 4:01 for 1500m and was fourth at the Olympic Trials in that event in 2012. In 2014, she won a national title in the 3000m and has been competing at the top of the sport for close to 10 years now. But beyond all that, she’s got an incredible story, one that involves a near decade-long battle with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare, incurable form of cancer that’s returned four times since she was first diagnosed in 2009. She’s had multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments, and just has generally been on a crazy rollercoaster ride with the disease since the age of 22.

Justin, her husband, is a super solid runner in his own right. He’s qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon and is now a budding ultrarunner, who I’ve been fortunate to coach since last fall. By day, or night rather, he’s a doctor, working long shifts in the hospital, and has a very intimate understanding of the seriousness of his wife’s condition.

It was a real treat to sit down with these two recently to talk about all kinds of stuff, from how they met as student-athletes at the University of Minnesota to Justin’s foray into trail and ultrarunning and what Gabe thinks about it; we got into Gabe’s health situation, what she’s been through over the past two years, how her relationship with running has evolved in that time, and the competitive goals she still has for herself; we talked about her role as a cancer advocate, starting the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, and coaching celebrity Chip Gaines for his first marathon, to what it’s like for Justin, as an MD, to be so close to the situation on both a personal and professional level. We talked about the power of positivity and living life to the fullest, what Gabe and Justin hope people take away from her story, and so, so much more.

Related links, references, and resources:

— Follow Gabe on Instagram and Twitter.

— Follow Justin on Instagram, Twitter, and Strava.

— Check out Brave Like Gabe, the foundation Gabe created as a “way to give back to the communities who have generously and enthusiastically supported me on this challenging professional-runner-battling-cancer journey.”

Athlete gets cancer. Athlete fights cancer. Repeat, again and again…”She continues to develop an acute relationship with her mortality,” Tim Layden wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2017. “Every day, every week, every month, every year can bring the science closer to a cure for her cancer. She is young and strong, and that helps. But she feels the urgency more nowadays.”

Watch GABE, a documentary produced by Brooks, Grunewald’s longtime sponsor, and directed by David Bracetty.

— “I take some of that attitude into surviving my cancer, and there are days that require so much endurance and patience and persistence that you have as a runner,” Gabe told CNN in March 2018. “There’s some tough races that I’ve had to bounce back from, and tough workouts, and that’s the same thing with my treatments. And setbacks in my disease, I still feel like there’s a way for me to get through it.”

— “Honestly, when the training fits in, it fits in,” Justin explained to Run Spirited. “You can’t force it. Gabriele and I are both incredibly busy. I’ve been putting in some 80-hour work weeks and 30-plus hour shifts but I consider this training for ultras in some ways. Staying mentally sharp and focused while being awake that long can only help strengthen me mentally for long races ahead.”

This episode is brought to you by Tracksmith, an independent running brand based in Boston that’s inspired by our sport’s culture and competitive spirit. They make high quality and highly considered running apparel, designed by runners for specific performance needs. Tracksmith is committed to the pursuit of personal excellence and seeks to make products and tell stories that connect and inspire runners on their own competitive journeys. Personally, I love their Twilight tank, which I wore for the last two Boston Marathons. It’s made from a lightweight, breathable fabric in a race-ready cut with subtle design elements. Tracksmith recently launched its Fall collection, which features styles for racing, training and even rest days. And right now, Tracksmith is offering listeners of the morning shakeout a great deal: Spend $150 or more and you’ll get a free Van Cortlandt Singlet, valued at $65. Visit tracksmith.com/shakeout to take advantage of this great offer.

Want more of the morning shakeout podcast? Check out past episodes here and here.

Music and editing for this episode of the morning shakeout podcast by John Summerford at BaresRecords.com

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