By Walter Rhein
Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon race director Eric T. Olson grabbed the mike and turned down the music. People who had been celebrating their 5K or half-marathon finish turned to regard the sound stage.
“May I have your attention,” Eric said. “I have just received word that our first marathoner is approaching the finish line, and it’s our own Tammi Braund of Cushing, Wisconsin!”
The crowd erupted, and the cheers continued until Tammi crossed the finish line in first place just as she had the year before. Two weeks prior, she had also finished as the first-place female (4th overall) at the Birkie Trail Marathon. For good measure, she’d also finished a respectable 52nd at the Twin Cities Marathon the previous Sunday. In fact, Tammi has won four of her eight career marathons, with another win coming at the 2015 Eau Claire event. She’s also had sub-three-hour finishes at Boston and Grandma’s.
It has been a remarkable run for the 36-year-old mother of six who competed in her first marathon just over a year ago. Tammi first started establishing her dominance at the no-frills Sasquatch Dash trail run series in St. Croix Falls. The Sasquatch series is six free events where competitors race to sign their name on a clipboard to accrue points throughout the summer. Tammi dominated these events against not-too-shabby competition, including a former course record holder for the Whistlestop Marathon.
“Tammi, you should sign up for the Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon,” I said back in 2014, “you’ll probably win it.”
“No,” Tammi replied, “I’ll never win a marathon.”
If you ever run into Tammi at the end of a marathon, you’ll probably talk to her for a half hour before somebody even mentions that she won… and the person who mentions it won’t be Tammi.
“Come on, sign up, you’ll win.”
Eventually Tammi got talked into racing, and the rest is history.
In April of 2015, a week after finishing 126th at Boston in a time of 2:58:40, Tammi called me up. “I think I’d like to run the Eau Claire Marathon but registration is closed, can you get me in?”
I wasn’t hopeful, but I told her I’d look into it. I called up the guy who had helped us certify the Gandy Dancer Marathon who also did the certification for Eau Claire, and he gave me a name. An hour later, Tammi confirmed that she had been allowed to register.
Originally I had intended to run Eau Claire as well, but my wife got called away on a business trip, so I ended up on child care/race support duty. On race day, I took up position at mile 14. I brought two coolers with me, one was filled with water, Gatorade, and flat coke. The other was filled with beer because you never know.
The first woman came through and I was surprised that it wasn’t Tammi. Forty-five seconds later Tammi trotted up and physically stopped as I handed her a cold Gatorade.
“I can’t catch her,” she panted. She seemed really dejected as if she felt she had let the world down.
“You’re doing great Tammi,” I said, “just run your race, a lot can change in the second half of a marathon. I bet you’ll pass her.”
Tammi nodded, then lifted up the Gatorade, “Can I take this with me?”
I laughed. “Yes, Tammi, of course you can take the Gatorade I brought for you, go, go!” As she accelerated off I couldn’t help but chuckle at her courtesy. I’ve been known to snatch beer cans out of the hands of unwitting spectators during marathons (for the record, they never try to chase you to get their beer back).
Tammi went on to pass the leader at around mile 21 and won by 4 minutes.
Over the last year, Tammi has become something of a local hero. People recognize her around town because she appears on posters and the like. She spends a lot of time training the local track team, and is always willing to run at a slower pace to socialize with other area runners.
When you meet a woman like Tammi, you really wish that you had access to unlimited funds. It would be fun to see what she could do with a year of professional training. Tammi admits that it’s often easier to throw a frozen pizza in the oven than take the time to prepare a meal more suited to competitive distance running. When race time comes she always brings her best effort and it’s amazing to watch her come sprinting by in the absolute image of focus and determination.
I have a friend who is a bit of a spreadsheet guy and he came up to me after this year’s Gandy marathon. “I was looking at Olympic trial qualifiers,” he said, “she’s only got to shave off about 13 minutes.”
His statement dangled in the air, pregnant with possibility. We were both fully aware that every minute you shave off a marathon time when you’re already under 3 hours takes an exponential amount of effort. Still, the goal was close enough to make for a pleasant dream, and Tammi certainly hasn’t had the opportunity to train like a full-time athlete.
Tammi’s run is far from over, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does in 2016 and beyond.
I’m equally excited to see what her kids can do. A couple of them are already running track, and they certainly have the right role-model to teach them about achieving great things in running. As the father of two little girls, I’ve been very inspired by Tammi’s example. When time gets short in our hectic lives, it’s always tempting to cut out the exercise. But sport keeps us young and you don’t inspire your kids by sitting around on the couch watching TV. My little ones love to run, too, and there’s no better way to spend time with them, even if it’s just around the block.
About the Author:
Walter Rhein is the author of “Reckless Traveler,” and “Beyond Birkie Fever.”