Photography by David Ofori-Amoah
Overcast skies, low humidity, with a finish line torrential rainstorm
Interview No. 8
37 Years Old
Interview by Edwin Lee
Tell me about your running history? Have you always been a runner?
I was a cheerleader in middle school and my brother didn’t think I could survive a season of track. I joined the track team to prove him wrong and loved running once I started doing it. It wasn’t until I joined cross country that I started running longer distances.
My teammates qualified for regionals, conferences, and state championships. I never excelled or considered myself a competitive runner. My season always ended early, but I liked the distance. While my teammates trained for competitions, I started training for half marathons. I wanted to keep running and was looking for a new challenge. So I started running the Indianapolis Half Marathon.
I ran my first marathon when I got to college at Northwestern. Back then the Chicago Marathon wasn’t popular, you just had to sign up like two months before the race. Now, I run about one race a year.
What was your first half marathon like?
I don’t remember any specifics but I remember enjoying the challenge. A sense of accomplishment in pushing myself to run that distance.
Was the challenge more physical or mental?
Distance running is more mentally challenging than physical. Don’t get me wrong I feel tired afterwards but I’ve never felt my lungs or legs have ever limited my ability to run. Overcoming the fatigue is part of how you mentally get through it. I definitely had to train.
Did it take much convincing to run your first half marathon?
Not to sign up. Getting me to run took a lot of convincing. I remember my first day of track practice and having to run the mile—it was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. [laughing] I didn’t know if I could do it but I knew I couldn’t let my brother win! Once I started running longer distances, I enjoyed it. I’m a better endurance runner.
Has your approach to running changed over the years?
What I get out of it is the same—it’s how I relieve stress and give time to myself. It’s where I do a lot of my personal thinking and have space for continuous thought. It’s always been something I loved to do and part of my identity. Now that I’m older, I appreciate it more because I don’t have as much free time as I did in high school and college.
Now, I’m married with kids and live a fulfilling life. My career and running are things outside of family that help define who I am as an individual. The more I run the more I realize how little time we have—I want to use it efficiently in ways that are meaningful.
Because of that, my approach to running has changed quite a bit. I don’t follow schedules, calendars, or training routines. I have benchmarks that I need to meet at certain points and try to fit that in where I can. I also don’t run every day anymore. If I have an hour to run, I’ll run as fast and as much as I can in that hour. I’ve actually become a faster runner since having children. I’m kind of doing speed work without following an official workout.
Finding time to train with a career and family seems tough?
You find different ways to fit it in. I try to get in my long runs whenever I can, based on our family schedule. Running is no longer my number one priority. Because of that, I place much more value on it than I used to.
“This kind of goes back to your first question—right now, I love running for me. But I also want my kids to be a part of the things I like to do as an individual. I like my kids to see that I have goals that require training and effort to achieve.”
Do you run with a goal in mind?
My motivation has always been that I love to run. What I get out of it varies from time to time depending on the race. Sometimes I’ll go into a race just to explore a city. The first time I realized that was in New York.
I ran the New York Marathon in 2002 as a practice race and unconsciously qualified for Boston. I got completely lost in the city and loved all the distractions. Sometimes if I’m traveling I’ll sign up for a nearby marathon to explore the city by foot.
What inspired you to run Rock N’ Roll?
I ran with a friend of mine who signed up for the Chicago Marathon. She was using it as her training race. I haven’t signed-up for a half marathon in a while. I think it’s the perfect distance.
What’s the biggest difference between a half and a full marathon?
My goals. Since it’s a shorter distance, I pay more attention to my pace and challenge myself to improve my speed. The training leading up to the race is less demanding as well. Fitting in a couple of 20 mile runs can be a challenge when training for a full.
A personal goal of mine is to stay in good enough shape where I can pick up and run a half marathon and have fun with it. It’s still a long distance and requires training and dedication. I can’t just pick up and do one without consciously thinking about it.
This kind of goes back to your first question—right now, I love running for me. But I also want my kids to be a part of the things I like to do as an individual. I like my kids to see that I have goals that require training and effort to achieve.
Are your kids old enough to run long distances?
Not long distance. My oldest is seven and my youngest is four. Ethan [oldest son] runs little kiddie races like the Turkey Trot and gets quite a bit of distance playing soccer. We’ve been talking about running a family 5K but I don’t want to push him into it. If you ask him, he’ll tell you he can do a half marathon. He obviously has no concept of distance.
What was going through your head at the starting line?
I was nervous about the weather that day. The forecast was hot and humid. The weather [in Chicago] this summer hasn’t been ideal for running. But the weather was pleasant and I enjoyed the people I was running with.
What will you remember about this race?
This was the furthest and fastest my friends had ever run. They were excited about their finishing time. It’s such a great feeling, to push yourself and realize what you can do! It was so great to be a part of that.
What was your first thought when you crossed the finish line?
I hope I make it home before it starts raining. [laughs]
[laughs] What was the most challenging part of the race?
I didn’t see it as an incredibly challenging race. I don’t mean that to say it was super easy. I felt my pace was good and my goals were to enjoy the city and enjoy running with my friends. I was able to do those things and it didn’t seem difficult or challenging to do.
Do you ever run into the proverbial wall?
Yes. I hit the wall around mile 18 and 19. That’s when I have to change my stride a bit and mentally prepare myself for the distance that’s left. Knock on wood, I usually finish the race strong. I’ve never had to stop or hit a wall so bad where I can’t run anymore. It’s more of a mental wall I have to push through.
How do you push through it?
When I start feeling it, I change the movements in my stride to loosen up certain muscles. I’ll take a couple strides with high knees or kick my leg out while running so it hits my butt and stretches my quads. I never stop to stretch.
Do you have a running mantra?
It’s not a mantra, more a positive thought of knowing I can do it and that I’m going to get through it. I usually feel a little bit better after doing that.
How important is crowd support?
It can be huge. Part of what makes the Boston Marathon so great is the crowd. Especially through the more rural parts of Boston, it helps to have people cheering you on. It’s a shared experience between you, the crowd, and the runners around you. You definitely feel like there’s an entire community supporting you.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
I don’t know if this is advice. I usually start by saying that it’s amazing how you can train your body and change it in the process. I think about my first day of track where I wanted to quit, because I didn’t think I could ever run a mile. Over time your body adapts. It’s amazing how far you can push yourself if you want to. The joy that comes from running, comes from the desire to push yourself.
I love to run because I love pushing myself, being outdoors, and reliving stress by pounding the concrete. I don’t see how people can do it, if they hate running. For those people, my advice would be to find something you like about it to help you get through it. Otherwise, with the time and effort it takes to train and pick it up, I can’t imagine how you would find joy in it.
Lightning Round–Gummies vs. Goo?
Vanilla goo is the worst.
Favorite shoe brand?
Running gear, you can’t live without?
I’d say my Vibram.
Barefoot running shoes? What do you like about them?
I feel connected to the ground. Ever since I started running in them, they changed my stride and I feel stronger running in them. I like feeling the ground beneath my feet.
Best costume you’ve seen at a race?
That is a tough one. I think they’re creepy, but I’m going to have to go with clowns.
Best motivational sign?
The signs you have to hit for power.
Those are great!
I think it’s because I love the high five! I’m a big fan of the high five.
You and me both!
Good. I’m glad I’m not alone.