Lori Kingsley of Wysox, PA is a relative latecomer to running, but in short order she has distinguished herself as a standout masters competitor at distances ranging from the 5K to the marathon. She won the women’s masters title at both the USATF 15K and Half Marathon Championships last year, as well as running sub 2:47 at Boston. Lori managed to run a 2:51 at the Masters Marathon Championships at Twin Cities while fighting off a raging infection due to an abscessed tooth. She was second masters in December’s National Club Cross Country Championships, only the second cross country race she had ever run.
This is pretty much captures the entirety of our conversation, minus some chitchat at the start. (Duration: 1:33:00; Download MP3)
I wanted to start with the National Club Cross Country Championships, which were a couple of weeks ago. It looked like you had a really good run there.
Yeah, I did.
Can you talk a little about that race? Had you expected to do that well?
It’s only the second time I’ve ever done cross country in my life. I didn’t do it in high school. I didn’t do it until I joined the team last year. They were talking about it and, you know, I’m always up for something different. I love racing. I just love to race. I thought, “Oh, this will be something fun. Something to go [do] with my team.” When you had sent out a notice about any races coming up for us, I didn’t even think to mention it. First of all, I didn’t expect to do that well. Secondly, it was just kind of, “Eh, I’m going to go with my club and do it.” But it unfolded really well.
I felt great. I got a really good start. I got some feedback from my oldest daughter, who did cross country in high school and had a scholarship. I said to her, “What would you recommend?” And, of course, Darren tailored my workout for, maybe, three weeks for cross country training. He gave me the workouts, my daughter gave me advice, and a local guy who I highly regard in cross country training said “Do 600 meters all out — hard — for that start.” And then I’d do the intervals that my coach set up. And then at the end — we live out in the mountains — I’d go out and do 10 x 30 second hill repeats, just to end on a good note with a hill. It worked out well. I got out there with the lead girls and us three pretty much gave each other a really good race. Even toward the end I thought, “No matter how this unfolds, it’s a good race.”
The woman that actually won it [Lyudmila Vasilyava], I didn’t know anything about her and thank God I didn’t. When I go into races I don’t typically look at who’s up against me. I’ll recognize names, or see people and know they’re really good. But I’m not one of those racers that look at the names and what their current status is, you know what I mean? I want to do my own races and not worry about who else is there. Plus I can get myself…like, “Oh, she just ran a 16 minute 5K…” So when I finished, this elite coordinator came up to me and said, “Did you realize?” She’s from Russia, but she became a US citizen. She held the [outdoor] 1500m world record at one point; she ran a 4:02.
So she beat us in the last 400m, which is understandable.
Yeah, I think with that piece of information, you should feel a little bit better about that!
Yeah, I did. The three of us came in pretty close together. I looked at both of them and said, “Thanks for a great race.” It was fun.
You came in second in the 40-49 AG and you were only about 10 seconds behind Vasilyeva. But there was a great series of pictures that someone took, and I don’t know what point in the race this was, but all three of you were running together up a very steep hill. What’s so notable about them is that you look really calm. You don’t look like you’re straining. You look completely in control.
Yeah, I felt that. I did. I never felt that I hit that lactic acid — you know, you get that burning. The second time we hit that hill, I did feel it — I knew my legs had worked. And then in the last 300m, I came down into the chute and looked at my watch, and it said I was running a 4:16 pace. So I knew that in the last few hundred meters, I just pushed really, really, really hard to try to hold second place overall. So, yeah, it was fun!
I’ve never done a cross-country race. I want to try one this year.
It was fun. In the last few years I’ve been trying to get myself to do different stuff, just to keep it interesting, not stagnant.
Will you return to this race next year?
It’s out in Washington, so it depends on the team. Some of them would like to go. I told them I’d like to go. The four of us who went there are the top four runners on the team, so that does help. One of our runners — who’s 45 and runs in the mid-18s, so she’s a good 5K runner, even though that course is 6K — she came down with the flu that morning. My other teammate came in fourth and she’s the one that won the 5K US Championship.
So your team is well-placed in second overall for the masters category.
Yeah, great team.
Let’s talk about your athletic background, as it were. It sounds like you didn’t have much of one before you started running.
[Laughs] It’s kind of sketchy and not good.
“There was a race up here, a Race for the Cure, where if you won you’d win round trip plane tickets. I would read the winners’ times and think, ‘There’s no way I could come close to that.’ They were running in the 17s and I’d think, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s crazy fast!’ I never even fathomed the thought of being in that league. It took me awhile to get to that.”
Well, it doesn’t seem to have mattered that much.
I smoked in high school. I went out for track for something to do. We moved to this area and it’s a small, rural area. I went from living outside Indianapolis with a class of a hundred or so students in my class alone to 120 in the whole school. It was such an adjustment. You know how you try to find your way in? I found that athletics could be my channel in making some social connections. It’s just very hard to move to a small area when the groups are gelled up pretty well.
That’s a hard age to do that at too.
Yeah, it was. Basically eighth grade through my senior year. I knew when I was a kid they would do those field days. For the running events we’d typically do the 600m run. I could beat all the boys. So I knew with running, there was something there. So I went out for track but I also took up smoking in that time too, which was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. My senior year, I won the district title in the mile, and I don’t even know what I ran in. I begged the coach to let me run the open 800m, because that where I wanted to go to state then. But he wanted me to run the open mile, so I did that and won it.
And then after high school I waitressed. Didn’t go to college. Smoked more. And then had children. I did everything backwards! Went to college in my mid-20s, got my masters degree by my early 30s, when I also quit smoking. In my mid-30s was when my oldest daughter started running, so I went out with her a little bit. I got bit by the bug when I started winning local races. There was a woman who was certainly a cornerstone in my life in running, Diane Sherrer. But she’s passed away. She was a journalist, a phenomenal woman who knew running inside and out. She introduced me to a whole new world. I had no idea about elite comps and and stuff like that. I’d won their local marathon, the Wineglass Marathon, and she told me, “We haven’t had anyone ‘local’ win this for a long time.” She was right. They put it on the front page — “Local Wins” — and it went from there.
Was she a runner herself?
Yes, she was.
Because there’s a gap in the story here. You say, “Well, my daughter started running cross-country…and then I started winning races.” I want to know how you went from being a monitor for her while she was running, to keep her safe, to actually entering local races and doing well in them.
The kids would do local races just to stay in shape over the summer. So I would enter with my kids. I didn’t win them at first. I was lucky if I finished in the middle of the pack. I was overweight for my body size and frame. As I got in shape and the weight dropped off that’s when I started winning local races. At one of those races was a flyer for a race that was close by, but maybe an hour’s drive.
That’s where I met Diane. You could probably relate more to this than others. She was one of these journalists that’s very informed about what’s happening from the micro, local level to the macro level of running. She just had that knowledge base. There was a race up here, a Race for the Cure, where if you won you’d win round trip plane tickets. I would read the winners’ times and think, “There’s no way I could come close to that.” They were running in the 17s and I’d think, “Oh, my gosh, that’s crazy fast!” I never even fathomed the thought of being in that league. It took me awhile to get to that. But she helped connect me from there and talked me into doing the Wineglass Marathon. I did that and got fourth, but then won it the following year.
What’s driven you to get better? Are you competing against the clock? Or against certain local people?
I like competing against the clock. There are good runners around. But I have to travel to get the competition that I want to get. I do like the competition.
You don’t have the benefit that a lot of people have. You have to travel fairly far to find a competitive race, you have to travel far just to meet up with your club, and you train alone, which a lot of people don’t like to do. Maybe you do. But I’m curious to know what the internal driver is for you to do all this.
I don’t know. I’ve been asked that in interviews before. I love it. I love that feeling of competition. I like the fact that we’re all doing the same thing and giving each other a good race. I’m one that likes to go to the races where there’s going to be really hard competition. So I’m willing to travel because I like that. This is probably one of the only things I do for myself. I’m a mental health therapist. I’m the mother of three girls. I’m a wife. I’m a sister, a daughter. By nature I’m a caretaker. If someone’s having difficulties, meaning friends or family, they reach out to me because that’s what I do for my profession. Running is the one thing I do for me, and I’m the only one who derives satisfaction from it. Does that make sense?
Yes, it makes total sense. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. It’s not that it’s an escape, but running becomes something that no one cares about more than you do and something that you can develop in yourself. It’s kind of limitless in that way.
Yeah. It’s mine. I mean, I get depleted at times. [Laughs] But you have all these great runners out there kind of stroking each other’s egos — “Hey, you did great!” — and it just feels really, really good.
And when you’re depleted, you’re always depleted on your own terms.
You make the decision to deplete yourself.
No matter what happens in my life, I can pick up my sneakers and go find my solitude in my running. I work with people who have buried children. I work with people who have endured incredible losses or terrible traumas. So that requires a lot of energy. The running keeps me very, very balanced. I typically run at lunch: “Okay, time to fill my emotional energy back up…” You can’t hear things like that day after day without it affecting you to a certain extent, even though I do meditation and other things to keep me balanced.
You’re mostly training alone, right?
98% of the time, yes.
I would say that’s mostly. And you’re running on your own property most of the time?
We live on what they call a cow path. It’s a one lane dirt road.
Yeah, I’ve run on those in the UK.
That’s what I live on. We have 200 acres. It’s mostly wooded and there’s a pond and creek. I’ve talked to my husband before about adding some paths, but we haven’t gotten to that. So I do a lot of running on the dirt road and on my treadmill. I go up on top of my hill and I have a chocolate lab, and he’s my best buddy out there on the road. I let him loose because there’s nothing up there. I just run back and forth, an out-and-back one miler.
So you do several of those?
Yes, unless I’m doing long, long miles. Then I climb the mountains. That’s what I think my coach has determined is why I do pretty good on hills. I live in the valley of a mountain — I know that sounds like a religious song — but I live in the valley, so no matter which direction I go I’m going to be climbing up.
Are you at any kind of altitude there?
Not really. I don’t know what it is here. But I went up to my brother’s in Eugene, OR and they took me up to the mountains because I wanted to run at elevation. Maybe I wasn’t up high enough. But they took me up as high as they could take me without needing winter tires. I loved it. It felt really good on the lungs. It didn’t seem to affect me. I’ve never trained at elevation per se, so I wouldn’t know if I stayed at a place for a long period of time how it would affect me.
“[With self-hypnosis] I’m able to go into a zone where I can almost dissociate from discomfort; focus on other things rather than on how I feel. I don’t seem to hit that psychological wall while I’m racing. I do that every single day.”
Do you have a track nearby or are you doing your track workouts on the treadmill?
It’s on the treadmill. We have one track in our area and it’s not good. [Laughs]. It was state of the art back in the late 80s/early 90s. It’s that black, foam-type of material. It’s coming off. That’s what we have. I can only get to it on the weekends. Now it’s covered with snow for the rest of the season. You can’t use it during school hours. I probably get to a track maybe twice a year. But I take spray paint and go out and measure the roads. A few other serious runners in the area have marked out some distances that aren’t really flat, but they’re flat for us. They’ve measured out 200m, 400m, 800m, so I’ve used that before.
Sometimes I think it’s nicer to run 400m on a path anyway. You’re not dealing with the turns and you’ve got something to look at. And it’s more similar to road racing.
I agree, Julie. I’ve gone up to the high school’s track before when there was a football practice. Me and this other guy. The kids’ coaches were yelling at them for looking at the runners. They were busting on the guy because I was faster than him. And I was like, “Okay, I’m out of here.” I don’t want someone looking at me. [Laugh]
Right. You don’t want a simple workout to turn into a theatrical performance.
Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.
You mentioned meditation. How does that fit in?
I love my meditation. Also, I know how to do hypnosis and how to hypnotize myself. I’ve put together my one little programs and put myself into a hypnotic state and done those affirmations that you need when you’re in a race. I think that’s what got me through the Twin Cities race. I’m able to go into a zone where I can almost dissociate from discomfort; focus on other things rather than on how I feel. I don’t seem to hit that psychological wall while I’m racing. I do that every single day. When I’m not training I do lots of regular meditation. I like a lot of the Buddhist meditation practices, so I use some of those. It’s something I really love.
From a practical standpoint, how do you go about hypnotizing yourself before a race?
Actually, I don’t put myself into a hypnotic state when I get ready to run. It’s just that I’ve done it so much at night time — I do this for the three months before I race. So when I get ready to race, I’m already tapped into that unconsciousness — when you start to feel pain, the brain is automatically thinking things like, “You’re strong. You can do this.” I can literally go through where I am in the race: what I’m thinking, how I’m feeling. It naturally happens while I’m racing. It typically kicks in around the 17th mile, when your body is really taxed. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like the brain just automatically goes to that positive stuff.
So you’ve prepared a recording for yourself that contains messages that are meant to address the kinds of discomfort that you’d feel at different points in the race. And you just absorb them and they kick in automatically.
How did you figure out how to do that?
Through my practice. I’ve done meditation with clients for so many years. Then I took my meditation into hypnosis with myself, which took me a long time. I don’t hypnotize clients because that’s a really delicate place to go. So typically I just stay with meditation, where they’re in a conscious state; they know they’re there, but I take them into a visual place while they’re conscious. I learned to put myself into a hypnotic state, and it’s a weird sensation. It took me probably five years to get there. You have to be really relaxed. But, Julie, it’s not that “acting like a chicken” stuff out there. I’m like, come on…
I know that. [Laughs]
You see that and it’s like, “Really?”
That’s also not very helpful in races. Acting like a chicken will completely screw up your form.
What other supplementary things do you do? For example, many people do yoga for flexibility, strengthening, sports massage…
I teach a strengthening class twice a week at a gym, which I’ve been doing voluntarily for quite a long time. I do weight training. On days I do speed or tempo, that same day I’ll go to the gym and do heavier weights on my legs. My stretching is probably my weakest link; I try to do that every day. I should do yoga, but I don’t. And I take my vitamins, supplements, vitamin D. Maybe because I’m on soft surfaces, but thank God I’ve been able to avoid major injuries like other runners have, like stress fractures. I do a little aerobics. And pylometrics once a week.
I’m surprised that you do the heavy weight work on your harder running days. What order do you do things in?
I do the weights after the running.
Don’t you find that your legs are already kind of dead by then?
No. They are tired, but I’m not so fatigued that I’m unable to do the reps. I do two sets of 20. And when I say heavy, it’s not really heavy. It’s probably mid-weights for someone else. I’m not trying to bulk up.
That’s also a lot of reps.
Yeah. I rarely do a workout and walk away thinking I cannot do another one. I usually walk away thinking, “I could do another set.” But I don’t.
That’s how they say you’re supposed to feel.
It’s working out well. Darren knows what he’s doing.
What’s your weekly mileage like these days?
Right now I’m only doing about 60. Typically I like to average 70. It’s not until I do marathon training that I bump up the miles, and that’s only for four weeks.
What do you typically top out at in those peak weeks?
Are you splitting things up into doubles?
Oh, heck, yes. Definitely.
You’re not running 15 miles at a time a every day.
No, only twice a week. That’s worked out well for me. I was having difficulties and Darren asked after the 2009 Twin City race what my weakest part was. I said it was the last four miles. It’s hard to explain. Have you run marathons?
Yes, I have.
Okay. You know when you get that feeling in your legs, like it’s little pricking knives?
Yeah. I know exactly what you mean.
That’s what I felt in the last four miles. So Darren said, “Let’s bump up your midweek long run.” Now, probably 2-3 times a month, I’ll do a 15 mile run in the middle of the week. That seemed to be the staple I needed to make that Boston run happen the way it did. My mileage stayed the same, but that midweek longrun was new. So now it’s twice a week that I’ll do a long run.
I first came across that concept a few years ago in Running Times. Greg McMillan had written an article about “fixing the fade” in the marathon. He had different kinds of workouts you could do if you found you were having trouble in the last 10K of a marathon. One of them was a midweek run of 15-16 miles. I did find that to help in not falling apart at the end.
I agree. But most days it’s doubles or triples. If I have a client cancel I’ll just run out and do a five miler real quick.
“I was self-coached and looking up stuff online. A few years ago I came across an article about how to run a marathon under three hours. The recommendation was to run a 20 miler at marathon race pace. In hindsight, I can’t believe I followed that.”
You say that you love tempo runs.
I love them. I like to do 6-10 miles at a little faster than marathon pace. It’s like my comfort. I don’t know why, but I love to just hold that pace. There’s probably a psychological piece; it gives you that confidence: “I can hold 6:10 pace easy for 10 miles.” It seems to be the pace that my legs like best. I feel that I have an advantage in longer distances. The shorter stuff, like in that cross country run, I was thinking, “Oh, my God. This hurts!” the entire time. Even though I was enjoying myself, I was working the entire time. I like my comfort zone.
You can always tell who’s slanted toward the slower vs. faster end of the scale in terms of how they talk about race distances. I don’t know if you’ve ever done a really short race, like a 1500m or a mile?
You should try it. If you tend toward toward the slow twitch end of the spectrum — which I do; I have no natural speed — try some track races. I did some over the summer just for fun. But, let me tell you, it is such a shock! It’s a kind of pain that you can’t even conceive of. Marathoning is its own kind of pain when it goes badly, and it’s very long. But this was just…everything hurts at a level you can’t comprehend in a longer race. But I recommend it. It’s a gas. Plus it’s over with very quickly.
Isn’t there a track championship at the beginning of March? But I didn’t see where they had my age group. I turn 45 in February. Woo hoo!
Yeah, there’s a national masters track championship. I think Running Times usually does a feature on it. I’m sure you could get invited to that with your times.
I’m always looking to mix it up. But that would be a different pain, huh?
[Laughs] “Give me my lungs!”
How did you find your coach, Darren De Reuck?
Oh, this is a good story. I was training on my own, and anyone reading this is going to think, “What was this woman thinking?” But I was self-coached and looking up stuff online. A few years ago I came across an article about how to run a marathon under three hours. The recommendation was to run a 20 miler at marathon race pace. In hindsight, I can’t believe I followed that. But, okay, fast forward to Houston in 2008, where I was trying to get an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier the first time around. I’d done my 20 miler at marathon race pace. And, well, of course, three weeks later I’m running the marathon and around 9 miles into it, I had nothing. Nothing. I stopped. “My back hurts, I don’t feel good.” I ended up dropping. And what had happened was that I’d run my race three weeks before that, doing that 20 miler at race pace.
But by the grace of God, and I really believe this, I went over to catch the sag wagon [Laughs], and Elva Dryer was there. I don’t know if she came down with the flu, but she’s sitting there shivering. I’m sitting down at this medical tent, wrapped up in a mylar blanket, and I’m sitting next to her. I didn’t know at first who she was because she was just shivering and all wrapped up. Me being me, I struck up a conversation and, when she looked at me I thought, “Boy, she looks familiar.” I asked her what her name was and she said, “Elva.” I said, “I knew it!’ And I was just gushing all over Elva. What a nice woman. We were stuck there for three hours because it was so early in the race. She was in the Half Marathon Championships. We had to wait quite awhile before things cleared out enough so that the sag wagon could come pick us up.
One of the things I said to her was, “I think I’d better hire a coach. I think I need someone who really understands working with somebody my age.” I do believe the training is different. She lived near Darren and Colleen and said, “Well, Darren coaches his wife, Colleen, who’s a masters runner. I can ask Darren.” We ended up exchanging emails. And I thought, “Well, maybe she was just being pleasant.” But a few days later I get a call from Darren and he talked to me a little bit on the phone and said he’d be glad to coach me. So that’s how that started. So every so often I’ll send Elva and email to check in on her and tell her how I’m doing. But, what a nice woman, Julie.
Questions for Lori’s coach, Darren De Reuck
How do you approach working with a new runner who’s living in another state?
If I have not had face time with the athlete, the next best thing is talking on the phone and assessing the individual’s goals, what they have been doing training- and racing-wise, and whether they are coachable by asking specific questions. If it seems like a fit, I move forward and getting them going.
Lori likes to race a lot, at varying distances. How do use those races within the larger context of her marathon training?
I believe I have curtailed Lori’s racing to a certain extent. We have an understanding that you cannot peak for every event and if it’s a “must race” for her then she has to follow the week’s schedule according to what I have prescribed. I like her to find a 15K or half marathon 3-4 weeks out from her marathon and that would be the focus warm up race before the marathon.
Do you structure training for a person in her mid-forties differently than you do for a person who is, say, 10-20 years younger? How so?
I do not change the structure of the intensity based on age, but rather on the athlete’s ability and work ethic. If an athlete can handle the workload irrespective of age, then I will write schedules based on that.
Why do you think some runners, like Lori and your wife Colleen, continue to flourish well into their forties?
RECOVERY. A big part of my coaching philosophy is recovery — taking breaks after major events and down weeks during a build-up. Too many athletes don’t take their recovery runs easy and then end up either too tired for harder workouts, or breaking down and getting injured, or peaking before their major competitions.
If you knew who Elva Dryer was, you must have known who Colleen De Reuck was.
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. When she said she lived by them… “Colleen?” I’m still in awe. Let me tell you, Julie, the first time I met Darren, we were down for the Melbourne Half [masters championships], and he’d flown down there with Colleen. They walked into the dinner and I’m sitting there with my husband. I’m not a person who gets starstruck. But he walked in with Colleen and I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh. There’s Colleen.” By this time he’d been coaching me for several months. I knew he was going to be there, but I was just in awe. I wouldn’t go over there and talk. My husband said, “Go over there and say hello to your coach.” And I was like, “But it’s Colleen. Colleen. She’s amazing…” So my husband, being who he is, got up, walked over and sat at their table. So I got up from my table and went over. He knew that, eventually, I wouldn’t sit there by myself. [Laughs] I walked over and I was like, “Ah…” I couldn’t say anything!
I’m sure it got better after the first 30 seconds.
It did. But I’m still like that with Colleen. When I saw her at the club championships she said, “Hi, Lori. Good job!” And I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, Colleen told me I did a good job!” [Laughs] So I’m still starstruck by Colleen. She’s just absolutely amazing.
I have yet to have met her. I tend to meet the runners who come through the New York Road Runners events. And they’re usually the younger runners, meaning 20s and 30s. But they’re world class runners. I often have the same reaction. I’m not intimidated by them, but they walk into the room…
You’re just in awe.
Right. This person’s been in the Olympics three times, they’ve won medals and world championships. It’s hard not to be taken aback.
I was standing next to Ryan Hall in the bathroom line at Boston. I’m like, “Oh, my God. That’s Ryan Hall. We’re waiting in line together. Ryan Hall!” I didn’t say anything, because you want to be respectful to the other runners before they’re doing a big race. But I was gushing about that. And my husband finally said, “Enough about Ryan Hall.” And I’m like, “He’s so cute!” [Laughs]
I know a couple of months ago when we did our Houston Hopefuls roundtable podcast you’d mentioned that you might be going out to Colorado to train with Darren and Colleen. Is that still in the offing?
I’m going to! I’m going to go in the summertime. Darren has invited me to come out for 7-10 days. I don’t know how I would fare, 10 days away from my kids and my husband. But seven days certainly would be more reasonable. I am really excited about that.
You can learn a lot in seven days. Plus you’ll get a good taste of altitude training.
Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see how my body will respond.
You have an interesting story about Paula Radcliffe.
I admire the American athletes, of course. But what caught my eye about Paula Radcliffe was that she was so against doping. She was very vocal about that. I thought, “What a great role model for the younger generation of kids coming up into the ranks.” EPO was a big issue, and I’m sure it continues to be. Anyway, she caught my attention then. And then, of course, after that she went on to set world records. But when she was in the 2004 Olympics and she dropped out of the marathon, I felt so bad. So I wrote her a letter and told her that I still admired her and her ethic and everything. She’d written me a letter back and it was real nice, thanking me for the kind words and how difficult it was, and that she knew it would pass, but it’s still really hard — I’m sure you feel like you let your entire country down.
So with all of that she just sent me this nice letter with a picture of her setting the world record and an autograph. I have it framed, in front of my treadmill. My husband took it to the Wineglass marathon. I was battling it out with another gal for first place and in the 17th mile, where things can get tough, I came around the corner and my husband was holding up that picture of Paula Radcliffe, and he read it out loud to me. He said, “Paula Radcliffe said you can do it! Go for your dreams! Good luck!” I’d told her I was getting ready for a marathon. And I won it. It was a difficult period, but I remembered him reading that off and holding up that picture. My husband wanted me to write back to her to let her know I’d won a marathon, but I didn’t get around to it. I know it’s not the London one, or anything big, but…
And with a visual aid from her.
Yeah, that’s the thing about runners. I met a young man in the subway, it was before Utica, and you know how you get into conversations about what your times are. I told him mine and he said, “Are you an elite athlete?” And I said, “Well, I start with them.” So, anyway, he had blogged about meeting me and had said, “This is the thing I love about athletes. They’re just down-to-Earth people. They’re not overpaid. Big egos.” And he’s right. I consider myself a “sub.” To me, the Paula Radcliffes, the Deena Kastors are the elites. But to meet them, they’re just very down-to-Earth people.
That’s been my experience too. I think part of it is that there is so little reward in terms of the public recognition. They’re not football players or baseball players. Really, nobody in this country, aside from a small core fan base, cares about competitive running. So I don’t think they get recognized on the street. I always say this to people after talking to elites: runners work harder than any other athletes. And for very little reward in most cases. They all just work incredibly hard; their whole lives are about training and recovering. I haven’t met any duds yet.
I don’t think I have.
“I had posted on Facebook to friends, family, anyone who wanted to send me a personal message, to do so and I would tape those to my water bottles on the course. It ended up being a saving grace for me at Twin Cities…I vowed that I would get to every single one of those water bottles. Most of the ones along the course were from my children. I just didn’t want to leave one out there that I didn’t pick up and read. I felt it would be like leaving my kid there.”
A lot of times you have your family stationed along the course, like you’ve just described. I know that helped you through your difficult race in Twin Cities. Your family was either there physically on the course or they were virtually there with messages they’d written on your water bottles.
Yeah, I came up with this idea since I could put out my own water bottles. I had posted on Facebook to friends, family, anyone who wanted to send me a personal message, to do so and I would tape those to my water bottles on the course. It ended up being a saving grace for me at Twin Cities. Even though I had that mental discipline, I didn’t even know if I would break three hours. After awhile I was thinking, “Well, if I break three I’m just going to have to be good with that.” But I vowed that I would get to every single one of those water bottles. Most of the ones along the course were from my children. I just didn’t want to leave one out there that I didn’t pick up and read. I felt it would be like leaving my kid there. [Laughs] So, the last one was the 23rd mile, and I was thinking, “Okay, I’m a little over 5K from the finish line. Why stop now?”
Do you notice a difference when your family isn’t there?
Not really. It’s nice to have them there. But because I travel so much now [for races] they don’t get the opportunity to be there. In other cases, like at the Niagara Falls marathon, they weren’t able to get to me until the 17th mile. The minute I hear their voices, I’ll start crying. “Oh, it’s my family!” I just want to stop and go home with them. [Laughs] But for the big races, I do have my husband go with me. Sometimes he doesn’t know how to get around, so he’s at the finish line. At Boston, I’ll look for him at the grandstands, right before the 26 mile mark. He’s basically the only one that goes to a lot of the big races. I drag him. [Laughs]
It sounds like he’s been at the right races. The ones where you’ve really needed family there.
Yeah. One thing I thought was absolutely amazing was at Twin Cities. They all follow me at home — they all get the updates. But he said that at Twin Cities, he knew at the halfway point I wasn’t where I should be. So when it got into the 2:40s, he moved from the grandstands to the finish chute. He said he felt like I needed him more there than in the grandstands hollering and taking pictures. He was right!
You tend to run really well even when you’re sick. In some ways that just reflects bad luck you’ve had with these badly timed illnesses. The first time I took notice of you was after the Boston race last year: “Who’s this woman? She just missed a Trials Qualifier by 45 seconds.”
Yeah, that was completely not planned at all.
That’s what you said. You had a much more conservative goal — because you weren’t feeling 100% — but somehow were on fire anyway for the second half of that race.
That’s exactly right. I felt so good that I thought, “Well, I might as well push.” When I came over Heartbreak Hill, I was at a 5:53 pace. I was dipping below 6:00 — the majority of the time I cut off was in those last 4.5 miles, after Heartbreak.
Wow. You had about a two minute negative split in the second half.
Yeah. And the weird thing is, I’d raced a half marathon about a month before that. And I raced almost the same time in the second half of Boston as I did at that really flat half marathon. [Laughs] I’m like, “What’s up with that?” I was in the peak of that training for Boston when I ran that half, so my body was just tired.
Do you generally favor a certain kind of course type, meaning flat vs. hilly?
I don’t know. My coach is beginning to think that I’m better at the hills. When I do my long runs, I do pickups in the second hour just to keep it interesting. Like 5 minutes of picking it up to under 7:00, and then back to 10 minutes plodding along at my 7:30 pace. I do a lot of my intervals running on hills. I just do it to mix it up, to make it fun. Some people are really great at consistency; they can stay right at 6:20. Me, I’m all over the place. But that’s typically how I race. I can run a consistent pace if I want.
I only do two marathons a year. After Twin Cities, I had a good old pity party for about five days. I was driving myself nuts. “Come on, Kingsley, snap out of it!” I was just down. Then I was getting mad. “Knock it the hell off.” I don’t know about you, but you almost get neurotic afterwards, when you don’t have a race, or you didn’t race what you wanted to race. That neurotic part of the racer in me says, “Go jump into another one.” I was going to go do Houston in January. I wrote to my coach, “What should I do? I’m really fit. I hate to throw away all this fitness.” I was not well at Twin Cities, but I still raced a 2:51. What could I have done had I not been sick?
I ended up getting out of that neurotic phase. Picking a marathon is a really big deal. I only do two a year and don’t want to do any more than that because I don’t think it’s good for me. Some people can jump into one after another. But I think I would race worse. I need that three month downtime, then gear back up into marathon training. So picking Boston in 2011 to try to qualify was really hard. But I guess I’m going to have to go into it and look at it as I did before. “Okay, if I qualify I qualify.” But I can’t put all my eggs into that basket. I just need to do my marathons the way I’ve always done them. I really didn’t plan on another try at qualifying. I didn’t like the mental toll it took.
You mean after Twin Cities?
No, after trying to qualify for the 2008 Trials. I didn’t like that. You put so much into it. I want to enjoy it, not make running into something else, like, “Oh, my gosh. I put everything into this qualifier.” So I’m going to go back to Boston. I’m doing it with my team. And that will make it nice.
Well, let me just say: you’re so close! I don’t want to tell you to put your entire life on hold. But you’re so close. I hope you go for it.
I’m going to. I would be lying or trying to minimize something or make everybody think otherwise if I were to say, “I’m not going there to try to qualify.” My goal is to do the first half around 1:23, and then try to get over Heartbreak. And after Heartbreak’s done, try to bring it back down again.
You know you can fly on the second half of that course.
You really can. You know what else I did? I had somebody record coverage of the Boston race a couple years ago, when Colleen was running it. The commentators were saying, “She’s running over on the softer part of the surface.” I thought, “That’s actually a good idea.” So I watched it when Colleen raced it and that was the year — it drives me nuts that they kept saying the women were running a “pedestrian pace,” even though “pedestrian pace” is burning the road up for somebody like me — Colleen was with the top women for 20 miles or so.
I remember that race. Actually, she and Elva were leading the race for quite a few miles.
Yeah! So, being older, I watched Colleen, how she did it. How she stayed over toward the berm of the road, and trying to stay on the softer parts, and running toward the crowds. It’s kind of fun at Boston. It didn’t bother me to start in the back — I was second to last [in the women's elite start] this year. The women went out a lot faster. I came through the first mile in a 6:02 and was like, “Whoa!” I put major brakes on. There was one person behind me. The fun part of that race was that nobody passed me during that entire race except for the first few elite men. And then I passed a few of the elite men, toward the end of the race, that had cramped up because they were pushing it in that red zone the entire time.
You’ve raced well at a lot of shorter distances this year. I don’t know if people know this, but you won a couple of USATF masters championships: the Half Marathon Championships in February in Florida, and then in the spring you won the 15K Championships in Buffalo. You’re really good at a range of distances. Are you able to just go out and race these shorter distances well naturally, or are you doing training for those specific distances to prepare, within the larger context of your marathon training?
I’m glad I have a coach because I don’t like thinking. It’s really a science, in terms of when you tap into what muscles, anaerobic and aerobic, all that stuff. The bigger picture is obviously the marathon. By the time I go to Florida for the half, I’m starting my spring marathon training. For those shorter races, Darren will have me do some specific workouts. The speed workouts are geared more toward that shorter race pace. My tempo runs are typically focused on the marathon, but a little faster than that pace. My Tuesday speed workouts are geared more toward anywhere from 5K-15K pace. I do about 4-6 miles at that pace.
So on race day you’re hoping that the two ends of those extremes come together?
Yes, it seems to work well. I figure if I can do 6 miles at a 5:50 pace, then I’m good for 15K at 6:00 or slightly faster, which is what I ran at Buffalo. The last few races I’ve decided that I’ve got to get out there with the lead women. Typically I hope to slowly pull people in. I think Darren does put a few in there just to get those muscles ready for the 15K or the 5K or other distances. I like doing a lot of different distances and I find that the shorter speedwork I do for those helps my marathon.
That’s something I noticed about your racing history. Pretty much every year you’ve raced at all distances: anything from 5K up to the marathon. It looks like that’s worked really well for you.
I like to show that I can race any distance. It’s nice to establish yourself in many areas, to be able to say, “I’m not just doing the marathon. I can do a 5K at 17:00 or whatever.”
“When you’re competing with a team, no matter how I feel that day, it’s just a different drive. At the Cross Country Team Championships I wasn’t racing for me, I was racing for Willow Street.”
Let me ask you about your club, the Willow Street Athletic Club. I loved the way you described them: “Moms who compete.” How did you end up joining them?
I’m actually Mid-Atlantic, in terms of my area association, but they compete, typically, in New Jersey, Philadelphia. I don’t travel, unless I’m flying to a race. It’s more natural for me to head north to the Rochester area, which is where I’m originally from. So I went to all these races and ran into Emily [Bryans, team captain], and she is a phenomenal masters runner, which I didn’t know at the time. But her husband was standing there with a chocolate lab. And I love my chocolate lab. And me being me, I go over there, “Hey! Chocolate lab!” and I’m petting the dog and visiting with them.
And then I ran into them at another race. And then I ran into her again at the 5K masters championships in Syracuse, where she had just beaten me by 3 seconds. She was very nice and invited me up to a 15K that her husband puts together. I thought, “Well, that’s nice. Here’s this woman who just barely out-edged me — and that I beat in another race — and she’s invited me to come out and compete.” Then the team invited me to do a cooldown. I didn’t know she was on a team, I just saw her at races. But at the time I was thinking about a team to compete with because I wanted to mix things up. I joined the USA Track & Field Association and would look around at their races to see if there was a team I could join, just to compete with. I didn’t realize how good they were. I knew Emily was good. But they’re a really good team. I get along with them very, very well. They’re down-to-Earth moms. We’re all working. No matter how anybody does, there’s never any pressure on me. They just fit my moral base.
I know that they’re nearly three hours away from you. How do you make that work? If you’re not training with them on a regular basis, how do you sustain that relationship?
I probably went up to see them six times this year. Sometimes I’ll just go up, have dinner and stay with them. It’s really not that far. It’s three hours, but that’s a drivable distance for me when I do races. Because of where I live, I’d normally drive 1.5 hours to a local race, so three hours isn’t far for me.
How has being a member of Willow Street enriched your experience as a competitive runner?
It definitely has. When you’re competing with a team, no matter how I feel that day, it’s just a different drive. I want to do really well for my team. At the Cross Country Team Championships I wasn’t racing for me, I was racing for Willow Street. I owe it to my team to give them everything I can for the day. When you’re running for a team you don’t go, “Eh, it’s not there…” I’ll push myself because I want to give them everything I could. I want to walk away exhausted. It’s one thing to let yourself down. It’s a totally different thing — they wouldn’t even be let down — it’s just different if you walk away when you finish feeling like you had more to give. “I didn’t give it all for them.”
That’s exactly why I joined a team about six months ago.
Oh, so you just joined one yourself.
Yes. I wanted another motivator to do well in races.
Yeah. It’s something different. I’m down here training by myself, so I’ll drive up there and spend a weekend running with them, even when I’m not racing. But I think I did five races with the team.
What are some of your favorite little local runs?
10 years ago I started up with the Santa Hat Run. A friend and I thought, “Hey, why don’t we dress up like Santa Claus and run around Towanda, our little rural town, on Christmas Eve?” Every year…now we have, like, 30 people. It’s not a race. We just all dress up like a bunch of Santa Clauses. The community loves it.
That’s not a race. That’s a happening!
[Laughs] Yeah. And then there’s the Zombie Run. Back when I was in high school, in 1984, the art teacher wanted me to go on to art school because she really liked my artwork. Doing things like makeup art, I love. So, it was pretty gross looking, but it was fun. I’m always proud of my artistry.
You have a couple of interesting hobbies.
[Laughs] Hunting and motorcycles?
Yeah! Let me ask you first about motorcyling. Do you actually own a motorcycle?
Yes, I do.
What do you have?
I just have a little 250. My husband wants to buy me a Harley, but I put the brakes on that. The 250 looks ginormous compared to me, even though it’s a small bike. I have to say the primary motivator for both my interesting hobbies are basically…I feel as though my husband has really sacrificed a lot for my running. He really has. He does the majority of the cooking. He does the majority of everything around upkeep of the house. He does a lot so I can travel. He’s wonderful. I’m very blessed with my husband. But I felt like I really needed to get back to him.
He loves riding and he’d been asking me to get my license. And I was like, “No, I’m happy sitting on the back of your motorcycle.” Then we went to Washington D.C, for their annual ride over Memorial Day weekend — Rolling Thunder — and I decided then that I’d get my permit. I did and he got me a little bike. I buzz around this area and go for rides with my husband, and he loves it. So, really, it’s for him. I mean, I like it. I like my bicycle [Laughs] — I like physical exercise — and my husband’s not a physical exerciser. Everybody asks him, “So, do you run?” And he’s, like, “Do I look like I run?”
Sometimes it’s better if two people in a marriage don’t have everything in common with each other.
Amen, Julie. I couldn’t be married to me. Hunting’s the same thing; it’s something that he really loves. We have 200 acres. I will say, though, that the one I do by myself is turkey hunting. I can go out by myself and do that, and I do. Or I’ll go out and call. It’s just so cool to be out in the woods. You call and you get the other male gobblers to come up to you, or the females will start chucking. It’s just neat. It’s not so much about harvesting anything. It’s just being out there. It’s a really, really great experience. Most of the food we eat is food that comes from our own land, from our own garden. We literally live off of our own land. My diet is really good.
If you go out turkey hunting, how long are you out there for?
You get up at, like, 4:30 in the morning and you’re out there until around 8:00 or 9:00AM. Then, typically, you come back in. You can only go out until noon in this area. But once the sun rises and — it’s hard to explain — but when they’re done nesting, they’re out of their nests. They “hen up,” meaning they go out with the hens. So you’re basically done because they can see their hens and are with them. But it’s a really neat sport. I know that…recently I was sitting at a table with a bunch of vegans. I’m not against any of that. What I do is very humane. I like meat. I like meat.
And you shouldn’t have to apologize for that.
I don’t know anything about hunting. I actually don’t have anything against it. I eat meat and I know what animals go through in factory farms is much worse than anything that happens in a hunting situation. So I’d be a hypocrite to criticize it.
I understand where some people are coming from. But we have chickens [Laughs] — we literally eat as much as we can off of our own land. The eggs. I love that because I know what I’m eating. I worked in a cancer center for five years. And, you’re right, after you read about what happens on the farms — they dose them up with hormones and steroids and all that stuff. And then there are all these hormone-based cancers. It’s scary. We have a 2 acre garden. We do a lot of freezing. Basically 98% of what’s in our freezer came off our land.
It really is. It’s cool. You should come!
I may have to come see this for myself.
It’s also sounds like hunting takes a tremendous amount of patience. Are there any parallels between hunting and training for you?
Yeah, definitely. You have to be very patient. Kind of like a marathon. It’s never won in the first three miles. In deer season you can be sitting out there for eight hours and not see anything. The only thing that I have trouble with is sitting still for a long, long time. Sometimes before I even go out hunting in the morning I’ll run a few miles just to get some of the bugs worked out of my legs [Laughs]. What is that Olympic event where you run and you shoot, and you run and you shoot?
Oh, the biathlon.
That’s it. I probably would have been good at that.
It’s sort of violent, as I remember. Meaning they sort of throw themselves on the ground and shoot. I don’t think you do that when you’re hunting.
That’s right. They ski and then they throw themselves on the ground.
Maybe that wouldn’t work for me.
You told me that in college you created a “bucket list” and one item was to race a marathon, which you’ve obviously done. What else was on that list?
Oh, my gosh. I pulled it out probably five or six months ago and my husband said to me, “You’re going to have to create a new bucket list.” Just about everything was crossed off. The only two things that I haven’t done are to go to Africa and Hawaii. But the other items were run a marathon, get my master’s degree, certain things for my kids, go on a cruise, things like that. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of stuff.
I think you need a bucket list part B. You’re only in your forties.
When my husband said that to me, I said, “Yep.”
Do you have a favorite racing or running memory?
Winning the Wineglass Marathon the first time was an incredible memory: my whole family was there; I broke three hours for the first time; I was near home. I don’t think I slept for two days after that because of the adrenaline. I was completely on runner’s high. But Boston this year, I dare to say, topped it. When I finished it and the guy said, “I think she’s second masters,” I had no idea. I just knew I finished well and I felt so great. When they took me over to the plaza I was literally bouncing around like a rabbit. “Oh, my God!” And they were probably thinking, “Who’s this woman?” [Laughs]. They took me over there, Julie, and it was just so…I was first American and they didn’t know if they’d need to interview me.
So I’m lying there on a massage table and I’m right next to the female winner and she has the gold wreath on her head. Ryan Hall’s standing there. Meb Keflezighi’s standing there. I was surrounded by these incredible athletes. And then you have chatty me, chatting away to everybody. Interpreters trying to explain to the foreigners what I’m saying: “How’d you do?” [Laughs] Then Mary Akor, God bless her soul, let me use her room to shower because I didn’t expect to go to the awards ceremony. I would say that probably topped them all. You know when you race and the end comes out really well? I didn’t expect to do well. The paper wrote that I was coming off of a cold, but actually it was just starting. It had started the day before the race and I told my husband, “I’m getting a chest cold.”
“When you have a bad race, you just have to remember that it’s one day. Life goes on. There are other important things out there. I enjoy running and I don’t put pressure on myself. I do, but I don’t. I don’t put pressure on that’s going to get me all tied up in my head. I’m a happy runner.”
Oh, wow. That I didn’t know. I thought you were recovering too.
That’s what they put in the paper. I have asthma and my allergies are real bad in the spring. I’m allergic to grass and trees. I can’t lay down in the grass or I’ll literally break out in hives. So I have really severe allergies to everything outside. I love spring but it doesn’t like me back. So my husband was saying this was something that happened every year, but I said, “No, this is a chest cold.” But it stayed high enough and didn’t drop into my bronchial tubes.
I don’t know if this has been your experience, but I’ve found over the past few years that I can run really well when I’m coming down with a cold. Like the first day of a cold I’ll run spectacularly well that morning and then get sick that evening. I’ve often wondered if there’s some kind of weird metabolic boost that happens at the start of a cold.
That’s a good question because it was when I was first coming down with the cold. By the next day I had laryngitis, it was in my lungs, and I had depleted everything.
It’s a lousy racing strategy, but I’ve often wondered if I should try exposing myself to a cold virus before a major race.
[Laughs] I always complain about [menstrual] cycling. My legs are heavy, I feel blah. But my friends have reminded me that I’ve gotten more PRs then. Unlike other, gifted runners who don’t get anything, that’s never been the case with me.
What advice would you give to women who are also seeking a Trials qualifier?
There’s a multitude of things. But even if you put it all together and do everything that’s been recommended by all these really good athletes out there, the main thing is to keep yourself balanced and don’t put pressure on yourself. The minute athletes put that pressure on themselves is when they start to falter. There’s the hard work. I have that quote up on my wall: “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” I get up and work hard in the morning, while others are sleeping,
I’m putting in the work. But I also listen to my body. If I’m not feeling real well, I’ll shorten the run, I won’t do the speed. I’ll put it off to the next day. I don’t ever try to work through illness, or try to push myself beyond what my body’s telling me it needs.
Recovery is also huge. A lot people go from one [race] to another. The week after I do a race I’m pretty much sedentary. You just have to know what that balance is and not push beyond it. We all have a different level. Masters runners, we have to be very, very careful with our recovery and our racing.
When you have a bad race, you just have to remember that it’s one day. Life goes on. There are other important things out there. I enjoy running and I don’t put pressure on myself. I do, but I don’t. I don’t put pressure on that’s going to get me all tied up in my head. I’m a happy runner. I’m just relaxed and having fun and enjoying the experience. But I’m not afraid to put everything out there too. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But I finish knowing I did what I needed to do, and I’m happy with that.
It sounds like you have a very healthy attitude.
I hope so.
And you developed it in a very short running career. So you’re capable of making observations and learning things.
Yeah, definitely. That’s a good way of putting it. Like after Twin Cities, I was thinking, “What is wrong with your head, Kingsley?!” Once I went on the antibiotic I was fine.
It’s bad when you ruminate after a bad race.
I know. It’s always a hard call to make. I was in the race and wondering, “Should I drop?” Afterwards I told Darren I was debating about whether I should drop. But it was the first time I got my flight and everything paid for. I didn’t want to let them down — they paid to have me come out and race. I didn’t want to drop out of their race. Darren said he was glad I finished and that he was proud of me.
I think you gained the admiration of a lot of people with that run.
I don’t know. You think?
If people know the circumstances, they can’t help but see it as kind of an amazing effort.
You know, we walk that fine line, don’t we, Julie? Especially when you train for a marathon. You walk such a fine line between being healthy and not being healthy. I’m lying there with my IVs and the doctor’s saying, “She’s the epitome of health.” My husband’s saying, “She’s either really healthy or almost dead. There’s no middle!” [Laughs] And I’m saying, “I know! So get me well so I can get running!”
Well, on that note…
I was just going to say thank you so much for taking the time, Julie, with everybody, with all the runners. You’ve given us the opportunity to get to know other people too. So thank you.
Oh, you’re welcome. This has been a great project. What’s really fun is that you all are starting to meet each other at races. I feel like I’ve created this little microcosm of a running society.
You’ve started a little family!
A little virtual running team, and we’re all meeting each other at races.
Yeah. Is anyone doing Houston?
I should find out who’s doing it. I was going to, but decided not to. I don’t know if Jill [Howard] is running it still, but I will send out a note as we get a little closer. I’m definitely going to be there next year, to either run or…I’m extremely doubtful at this point that I’m going to make the Trials myself. But I do want to run the marathon, or at least the half, and just be there and meet everybody. So I’ll be there next year.
You’ll have to wear a shirt: “Hey, I’m the mom! Houston Hopefuls’ mom.”
I need a banner or something. Or a really big hat.
We definitely have to decorate you.
Marathon PR: 2:46:45 (Boston 2010)
Age on Trials date: 45
Previous OTQs: None
Miles per week: 70-80
Favorite marathon racing shoe: Saucony Fastwitch
Pre-race meal: Spaghetti with with white sauce/chicken
Hometown: Wysox, PA
Job(s): Mental Health Therapist
Hours per week: 35
Personal: Married for 22 years; three girls: 17, 20, and 24
Other passions: Hunting, motorcyclng (2006 Yamaha Virago 250), art
Vices: Not stretching enough; not paying attention to early warning signs of injury