Last month’s blog post that highlighted “Runner LIke You”, Becky Craig was a great success! There are many amazing folks here in Oklahoma that make running and fitness a priority. It’s extremely rewarding to know that others, like me, enjoy learning more about these dedicated runners. In addition, it’s an honor to highlight a few of those runners and share their stories and contributions to running communities around Oklahoma. I’m ecstatic to introduce you to a runner that makes marathons appear to be a party. Her enthusiasm and flare for the sport make you want to join her on long runs or, at the very least, cheer her along from her Instagram feed. Jen is an Arts education advocate, a member of Red Coyote Racing as well as Oiselle Volée. She is also a Nuunbassador and last but not least, Dopey certified (completing the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon within pacing requirements at runDisney). Jen was nice enough to answer a few questions about how she got started and what her most recent marathon meant to her.
1. Why did you first start running?
Basically because I couldn’t run! I used to be a band director and as a part of summer band the students ran to help build endurance to perform a 7+ minute marching show. I wouldn’t ever ask a student to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do myself, and my first couple years of teaching I struggled to keep up with ANY of the kids. So, during spring break in 2010, I started the couch-to-5k running program in hopes that I could somewhat keep up with the students during summer band. A friend said I should sign-up for a 5k since I was doing the training. I had no idea what a 5k was or that races were even a thing. I found one to run, and have been hooked ever since!
2. You just finished the NYC Marathon. To gain entry you completed fundraising for Team for Kids. Can you tell us about the timeline for fundraising and your experience for running for a charity?
I didn’t sign-up to be a charity runner until early March, so I had from March until October 1st to raise my commitment of $2,620. Registration to be a charity runner for 2016 is already open so participants could potentially have almost a year to raise the funds. I registered at the same time as another running buddy here in OKC with the commitment that we would help each other with training and fundraising. We were very fortunate to have so many people step in to help us fundraise! One of our running buddies typically brings a crockpot meal for after our Thursday social runs for everyone to enjoy. She hasn’t ever asked for compensation, but people have often tried to give her money since she essentially made their dinner! After we started fundraising, she set up a jar to collect donations towards our efforts!
We also have another friend that hosts do-it-yourself paint parties. She helped us host “Make your own medal hanger” parties to help us with our fundraising. People had a fun night with friends, made something for their race bling, ate a good dinner, and we were able to raise a lot of money thanks to the generosity of our friend only charging for the materials! (Special shout-out to PhotoVille for leading the parties, and Café Icon for donating 10% of food profits to our fundraisers!) I was lucky enough to reach my fundraising goal on my birthday in August thanks to the generosity of everyone that donated! My training took on a whole new meaning . . . people gave their money to an organization on my behalf, I had to get out there and train! (For those times I might have rather stay in bed!)
It’s hard for me to put my experience of running for a charity into words. For big races like the NYC Marathon, there are so many charities to chose from. I knew that Team for Kids was a huge charity with the New York Road Runners and that the “perks” were awesome, but I researched many organizations before committing because I wanted this to be truly meaningful to my heart. (Note: fundraising for ANY charity is incredible! I think to successfully fundraise that you need to find an organization that pulls at YOUR heartstrings. Potential donors want to know your heart is 100% in with the cause.)
Team for Kids spoke to me from the first moment I heard of the organization, and after researching other causes; I knew Team for Kids was the perfect place for me! Even though Team for Kids is based in NYC, money raised goes to school programs all around the country. TFK did host weekly runs in NYC for the locals (or if you were traveling in the area you could stop in!), and they were great about posting accountability posts and weekly emails for those of us that couldn’t join the fun in person.
Fast forward to race week . . . the NYC Marathon has a formal opening ceremony on the Friday before the race. It is basically a celebration and a parade of all nations represented. Team for Kids gets to start the parade since they are the biggest charity partner with the race. I was lucky to get a spot in the parade! I got to meet kids that directly benefitted from my fundraising efforts. WOW! (I also got to meet Meb who is a Team for Kids ambassador!) On Saturday morning, TFK hosted a breakfast for all fundraisers. Again, we got to meet more kids and we were able to visit with some of their parents also. By the end of the breakfast, my heart was completely full. I started training with a specific finishing time and was determined to do it, but after the full experience of fundraising, I honestly just felt completely lucky to get to run the NYC Marathon for Team for Kids!
The fundraising experience was so fulfilling that I know that’s my path for future races. If I ever get a qualifying time for certain major races, awesome. . . but I will be running them for charity!
3. You have run over a dozen marathons and about 20 half marathons. Each of these races takes a lot of time for training. How do you stay motivated when you don’t want to run?
Wow, this question has so many answers! Sometimes a hot cup of coffee or a cold popsicle waiting at home motivates me to just go get it done. Other times I just remember my goals and how bad a half marathon or marathon will hurt if I don’t properly train. I’m a terrible liar, so knowing my friends can ask me at any time how my training is going also provides motivation. I would be embarrassed if I was constantly lazy during a time of training! My husband is great at keeping me motivated. I have my conscience, but I also have his voice to remind me of my goals, and sometimes our schedules line up for him to run with me! In the spring I am a training coach for Red Coyote Running & Fitness, so I have built-in accountability! I need to always be on my A game to help those in the training program. The participants always inspire me and make running so much fun! (Even in the dark, cold, wind, snow, etc…) As I mentioned earlier, training for NYC took on a whole new meaning for me. All of my training miles had so much value, whether I felt like running or not. I was very focused on achieving my goal, and making Team for Kids proud to have me as one of their runners.
4. Because you have run in so many races, what are the top three “little things” you do to prevent injury?
Running more frequently while gradually building miles. (To prevent injury…wait, what?) Running 4-5 times a week has helped my body get used to running frequently, and it’s still possible to do so while gradually building miles. When I first started training for long-distance races I was lucky to get in three runs/week, and I wondered why I hurt so much after long runs. Now, I love running a 100+ mile month with my longest run only being 10 miles! Or 36 mile weeks with my longest run only being 14 miles.
Listen to my body! If something hurts, I try to not ignore it! It can usually be a simple stretching solution, or maybe I slept in a weird way one night. Or maybe it’s new shoe time. . . I mean, isn’t it always new shoe time?!
Sleep! It’s easy to remember that you have to get to bed early the night before a long run, but we can sometimes neglect sleep throughout the week. It’s obviously difficult for most adults to nap on a consistent basis, so getting to bed at a decent time is very important every night of the week for successful training.
5. What’s next, racewise?
My next big race weekend will be the RunDisney Star Wars Rebel Challenge (10k + Half Marathon) + 5k over three days! My husband and I are running these races together as a part of our celebration of our first wedding anniversary!
6. If you could deliver one message to fellow runners like you, what would it be?
Smile! (And sparkle!) My good friend Layla always reminds me before a big race to SMILE! Whether I am running a personal best or personal worst, I am always thankful for the experience. Smiling doesn’t exert extra energy, and makes everyone feel better. I try to take a selfie after every run to remind myself that I did it, and still smiled at the end no matter the quality of the run.
Sparkle! Whether that means literally, like with a sparkle skirt, or just find your own sparkle! Don’t be afraid to be yourself! I think one really unique aspect about running is that it attracts all types of people. There is no reason to fit in a mold in running, so why try? If you want to run races in tutus, do it! If you want to repeat the same races over and over, do it. Running is such a freeing experience, no sense in not being yourself!
Compression Socks: Yes or no?
Depends on the situation. I rarely wear them for races anymore, but frequently use them for recovery!
Running Solo or with a group?
NYC Marathon or runDisney?
There is no short answer on this one, ha!! Both are very special to me for different reasons, and I’m not sure I could chose!