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  • Writer's pictureRachel Lout

Going the Distance: Portrait of a Local Marathon Runner

This is my third feature in my portrait series 100 Years Strong. Commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, this series of portraits is a celebration of strength, victory and beauty featuring fierce, fearless women in Deep East Texas.

Legend has it that the first marathon happened when the solider Pheidppides ran from near Marathon, Greece to Athens in 490 B.C. He ran approximately 25 miles to announce the defeat of the Persians to the citizens of Athens. He was able to deliver the message, but he died right after.

In 1896 the first Olympic Marathon was held in Athens, Greece. Throughout the first few Olympic Games, the official marathon distance was close to original 24.85 miles. But then in 1908, during the London Olympics, the course ran from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium - a distance of 26 miles. The decision was made to allow runners to pass the royal family's box inside the stadium which was an additional 385 yards. This became the first race with the uneven 26.2 mile distance. 13 years later this mileage became the official marathon distance. In 1926, Violet Percy became the first woman to be officially timed in a British race with a finish time of 3:40:22 in London. This time stood as the official world record for 37 years, largely due to the lack of women's marathon competition.

By the 1960's, the Olympic Marathon had come a long way from the dusty roads of Athens. Yet women were still not allowed to compete and they were still taught that running was a sport for men. It did not stop women from running however. In 1966, Roberta Gibb entered the race, only to receive the return of her race entry along with a note saying that women were not physically capable of running. Roberta did not let this stop her. She hid behind a bush and slipped into the race finishing with an unofficial time of 3:21:25. She is the first woman known to have completed the grueling Boston course.

"I wanted to show that women could run, but I also wanted to kind of inspire the idea that ordinary people can run. I was like, boy, I feel so good when I run, if everybody could feel like this, this sense of joy and physical well-being and strength and autonomy you have when you run, how much better the world would be, you know? - Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb

In 1967 Katherine Switzer became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon. She defied the rules of the Boston Athletic Association and registered under the name K.V. Switzer because women were not allowed to compete. When the race office attempted to pull her off the course mid-race, he was body blocked by Switzer's boyfriend. Switzer finished the race in 4:20 and was subsequently banned from the Amateur Athletic Union.

In 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympic, the inaugural women's marathon took place. Joan Benoit Samuelson claimed the gold medal in an extraordinary fashion, breaking away from the chase pack just over 4 miles into the 26.2 mile race. When Joanie swept across the finish line alone, and in first place, distance running for American women was never the same.

Today, women, like my friend, Krystal, reap the benefits of women like Bobbi, Joanie and Katherine Switzer. Every run she completes is a celebration of these women and their progress for the sport of distance running.

Krystal is 36 years old and she has been running since 2012. She's a wife, mother of three, a successful lawyer, and podcaster. She is an adoptive mother and strong advocate for foster and adoption. She is active in her community and most recently she is the host of "In a Skirt" . "In a Skirt" is a podcast that celebrates the unconventional athlete. Every week she interviews a different athlete, coach, race director, entrepreneur, or other individual who is making running and sports open and accessible to everyone, regardless of religion, dress, income, or anything that sets someone apart from the traditional athlete. Krystal is Pentecostal and states that sometimes she dresses in a way that makes her stick out in a crowd....particularly in a crowd of runners. She says that for years she refused to sign up for races because in her longish skirt, she didn't look like the conventional runner. However, Krystal found when she faced her fears and showed up to a race, that runners did not care what she looked like or what she was wearing. They simply loved other runners.

Krystal says that she does not consider herself an athletic person, but she found that the more she ran the stronger her legs and lungs got. And then somewhere along the way she fell in love with running.

Do you have a favorite motivational quote? You didn't come this far to only come this far. (I don't know who first said it.)

How long have you been running?  Seven years

What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Specifically running long distances?

There's this feeling you get when you've completed a goal and when you've pushed yourself harder and farther than you once thought possible. I can't explain it, but completing a physically difficult journey makes you feel like you can do anything.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about the sport or runners in general? The biggest misconception is that you have to be fast or that you have to run the entire distance without stopping or taking walk breaks! I hear so many people say, "I can't be a runner because I'm not fast" or "because I have to stop and walk sometimes." No one cares how fast you are and no one cares if you walk sometimes!

What in the world motivates a person to run long distance? The motivation is in pushing limits and finding out what you have hidden deep down inside. How far can I go? What am I capable of? How strong am I? Once I ran a half marathon, I was hooked and couldn't help but wonder what I could do next.

Describe the training process for a marathon. How did you prepare–both mentally and physically? The physical training is a lot easier than the mental training. There are a lot of good coaches out there and training plans. I hired a coach for my first marathon and we found out what worked for me, such as how may days a week of running my body could handle, what kind of strength training I needed, whether I should cross train, etc. Mentally, you have to find what games, tricks, and mantras work for your mind. At the end of the day, it's like that saying, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." You run a marathon one mile at a time and you prepare your body and mind to conquer just one mile at a time.

What kinds of things do you think about as you run? If I'm running alone, I pray, plan my day, think about what I'm going to cook for dinner, and things like that. If it's a hard run, I play tricks with my mind. I find a tree or a stop sign and tell myself just to make it to that point. Once I'm there, I find another point and try to make it there...and so on. If I'm with a friend, we talk about our families, our jobs, anything that's troubling us and we usually end up encouraging each's like therapy. Day of the big race…how are you feeling? Are you performing any superstitious rituals (like wearing the same unwashed socks you trained in for months)? I always feel a little anxious. I remind myself that I've done the work and I'm ready for this. I get dressed in the socks, shoes, and clothes that I felt comfortable wearing during my long runs leading up to the race. Then I eat a "safe" breakfast--something that my stomach can handle and won't make me sick. Long-distance running is known for playing tricks on your stomach while you're running and most runners are trying to make sure their stomachs are OK before they get to the start line.

What has been your favorite race?  And why? My first race, the Bruckelaufe in Frankenmuth, Michigan. This was my first race ever. It was a half marathon and I loved it. The course was beautiful, but it was the feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line that I will never forget. Please share your best running moment.  Finding my "people." Running has brought me amazing friendships and has helped me find an accepting and encouraging community. What has running taught you about pushing your limits, either physically or mentally?  It has taught me that I am--and you are--so much stronger than you think you are. We are capable of so much more than we imagined. Our bodies and minds are amazing and strong and can exceed our own expectations. How do you find a balance between your running marathons and “real” life? The two things that give me what I need to carry on my "real" life are running and prayer. They strengthen me, give me clarity, and make me ready to face the day. How has your involvement in running affected the way you live the rest of your life? I no longer automatically assume that I can't do something. I've changed the way I think from, "I could never do that," to, "with time and hard work I could do that." What advice do you have for people who want to start running but think they are not athletic enough? Find a friend who will run or walk with you and hold you accountable and start out with a program like the Couch to 5K or None to Run. These are run/walk programs that slowly build your endurance. And don't be afraid to join a group or sign up for a 5K. I don't think you'll find a community that is more welcoming than the running community.

I am looking for more fierce, fearless women to participate in this portrait study. If you or someone you know would be interested in sharing your story, please contact me. You can learn more about my project here -

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