From Hurdler to Marathoner
An Essay by Stephanie Schultz (Part I)
I wrote this while running a marathon.
Well, I thought about writing this while I was running a marathon.
The 2012 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon started at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. I got to the start line fifteen minutes before gun time on that frosty October morning to find that most of the other runners were already there waiting, the sun rising behind them. I was in corral two of three, which meant I would be starting a few minutes behind corral one, which left right at gun time. I searched the enormous crowd of runners for my pace group and any sign that said “4:15” on it, as that was my goal for this race. Four hours, fifteen minutes. I was ready to run without stopping for that amount of time.
I started running in the spring of 2004 as a freshman in high school. My friend Heidi convinced me to join the track team after I kept up with her as we ran the bi-annual mile test in gym class. I really had no desire to do distance events on the track, so I trained as a sprinter and hurdler. I spent the majority of my high school track career enjoying the social aspect of it and making friends, but I also put in a lot of hard work. In 2007, I broke my high school’s record in the 100-meter hurdles and was a part of the sub-section 9A champion 4x400-meter relay team.
The author, leading, as a college hurdler.
I thought this would set me up for an excellent collegiate track career. My freshman season was indeed excellent, but I experienced a sophomore and junior slump, during which I abandoned the sprinting and hurdling events in search of something new. I tried the 800-, 1000-, and 1600-meter runs, all with some luck, but nothing really captivated me like the hurdles. So, during my senior collegiate track season, I worked my butt off at the sprinting events, even training with the men’s team, and again, tried a new event: the 400-meter hurdles. I had never before competed in this race and never had any desire to compete in this race—the distance seemed ungodly long compared to the 100-meter hurdles, and I struggled to keep a consistent number of steps between each hurdle. I trained for that event every day at practice and competed in it three times before the Great Plains Athletic Conference championship meet where I finished in eighth place: an all-conference performance.
The Starting Line
During the national anthem, I examined the runners around me and the differences in their running apparel, from long-sleeves and headbands, to sport bras and spandex. I had hoped for a warmer day to wear my obnoxiously bright yellow tank top so that I could be easily spotted, but due to the thirty degree morning, I wore a blue long-sleeve shirt and black running tights. Somewhere around “and the rocket’s red glare,” I spotted my pacer, the person who leads a specific group of runners in a race to finish in an exact time, guaranteed. Looking around at the other signs above the heads of runners, I realized I was way too far behind my pacer to be considered “in” that group; I was somewhere around the five-hour group. I squeezed my way through the crowd to get closer before getting completely blocked about twenty rows of people behind my group. I figured I would have a little catching up to do once the race got started—little did I know that it would take me five miles to catch up and would only realize it as I passed them.
My First and Second Half Marathons
In May 2011 I decided to run a half marathon. After graduating college and finishing my eighth and final season of track, I struggled with the fact that I would not be competing in those events anymore. My marathon-running brother suggested that I train for a half marathon. I figured since I enjoyed challenging myself with the longer distance events in college, I must have the right mentality to train for a longer race, even though the most consecutive miles I had run at that time was six.
The race I signed up for was the Minnesota Half Marathon, in August 2011. During the next three months of training, I worked my way up to running ten miles. Problems with my left knee on rest days after long runs, as well as a strange phenomenon of numb feet while out on long runs, were new things I added to my collection of running experiences. My calf muscles would get so tight, wanting to snap right off the bone, leading to numb feet. I never knew when it would happen, since it occurred so sporadically, but it never scared me away from my training.
Thankfully, I did not experience those problems during my first race. The 13.1-mile race went surprisingly well, considering I did not keep an even pace throughout the course. I had set my goal time at two hours and ran with that pace group for the first two miles. But since I felt good, I took off ahead of the group. I stayed ahead for the next seven miles, but started to slow down at mile nine. By mile eleven my pace group had caught up with me and I couldn’t even stick with them for half a mile. I watched them distance themselves from me as I approached the mile twelve marker. I only had one mile left, and that knowledge gave me the boost I needed to get to the end. When I finished in 2:03, I was unexpectedly ecstatic—I came so close to my goal, had friends at the finish line waiting for me, and received my first medal ever for completing a race in a distance I had never run before.
"I had been bitten by the running bug.
I wanted to run every race I could, and I was starting to feel invincible."
With the accomplishment of that race, I had been bitten by the running bug. I wanted to run every race I could, and I was starting to feel invincible. The runner’s high I got from that race was incredible. I felt so good inside, felt so happy and positive after long runs. It was like taking an anti-depressant when I wasn’t even depressed—happy on happy on happy. When I ran, bad days got better, lazy days accomplished something, time with friends was more enjoyable, optimism peaked and stress fell away.
I wanted more of this feeling, so I signed up for my next half marathon. This next race was the Securian Winter Run, part of the St. Paul winter carnival. It was at the end of January 2012, the middle of Minnesota winter, but, training was much easier than the previous summer. The winter was incredibly mild and I only had to fight harsh cold and wind on a few occasions. I ended up training entirely outdoors for the race, which was a feat in itself. I felt much more prepared going into my second half marathon because I had already raced the distance once before and knew what to expect—not to mention, I had also run almost twice as many miles in preparation for it.
Race day was a pleasant 27 degrees which felt great compared to the 80 degrees and humidity I had had in August. I set my goal at 1:55, five minutes faster than my last goal, and I told myself I would run with my pacer the whole time. I felt great starting out and really got myself into a good trance zone, daydreaming and forgetting that I was even running a race. After six and a half miles, the course turned around. As I headed back towards the Start/Finish, I noticed myself running ahead of my pace group. I tried to hold myself back to stay with them, but since I was feeling good I figured I should just go on ahead. The end of the race followed Shepard Road along the Mississippi River up to Sixth and Robert Streets, where two hills awaited runners. I somehow found a supply of energy in me (probably the adrenaline from knowing I was almost done) to power up both hills and finish the race in 1:53—a full two minutes ahead of my pace group and goal time, and a full ten minutes faster than my last race. It was an incredible feeling; so much so, I felt like I could run the rest of a full marathon right then and there. The runner’s high was back, and afterwards I felt like I needed something more, something bigger to get it again. In the coming months I pushed myself so much harder and faster and further, and all without injury. I told myself I was a machine and I treated my body as though it really was. Since I felt like I could run a marathon, I probably actually could.