How did you start running marathons?
I just started running four years before breaking the world record as the youngest woman to run a marathon in all fifty states, having previously been a total non-jock and the worst student in my grade school gym classes. I began to challenge this idea of myself while doing a college internship in Sarasota, Florida. Finding it difficult to make friends in a strange place, I told myself that I could either be miserable and have a terrible summer, I could quit and go home, or I could make the best of it and spend the time trying to better myself. I decided that I was going to do two things I had previously thought impossible: learn to cook and learn to run.
The cooking was easy; the running was a bit harder. I did little loops around my neighborhood, working my way up to longer distances. By the end of the summer, I was able to complete a 5K race. I was so proud of myself, and told everyone I knew. However, I then found myself wondering… if I could push my limits to complete a 5K, how much more could I do? In December 2007, I decided it would be my New Year’s resolution to train for and complete a half marathon by the end of the year. I smashed that resolution before the end of the month! I was shocked that I had been able to do it – I thought for sure I was pushing my limits further than I could go. But now I wondered – could I somehow do a full marathon?
I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon in May 2008, selecting it in large part because it was sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s and promised free ice cream at the finish. My mom and my best friend came, holding signs that said “run to the ice cream, Laura!” Whenever I saw their signs, you can bet that I ran a little faster! :) When I finished, I was sore and exhausted and said I would never do one again… but then that amazing feeling of crossing the finish line and doing something I thought was impossible stuck with me, and I wanted to do that again and again.
Have you ever run two marathons in one weekend?
I’ve done two in one weekend four times so far. The first was in summer 2009, where I got to visit Salt Lake City and run the Deseret Morning News Marathon on Founder’s Day (a state holiday there). I then flew back to New York on a redeye flight and connected up to Saginaw, Michigan, where I managed to run the Carrollton Festival of Races Marathon even ten minutes faster than in Salt Lake!
The second “double” marathon I did was much easier on the travel: the first was in New Hampshire, and then I drove a few hours to Portland, Maine to do the Maine Marathon there the next day. I learned a lot from that little adventure – here are some takeaways!
My third double was in the south – but actually happened to be my coldest marathons so far! See the next question.
Finally, in 2012 to celebrate my 75th marathon, I devised a “coast to coast challenge” for myself. I ran the Rockaway Marathon on a Saturday and then immediately flew to California to run the Nike Women’s Marathon on Sunday. It was so neat to alternate running along the Atlantic with running along the Pacific! But that was a lot of miles, both run and flown, in one weekend :)
What is the coldest day on which you’ve run a marathon?
As I just mentioned, it was actually part of my third double weekend. I planned two southern marathons, Mississippi and Alabama, for the winter months, because I thought it would be a nice break from the cold up north. However, there was a crazy cold snap that weekend and it actually snowed during the first race! The Gatorade they passed out was frozen like a slushy, and the chocolate gel packs that I ate were also frozen, so they tasted like fudgsicles and I had to chew them. I only got through the first day by promising myself that the forecast for the next day was warmer… but the forecast was wrong and it ended up being just 14 degrees at the start of the next race (in Alabama)! I had dressed warmly, but my face got so cold that when people tried to talk to me, my jaw was so cold I could only slur my words back at them. Regardless, I finished – running keeps you warm!
What was the hottest day on which you’ve run?
Oh boy, that’s a story. I decided that since running marathons wasn’t challenging enough, I’d try one of the toughest marathons out there: Running With the Devil. Held in the Mojave Desert in June, the race starts at 11am (for maximum sun!) and is run on a completely unshaded and hilly course. You’re required to carry a specific type of insulated water bottle (so that the water doesn’t evaporate – actually, we filled it with ice because it turned to water pretty quickly) and wear an “ice bandana” around your neck to try to keep you cool. Furthermore, you got weighed in at the start and then at various points along the way, to be sure you weren’t getting too dehydrated and losing too much water weight. It was 118 degrees and pure sun the whole way. It was probably the most miserable I’ve ever been in a marathon, and I would never repeat that experience… but I am proud of myself for getting through it and crossing the finish line.
What is the furthest you’ve traveled to run a marathon?
Domestically, the furthest I’ve traveled would be either Anchorage or Honolulu (not sure which is further). Anchorage is a much better story though! Due to delays on the subway, I missed the noon flight to Seattle and ended up taking the late night flight there before connecting up to Anchorage. I didn’t get there until 2 AM, but I got up anyway and actually ran a personal best time that beat Sarah Palin’s time on the same course when she ran it a few years ago. My mantra for the second half of the race was just “Beat Palin… Beat Palin…” After the race, it was a quick shower and then off to the airport. How’s that for 12 hours in Anchorage?
Internationally, I’ve run marathons in Seville, Spain to the east and Negril, Jamaica to the south. I still need to head west to do a marathon in Asia! I am often asked if I’d like to run a marathon on all seven continents, but I honestly don’t have much interest in heading to Antarctica. I’m fascinated by seeing different cultures when I travel, and there just isn’t that much culture to see in Antarctica! I would like to run marathons on the other six continents in my lifetime, but I’m in no rush to tick them off. For now, I’ m just enjoying doing a race or two each year in a new international destination.
What is your best time?
In April 2010, I ran the hilly Charlottesville Marathon on a Saturday (finishing in 4:08), followed by the notoriously difficult Boston Marathon two days later (finishing in 3:54), and finally followed by the Kentucky Derby Marathon five days after that – which also turned out to be an extremely hilly course. Go figure – that’s where I ran my best time! I finished in 3:49:40, which is an 8:46 min/mile pace.
Update: in September 2012, I ran a 3:48:30 at the Wineglass Marathon in Corning (that’s 8:43 min/mile). It wasn’t the toughest course, since it was a net downhill, but I think it’s pretty telling that I ran fastest when I knew they would be handing out bottles of champagne to each finisher :)
Have you ever run with any celebrities?
There were two guys from The Biggest Loser, Dane and Blaine, who said they ran a marathon in January 2009 after they left the show… but it turned out they actually got a ride in a van for several miles. To remedy that, NBC was having them run the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, along with a camera crew and coach to make sure they stayed on the course this time! As it turned out, I knew the coach from my running club, so when I ran into them, I decided to run with them. I ended up helping Arnat (my friend) with the pacing, and am happy to report that they definitely did the whole 26.2 miles this time.
Since then, I’ve been an official “pace team leader” at twelve marathons, including four times leading the 4:30 pace group in Burlington where I did my first marathon. It’s really neat to go back and be able to tell first timers that I was in their shoes once and really scared that I wouldn’t finish, but now I am so confident about my ability to finish that I can actually guarantee a consistent pace and exact time! I love giving back to the running community in this way.
In November 2010, I coached/paced tennis pro Justin Gimelstob to a 4:09 finish at the New York City Marathon. He was running the marathon to win a $10,000 for charity from Andy Roddick, who bet Justin that he couldn’t finish a marathon (terms later revised to be finishing under 4:45). We had a blast running together, and I was so proud of his performance! The New York Times also did a neat article on my accomplishments, which was really exciting. In June 2013, I had the opportunity to coach/pace two of my best friends, Blake and JP, in their first marathon at Rock N Roll San Diego. It was one of my favorite marathons to date, and I hope to be a “personal pacer” at more races in the future.