Dallas, inspiration, people with true grit, ultra

Ultrarunning: Dallas’s Nicole Studer and Shaheen Sattar are rising stars

Photo of Shaheen Sattar and Nicole Studer by Rasy Ran for Advocate magazines
Photo of Shaheen Sattar and Nicole Studer by Rasy Ran for Advocate magazines

That someone from Dallas’ flatland would dominate a sport that involves running insane distances across rugged terrain tens of thousands of feet above sea level seems unlikely. But two White Rock-area women are doing just that — claiming records, breaching usual gender barriers and winning races that cover mileage most of us find wearisome to drive.

Nicole Studer, a 33-year-old attorney, recently clocked the fastest time ever recorded by a female in a 100-mile trail race.

Shaheen Sattar, a 30-year-old Bryan Adams High School graduate, two years ago was the second female finisher at the Leadville 100, a race through the Colorado mountains made famous by the 2009 bestseller “Born to Run” (Matthew McConaughey recently was cast as the lead in the movie version).

“They are doing amazing things and helping raise the bar of excellence for all runners. They are both badasses on the trail with huge hearts.”

In 2014 Shaheen placed among the top 10 women at Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. Few humans ever even meet the standards to enter Western States (entrants must first place among the top finishers at an approved qualifying 100-mile or 100k race, one “of significant difficulty”; others can secure a place via the Western States lottery). It is the race to which the world’s best ultrarunners flock. Both Nicole and Shaheen will toe the line there this month.

They will start running before dawn June 27 in Squaw Valley, Calif., climb more than 18,000 feet, descend 23,000 feet, cross a cold and rushing waist-deep river and, after 20-something hours on their feet, finish on a high school track in Auburn.

Nicole and Shaheen are friendly rivals who admire one another. They sometimes run together; at a Western States training camp they logged 30 miles side-by-side one day and really got to know each other.

But on June 27, it will be every woman for herself.

Each is close lipped about her specific goals. Shaheen says she hopes to beat her time from last year. Above all, she races against the clock and her own past performances, she says. Her bib number is F9, indicating to all that she placed ninth last year, so she knows they’ll be gunning for her.

Nicole qualified for last year’s Western States, but an injury prevented her from competing. However, as the 100-mile record holder, she too has a target on her back.

Nicole and Shaheen are so good that they frequently rival the sport’s best men.

Take, for example, last April’s Possum Kingdom Trail Run, which included both a 56-kilometer and 52-mile event.

Typically, the winner of an ultramarathon is a sinewy, bearded male. But at this event, Shaheen was the first to emerge from the woods; her dark ponytail bounced as she waved at her sister, Shama Sattar, who cheered at the finish.

“I did not know she was leading. She had been running with a pack of guys. When I saw her, I was so excited,” says Shama, who also is a runner.

Later that day, Nicole won the longer race, beating the first-place male by more than 18 minutes and the second place female by three and a half hours.

David Hanenburg, who directs the Possum Kingdom trail races and other ultrarunning events, says it is unusual for a female to win outright over all males. But these women regularly defy the odds.

“They are doing amazing things and helping raise the bar of excellence for all runners,” he says. “They are both badasses on the trail with huge hearts.”

So how is it that these two women from our sea level neighborhood are killing it on the trail-running scene?

Both are crazy tough and competitive with a freakish immunity to the typical effects of fatigue, averse weather conditions and high altitude.

Both will go mad if they can’t run at least 80 miles a week. Both, like the sport itself, seem on the cusp of being discovered by the more-mainstream athletic world. But how they arrived at this point, for each, is different.

Nicole picked up running in middle school after the basketball coach denied her a spot on the team and introduced her to cross-country.

The young Chicago native was fast enough to earn a scholarship to Northwestern University, but she was no Olympian, and once she graduated, she did not expect to continue her athletic career.

“I figured that I was retiring from running when I finished school,” she says.

Shaheen only tried it while working the early shift at White Rock Athletic Club (now Gold’s).

“You know that inside track? It takes like 11 laps to make a mile. That’s where I started running.” She says a group of senior citizens eventually persuaded her to run with them outside.

Nicole finished law school at Baylor, where she met husband Eric Studer, joined the consulting firm Towers Watson and adopted a dog, Stella. “My running changed a lot when we got Stella. She was so hyper, so we ran all the time.”

To satisfy her competitive streak, Nicole entered races. Without considerable effort (she had tossed the watch, the training log and the pressure that went along with competitive running) she qualified for the Boston Marathon, won the Fort Worth Cowtown Marathon and broke the elusive three-hour barrier at the Houston Marathon.

Shaheen entered races too, her performances a bit more pedestrian.

She was thrilled to finish the Chicago Marathon in just over four hours. When she ran the White Rock Marathon in 3 hours 41 minutes, someone told her she was a minute from qualifying for Boston. “That was the first point where I thought about a qualifying time,” she says. After that she focused on speeding up.

Almost every serious runner suffers setbacks and injuries, but Shaheen’s was more harrowing than most.

On an early morning run, a car struck her, hurling her over a 6-foot fence.

“I was running on the sidewalk. I could see it coming. It just hit me head-on and knocked me into someone’s backyard.”

She was hospitalized with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a fractured fibula.

She ran the White Rock half marathon three weeks later.

“The doctor said it would be painful but that I couldn’t further injure myself. I was already registered and the race was sold out, so I went.” By that time she had proved capable of running a half marathon in 1 hour 26 minutes. It took her 2 hours 6 minutes to run one with a broken calf bone and ribs.

Both Nicole and Shaheen arguably could improve at traditional distances (5ks to marathons), but neither is interested in the type of training that would take (intense speed intervals on a track, weight training, regimented mileage — something similar to the rigorous schedule of collegiate athletes, Nicole explains).

Both embrace and thrive in the looser atmosphere of trail and ultrarunning, where instead of trying to get necessarily faster, you go farther.

Nicole’s 5:30 a.m. runs grew longer.

“It got to be 10, 11 a.m., and she still would be gone,” her husband Eric says.

Shaheen started rising at 3:45 a.m. to fit in her daily run.

Because ultramarathoners run 14, 24, 30 hours at a stretch, they sometimes rely on a crew to assist them during competition with food, drink and clothing changes.

In the past few years, Eric has learned — from trial, error and the advice of trail veterans — how to support his wife.

“My job is to be at the aid station when she comes through. I have a kit (bandages, clean socks, water bottles), but she is low maintenance. Sometimes I am just there to tell her to keep going. Tell her if someone is gaining on her.”

Shaheen and Nicole both raced the Leadville 100 in 2013 — that’s when Shaheen placed second. Nicole, having a “bad day,” placed ninth.

Eric admired Shaheen’s support crew at Leadville — which included Shama, her mom Sian, brother Shahid and boyfriend/runner Steve Henderson. “They were like a well-oiled machine,” he says. “And I have to hand it to Steve — he knows what he’s doing.”

In order to train for alpine races like Leadville and Western States, Nicole and Shaheen seek out the hilliest parts of our neighborhood. Lakewood’s Loving hill is a good one, Nicole says. Eric cringes and says he remembers trying to follow her up Loving on his bike. Shaheen says the streets of Lake Highlands, north of Flag Pole Hill, offer surprisingly challenging hills. She adds that northerners don’t benefit from Texans’ heat training.

The real secret might be our area’s running community. “Dallas has some of the best people to run with anywhere,” says Nicole, who is a member of the White Rock Running Co-op (a club open to runners of all levels — see thewrrc.com). “My training partners are so great and such nice people. It makes it fun.” (Stella the dog isn’t so enthusiastic about running during the summer months.)

“The win is a small part of this sport — community and encouragement are the more predominant themes.”

Shaheen does much of her training solo, but she also has formed relationships rooted in running, like the one with aforementioned Steve Henderson, which began a few years ago when she accepted an invitation to join a co-ed relay racing team. Today they are totally in love and live together in a house on White Rock Lake.

And if you ask most any ultrarunning aficionado — race organizer David Hanenburg, for instance — it is that romance, those friendships and camaraderie, that shared experience on the trail, rather than the qualifications, records, times and trophies, that define the sport.

To him and other ultrarunning diehards, it’s about more than just trying to prove you can complete some “deranged distance.”

“The win is a small part of this sport — community and encouragement are the more predominant themes,” says Hanenburg (who blogs about ultrarunning at endurancebuzzadventures.com).

On the trails you will see frontrunners cheering on the back of packers, he says. He has witnessed Nicole and Shaheen doing so — in fact, he says, they have cheered him on, even in races that they finished far ahead of him. It is their hearts that make them good at ultrarunning, he says, and it is ultrarunning that makes them (and him, and other runners, too) better humans.

See results from the Western States Endurance Run at wser.org

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Dallas’s Advocate Magazine, written by me, Christina Hughes Babb

Dallas, healing and recovery, injury, inspiration, marathon, White Rock Marathon

Training is done, all that’s left is to run

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 5.29.10 PM
Running the DRC Half with the 1:29 pace group: by Jesse Puentes

After a serious reckoning over a case of plantar fasciitis last spring, I ditched my Vancouver and St. George marathon plans and took some time off. It was awful.

In August I restarted running 20 minutes at a time. I began working with Coach Eric  more than a year ago, which has improved my running, but has been hard work. I have always worked hard at running, but in a haphazard way. Now it is channeled and focused. I put in several weeks this season of 80-100 miles sans injury (I am dealing with some calf pain during this last week, which I’ll mention in a minute) and by the November DRC Half Marathon, I was back where I was last year at this time, which was an all-time best for me.

I did track work and base building during August and September and averaged about 55-60 miles per week during that phase with two harder speed and interval workouts per week. In October and November I moved to twice-a-day easy runs with two harder runs worked in per week, one of them long. The longest runs I did were about two hours (16 miles) with an added hour (6 miles) later that same day — I think I only had a day or two that actually was that long.

Right before I started the two-a-days I had a half-week off due to a family emergency. I had two days off in November when I just felt like I was falling into overtraining territory. I took one day off the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other than that, I haven’t taken any days off since late September.

Many of my running friends have asked me how — with a full-time, demanding job and children — I manage to work in the mileage.

Here are a few tips:

Sheri Piers via masslive.com
Sheri Piers via masslive.com

1. Read about someone else who does it. Sheri Piers has become my inspiration. She’s about my age – a year or two older – and works as a nurse practitioner (they can prescribe medicine so basically, a doctor).  She has a slew of kids and manages to clock some 90-130 miles per week.

She has come in the top 10 in Boston two of the last three years, winning 1st and 2nd place respectively in the masters division in the last two Boston Marathons. She qualified for the Olympic marathon trials.

Someone reportedly asked her, ‘What happens if you don’t get up to run tomorrow?’ And [she says], ‘What do you mean? There is no not getting up. I have three alarm clocks going.'”

2. Learn to be alone. I love running with my group when possible, but I had to learn to love running alone, because I don’t have time to arrange for accompaniment through all these miles. (Though some have been known to meet me at the track for mile repeats at 5 a.m. or at the lake for a 9-mile loop at 4.). The secret to my getting through the long slow miles is – drumroll – a subscription to Audible, where I download books. When things got really tough, I began listening to running-specific books — there is a novel called Flanagan’s Run that I return to time and time again. It is about a cross-country (literally) footrace in the 1930s and it is based on a real event, the 1928 Bunion Derby.

There is a scene that gets me especially pumped in which the runners on their trek through the Rocky Mountains start mornings with a chant.

“’I am a distance runner, my bones are light, my muscles lean. My heart will pump blood forever flushing my blood with oxygen.’ Their voices would echo through the mountains … the litany occasionally would be shouted, as if it were not merely an affirmation of their nature, but a gesture of their defiance. ‘I am a runner. I live as a runner. I eat as a runner. I see the weather, the road the world as a runner.  I have come to run …”

In the beginning, one of the runners finds the words trite, like a prayer you recite in church, he says, but as the days wear on, he shouts and believes he is now describing himself.

I listen to all manner of books and novels and I mix in some runner and triathlete biographies and I also listen to music.

3. Mix up the terrain. Instead of the same routes day in and out, I drive to different parts of Dallas to do my runs, or I run from work in Lake wood or hit the Katy trail and Downtown Dallas. I love being out of town, where I can find new places to run.

Galveston morning run
Galveston morning run

One of my favorite runs this season was in early October. My cousin got married on a Sunday in Galveston. I stayed the night but had to be back to the office in Dallas by noon Monday, so I rose at 4 a.m. and hit the sea wall for a 90-minute (split into three intervals) tempo run. It was the first cool run of the season — 69 degrees. At first I could only hear the ocean, but as the first hour wore on I could see the hint of sunlight rising over the horizon and the last mile was done right on the sand in my bare feet. It was magic.

If you are running more than 70 miles a week, some of it needs to be done on grass (or sand or trail dirt). I do a lot of running at Richland College, on the soccer fields and track.

I do some treadmill too. I don’t mind it at all, because I have my books.

4. Want it. Really, no one is going to run this much unless they have a reason. And there is no good reason to do this, unless you are one of the handful of young people working toward a scholarship or sponsorship in distance running. You just find that you want to or you don’t. If you don’t care about dropping 20 minutes off your marathon time, then it would be stupid to spend 12 hours of your week trying to do it.

I started running because I wanted to say ‘I ran a marathon’. Now I keep working because I want to be a good runner. I don’t really know why I want to be a good runner. I am too old to become a professional runner or an Olympic runner. But still I have this tugging desire to see what my limits are. It doesn’t make any logical sense. It doesn’t make any logical sense that one would climb a mountain, risking his life, simply for the thrill of reaching the top and looking out at the world from great heights. He does it not for money or material winnings, but for a feeling. I haven’t had the urge yet to climb a mountain, but I think that feeling I get at the end of a well-fought race is similar to the feeling a mountaineer gets when he reaches the peak. The less attainable the peak, the greater the feeling.

Anyway, now I have essentially completed the training and the race is one week away.

One week ago, I would have told you I am in the shape of my life. My recent marathon pace runs — done by heart rate — have been in the 7:00-7:15 range. I ran the 8-mile Dallas Turkey Trot in 52:31, about a 6:31 per mile pace.

But I limped away from that race and am now nursing a soleus strain (diagnosed by the internet) and will do the last week of my training on the elliptical.

One important thing I learned last season was to not put all my hopes into one race. When I put in the work, all sorts of positive things happen. Maybe that includes meeting my marathon goals, or maybe something doesn’t work out and I learn a new lesson. Like the main character, Doc, in Flanagan’s Run, “He knew who he was … he had gotten to the center of himself … he had no need to prove anything …”

A new personal best and an attainment of goal time, however, is a much-desired affirmation.

Temps on race day, blessedly, will not be hot like last year. However we might freeze and we might get a nasty wind.

I do not care. I have been waiting for a cold marathon, one for which I am properly trained, for years. Bring it on.

Boston, Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, training, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

For Dallas runners, circling White Rock Lake is a rite of passage

This is part of a full-feature story in the March Advocate magazine about the many wonders of East Dallas’ White Rock Lake:

Full circle

Completing the full circumference of White Rock Lake trail, on foot, is a rite of passage


 What a wonderful White Rock Lake world

Dave Dozier Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Drive to the end of Winstead, a winding road west of White Rock Lake, any Saturday morning at about 5:30 and Dave Dozier will flag you down. He assumes you are there to join him for a run. On a dewy winter morning he dons a black tracksuit with reflective stripes and he invites early morning guests, runners and walkers, jovial folks he calls friends, into his home of 50 years — cozy quarters whose décor includes display cases full of medals from White Rock, St. George and Boston marathons, to name a few, hundreds, dating back as far as the 1970s, and collages containing magazine clippings and racing bibs.

An inconspicuous manila folder contains what we came for: certificates for completing, on foot, a full 9.2-mile loop of White Rock Lake.

In his early running days, Dozier says, running all the way around White Rock Lake was something only the most serious runners did.

“Once you ran the loop,” he says, “you were somebody.”

In the 1970s a gang of diehard runners including White Rock Marathon founder Tal Morrison challenged Dave to run all the way around, rather than the couple-mile out-and-back jaunts they had seen him performing at the lake. When he eventually took them up on it, the guys gave him a certificate of completion. It is a tradition Dozier continued, mostly under the radar, long after Morrison and the other old timers stopped running. Recently a local fitness magazine publicized the practice and Dozier got an unprecedented amount of takers. But he doesn’t give these certificates away to just anyone. “You really have to do it. I have to see you. I will run with you,” he says. “And you can’t have done it before.” The certificates are reserved for those running the loop and the distance for the first time ever.

And while the certificate is a neat token of achievement, it really isn’t about the paper. It’s about the camaraderie as runners gather at the starting point. Those who meet at Dozier’s place vary in pace — taking anywhere from 70 minutes to three hours to circle the pond. The wee moments before the jog are for catching up and laughing while Dozier tells everyone to “shut up. My wife is asleep.”

Voices fill the erstwhile silent neighborhood with stories of marathons past. Dozier’s friend Julie Stauble recalls a time Dozier stumbled at the finish line, knocking out his front teeth. Dozier teases the group’s fastest runner, a psychiatrist named Joe Gaspari who is preoccupied with qualifying for the Boston Marathon. “He’s always looking at that watch. Doesn’t he know we are here to have fun?”

It’s about the other lake goers. When Dozier ran the first of his 9,000-some lake loops, he says, there were about eight guys regularly running the lake. On a Saturday morning these days, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand. “I stop and talk a lot. I know everyone out there,” Dozier says.

It’s about the commitment and motivation one feels after hitting that 9.2-mile milestone, says Stauble, who ran a marathon after meeting Dozier and joining his informal running group. She says it changed her life.

“A lot of lives have changed out here,” Dozier says. “And we’ve had people that didn’t fit in in the world, fit in with us.”

It’s about the sense of completion. The circle represents wholeness, unity and infinite possibility, right? But Dozier scoffs at all that philosophical stuff. “It’s just fun. I love this. Running is my way of life.”

If you are interested in meeting Dozier for a run around the lake and, if you make it, a certificate, emaileditor@advocatemag.com.

Dallas, marathon, racing, running, Uncategorized, White Rock

Season recap: Dallas Marathon, etc.

Driving to the start line, my gage rose from 68 to 71 degrees, as did my anxiety levels.
Driving to the start line, my gage rose from 68 to 71 degrees, as did my anxiety levels.

Today, it’s in the 30s and there is snow on the ground. Unfortunately, marathon Sunday a couple weeks ago was not so nice. (I started writing this last week, ya’ll).

As I was driving to the convention center Marathon Sunday morning at 6 a.m., the thermometer on my dash rose from 68 to 72 degrees. The humidity was around 89 percent and the winds were a lovely 15-25 mph out of the south. All season long I had professed, If it’s hot and windy again, I am not running this marathon. But who was I kidding? I had hired a coach and worked for months. The show would go on, despite Mother Nature’s impending slaughter of my ambitions.

**On her blog Leave Tracks Angela has a ton of great Dallas Marathon photos.**

The cruelest component of the atmospheric prank was that ideal marathon temps were slated to roll in, oh, at about 1 p.m., not long after most of us had finished.

My friend Heather and I considered starting the race at 11 and running by chip time — a genius idea had organizers not closed the start at 8:45 a.m.

OK — so here we go. My goal time in my head (which I never really shared out loud), based on data collected during the season, my high mileage training, and my half-marathon time, a month earlier, of 1:29 was something under 3:10 in perfect conditions. Because I know all too well how heat impacts my running, I started with the 3:15 group.

The humidity was so dense that the ground was wet, as if it had rained, but it hadn’t.

A few miles in, the leader of that 3:15 group was drenched in sweat and I had little confidence he would run a 3:15 (I know some of the group did, but not many, and he decidedly did not).

Miles 5-10 ish were all mildly uphill. During this stretch, I figured my best bet was to let the 3:15-ers go and simply try to pace myself for a personal best, which meant anything under a 3:30. I stayed within close range of the 3:15 group through the uphill and through the subsequent 4-ish miles on downhill.

My friend Danny Hardeman, easily in 3:10 shape (he was supposed to run New “hurricane Sandy” York), was in front of me at the halfway, but I could tell by his body language that this weather was killing him already.

Photo taken by Jason Rowenhorst
Photo of me near the end, taken by Jason Rowenhorst

Then we hit White Rock Lake, where the winds were gusting and the runners, by the dozens, were stopping to walk. Looking around at all these people (thinking of myself too) who I knew had worked for months for this day, and seeing how the weather was sapping us of the enthusiasm you should feel halfway through a goal race, made me melancholy.

This is where I slowed significantly. I felt horrible here. Atop the downward mental spiral, heat does bad things to me. As you may recall from my El Scorcho attempt, it makes me puke.

Thus, around mile 14 I stopped taking any gels or Gatorade. I sipped, very lightly, water occasionally. That was the most I could stomach.

Without any carbs or electrolytes, I soon met the wall. Mile 20, which is where we encounter the biggest hill of the race, took more than 9 minutes. I was DEAD. I was demoralized. I was depressed. I considered stopping. I saw several people stop. It was generally a bad day for running a marathon.

At this point I saw a bunch of my friends out cheering. At the front of my mind, I wanted to tell them to shut the ^&* up. I was jealous that for some reason or another they had run a different marathon this season. One in better weather. Of course, a couple of them were injured and couldn’t  run at all. Was  I mad at them? No. Was I glad somewhere in my misery to not be them? Yes. And deep down, I knew I’d have to face all of them after the race. They made me want to keep trying. You jerks!

After 20, I let myself look at my watch. I figured out that if I could run the last 10k at an 8-minute mile I could still run a personal best. If I can beat my personal best in this shit weather, I thought, I can still call this a success, even if it is a far cry from the goal. Now, in most cases an 8-minute mile for a girl who’s trained six months or so at a 7:00-7:15 marathon pace would be extremely doable, but after 20 miles in heat and wind and no ability to fuel due to nausea, it was iffy.  Extreme iff.

A few things saved me.

One: downhill. Most of the last six miles were slightly downhill or at least flat. This made me feel much better. Not great, but I felt like I could run again.

Two: creepy guy. A fellow marathoner in the early miles ran alongside me, struck up a conversation and casually mentioned that he thought I had a nice rack. “Not just your boobs,” he says. “You are all-around attractive, but especially your boobs,” he rambled. It was sort of amusing and I asked him was it just running a marathon that caused this or did he never have a filter. I was glad when he ran ahead, but at mile 22 or so, here he was again. This time I was in no mood. So when he started talking, I started sprinting (OK, sprinting is probably overstating, but I maintained until I was comfortably solo again). So, thanks, guy.

Ellie, my racing muse
Ellie, my racing muse

Three: another great friend. At about mile 23 I saw my dear friend and her beautiful toddler sitting on a curb outside Deep Ellum holding a sign that read, “Christina you are our hero!” OK. That was god*mn awesome. I can do this.

The final stretch through Downtown Dallas was a m-f-ing wind tunnel. But the wind at least was a bit cooler than it had been at the lake. I couldn’t see the clock until the last turn just feet from the finish line.  As I turned I knew I would have a personal best, which was nice. Nicer still was that I was done with one more miserable marathon. (My first two marathons, White Rock/Dallas in 2008 and Oklahoma City in 2009 were both run in hot, humid windy conditions.)

The race director, Marcus Grunewald, approached me at the finish and it was everything I could do not to barf on him. He and his lovely wife who also was working the finish line wanted to know what I thought of the course. The course was a fantastic showcasing of our fair burg. But the weather took a dump on it.

I will always, despite this city’s sociopathic weather, participate in the Dallas Marathon because I so believe that the organizers genuinely care about the runners, the community of non-runners affected by the event, and the beneficiary of the race, The Texas Scottish Rite Hospital. The years I didn’t run it because I ran out-of-town fall marathons, I always felt so empty on Dallas’ Marathon Sunday.

One of the most important things I learned this season was to NOT make the “goal race” or end-of-season race the end-all and be-all of your season, because so many things can go wrong when you put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket. I stayed enthusiastic and had fun all training season because I trained for a 5k and for a 10k and for a half, and I learned a lot about the science-y stuff of running, thanks to Eric, my coach.

And here's one of my WRRC  friends who appeared to be enjoying herself. Photo by Mike Arceri
And here’s one of my WRRC friends who appeared to be enjoying herself despite the weather. Photo by Mike Arceri

Prior to the marathon I ran a 10k best of 41:49. Then I ran a five-minute-plus personal best of 1:29 in the half marathon. My marathon time was 3:26 which was still a personal best. Looking at stats made me feel a little better about that. I was the 23 overall female out of close to 2,000 of us. I was also the fastest of 14 Christinas!  I passed 56 people in the last 10k (5 passed me). These graphic results are very cool. I was even ahead of 94 percent of male runners! OK – my arm is starting to ache from patting myself on the back so much.

Oh, before I stop, I almost forgot: There was another failure this season to break 20 minutes in a 5k. That was a big thing I’ve always wanted to do, but things just have never clicked for me in a 5k. I tried two between summer and the marathon and always fell short by 15-20 seconds.

Less than a week after the marathon, a bunch of my running club buds were doing the Jog’r Egg Nogg’r at — where else — White Rock Lake. At the last minute I registered, guessing I’d just stretch my legs a bit, wear my retro jogging outfit, and take it easy. I placed third overall female (chip time) with a 19:32:20. It was a fast course — lots of downhill. I don’t think my legs could have handled an ounce of hill that close to the marathon.

But it felt great to finally break through that barrier.

One last thing. Anyone who ran the marathon in the heat and humidity and wind of Dallas or anywhere else, keep in mind that the weather plays a tremendous role in distance running. These tough races only make us stronger (and fuel our rage for a later day).

Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, Uncategorized, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

Our buddy, Bob

When I started running with the Dallas Running Club in 2009, it broadened my world. Long distance running made my mind, body and spirit feel better. It has taken me to places I might never have seen — the streets of Oklahoma City, San Diego, New York, Philly, Boston and the hidden pockets of my own city.

But far more impressively, it has brought a whole new world of people, friends, into my life.

I met Bob Philpot during my second season. We trained together for the Oklahoma City Marathon. Bob was a steady source of entertainment and companionship.

While many of us bitched about the weather or our injuries and pains, I never heard Bob say a negative word. He had what seemed like an eternal smile on his face. The marathon at the end of that season was bad — hot temperatures, gale-force wind.

Everyone in our group was trained for a three hour forty minute marathon, but it took most of us more than four hours to finish. We rode a bus home together; I was totally devastated. I felt like my athletic dreams, my chance for qualifying to run Boston, had been squashed. Bob, having years of experience on his side, knew better. As we rode the bus home and I pouted, Bob joked and laughed and those of us around him couldn’t help but lighten up too.

I did get faster, and as did many of us in that training group, moved on.

Bob, who was pushing 60, became a pace leader for the Dallas Running Club training program and continued trying to qualify for Boston.

There was hardly anyone in the Dallas running community who had come up through the DRC who didn’t know Bob.

Last year, he finally reached his goal. He booked a room. He was headed to the Boston Marathon in the spring. But then he got sick.

When I heard Bob had cancer, I wanted badly to ignore it. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t a big deal. That he would get some treatment and come back and we would celebrate with a BBQ or a night at the bar. I honestly, purposely, selfishly, didn’t think much more about it.

I was running a few months ago with Chris Stratton, White Rock Running Co-op founder and also the leader of that 2010 DRC Oklahoma Marathon pace group. He had mentioned weeks before that Bob was not well. I asked Chris that day how his friend Bob was. He gave me a strange look. My friend? He’s your friend too, Chris said. That’s weird. Chris never has hesitated to let me know I have said something stupid. Looking back, I think I subconsciously distanced myself out of fear of emotional pain. Fear can make us act like jerks and I am obviously not immune. Tough realization.

Yep, Bob was my friend. And I listened as Chris told me how hard it was seeing him this way.  It takes a brave person to keep close to his heart someone who is dying.

Fortunately, Chris wouldn’t let me or any of us forget Bob. Through the Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op, respectively, Chris Stratton and Vishal Patel, among others, kept us posted on Bob’s condition. They hosted a fundraiser to collect money to help his family with medical expenses. Bob’s running buddies contributed thousands of dollars.

The last time I saw Bob, he was volunteering at a race. I walked right by him, looked at him, grinned impersonally and started to turn away when his familiar voice yelled, Christina!

Bob! I didn’t recognize him. He was skinny and his cheeks were sunken and he had no hair. But as soon as he spoke, and smiled, he was familiar Bob again. We laughed about old times and joked about the use of medical marijuana and soon other members from that old group such as Danny Hardeman, Chris and Vishal had gathered around. It was a sunny and warm and a beautiful day for running at our lake. Bob seemed happy just to be there.

Bob died on Thanksgiving. At his funeral today, his daughter spoke of how much her dad loved running, how young runners admitted to her that it ate ’em up that this old timer could keep up with them, and how they said there was no word to describe Bob,  but that if you had to pick one, it would be Honorable.

His brother-in-law told us how, in his younger years, Bob was stressed with life and work and took up golf.  How Bob was so terrible at golf that his companions suggested he take up jogging.

So Bob started running marathons.

“A week ago,” said Bob’s brother-in-law, “I asked Bob, if he could have one more good day, how would he spend it?”

Bob told him he would put on his running shoes, grab his wife Elaine, and go for a run around White Rock Lake.

When I picked my daughter up from school today, I told her about the service and about how Bob wished for one more chance to run. She remained silent for a minute, which is eerie for this teenager, and then she said that I should dedicate my marathon to him.

I said I would and smiled. In fact, I don’t think anyone who has run with Bob who runs the Dallas Marathon next week, especially as they take that stretch along our glassy, shimmering, breezy White Rock Lake, will be able to resist remembering  Bob, and running for him.

Bob is second from the left on the top row. This is the 2010 OKC training group, taken at our tune-up race, the Rock To Victory Half Marathon.
Dallas, marathon, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

Final Dallas Marathon course changes announced

Originally published on Advocatemag.com.

An update to the East Dallas Advocate‘s July story about changes to the White Rock Marathon (most notedly, it’s not the White Rock Marathon, but the Dallas Marathon now):

Last May, the Dallas Marathon organizers and board released a tentative course map, included in our story, but today they announced a few more changes.

Said changes address concerns of marathon runners as well as concerns from city departments and the community regarding traffic and safety, according to today’s news release.

Landmarks such as the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Klyde Warren Park and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital remain on the course. The originally proposed long stretch of running up Mockingbird Lane, which brought about many complaints from runners, will now be edited, and the course will instead cross over 75 via McCommas and Ellsworth on the way to White Rock Lake, “providing runners with scenic neighborhood views,” according to the news release.

There are also changes to the proposed half marathon course.

A greater section will traverse Cedar Springs along Turtle Creek, leading to Armstrong, and the half marathon will return south via Cedar Springs and pass by Klyde Warren Park near the finish.

“After diligently working with DART, the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dallas City Hall and the mayor, we feel we can guarantee that our race will provide a safe and enhanced experience for all marathon runners and spectators,” says Dallas Marathon Executive Director Marcus Grunewald. “The 2012 course will still offer a flat, fast race with ample entertainment.”

The Dallas Marathon will be held Sunday, Dec. 9. Registration fees for the marathon, half marathon and relay events increase Oct. 16. Register at dallasmarathon.com