Interview Day

Going the distance: interview with a marathon runner

runner with headphones

Noelle Isaak during her half marathon race

People simply amaze me. The things we are able to accomplish with a little mind-over-matter is astonishing. Case in point: runners. I have an awe of runners. I get all achy and winded running two blocks to chase my kids. My lungs scream in protest at forcing air that isn’t the exact right temperature in and out (so forget about jogging in the winter!). To me, there is nothing more miserable in the world than running.
 
But whenever I actually talk to a runner, I see the passion for the sport eeking out of every body movement they make. They kick their feet around, wiggle their fingers and stretch their necks, as if they can’t wait to step off. They’d do it NOW if they could. They relax a little. They take deep breaths. Like just the thought of running gets them in that happy zone.
 
So I decided a runner would be a great candidate for an interview post. Specifically, a marathon runner. Because if there’s anything crazier than going for a run, it’s running for 26.2 miles. I mean, really? That’s why God invented cars.
 
Noelle Isaak and I actually have a lot in common, namely we’re both mothers of twins (with another child two years older than our multiples). She’s also a professional photographer. As if that wasn’t enough to wear a person out, she’s recently discovered her passion for running.
 
When I approached her to do this interview about marathon running, Noelle tried to give me a disclaimer. “I’m not a marathoner yet,” she said, with the reasoning that she did not finish her marathon (you’ll see why below). I assured her that completing the training and 21 miles out of 26 made her a marathoner in my book! And actually someone who could teach us all a lesson in perseverance.
As I will do with all of my interviews in this series: the questions are mine, the answers are hers. In her own words.
 
1.) What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about running? Specifically running long distances?
The way it makes me both physically and mentally stronger. I find that accomplishing new things in my running (going further distances or getting faster times) really makes me feel proud of myself.
 
2.) What do you think is the biggest misconception about the sport or runners in general?
That running must come easy. [Until recently] I was never a runner. I never felt like I was cut out for it or very good at it. Even now I sometimes have difficulty calling myself a runner. I still work for every step, every mile, every race. It doesn’t always come easy and I always felt like for a real runner, running should come easy. I think that’s the misconception.
 
3.) What in the world motivates a person to run long distance?
The continued challenge of it all. I loved feeling like I was challenging myself to push harder and to feel like I was clearing more and more hurdles. I really wanted (and still want) the feeling of crossing a finish line at a marathon. Meeting that goal pushed me to keep pursuing longer distances.
 
Every race helps me feel the energy and makes me strive to work harder and challenge myself more. Aside from completing my very first 5K, I’m most proud of the one I ran just 7 weeks after being cleared to exercise again after having my twins. I felt so proud of the fact that I got back into running again and beat my time from the same race the year before by over a minute.
 
4.) Describe the training process for a marathon. How did you prepare–both mentally and physically?
Marathon training takes a lot of dedication. It’s a big time commitment. I did a 16-week training program, so for 4 months I devoted 5 to 7 days a week to training. When the training runs got longer and longer, I was spending more and more hours at a time away from my family. I had to wake up early, drive 20 minutes to the running course, spend anywhere from 2 hours to 4 hours running, then drive home, take my ice bath, drink my protein shake, take my shower and THEN start my regular day.
 
I also chose to run a spring marathon, so all the training was in the winter. Here in Chicago, those winter training months can be brutal! Mentally, that was tough. Making myself wake up on a freezing cold morning and willing myself to get dressed to run in freezing temps was mentally just as challenging as the physical part of running. Running is just as much about the mental strength as it is the physical strength.
 
It is very tough to tell yourself you can keep running when you FEEL like you are just dying. But once you pass that little hurdle of feeling like you can’t do it, and push through, you find that you really can keep going.
 
7.) What kinds of things do you think about as you run? 
Everything. Or nothing at all. I think about things I need to get done, or I reflect on memories. I take in the scenery. I often see a cardinal on a certain trail I use, he is gorgeous and I love feeling like he is joining me for a run. Sometimes my mind goes blank, sometimes I am too busy counting laps to think of much else.
 
The best part about running for me, as a mother to three young children, is the break I get! It’s just me and the road. It’s my “me” time.
 
8.) 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)?
No, no rituals. Just a bagel with SunButter, water, and a few Clif Shot Bloks. I was nervous and excited–I pictured myself running across that finish line.
Four half marathon finishers wearing medals

Noelle and a few fellow runners, after completing the half marathon

9.) I’ve participated in the Chicago Triathlon (the Super Sprint…it hardly counts I think the kids race is a longer distance) and watched the main race. There’s a definitive energy in the air. I imagine it must be like that for a marathon too. 
The atmosphere is the best! It’s so surreal to be standing in a crowd of people ready to run and push themselves harder than they have before. There’s camaraderie there.
 
 10.) Your race ended in heartbreak. What were the circumstances and how did you feel? 
I ran the GO! St. Louis Marathon in April. I had trained for a cold weather race but it was HOT! Like nothing I had trained for. I ran, I drank as much water as I could (taking a cup of water, sometimes 2 at every station) and just pushing myself to do what I could. They ended up calling the race because it became unsafe to run, it was so hot. Many runners had passed the half-way point (me included) and we were able to keep going.
 
When I made it to mile 21 I found myself getting extremely dizzy. I stumbled to a volunteer and he ushered me to a chair. I drank more water. I passed out and woke up to find myself being escorted into a white van. They drove me back to the start/finish area where I called my husband and stumbled around to find him. I should have taken myself to the medical tent for an IV but I was not in a good enough state of mind to realize just how bad I was!
 
I’m still very proud of myself and the efforts I made that day. It was devastating to not cross that finish line and wear that medal, but I know I did the best I could. And that makes me proud.
 
11.) Are you planning to run another marathon?
Yes! I WILL cross a finish line of a marathon. I will wear that medal and I will wear it proudly (I may even get the 26.2 bumper sticker for my car).
___
As with anything these days, I can’t help but think of what Noelle’s experience can teach me about writing. Very briefly, I think it is important to see ourselves as what we want to be (writers) without feeling like everyone else who does what we do must do it with ease. That we will get what we want and achieve what we want through practice and hard work. Sometimes I think this blog is kind of like a warm-up run before jumping into my novel (my own, personal, marathon) each day. And that if you fail (rejection, lack of sales) the important thing is to remember what you learned from the experience, get back up and try it again.
 
I’ve been reading a quote out there in writer land (I’ve seen it in a lot of places) that seems appropriate here. “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up…published” ~Joe Konrath.
 
Well, I think we can also say, “There’s a word for a marathoner who never gives up…finisher.”
 
I know one day Noelle will get her medal.
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