Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Running Fool? Try 'Marathon Maniac'

It's late summer, and -- it being late summer -- many of us are deep into training for a fall marathon. A fall marathon. As in one. Singular.

And then there's HAZEL TAPP, a 44-year-old medical researcher by day who in the next three and a half months plans to run
two. They'll be her fourth and fifth marathons of 2009. Oh, she's also doing 18 miles over three legs for her Blue Ridge Relay Race team a little more than two weeks from now. And before her two upcoming marathons, she'll run the 40-mile Triple Lakes Trail Race.

I know what you're thinking. Is she nuts?? The answer is easy: Yes. I mean, do you see the shirt she's wearing?

(Full disclosure: Hazel is another member of my running group -- the University City Road Runners. I compiled this last month after becoming unsure that the Jonathan Savage profile was going to happen in time for me to meet my deadline. After he came through, I shelved Hazel but have chosen to publish her story now.)

When and why did you start running? At age 20, I started run/walking to try to stay in shape -- despite my conviction that my body type was all wrong for running.

What makes you a good runner? I'm not a good runner, I'm just an obsessed runner. The only merit I have is consistency.

What would make you a better runner? The usual: shedding a few pounds.

Marathon PR?
3:58.

Is there a story behind that? [I did it] at the Myrtle Beach Marathon in February this year. [I'll never forget] realizing that I had finally broken four hours for the marathon. I had set this goal for myself after a 4:16 first marathon at Disney in 1998. Subsequently, I was always a little too slow, and felt like the endless bridesmaid who couldn't quite hold it together after 23 miles. It took eight marathons, 11 years, and the collective willpower of my whole running club, friends and family to get those planets aligned. I qualified for Boston to boot and had about 10 of my dearest friends right there to celebrate at the finish. PRs and great times abounded for them, too, and we were so busy celebrating we had to be politely told to stop blocking the finish line.

So you're on quite a marathon binge this year, huh? [Yes.] This year -- with my kids older and more independent -- I felt free enough to sign up for six, including one ultra. Three down, three to go. [So far], I have run Myrtle Beach, the Twisted Ankle [in Summerville, Ga.] and Grandfather Mountain. I will run Triple Lakes Oct. 3, Marine Corps Oct. 25, and Kiawah Dec 12. I have a 32-mile training run this Friday. We are also running the Blue Ridge trail 209-mile relay Sept. 11-12.

Of the three marathons you've run this year, which was most satisfying? Least satisfying? It would be hard to pigeonhole them into most and least, as they were all three very amazing and very different experiences. Myrtle Beach was the worst for me [because I was only] focused on time and my own physical effort, even though the outcome was the best. Probably Twisted Ankle was the best for sheer fun on the trails. [It was definitely the most challenging marathon I've run.] This was my first big departure from the classic "run-as-fast-as-you-can" marathons, into exploring mental toughness and stamina from an approach other than speed -- yet still with that race goal included. This mentality comes from conquering heat and hills, and also the sense of being out there alone during large parts of the experience. Trails involve getting dirty, risking falling, grabbing on trees, talking at aid stops, laughing a lot, enjoying great scenery, encouraging others, looking at wildlife and conquering demons -- all while still being driven to go forward.

How did you become an official "Marathon Maniac"? About a year ago, I inadvertently challenged myself in my quest for a sub-4:00 time by signing up for two marathons two weeks apart. The first was the Mohawk Hudson Marathon in New York, a downhill fast course that I hoped to PR on -- I didn't, but still had a blast -- and the second was Marine Corps in Washington, D.C., more of a social [event]. In the run-up, even though I was sure this was very doable for me, I got a certain amount of amazed comments from friends about my sanity -- and I felt a little embarrassed and different. Then I read about the "Marathon Maniacs," who had come together in this very spirit to share the love of running marathon distances frequently, sometimes for time, sometimes not. This struck a chord with me involving relief at finding people who think this way, and I was delighted to qualify for membership in the Marathon Maniac group with my two October races. The Web site is amazing by the way, with many, many races listed on their calendar. The Maniacs wear the T-shirts and indulge in much camaraderie at every marathon.

How do you combat boredom during longer races? I never, ever feel bored. Races are a joy from beginning to end. Running truly allows you to live in the moment, and be a kid again. This maybe gets to the essence of the marathon [obsession]. I am engrossed in many things: my sense of purpose, i.e. the finish; my thoughts; the surroundings; conversations with fellow runners; how my body is doing; the road ahead. There is so much to do, and it's all fun.

What have you learned about yourself through running? Running has taught me that you cannot sit in a shell, be a quitter or be afraid. You run in all weather, dark or light, when you are tired, energetic, sad or happy. If you want to solve a problem, I've learned that you can go for a run, sleep on it, and then go with what the road tells you. I've learned that you will always be in a different mood at the end of a long race to the one you started in. I have learned that despite thinking of myself as an average person, running has proved to me that I have the ability to be goal-oriented, driven, and demanding of every day. I have learned that running is one of my best opportunities to help other people. By using my running stories and encouragement, I have been told that they have served to help others believe in their own potential for change and achievement. I've learned that we are all athletes, only not all in-training. I have learned to never allow the comment "Oh, I could never run a marathon" to pass without turning around, looking that person in the eye, and saying, "Oh, yes you could."

Current running shoes: Asics 2030s, with orthotics for plantar fasciitis.

What would you consider the most beautiful place to run in Charlotte? Gosh, that's a tough one. I guess the Mallard Creek Greenway by the bridges as I spend so many happy hours and miles there.

Do you have any running-related pet peeves? Not really. I'm not a big fan of breathing car exhausts.

If you could pass on just one piece of advice to novice runners, what would it be? The hardest step in running is the first step out the door.

* * *

Know of another running fool? Tell me about him or her in an e-mail to tjanes@charlotteobserver.com.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

please ask her what orthotics she uses for her plantar, or maybe she will post for us. great job!!

Abagale said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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Anonymous said...

I remember when Hal Higdon ran 6 marathons in 6 weeks to celebrate his 60th birthday and 7 marathons in 7 months to celebrate his 70th birthday. I am always amazed with runners who can stay injury free to accomplish these streaks.

Has anyone in Charlotte completed marathons in all 50 states(plus D.C.?)

Anonymous said...

I know Hazel, and she definitely rocks! Nicest person you'd ever want to run with, too.

Anonymous said...

All of you need to read a book called Born To Run. Most of you sound neurotic. Orthotics, PR's, blah blah blah. You are missing the point.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Marathon Maniac as well and have had the honor to share a few miles at the races with Hazel. She is an inspiration and her endlessly positive attitude and energy is an inspiration we could all learn from. I'm glad others recognize her for what she is. She's a true hero. You could do worse than follow Hazels "Maniac" obsession. She is the perfect embodiment of the phrase "Just Do It" except I would add "With a Smile!"