Thursday, November 5, 2009

The fastest couple in Charlotte

Regular readers of Runner's World have probably seen Pearl Izumi's cheeky series of ads in recent months. Using the tagline "Breed like an animal. Run like an animal," the upstart shoemaker essentially encourage runners to hook up with each other and make babies.

If Pearl Izumi ever needs a poster-couple, they should give Ben and Megan Hovis a call.

Megan (maiden name Hepp), a 27-year-old registered dietician and a personal trainer, has won the women's titles at the Thunder Road Marathon in 2007 and the Outer Banks Marathon in 2008; last year she also put up a 2:37:29 at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Boston. Ben, a 31-year-old teacher and head cross-country coach at Providence Day School, is a 2:33 marathoner (at the 2006 Twin Cities race). In May 2008, though they would not be engaged for four more months, they made headlines as the top male and female finishers at the Biltmore 15K.

In other words, Megan and Ben go together like ... well, a right running shoe and a left running shoe.

They were married on June 20th of this year, and their place in the world -- or in Charlotte, at least -- as "those runners" was cemented. Two and a half weeks ago, Megan won the LungStrong 15K women's race in 55:40, while Ben was the second overall man with a time of 50:09. Next up: Sunday's Outer Banks Marathon, a race Megan won last year and a place where Ben hopes to PR.

So, these two run like animals. Will they breed like animals? Read on to find out.

Q. When and how did you two meet? Was it love at first sight?

Ben: Megan and I first saw one another in November of 2007. We didn't talk then, but I definitely noticed her sporting her cute jean jacket. A few weeks later, after her Thunder Road victory, (we found ourselves part of the same) group run. Over the next couple (group runs), we started talking and flirting, and then I asked her if she could help me with my "nutrition." We set a time for a "nutritional meeting." A couple days before, I told her that I really just wanted it to be a date, and it was. After two weeks of dating, I knew that Megan was the one for me.

Megan: I actually wrote a silly e-mail to a friend right after running with him the first time saying, "I think Ben is cute."

Q. Did the wedding or the honeymoon incorporate running in some fashion?

Ben: Our wedding had multiple running themes, little chocolate sneakers as favors, "training" advice put together by my parents at the rehearsal dinner, wedding party entrance to "Chariots of Fire," calf sleeve toss instead of garter ... I think you're probably getting the point. So of course our honeymoon was based upon somewhere that would lend itself nicely to our passion for running. We decided on Sedona, Arizona, and woke up every morning for an awesome run on trails right from our resort.

Q. Describe each other's passion for running.

Megan: There is not a single day that goes by that he does not tell me how one of his kids did in the workout that day, or how he thinks he can train a certain kid to race as his number five and win conference. The best is when we go for a long run -- 18 miles-plus -- and for over two hours he has told me about his kids' times from years past. I have to tell him "you can tell me three more times, then you are done" or else I will get a headache!

Ben: Megan has a HUGE heart. She is one of the most unselfish trainers I've ever known. Megan has so many clients, and she would rather wake up and run at 3 in the morning than tell one of them she doesn't have time to meet with them.

Q. OK, let's talk about the big race Sunday. Why'd you guys pick Outer Banks?

Megan: We picked OBX because of the experience last year. I really enjoyed the course and I want to try and defend my title. Last year, I ran injured. In fact, I was running for 20 minutes on a soccer field the entire week before the race. My knee and right hamstring were in terrible condition and I just had to try and get through the race. I held it together enough for the win, but my time was nothing special. I would like to try and get a better time this year.

Ben: There is good money since it's the state championships, which also makes it an easy decision. My goal is to PR. I'm hoping for something in the 2:29-2:31 range and just to finish in the money. Megan is hoping to set a new state record, 2:44:13, and of course that would mean defend her state title.

Q. Do you get nervous before big races?

Ben: I don't think you're normal if you don't get nervous. I used to get really nervous, but realized that was probably just making things worse and I probably wasn't running to my potential because I was too tense. Now, I truly just run and trust in my training.

Megan: If anyone knows me, it is best to not try and take my port-o-potty spot as I may chop your head off. I usually am found jogging from one bathroom to the next due to nerves. I put a lot of pressure on myself and don't like disappointment.

Q. How many miles a week do you two run?

Megan: My average mileage is about 100 miles per week. Heavy training weeks have gotten up to 140, but I try to limit it to 110. Light weeks are usually around 85.

Ben: Over the years, I've had quite a range. I've been as high as 100, but I'm not sure if my body really likes that. During this marathon training I've gotten up to the mid-80s. Anywhere in the 70s and 80s seems to be just right for me. I believe in most cases, quality is more important than quantity.

Q. Megan, we know you're hoping to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2012. Tell us what has to happen to get you there... and, come to think of it, could you tell us how the Olympic Trials relate to the actual Olympic Games? I don't think people always get it.

In order to qualify for the trials, I have to run 2:46 to meet the B standard. You can start qualifying in 2010. The A standard is 2:39. Once the time has been run on a certified course, then you can run in the trials. The Olympics on the other hand, is a bit more difficult. You have to be in the top three finishers at the trials to make the team. Honestly, the Olympics is not the goal; to run well at the trials and hit a new PR would be ideal.

Q. Last month you won the LungStrong 15K, which was your first race in the CLT area since ... last year's LungStrong 15K -- which you also won. You've told us before that you don't race around here very often because it makes you nervous. Why??

Megan: For some reason I feel extra pressure when I race in Charlotte. It is almost as if I am afraid of letting people down if I don't run what I "should" be able to run. I also don't like to race at all unless I am healthy and fit. I have battled many injuries over the past year so I used races outside of Charlotte to get myself back into shape. I don't like to step on the line in front of people I know unless I am prepared to run a quality race. It may be a silly thing, but I am this way in many aspects of my life. If I have a speech or presentation in front of others, I have to practice a million times to make sure I am completely ready. I am not good at "winging" things.

Q. Ben, you don't race in town very often either, do you?

I'm not able to race as much as I used to in the late '90s and early 2000s because of coaching. When I was an assistant XC coach I could race on Saturday mornings and then head to our meet, but with more responsibilities that just doesn't happen anymore!

Q. What's been the most rewarding part of coaching at Providence Day?

Ben: I love coaching so much ... watching kids do things they thought they couldn't do is the most rewarding part. I tell the kids all the time "impress yourself" and I mean it. It's awesome to watch my kids' reactions when they go beyond where they thought their limits were.

Q. Now, let's bring it back to the relationship for a sec. Do you realize that when you have kids they'll probably be running circles around everyone else's kids?

Megan: We are definitely planning on starting a family, (but) we want some time to enjoy being married and to continue to train before we have an extra body to take care of. In fact, we are not even quite ready for a dog. The PLAN is to have kids after the 2012 Olympic Trials ... but we know how plans can change. All I have to say is watch out baby joggers -- the Hovis team will be coming after you soon.

Q. Obviously you both have a serious competitive streak -- otherwise you wouldn't be pursuing the goals you're pursuing. How competitive are you with each other?

Ben: (Laughing.) We compete over EVERYTHING! I proposed to Megan over a game of Scattergories.

Megan: We are probably the most competitive people you will ever meet. I am almost more competitive outside of running. When it comes to games, I HATE to lose to him. I have to say, I have yet to lose at Scattergories. ... We make everything into a game and enjoy the challenge from one another. Life with Ben is NEVER boring.

Q. Any silly pet peeves in this relationship?

Megan: Ha. I am not sure how he will feel about me telling this, but he is terrible at cutting his toenails. They are so long that even I get cut by them sometimes. Also, he is slightly addicted to running results and I get overwhelmed by hearing numbers day and night.

Ben: Hmmm ... Megan is a one-stepper! It kills me at times. I'd much rather run with Megan on single-track trails than at McAlpine or on the roads. She's got to constantly be one step ahead!

Q. Didn't mean to bring up a sore subject. So tell me: Where do you guys see yourselves when you're 50? What do you hope your lives look like then?

Ben: I hope we're still running. We're hoping to have two kids, so by 50 they should be middle school or early high school? I definitely want to still be coaching and teaching at Providence Day. I love Charlotte, so I'd assume that we'll be right here in the Q-City.

Megan: We both love it here. I think I have the greatest job in the world and don't ever want to change. ... When we are 50, Ben promised me I could run an ultra marathon. I have always wanted to do this. ... Maybe at 50 we will be taller.


Dee said...

Great interview about an amazing couple. Not only are they fast but you'd be hard pressed to find a nicer couple.

The Bridgemans said...

great questions & honest answers. the two bring out the best in each other...perhaps when baby Hovis comes along Pearl Izumi could be its sponsor.

aaron said...

The king and queen of Charlotte Running! Dan and Val make a close runner-up but you two have definitely earned the title! Always a pleasure to learn more about the Hovis crew.

Anonymous said...

A bit pretensious if you ask me. It's not a new story. Mark Lundblad and Anne Riddle Lundblad--local trail running demigods--have been married for several years.

Anonymous said...

The Lundblad's are incredible. But they live in Asheville and the title of this article is "the fastest couple in Charlotte." Perhaps if they move to Charlotte they two couples can race and we'll be able to make a definitive determination. Anon 8:03 please learn to read before making obnoxious comments.