Adults can pick up sports pretty easily. Some jump into the office softball team. For others, flag football offers an opportunity to play outside and break a sweat. But deciding to run a marathon usually entails more of a life transformation.
Molly Conway Alvarez, 39, was always reasonably athletic throughout her life. But that was before becoming a runnerd. Like many marathon runners in their mid-thirties, she sort of fell into it.
“I had a good friend who just decided to run a half marathon,” says Alvarez. She decided that she wanted to give moral support and encouragement to her friend as much as possible.
“Then I thought about the fact that I could better support her by training too. I figured if she could run that distance, I could do it too.” Even though Molly’s friend was far away in Dallas, they began to run in tandem, sharing the experiences of training in their conversations.
By some estimates, as many as 40,000 people are expected to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon this Sunday. And while competitive runners come in from all over the US, plenty of participants start their running ventures in small feats. Chicago offers a slew of opportunities to get running, from the dozens of local 5K races to bigger organized events such as the 8K Shamrock Shuffle and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. Still, running a marathon is different than running a two mile race.
“All I heard (from people who were non-runners) were the reasons it was a bad idea…about all of the things I would be missing by dedicating so much time to training,” says Alvarez . “No one talked about all that I would gain by running the Marathon.” Still Molly got to it, running a few times a week and saving a chunk of her weekend for longer training sessions, some of which go up to 18 miles in the weeks before race day.
Beyond the improved physical fitness, energy boost and better quality sleep that comes with training for a race, Alvarez notes she picked up an increased sense of accomplishment simply from training. But also, she increased her social network in unexpected ways.
“I started using Twitter the summer before, mostly to meet up with people at Lollapalooza”. Alvarez, an ad sales veteran, is extremely social already. Yet she found that with tweets and one-off conversations about running and #runnerds, the discussion blossomed. Soon she was meeting avid runners and beginners through Twitter, sharing tips on training and motivation, and picking up her own Twitter followers by the hundreds.
“It’s funny that initially I just wanted to beat Oprah’s time,” she says.
Tweets led to meet ups, “fun runs”, and more ordered training sessions such as those organized by CARA, the Chicago Area Runners Association. Nevertheless, for some runners at the beginner’s level the routine sets in and it helps to have extra motivation to see it through.
“I decided I needed a “training partner”, someone to run with who would motivate me while I was running,” she says. Alvarez also ended up choosing --in both of the last two years she ran the marathon-- one individual each year to raise money for. In the process she has raised over $10,000 to help cover the costs of additional medical care for two people, both of whom are battling cancer.
Likewise, she picked up another partner along the way. Molly’s boyfriend, Pablo, who is a phys ed teacher and avid runner, had also been training with her throughout 2010. But last year Pablo had sustained a minor injury that permitted him to run some but not the 26.2 miles required on race day.
Crossing both the finish line and a new life path.
Yet, on October 10, 2010, Pablo’s injury didn’t stop him from running the last third of the 2010 Chicago Marathon with Molly. Armed with his race bib and a diamond ring, Pablo finished the race with Molly, which concluded with a 4:34:54 time and their engagement.
In 2011, Molly is not only married now and prepared to run the Chicago Marathon again this year. She is also leading training groups, running more races and considers being a runnerd a way of life.
Embedded video courtesy of NBC5 Chicago.