The perseverance of a 67-year-old marathon runner

Running a marathon is hard for any human being. Novice or elite athlete. It requires months of training and a willingness to push through 26.6 miles of pain and exhaustion with the reward of having someone put a medal around your neck. It’s an endeavor that most people have zero desire to undertake. However the process and experience is a commonality that all marathoners share regardless of their age or skill level. 

Why would someone in their right mind want to run a marathon? It’s usually at about mile 18 that they begin to ask themselves, “Why on earth am I doing this? I must be out of my mind.”

That was the question that Lucy Simola was asking herself at mile 18 of the 2012 San Diego Marathon. As fatigue set in Lucy thought, “I am not having fun anymore.” A common road block many runners face, except Lucy was experiencing this in her first marathon at the ripe young age of 67.

Lucy kept pushing toward the finish line. She knew that she had to finish the distance in 7 hrs and 30 minutes before the course closed and she refused be the last person to finish. She remembered her I Hate to Run class motto: “If you can dream it you can do it.” 

Only 8 miles to go, and that heavy medal with the numbers, 26.2 would be hers.

You can’t even get to this point in an endurance event unless you are either impervious to pain or you have put the time and training to prepare. Lucy had put in the time and training, but still had a long way to the finish line. Her story begins years before, well before Lucy ever contemplated running a marathon. 

Where it all started

In 2004 Lucy retired after 36 years of teaching special education. Her first post-retirement goal: climb Mt. Whitney with her brother. It was a kind of bucket list desire to which her brother immediately replied, “Let’s do it.” 

In 2006 Lucy and her brother Newt climbed 12,000 feet to the top of Mt. Whitney. With the love and the support of her brother Newt, Lucy had met her goal.

During her preparation for Mt. Whitney Lucy developed shin splints from walking long distances in heavy hiking boots. To compensate she began running short distances to maintain strength and endurance.

She began entering local 5K and 10K events but became discouraged of her slow times. Lucy wanted further progression and sought additional resources.

Lucy came across a new class at Kennedy Club Fitness in Paso Robles called, “I Hate to Run”. There were three things about the class that intrigued her. The name, and the mottos: “If you can run 30 seconds, you can run a marathon”, and “If you can dream it you can do it”.

In 2007 she enrolled and found a supportive group of runners, personalized coaching, and a new personal record in the Heritage Oaks 5K race. 

After her progress Lucy offered her brother her support for a physical challenge he might want to undertake. After all, he had supported her in her Mt. Whitney climb. Perhaps he would embrace a similar offer.

His responded immediately: “I want to run a marathon”.

“At that time I thought he was crazy, but being a loving sister, I immediately offered to undertake the challenge with him as I envisioned our joy as we crossed the finish line, hands held overhead in victory. Another of life’s challenges checked off the list.”

At this time Lucy’s husband Bob was undergoing treatment for a serious health problem. The doctor recommended walking and a dog to help motivate exercising. Four days later they found Addy, a yellow lab who needed a home. 

Over time Bob’s health issues were getting more serious, and despite Lucy’s efforts to take care of him, trying to control outcomes, Lucy admitted: 

“I realized that I was driving both of us nuts. I needed to get back to running with Addy several days a week. Running became my therapy and eventually my perspective changed. I realized I couldn’t run Bob’s race, I could only run my own. Bob’s challenges were physically demanding and mine also needed to be. My brothers marathon was put forward at just the right time.” It provided outlet from my stress and a positive place to focus my energies. I went from living in fear to living with hope for the future.”

The uphill climb

Lucy and her dog were now running a combined 40 miles 5 days per week. Day after day, week after week, Lucy and Addy would hit the road gradually increasing their distance and duration into  the middle to high teens. They ran in 105 degree temperatures and through torrential downpours. Addy never gave up, and neither did Lucy. They both needed each other in ways that only best friends could understand.

After they ran their final 18 mile run in preparation for the grueling 26.2 mile distance, Lucy got a call from her brother informing her that he would not be able to run with her: an injured Achilles tendon. That week Lucy’s husband injured his back and would not be able to greet her at the finish line. No Addy, no brother, no cheering husband, just Lucy and her determination to keep going forward toward her goal of 26.2.

“As I waited in the starting corrals along with more than 20,000 other people, many running their first marathon, I thought,  “Are these people going to be able to run 26.2 miles?” 

BANG, the gun went off, a cheer swept through the crowd.

“I was being swept forward along with a sea of runners of all ages, sizes and shapes. All with one goal in mind, GET TO THE FINISH.”

There was no turning back now. All was going great until she passed the half marathon marker. It was at this point that she got discouraged by the thought, “I’m only half way?” 

Lucy knew she had a choice; she could pour her glass half empty, or half full. She chose the latter.

About three quarters through a marathon a mysterious sort of altered consciousness occurs when your mind tells your body you can’t do this.  Then your body tells you mind you can’t do this.  Then a voice whispers in your ear, “yes you can.” It was grace that brought you here and it is grace that will bring you through.

At mile 22 Lucy knew that she would finish before the deadline, walked the remaining four miles.

As the balloons loomed overhead, she crossed the finish line with arms raised in victory. No longer running alone, but now in the company of her new marathoners family.

Debbie Blossom–Miles, Ed.M - is a marathon runner; certified personal trainer; and teaches the “I hate to run class” at Kennedy Fitness Center in Paso Robles, CA.