Training for the long run

By 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings this summer, junior Katie Bolton was passed out on her couch. But she wasn’t exhausted from a night of wild partying – she was tired from already completing a 15-mile run that morning.

Bolton is part of a team of runners who have woken up for 6 a.m. runs around the city every Saturday since May. They are training for the 26.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon in the District in late October.

The Road Runner’s Club, led by an all-volunteer staff of experienced distance runners, is headquartered at GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services in the department of exercise science, but is open to anyone in the D.C. area from students to Hill staffers to senior citizens, free of charge.

This summer was Bolton’s first time being involved with the Road Runner’s training program. She said throughout middle school and high school she was involved in soccer and rugby, which kept her endurance up.

“For a long time, running was something I did to make myself better at other things,” she said. “The idea only recently occurred to me that I could run for the sake of running – because that was what I liked to do.”

Abby Solomon, a graduate student and trainer at the Health and Wellness Center, has coordinated the Road Runner’s Club for four years and said she’s seen it grow from a group of five to 10 people to nearly 100 people in the past year.

“The runners learn the challenges and the joys of long distance running,” she said. “The biggest complaint is that the early morning Saturday runs take away from Friday night festivities. But the goal of completing the marathon far outweighs the complaints.”

Lauren Korshak, a graduate student working on her master’s in clinical exercise physiology, decided to train for the Marine Corps Marathon with the Road Runner’s club after she completed the 10-mile Cherry Blossom run in D.C. last April.

The Road Runner’s training program starts with three-mile runs, and the mileage increases each week. By the last week in August, the group is up to 20-mile runs.

“The 10-miler was challenging in April and now I have no problem picking up and running 13 miles, an accomplishment that I thought that I would never achieve,” Korshak said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and continue to improve my fitness level week by week.”

Korshak plans to run the marathon with the Finish For Kids team, where she will be raising money to provide medical care and health education to children and communities throughout the world. Despite her progress, she said she is still nervous about running the full 26 miles in late October.

“I still have not closely examined the race route because I’m afraid that I’ll become intimidated by the distance, but I have been empowered to believe that I will finish the marathon in October,” she said.

Bolton said the long runs on Saturdays with the group are a great way to get to know other runners in the group, particularly those you wouldn’t usually get to meet.

“I’ve talked about the Tour de France with a former cyclist, a newlywed’s Hawaiian honeymoon, training runs with a Georgetown student – there’s no shortage of interesting things to learn from the other runners,” she said.

Korshak agreed and said although the early morning Saturday runs are painful, it helps to have a steady group of people to run with. She runs with a group of other graduate students or young women preparing for graduate school.

“We spend our runs encouraging each other to keep going when the sun and humidity start to wear us out, and the runs are mentally challenging while our legs stiffen up and don’t want to keep moving,” she said. “My long runs have become a kind of therapy for me.”

Korshak said there are also personal reasons for joining the training program for the Marine Corps Marathon – she has a lot of friends in the military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also does heart failure research at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in D.C.

“I get a firsthand look at what happens when someone doesn’t exercise and the heart deteriorates and leads to disease and disability on a daily basis, which is further encouragement to continue running,” she said.

Solomon said being a coach for Road Runner’s has been one of the most rewarding experiences she has had at GW.

“I’ve seen runners challenge themselves, be knocked down, be brought back up and strive for what feels like an impossible goal,” she said. “Their confidence builds as the mileage increases. Speed and age are no worries in this program.”

Bolton said her confidence has definitely increased throughout her summer training. While she still passes out on the couch when she gets back from Saturday morning runs, she always feels good about herself.

“Running is very strenuous and exhausting, but by the time I get back from a long Saturday run most other college students are barely awake,” she said. “I feel very accomplished when I run. And on a good day, it’s easy to forget how many miles I’m trying to cover and just move.”

-Katie Rooney contributed to this report

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