TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent
My wife, Laurie Kearney, has graciously allowed me to interview her. The San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon will be Laurie’s 190th career marathon. Laurie is a Streaker. The only way to learn about her streaking habit is to read her story. Enjoy!
Craig: What was your athletic background before you got involved in running?
Laurie: I have absolutely no hand/eye coordination. I suck at any sport involving a ball, which is a bummer, as I was always among the tallest 2 or 3 girls in my class. I was a tomboy, though, and spent my summers climbing fences, riding my 10 speed bike (without a helmet) and body surfing in the Atlantic with my buddy, Ben. In 7th grade I was determined to achieve the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, and worked my butt off on the strength and skill tests. The flexed arm hang was the hardest for me. The test was the day before my Confirmation, and my mother is still convinced that the hideous red blotches on my cheeks and weird rash on my arms and legs in my Confirmation pictures was the result of heat exhaustion. It was probably 5th disease, a benign childhood virus, but I didn’t figure that out until 10 years later in med school.
Craig: I am amazed you rode a bike without a helmet. As a Pediatrician today, I’ve heard a lot of stories from you about how you have lectured kids to wear a helmet. How did you get involved in running?
Laurie: I ran a 5k with my friend who happened to be the captain of the Cross Country team in High School. She said she was going to do it as an “easy tempo run” with the other captain. I was red-lining the whole way, but I kept up with them and finished third female in about 23 minutes.
I was the manager of the men’s basketball team in college (Columbia University) and ran with the guys at 6am and discovered that I really enjoyed running, so I kept it up after preseason conditioning ended. One night at around 4am, a friend on the track team bet me his varsity sweatshirt vs my varsity B-Ball sweatshirt that I couldn’t beat him in a 10k the next morning. We were both pretty drunk at the time, but thanks to my great Irish genes, I was good to go at 9am. I didn’t run any blazing time, but I beat him and won the sweatshirt. I kept it for at least 10 years.
I kept running in med school, which was how I met the guy I almost married. He was this tough Italian guy and he offered to run with me, as it was a pretty scary 2 miles from school to Prospect Park. I ran my first half marathon with him, the Long Island Half Marathon. There was a guy and girl in our class who ran the New York City Marathon our last year of med school, but I couldn’t imagine running that far. I moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan after graduation and started running in Central Park during residency.
Craig: What led you to your first marathon?
Laurie: When I broke up with the boyfriend from med school, I found myself with a lot of free time and started signing up for New York Road Runners Club (NYRRC) races on weekends. They had a great deal. You paid $25 every month and you got to do a race every weekend. There was always a 5k, 10k and 2 other distances, usually a 20k or half marathon and a 5 or 10 miler. They gave out trophies to top 3 in each age group and I collected a lot of hardware in the W25-29 AG. I was on line for the port-a-potty before a race in the spring of 1994 when a girl introduced herself to me as the captain of the New York Flyers womens running team and asked if I was planning to do the NYC Marathon. I was considering signing up, and she mentioned that their club had speed work and group runs am and pm, and long runs every weekend. I was hooked!
I didn’t want NYC to be my first marathon, so I signed up for the Long Island Marathon in May 1994. I ran 3:58, only because some 50ish guy came up behind me around mile 23 and said “I’m going to run under 4 hours”. That sounded pretty good to me, so I stuck on his heels for the last 5k. I ran 3:42 at NYC and noticed that all the women who finished ahead of me had “BQ” next to their names. That’s when I found out that if I had run 2 minutes faster, I would have qualified for the Boston Marathon. I ran the Long Island Marathon again in May 1995 and finished in 3:41:09. FRUSTRATION!! I didn’t want to have the pressure to qualify at NYC, as that was before chip timing, so I ran a marathon in Corning, NY in October 1995, where I met two guys in their 50’s who had each run over 500 marathons, and were members of the 50 states marathon club. They entertained me with their adventures, and I easily qualified with a 3:28, despite tripping on a wooden bridge at mile 24 and crossing the finish line with 2 bloody knees. I ran my next NYC in around 3:30.
I had a friend who needed to run 3:45 to qualify for Boston who asked me to pace her in Jacksonville in December. It was unseasonably warm, and they had more than double the usual number of runners, being one of the last qualifiers for the 100th Boston, and they ran out of water from mile 12-17. We finished in 3:47, despite me doing everything short of carrying my friend the last 5 miles.
Craig: What inspired your move from the Big Apple to San Diego?
Laurie: I had registered for a medical conference in San Diego in January 1996, and the San Diego (now Carlsbad) marathon was the day before the conference started, so I signed up. We’d had a brutal winter in NYC, with a blizzard that basically shut down the city for 3 days, and I ended up doing a 20 mile training run on a 1/10 mile track. I had also slipped on some black ice running to the start of the snowflake 10 miler and fractured my wrist, so I was pretty fed up with NYC. I ran the San Diego Marathon, spent a week in Mission Valley, getting up at 5am every day to run on the PB boardwalk with the Flash and decided to move to Carlsbad. It took me about a year to find a job, during which time I did run the 100th Boston, and also found an amazing running coach, who was on board with my “marathon a month” program, and helped me run some pretty impressive times, including a 3:02 at NYC 1996, 3:06 at Boston 1997 and won the Long Island Marathon 3 weeks after Boston with a 3:03.
Craig: You have run a marathon in all 50 states. What was that experience like?
Laurie: It was a great way to see some out of the way places and meet some unusual people. The east coast was easy. The big sky states like Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming were the hardest, because most had only 1 or 2 marathons back then, and were usually a few hour drive from the nearest airport. Fortunately I was around number 40 by the time I met you, as it is not as much fun leaving your squeeze at home to go spend a weekend in Clinton, MS or Green River, WY.
Craig: What is your favorite marathon?
Laurie: I love Boston for the whole experience. It’s the Kona of marathon racing. Even the cab drivers in Boston are impressed if you are running the marathon. I also love NYC, especially coming down from the 59th street bridge onto First Ave and hearing the roar of the crowd.
Craig: You have also finished 10 Ironman distance races. How did you get involved in triathlon?
Laurie: I had no intention of ever doing a triathlon, much less an Ironman, when my running buddy Greg White decided to sign up for IM Canada in 1999 to celebrate his 40th birthday. I had read one of Mitch Thrower’s editorials in Triathlete in the Chiropractor’s waiting room and it inspired me to give it a go. At the time I owned a hybrid bike with flat pedals and the longest ride I had ever done was the 60 mile NYC Diabetes Ride, in 1995. Fortunately Greg’s cousin was renting a room from 2 pro triathletes who conveniently worked for QR, and their other roommate moved out in the spring of 1999, so I basically lived in a triathlon camp, not to mention getting a great bike, wetsuit and a ton of free nutrition products. One of my funniest experiences was swimming in the 25 yard pool at our HOA one evening. The roommates were walking home from getting frozen yogurt, and my swim technique was so pathetic that one of them (Darren Wood) jumped in the pool to show me how to get my feet to stop dragging along the bottom of the pool. He also noticed that I used my front brake too much, so he disconnected it, and to this day, I rarely use my front brake, much to the chagrin of my husband. Prior to IM Canada, I did the San Diego International, the Half Vineman, and did a 12:12 at IM Canada, which is still my Ironman PR.
Craig: I can’t remember the last time you competed in a race shorter than a half marathon. Why are you so enamored with long distances?
Laurie: I have NO speed. I’m basically a 6 foot slowtwitch muscle fiber. I’m also a crappy swimmer, and my transitions are pathetic. The longer the distance, the more my running skills compensate for my many deficiencies.
Craig: Besides the sheer number of races you have done, you have posted some very impressive times including a sub 3 hour marathon. What accomplishment gives you the most pride?
Laurie: Definitely winning the 1997 Long Island Marathon. My picture was on the back page of Newsday, and I felt validated for all the years of being picked last for kickball.
Craig: What is a typical week of training for you?
Laurie: I’ve been running 70 miles a week for the last 15 years. I tried higher mileage when I first moved to San Diego and was training with the UCSD Masters, but I was always getting annoying little injuries. Once I cut back to 70 miles and cut out speedwork, I’ve stayed pretty healthy (knock wood). My former job made it really difficult to do any long rides, as I worked Monday-Friday 9am-6pm (which was more like 7pm most nights) plus one weekend a month. Since I started working for Rady Childrens Urgent Care in July 2011, I work 4 days a week, 3pm-11pm on weekdays, noon to midnight weekends, so I have tons of time to train. Now I ride 4 days a week, run 6 days a week, and have been trying to get in the pool 3 days a week from May till Sept.
Craig: You are a Pediatrician for a living. What would you like to see parents do to enable their children to lead a more healthy lifestyle?
Laurie: I’d like to see more parents engaging their kids in active play. That’s not necessarily signing them up for gymnastics and soccer and Tri Juniors. Just take your kids to the beach, the park. Play Frisbee or Nerf Football. Get them bikes and let them ride while you run. Show them that exercise is how you play, not a chore to be dreaded like homework.
Craig: June 3 will be your 15th consecutive San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon. You have done that race every year since it began in 1998 giving you “Streaker” status. Is it a blessing or a curse to be a Streaker?
Laurie: Being a streaker is definitely a bit of a burden. My brother got married in NYC the Friday before RnR SD last year and I was determined to get back for the race. Another streaker friend of mine walked the race a few years ago with 3 broken vertebrae in his neck from a bike crash. I’m not planning to start any more streaks, although I do hope to run Boston every year until I die.
Craig: What are your racing future goals?
Laurie: I hope to run at least 400 marathons in under 5 hours. I’d like to run the Comrades Marathon in South Africa at some point – maybe my 50th birthday. My main goal in life is to have run at least a mile within 24 hours of dropping dead.
Craig: You are a very humble person so we appreciate that you have shared your story. You have given hope to all those aspiring runners out there. Good luck achieving all of your dreams and goals. From a selfish standpoint as your husband I hope you don’t run that last mile for many years.
Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach. Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.