By Lisa Shrewsberry
“Missy’s here — we’re not going to win. Missy’s here…”
Learning she was a perceived threat from two women whispering at the starting line behind her, women she had never met from among the hopping, stretching, Lycra-clad crowd, had one effect on Missy Burleson — a smile spreading as far as her feet were about to sprint her.
These days, that length is at least a 6-mile race, to add to often 40- to 50-mile training weeks. The reward, however, is much greater than the distance or another medal to add to her blooming collection.
Like many amateurs, running was something Burleson had tackled casually, mostly by force, in high school gym class.
“I wasn’t on a team or anything,” she stated.
To put her adult body through something it fundamentally rejected made about as much sense as trying to run the hilly, inhospitable roads of southern West Virginia — it didn’t. That was, until it made a difference.
Before considering any form of regular exercise a few years ago, Burleson experienced pain throughout her body. Doctors air-balled ideas for possible diagnoses — fibromyalgia and lupus were among the most popular theories. Desiring to fix, they began to prescribe, but a lifetime of medications was too bitter a proposition for then 33-year-old Burleson.
Carrying 211 pounds on a scant 5’ 3” frame, she took health matters into her own hands, which in turn bent down to tie on a pair of running shoes.
“I ran a little and the pain started going away. I started on the treadmill, then I went to the YMCA soccer complex.”
The more she ran, the stronger she felt. Feelings of awkwardness faded, as did the pounds, now 75 of them down. Lighter, Burleson discovered she was fast, too.
“My first 5K was in Summersville. I didn’t want anybody to see me.”
She finished the 3.1-mile race in 36 minutes. One year later and Burleson cleared the same distance in 26 minutes. At the 2014 HospiceCare Chocolate Chase 10K in Lewisburg, she shaved five minutes off last year’s time to finish 6.2 miles in 52 minutes, 53 seconds.
She completed her first marathon March 16, the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach. Her finishing time for 26.2 miles was a respectable 4 hours and 38 minutes.
Only two years into being an athlete and earning awards, Burleson qualifies as an official runner even if based solely on the number of T-shirts earned, a growing cotton tower inside her closet. Burleson also considers herself a serious competitor.
“I will gut myself in a race — I will push to win. I’m in it for the bling,” the mom of two teens said. She has created her own line of hand-painted medal hangers out of personal necessity and is now selling them to other runners for displaying their race swag, one more unanticipated benefit of her decision to just do it.
Burleson’s husband, Jeff, jokingly wearing a “Running Sucks” T-shirt, is so supportive of his wife’s sport, he’ll follow behind her in the car on long runs, ones where running a certain piece of road alone wouldn’t be a safe idea.
Her kids have also become part of Mom’s obsession, benefiting from the many family trips now organized around races.
Wanting to spread the contagion, Burleson also started a local chapter of the online running community Moms Run This Town (MRTT), some 700 chapters strong and with 90 local “on the books” participants. She is also organizing a fundraiser 5K and Clover Fun Run for Raleigh County 4-H, to be held May 17 at the 4-H Camp in Daniels.
“Running has completely changed my life for the better and the few aches and blisters I get from a hard run are way worth not being in the horrible pain all the time without answers to why!” Burleson said.
She admits she does have a doctor now she feels understands her and to monitor her and take care of other issues as they happen. She’s just happy the issues are small and that she was literally able to outrun the big ones.
Not too long ago in southern West Virginia, along the sparse slivers of graveled shoulder winding up the mountains, it was best to handle serious grade inside the cab of a coal truck. Insanity would have been to run it for any duration. Should one, in fact, see a body running, the natural reaction was to crane the neck further to witness what he or she was running from.
These days, sets of furious legs, lanky to stout, well-covered to letting it all air out in scant vent-sided shorts, are not running because they have to, but because they can.
In the most recent issue of Runner’s World Magazine, West Virginia ranked No. 1 in highest percentage of runners in the top 1,000 at the 2013 Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and probably the best known and feared road race.
The magazine’s May 2014 issue, dedicated to the Boston Marathon and to telling the stories of the survivors from last year’s tragic bombing, considered the possibility that West Virginia might send the fastest delegation once again this year. It seems the hills and hollows are suited for producing more than coal — they are producing a legion of strong runners.
Terry Hoskins is so confident that running is on the incline in Beckley, he’s opening a business dedicated to it. Beckley Running Supply is scheduled to debut near the end of this month at 118 Main St., Uptown Beckley. Hoskins plans to offer a wide variety of running shoes including harder-to-find brands, and products supporting the nutrition and habits of runners, like the accessories to track miles and paces with the latest GPS technology.
“I like the fact that Beckley is growing … and that more and more runners are taking it outside on the roads here. You see people here being more active in general.”
Although cycling has been Hoskins’ preferred way to sweat, he is also a runner and acknowledges that it’s easier to indulge a notion to go for a jog than to rack your bike and hit the nearest roots and rocks trail.
“Running is easier; you put on a pair of shoes and you go. It’s a great way to stay healthy and to see the beauty of West Virginia.”
Hoskins admits he turned back to running when he realized his pants weren’t fitting like they used to. Although sporadic at running throughout his life, his return to it has gotten progressively more serious over the last four or five years, leading to his latest entrepreneurial vision.
“People who don’t think they can run, can run. If you can walk, you can run.”
Hoskins recently began the online running community Beckley Runners Club via Facebook. The group encourages members through their trials and onto personal records, spawning several small groups who meet and hit the streets together.
Beyond wanting to get active and healthy is the benevolence runners display in supporting organizations through their race entry fees. Many are motivated to compete on the local level for charity. Requests for races from runners, also lending a proving ground for their weeks of hard training, bring organizations to create opportunities to run and to raise money and awareness for their mission.
Sherrie Hunter, director of education for the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority works with her team to make sure the annual Earth Day “It’s Your World — Go For The Green” 5K/10K race is a favorite of runners near and far.
“The ultimate compliment is when a runner says, ‘Mrs. Hunter, thank you. We love this race and we felt safe.’ We make sure there are policemen there blocking traffic and that everyone feels safe to run and have a good time.”
Although the race’s trademark recycled glass suncatcher medals are competitor favorites, Hunter has sweetened the potential victory pot to include cash for the top male and female finishers in both the 5K and 10K events. First place 10K male and female finishers will dart away with $200 each; for second and third, the prize is $100 and $50 respectively. 5K prizes are $100, $50 and $25, for first, second and third place in male and female overall categories. The cash prizes are provided by local businesses L.A. East Fitness and Foley Orthodontics.
This April 27th marks the third annual Earth Day event, one expected to continue the trend of escalating attendance.
“The first year, we had 47 people running in 42 degree weather. Last year, there were 46 10K participants, 106 5K runners and 70-plus walkers. Every year the attendance has gone up,” said Hunter.
Hunter’s greatest satisfaction is the multigenerational design of the race.
“I see moms and dads running, then grandparents walking and children participating in the Fun Run. Every element of family is in this activity. This validates the time and effort we put into this event — it’s a family affair.”
Competing in an event, or hitting the pavement for personal reasons, runners put on their shorts and shoes the same way non-runners do — one leg at a time for one footfall after another. The only difference is, they’re determined to make every step count.
“It’s really hard to take that first step,” said Burleson. “Running is very important to me; it’s the only thing in my life after I get everything else done that I do for myself. If I can share it with someone and they can find happiness from it like I have, it makes my day.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Earth Day “It’s Your World, Go For the Green!” 10K/5K , Sunday, April 27. Race begins at 12:30 p.m. at the Woodrow Wilson High School track. For more information or for registration, visit www.iplayoutside - event ID# 15178.
5K and Clover Fun Run to benefit Raleigh County 4-H, Saturday, May 17, 9 a.m.
Entry fee is $20. For more information, visit: Raleighco4h5k@blogspot.com
“It’s a Hospice Thing” 5K to benefit Hospice of Southern West Virginia, May 31 at
YMCA Soccer Complex.Visit www.hospiceofsouthernwv.org or call304-255-6404 for moreinformation.
John Henry Days 4 Mile Run & 1 Mile Fun Walk, Saturday, July 12, part of the John Henry Days Festival,Talcott, W.Va. Visit www.eventbrite.com/e/john-henry-days-4-mile-run-1-mile-fun-walk-tickets-10789239907
Tips togetting started:
If you’re starting from “couch-zero,” try the Couch to 5K running plan or mobile app C25K, available on iTunes or at Active.Trainer.com
OR, just start walking then gradually add in segments of jogging, until you can manage the distance without stopping to walk.
Distance doesn’t have to get technical … yet. Go from one light pole or one road sign to the next. When ready for the road, pick a runner-approved route. Don’t run where there is an obvious lack of shoulder or sidewalk or where there are too many blind curves; don’t run on roads or trails running through high-crime neighborhoods.
According to Road Runners Club of America, proper running etiquette is to run against traffic if running on the road; if running on the sidewalk or a multi-use trail, travel on the right and pass on the left (www.rrca.org).
Who won the race — was it the tortoise or the hare? It was the tortoise! Don’t pressure yourself too much on speed at first — learn to go the distance, to run those syrupy slow early attempts, then enjoy the accomplishment of improving from there.
“The hardest step you’ll take is putting your shoes on”— advice from Missy Burleson and the runner’s equivalent of “90 percent of success is just showing up.” If motivation is an issue, find a buddy to keep you accountable.