What drives people to want to run 26.2 miles? To voluntarily put their feet, knees, stomachs and minds through such cruel and unusual punishment? Of the more than 1,000 runners who will participate in Charlotte’s annual Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday, we found eight who are guided by extraordinary sources of motivation.
Last Saturday night, Allen slept on a park bench as temperatures dipped into the 30s. Then he woke up Sunday and ran 16 miles. He’s been living mostly on the streets for the past eight years, since losing his mother and dropping out of college. But in 2012, he connected with RunningWorks – a Charlotte-based nonprofit program designed to help the homeless regain self-worth through running. With the group, he has stopped smoking, competed in several local races, and begun the process of getting Section 8 housing. He’ll run his first marathon Saturday with two RunningWorks staffers by his side. “I’ve come a long way. Training has helped me become more structured and more focused, and I see this all as a gateway to escape homelessness.”
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28, Stanley, marketing manager
Faw ran cross-country in high school, continued running into adulthood, and even after she got pregnant with her first child in 2012, she kept on going. During the 33rd week of her pregnancy, she ran a 5K. But in the months after her son, Griffin, was born on Oct. 23, 2012, she lost her motivation to run. Then she found Denver, N.C.’s “Moms Run This Town” club on Facebook, which helped her reclaim her passion for pounding the pavement. She dropped 40 pounds, ran her first half marathon in December 2013, and – somehow – got persuaded to sign up for her first marathon this year. “One of the other moms is running with me, and the rest are forming a huge cheering squad at mile 23 – to make sure I’m still alive and make it to the end.”
32, Mooresville, dog groomer
Seven years ago, Foldoe was living a nightmare. Her husband (now her ex) – with whom she had two young children – was convicted and imprisoned for a serious crime. In part as a way to escape the stress and the anger, she started running. Her obsession with the sport was taken to the next level this year: She ran her first marathon in Myrtle Beach last February, then ran her second in Cary last March (in a time of 3 hours and 34 minutes, fast enough to qualify her for the 2015 Boston Marathon). On Saturday, she hopes to go even faster. “Running has been a way to vent after the hurt that was done to my family,” says Foldoe, who has two children. “Every time I run and complete a big race, I’m becoming stronger for my kids.”
38, Charlotte, physician assistant
As a sports medicine professional, Hewitt has treated lots of marathoners for all manner of ailments, from nagging hip and leg injuries to bad knees, feet and ankles. But to this point, he has never run one. So this year he tackled the challenge to prove to himself (and, OK, maybe to prove to his patients) that he is capable of going the distance, too. On top of that, he hopes his accomplishment motivates others to be physically active. In any case, after Saturday, he’ll finally be able to relate. “I always get a chuckle out of the scenario of the overweight provider telling the overweight patient to lose weight. I want to be able to tell my patients: ‘I’ve been there. I get it.’ ”
32, Wesley Chapel, grocery store worker
Mahony has never felt the agony of running a marathon, but it doesn’t scare him. Scary is having your daughter diagnosed with leukemia at 2, seeing her hair fall out, watching her get so sick she could barely be taken from the house for anything but hospital visits for two months. Maddie is in remission, but faces nine more months of treatment. So the marathon, says Stephen – who will run with his sister Carolyn Talluri (a three-time marathoner) – is a tribute to his only child’s toughness. “When I start to struggle during a run, I remind myself that I am doing this for her and think about the pain that I am in ... and that it is nothing compared to what she has gone through.”
39, Charlotte, stay-at-home mom
When Maturan and her family moved to Charlotte from Houston in 2010, she didn’t know anyone. In fact, she was still getting used to living in the U.S., having spent the first 31 years of her life in the Philippines. But she wanted to be a good example for her daughters, Pam and Ella, so she started running. At first, she ran alone, and “I struggled alone. I didn’t run with other organized groups because I ran so slow.” But Filipino immigrants tend to find each other, and as she met other moms, she had success in spreading her joy of running to several of them. Saturday, she’ll run her first marathon – along with nine other members of the Filipino running group that she helped form.
37, Huntersville, nonprofit program coordinator
McDonald remembers the night she hit rock bottom: April 25, 2010 – she had a bottle in one hand and a pistol in the other. For nearly 15 years, she had battled alcoholism; she finally felt like she’d lost. But “a moment of clarity” made her put the gun down before crying herself to sleep. The next day, she started a detox program. In the 4 1/2 years since, she’s lost 60 pounds, run eight marathons, multiple 50-kilometer races, and tackled 100-plus-mile races in Iceland and at the Grand Canyon. “If you think you can’t do it, you won’t do it. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to do amazing things.”
59, Fort Mill, systems analyst
In January 2008, Weimer – already a prostate cancer survivor – felt a tightness in his chest, then had two episodes when he just felt out of breath. He headed to his doctor, and the diagnosis was grave: The left anterior descending artery (known as “the widow maker”) was 100 percent blocked. Next thing he knew, he was undergoing heart surgery. “That was the final straw ... all the nurses told me I needed to make a lifestyle change.” Since getting the stent inserted, he has raced 165 times – 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, 50Ks, 100Ks, triathlons, even a 100-mile race. What’s he learned? “That a normal person, even one not in the best health, can achieve great things.”