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The Middle-Aged Marathoner

The accomplishment inspired me. Heck, if a middle-aged woman a year shy of 50 who wasn't previously a runner, could take up the pursuit and, 7 months later, run a marathon, what excuse was there for me to skirt those dreams that intrigued me yet seemed a bit out of reach? What excuse was there for any of us who aim too low?

Doug Pauly, one of the board members of WenatcheeOutdoors, was the germ of this story. Doug is a runner who competed in high school and his twin daughters (Skye and Chelan) were celebrated local runners during their school years. Doug's wife, Katie, however, most definitely was not a runner. Katie didn't run short distances, she didn't r
un long distances, and she didn't run for fitness. She walked and was active, but she did not run.

At the ripe age of 48, with her family life changing as her girls neared high school graduation, something snapped. Rather than expressing mental instability by running around town with dangerous weaponry, she started running around Wenatchee simply for the sake of running (an equally crazy, but socially acceptable, notion).

Eight months later, as a 49 year old, Katie joined 20,000 other runners and, on October 17, ran the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. Her time (6 hours, 20 minutes) didn’t turn the heads of the time obsessed, but that wasn’t the point. Here was a woman who took up something new at an age where most people are making age-related excuses to avoid challenges, and tackled a goal that even many life-long
runners avoid.

Through the journey of training for and running a marathon, Katie determined wasn’t a marathoner at heart, but she most definitely was a runner. She loved the sport's fitness rewards, its simplicity, the escape it offered, and the way it connected her to other runners.

We interviewed Katie about the journey in becoming a middle-aged marathoner. Much of what she experienced will resonate with people who want to keep growing.

WenOut: How did this notion taking on a marathon start?

Katie Pauly: Much of the motivation resulted from our family being in transition. The twins had finished high school and Chelan was going on a year-long exchange (Peru) while Skye was starting college. I wanted something transitional for me -- something with a consistency I could commit to and that was totally for me. This coincided with a flyer I saw announcing there was going to be a Team in Training (TNT) here in Wenatchee to prepare for the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. I had walked the San Diego Marathon in 2006 and was impressed with the Team in Training there. They were so exuberant and so encouraging of all their runners participating in the marathon. Being part of a team like that inspired me.

WenOut: What is Team in Training all about?

KP: From an organizational standpoint it’s a group raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Everyone involved with a team raises money for the society. From a runner's point of view, however, they provide an experienced coach for six months to train a group interested in preparing for a specific endurance event like a marathon, triathlon, or a century bike ride. Our Wenatchee group training for the San Francisco event was tiny but, in total, 3,800 people from around the country ran the marathon with a Team in Training group. We all gathered in a huge convention hall for a pasta feed the night before the marathon and it was inspiring to be with all the runners, most of whom hadn't run a marathon. It was also inspiring that, collectively, those of us running this one marathon raised about $13 million for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

enOut: Talk about the process of becoming a runner.
KP: For most of us who join a Team in Training, our goals had little to do with turning-in a competitive time. We just wanted to be finishers. For me, much of the draw was to put up goal that seemed nearly impossible yet would focus my energy on something that was completely new and totally for me. Our training program had us running five times a week and the first two weeks were simply to get us to run for 30 minutes per session. I’d only ever run that long a few times in my life, so it was a tremendous challenge to run that long five times in seven days. I didn't think I’d be able to do that but once I could I realized I was a runner! I got home and was proud to share this with the other runners in my family. Over the months ahead we added more and more time to our long runs, I never got fast, but I perceived myself as a ru
nner--I had experiences to share and a connection to everyone else who ran.

WenOut: Some people run for the love of running; others don't like it that much but run for the health benefits or to stay in shape for sports they do love. What about you?
KP: I love the running itself. It's quieting to turn everything else off and reduce the world to simply putting one foot in front of the other. Preparing for the marathon, I loved the training and allocating my energy to getting the training done. I loved the support coming from my coach, the others I trained with, and my family. And I loved connecting with other runners.                                                                                         The Agony of De-feet

WenOut: Your girls and husband are serious runners. Did they train with you?

KP: Chelan ran with me once, but she could have walked faster. Still, the girls have been really proud of me and told their friends what I was doing. They liked hearing where I ran, how it went, how I was feeling... It's been a bonding thing to share this activity that I previously just watched with the experts in my family Even our son, who is more of a ball player and dancer than a runner, kept track of my progress. He made me longer and longer playlists for my I-pod as my distances increased. Everyone in the family has been supportive – partly because it’s made me so happy.

WenOut: We have lots of local trails to run. Was trail running part of the training mix?

KP: I ran up Saddle Rock a few times, used the Loop for nearly all of my long runs, and ran up Horse Lake Road once. For convenience, however, I mainly ran familiar routes leaving from my house.

WenOut: How did the marathon itself treat you? Did it make you anxious for more?

KP: The marathon itself was my least favorite part of the process. I enjoyed certain aspects of it -- it was exciting to run with 20,000 people and this was the culmination of all the training. But the weather, especially at the end of the event, was raining and I was wet, cold, and tired. I also hurt my knee during the last third of the event. I was able to finish, but the injury has lingered and set me back from running for awhile. I'll definitely continue to run but from my training runs I know that mile 16 or 17 is where it gets really hard for me and, perhaps, where it's more likely to cause me harm. For me, miles 7, 8, and 9 is where the running feels best. There's a sense of how fabulous it is to be out moving. I look forward to getting back to training and running those kinds of distances.

WenOut: Any advice for others who don't perceive themselves as runners?

KP: To be a runner it simply takes the courage to start and the discipline to stay with it four or five times a week. I would encourage newcomers to set a goal of running 30 minutes a day. After a few weeks, a person can add 10 minutes to their long run once a week and gradually build up to the level they want to maintain. It's common for people not to like running at first--expect that and simply commit to doing it for a few months before casting your verdict. After a month many people who were reluctant runners at the start find themselves missing it on those days when they can't run. Finally, focus on the amount of time you run, not the distance or speed you go.

WenOut: What were the biggest takeaways about this whole experience?

KP: First, there is the way I feel when I'm running versus the way I look when I am running. I keep the feeling of it in mind: I feel like a runner even though I know I'm moving in slow motion. Second, the social side of running has been surprisingly satisfying--running has opened lots of social doors for me. Finally, I found the training to be what I liked best. I guess life is often like that, it's the process not the end product that really matters.


Old dogs can learn new tricks. In fact they should learn new tricks -- especially tricks that work the body. Humans are instruments of movement and if we don't log enough physical activity, all manners of ills unhinge our bodies, minds, and spirits. Incorporating lots of physical activity into life is an important component of living long, living fully, and living happily (see our story about longevity).

Katie took up running to give herself a new focus, but in this part of the world (the outdoor-recreation capital of the state) people who haven't viewed themselves as walkers, cyclists, skiers, climbers, mountaineers, or paddlers can reap similar rewards by embracing something new. We have the both the outdoor resources and the supportive groups needed to extend your boundaries (see this directory). The missing ingredient is the Pauly gumption to say, "I'm gonna do that.”