"An Honest Sport" - An Interview with Martina

Martina Crevecoeur was in the first running class I mentored. Her story is inspirational, and I’m very proud of her accomplishments. She graciously agreed to share an interview. She has some really crazy stories. I also hope you are encouraged by her words. Enjoy.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am 47 years old. I moved to Dallas in 1999. I am a German national. I went to college in Houston in the late 80s, then went back to Germany and worked there for many years. I am working here for a commercial real estate company with mostly German investors. I am in charge of acquisitions & dispositions of properties.

When did you start running?

I started in January of 2007. I did run in my teens and 20s but never competitively or a lot. I was a jogger at best.

Why did you start running?

Because I was about 40 lbs overweight and simply couldn’t stand myself any longer. Crisis every morning what to wear, clothes were too tight and I was tired to go up yet another size. I was 44 years old and in bad shape. My pictures from years ago didn’t look like the person I had become. I had become this ‘thing’ that I didn’t even recognize. I started the Nutrisystem diet; it’s convenient and I liked that I had a plan that I could stick to religiously. I started to lose a lot of weight by simply following the plan. Then I thought a little exercise might not be too bad either. I started ‘running’…down the street, around the corner, and then I walked. Ten minutes in the beginning maybe. By the summer I had lost more than 30 lbs and ran quite a bit every week. Just by myself, sometimes twice a day. When I had lost the weight I wanted to lose, running had become much more to me. I haven’t stopped running since.

How many marathons have you done?

Three. My first was Dallas White Rock in 2008, ING Hartford, CT in 2009 (I qualified for Boston!), and then just a week ago Boston, April 19, 2010.

Do you mind sharing your worst running experience?

I did have a pretty bad running experience in the spring of 2008 that I have not forgotten. I was on an early morning run. It was still very dark, overcast skies and the street I was running on was poorly lit on top of everything. I was running on the sidewalk, pretty fast actually. Yep, you know what’s coming. Before I knew what was happening, I just ‘took off’. I flew through the air it seemed and landed very hard on the concrete. I tried to roll over my right shoulder, but didn’t quite make it. Hit my right knee hard and right arm and hand. The impact was so hard that my arms and hands could not prevent me from hitting the sidewalk face first. It took me some seconds to collect myself, figure out up and down and most of all, to figure out if I had broken my leg or anything else. My teeth seemed to be still all there and although my knee and shoulder were killing me, nothing seemed broken. My cheek bone was bloody and bruised and could feel the swelling already. Somehow I got to my feet. But I couldn’t walk… couldn’t bend my right leg. But there, across the street on the sidewalk, was somebody! A woman was walking her dog, maybe 50 feet away. I did not have a phone. I was about 1.4 miles away from home. I tried to hobble across the street so the woman would notice me. That should not have been too difficult because I had one of those red blinking lights on. Of course it didn’t break and was blinking!!!

I called out to the woman, “hello…hello, can you help me please?” But she just kept walking. She must not hear me. “Hello, I am hurt. Do you have a phone? Please!!”

I am in the middle of the street now and the woman spins around, the dog starts growling and stands alert. The woman now sees me, yells and points at me. “YOU stay right there. Right THERE!”

I said, “Do you have a phone? I fell.”

“No, I don’t have a phone. Don’t come closer. Stay!”

This was not happening to me, was it? She turned and walked away briskly, dragging the dog behind her. And she was gone. There I stood. I think I am a pretty tough person, I don’t tear up easily; nobody has ever accused me of being a softy. But I was about to cry. I couldn’t believe she wouldn’t help me. Clearly, she could tell I was a woman, a runner, that I was hurt. What was her deal? Anyway, I limped home. I walked some and jogged some so it wouldn’t take me forever. I sported a pretty nice goose egg on my face for a week, the knee and shoulder healed and I was okay. I’ve never seen that lady again. I did wonder about her. I wondered if it ever crossed her mind that I was not going to hurt or rob her and that it wasn’t about her at all.

Martina, Boston 2010

What is your best running experience so far?

My best experience happened a week before Christmas in 2008. Again, on an early morning run in the same neighborhood. I’m running down a street, it’s dark and very quiet. I only hear my breathing and my footsteps. I never run with an iPod. Then I hear this sound. A cat, I think. But there it is again, or is that a baby? No, what is that? A very faint voice, “help…help me.”  I stop. I hold my breath, listen, then I see this little ‘bundle’ on the sidewalk across the street. I run over and it’s this old woman in her robe lying on the sidewalk in front of her house. There’s a newspaper next to her. She is very old and I’m thinking she tripped and fell when she went to pick up the paper. She wants me to get her up. “Help me get up.” I try to lift her up and she screams in pain. She is skin and bones but I cannot lift her and she is in pain. I talk to her and ask her if she lives alone.

“Yes.”

I tell her I think I need to call 911 for an ambulance. (I do have a phone one me!)

“No, no, no….no ambulance, I don’t want to go to the hospital. No hospital.”

I ask her if she has anybody I can call, children.

“Yes, my son. Call my son.” She doesn’t remember his number. But he lives close by. The number is by the phone, she says. So I run inside. I find the phone but no number. The house is a total mess. I just hit the redial button and hope she called her son last. I get a ring and it goes to voice mail immediately, at 6 AM? I leave my cell phone number and say that their mother fell and is hurt and they need to come by her house. I get a blanket off the bed and put it over her. It’s chilly and she wants me to get her up and but I can’t. I think she broke her hip. I do call 911. They will send an ambulance. It only takes about 10 minutes and the ambulance comes. They ask me a lot of questions I can’t answer but they take her. I tell them she has a son and I called the number and they will take care of her.

Later that day I receive a phone call from a lady on my cell phone, the old woman’s daughter-in-law. She is in the hospital and she did break her hip. The lady thanks me but her focus is really on apologizing to me. “Mother shouldn’t live alone anymore, but she is very stubborn.  And my husband and I, we have our own lives and my husband is very busy.” One of the most bizarre phone conversations of my life!

I do run by the house often since it’s on one of my routes. I don’t think the old lady lives there anymore, don’t know what happened to her. I was very happy I could help her that morning.

We as runners depend a lot on the kindness of others and on help from others. We need the volunteers at our races, we couldn’t run without them. We need the ‘kindness’ of motorists and cyclists to make eye contact with them and make sure they see us and don’t run over us.  We as runners see a lot of things other people do not see or don’t care to notice. We are out there, rain or shine, heat or frost. We run in the dark, sometimes in places where we should be scared. But we run anyway. We always have to be alert and be mindful of what is going on around us. Sometimes that means the sidewalk you are about to trip over and sometimes it’s somebody in need.

Maybe this is stretching it a bit, but I do believe that running can make us better people. Sometimes you have to pay it forward and you can hope that eventually you will be paid back. And to the lady who was so scared of me that she couldn’t help me, it’s okay. I am doing just fine.

Tell us about your most recent marathon in Boston.

It was an absolutely wonderful experience! Boston is the best race EVER!!! The entire organization, the crowds, the volunteers – I was totally blown away by that. The volunteers make every runner feel as if it’s their race, as if you are a VIP; it’s very special and very moving. I have never seen that many enthusiastic people cheering on runners! The crowds are unbelievable and they are there at times 10 rows deep for the entire 26.2!! We had a perfect day in April. It almost made me feel like I was at home in Texas with Texas blue skies. It was a little chilly and crisp in the morning, but absolutely perfect running weather. The crowds were even bigger than normal I would suppose; but I guess these guys come out not matter what. The Wellesley College girls and their scream tunnel, wow! Also the Boston College crowd, after you come over Heartbreak Hill, it lifted me up and pumped me up!

For my part, I ran the perfect race. I held back in the beginning because the early miles are downhill, steep downhill at times. Then rolling and then flat and then downhill and then up a hill and down again…. You start to feel your quads early on. If you go out too fast, your legs will be trashed when you need them most. My personal best was a 3:55:01. A lot of people say (my coach Bob Wallace included ;-) Boston is not a PR course, which is true in a way. It’s a very technical course but I think it’s a fair course. If you think at mile 10, golly, this is nothing, piece of cake, just cruising along here, high-fiving people; you are probably going to be walking by mile 18, over the hills. We say that for every marathon: do not go out too fast! But in Boston it’s especially true since the first miles seem so easy and you just want to run fast. You cannot bank time; it’s a myth. I used a pace band with a 3:49:45, a lofty goal I thought. But my training had gone so well, I felt soooo ready. I thought if I conserve as much energy as possible, run on heart rate until I get over the infamous Heartbreak Hill at 21, well, then I might able to run a good 10k after that. There are 4 major hills. When you run it, it’s kind of hard to keep track of them, but I had done a bus tour the day before the race to get a ‘taste’ and a feel for the course. So I knew what to expect. I didn’t like them too much riding on the bus, I can tell you that. But when running the course, I was in great shape time wise and the felt good. I simply tried to get over the hills ‘lightly’, slow down, relax as much as possible. Let your arms help you, watch your form and just keep running. It worked for me and I hit my splits over the hills down to a second or two. The last 5.5 miles were tough but I felt like I was flying. I never hit the wall. I passed people the entire race. Over the hills and then on the final 10k; I just felt great. At mile 25, tiredness did hit me hard but the crowds just kept me going. Making the final left turn onto Boylston Street, then you can see the finish line for the first time; it’s maybe .4 miles away. It’s an unbelievable feeling! I finished in 3:49:08, so I think my pace band served me pretty well :-) .

So, should Boston be the Mecca for every runner? For me it is. In my hotel I had runners from Latin America, Spain, Canada, and from all over the US. Of course, a lot of Europeans, more than 2,000 registered runners, were shut out by that little upset volcano on an island that is spelled like a very odd IKEA sofa. They got an automatic entry into 2011. I qualified again and I need to figure out if that BQ is good only for 2011, or also for 2012. I will definitely run it again! I said it was my perfect race, but I think I know a couple of things I can improve on in my running. But the weather, crowd, and volunteer support, that cannot be topped!

What’s next for you?

I am 47, but I think I have lots of room to improve! One of my RunOn coaches used to tell me that she liked my “fresh legs,” meaning I still had so much to improve since I hadn’t been running all my life. Obviously, we do get slower as we age. But the woman who placed first in my AG ran a 2:54:17. I know I cannot do that. :-) But that doesn’t mean I cannot try to improve on my time. I will take it easy for some weeks and then start to train more seriously again. I want to do shorter distances for the remainder of 2010. No more marathons. 10k, 15k and that dreaded 5k (it hurts so much!) Of course, I need to train less for endurance but more on speed and tempo. Maybe I’ll do a half marathon in the winter. Then I will see what I can do in a marathon next year.

After I completed my first marathon some people told me that now I could ‘retire’ since I proved I could run 26.2. For me running is not about proving anything. I started running to help me lose weight but very quickly that part of it became kind of unimportant. It is a very ’honest’ sport. By that I mean it keeps you honest. You need to put in the work; you need to do the miles, the track, the speed, the hills and all of that. There is no way you can just ‘wing’ a marathon. If you try, you will spend a very, very uncomfortable and long morning. And even if you are 100% trained and prepared, things just may not work out for you that day. Deena Kastor, women’s US marathon record holder, clocked a 2:36 this past Sunday in London. For 99.9% of the world’s population that is an unachievable time. For her, it was the slowest marathon she had ever raced in her 20-year career. She just didn’t have it that day. She called the marathon ‘a monster that can never be fully tamed’. What a sport! Just put on some good running shoes and get out that door and start. I love to run!

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