By ELISA ESSNER
Amy LaHue isn’t an athlete.
Or so says the Cherry Hill resident, part-time preschool teacher and mother of two.
But over the past year, LaHue, 39, has participated in three half-marathons, each about 13.1 miles, a feat many would consider pretty athletic.
Becoming a runner
LaHue said she had been running short distances for a year before a dinner guest convinced her to try a half-marathon.
“We kinda talked each other into it,” LaHue said. “She said she wasn’t ever going to do another one, but she’s signed up to do her third now.”
So far, LaHue has participated twice in the massive GO! St. Louis Marathon, which this year drew more than 17,000 participants, as well as in the much smaller Rock the Parkway race, held in Kansas City on March 27.
- GO! St. Louis, April 18, 2009 — 2:05:56
- Rock the Parkway, March 27, 2010 — 1:59:15
- GO! St. Louis, April 11, 2010 — 2:04:03
Although slightly disappointed by her time in the most recent St. Louis race, LaHue was buoyed by her success in Kansas City. There she achieved her goal of crossing the finish line in less than two hours.
“I was so excited — and in so much pain,” she said. “My brother ran with me — much faster, 1:45 — and was waiting to celebrate. It’s so much better when someone is there to share it with.”
LaHue started running about two years ago, when an underactive thyroid caused her to start gaining weight.
“I was going to the gym, and nothing was happening,” LaHue said. “Finally, one of the trainers at the gym said, ‘The only way you’re gonna get that off is cardio.’
“So I started kicking up my cardio and found that I enjoyed running because I enjoy being outside.”
Taking training seriously
It’s easy enough to find a basic training regimen online, LaHue said. Web sites like Runner’sWorld.com, FitnessMagazine.com and MarathonRookie.com have plenty of tips and sample schedules that help runners build up endurance in the months prior to a race. LaHue recommends this strategy for first-time training.
After her first half-marathon, LaHue took a few months off to heal a knee injury before beginning a second round of training, this year following a more strenuous schedule in hopes of running a nine-minute mile.
LaHue combined separate days of intervals, hills, pace training and endurance runs, as well as other forms of cross-training.
“For the half, then, you put everything together, and you hope you can maintain your pace for that whole long run,” she said. “But you never really do that until the race.”
Having a long term goal in mind helps LaHue stick to her training schedule.
“Finding the time to do it, and making yourself do it, can be really difficult,” she said. “But if you know you’ve got that half-marathon coming up — whether or not you get up at 5:30, whether or not you go to the gym — you’re gonna do it because you really want to hit your goal.”
LaHue, whose two children attend Paxton Keeley Elementary School, said she is fortunate to have a schedule that allows her to keep up with her training.
“The days that I work, it’s kinda hard to fit it in,” she said. “But you can always get up earlier, or make it happen over the weekend. It’s a pretty easy balance for me.”
She estimated that she ran about 30 miles per week during her training period; she runs about 15 miles per week during her off season, she said.
Keeping a steady pace
Even though LaHue doesn’t lose a lot of weight through her training, there are noticeable health benefits, she said.
“I completely watch my heart rate during interval training,” LaHue said. “And my heart rate is so much lower now, and I can go so much longer. And it’s kinda neat. I’m like, ‘Wow, I couldn’t do this two months ago.’ So I can completely see that I’m in better shape.”
LaHue cites better-fitting clothes, more toned legs and feeling better in general as other positives that have come through her training.
Her advice for others trying to get into marathons: “You have to like running. You run a lot. A lot a lot.”
She also recommended finding someone to train with.
“It helps to have someone who’s interested in talking about your long runs, your pace, what you’re eating,” she said. “Even if you don’t run together, it’s good to have someone who is going through the same things you are.”
Although her training schedule may seem rigorous to an outsider, LaHue said she doesn’t take her running too seriously. She does what it takes to prepare for 13.1 miles, but a pre-run smoothie is the only ritual she has on race days.
LaHue said she enjoys lining up before a race and seeing waves of people prepared to run. She doesn’t try to compete with the rest of the crowd, only with herself.
“You just get in line wherever you are comfortable, for wherever you trained,” she said. “You know where you stand, because you don’t just wake up and decide to go run. You’ve been training.
“Whatever. I’m not an athlete, and my scores aren’t very good. I just do it for me.”
LaHue said keeping a steady pace is the most difficult part of race days.
“You set a goal that’s difficult, and you have to dig really deep to keep up your pace,” she said. “The last three miles are really hard, just to push through at the speed you’re trying to go.”
But despite the challenge of breaking two hours, LaHue still hasn’t gone fast enough — at least by her calculations.
“I’ll set a different goal for my next race,” she said. “I’ll probably be wanting 1:55. And that’s probably fast enough for me. I don’t see going much faster than that.”
LaHue’s running has become a family activity. Her 7-year-old daughter, Julia, enjoys riding her bike along the MKT Trail; her son, Jonathan, 10, has participated in cross country through Columbia Track Club and sometimes runs with his mother before school.
“I think the kids see us being healthy and kinda want to make that part of their lives,” LaHue said. “Neither one of my kids are athletic, I’m not athletic, my husband’s not athletic.
“But we’re fit. You don’t have to be an athlete to be a fit person, and that’s kinda what we’re trying to teach the kids.”
Amy’s LaHue’s pre-run smoothie