January is the month of fake fitness. Any gym regular knows that you skip the first week of the month to allow the tourists and weak-willed to have their time to play out resolution fantasies.
Then, like magic, they go back to the couch and sports and the always delicious spinach dip.
This whole scenario is lost on the devoted runners among us. Even in the dead of winter, we see them cruising along the icy byways in their dayglo vests and spandex.
Michigan has a vibrant running community and the dreary freeze that engulfs the state for four to five months a year is no deterrent. West Michigan does what it can — there is the Grand Rapids Runners Club that does some small events in the winter, and the Fourth Annual Winter Blast Half Marathon put on by Kalamazoo Area Runners and the city of Portage on Feb. 28.
A runner around here can find a race almost any weekend in the winter, including shorter contests like the 5K Portland Winter Run on Jan. 16. Jonesing runners who need more miles and can’t break off to warmer climates can hit the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge on Jan. 2 in Middleville, which offers a 50-mile race.
As the weather gets better, West Michigan runners hit the big marathons. The Boston Marathon kicks off the season. Last year, more than 100 runners from the Grand Rapids area finished that classic race.
A good chunk of the 212 Michigan runners that finished the New York Marathon in Nov. came from West Michigan. Most all of them have stories. Why do they do it?
Maggie Wilkinson finished in three hours 45 minutes, averaging 8:37 a mile. She’s the mother of four, a high school math teacher from Middleville, the wife of Sam, a triathlete and 3rd grade teacher. Wilkinson, 44 years old, has run local marathons in Grand Rapids, Traverse City and South Bend but she’s also finished in the majors, including Boston, Chicago and most recently the New York Marathon.
We got her to stop for a second to talk with us about her life in running.
What creates a runner?
I grew up an athlete, I went to Thornapple Kellogg High School and I was always doing something. I played volleyball, basketball and softball. I thought running was silly, but after I graduated from high school I was going to Grand Rapids Community College and Greg Meyer was the cross-country coach. He’s the last American to win the Boston Marathon until last year, so that was a pretty big deal. I was a softball player and he asked me to run for him, so I did and I just kept running.
What’s your training like?
I do about 20 miles a week unless I’m training for a marathon. When I’m training, my weekly is in the 30s, then sneak up on a 20-mile run four weeks before the race. Some of the others, the longer ones, might be 15s. If I’m not training, I get in one speed day and one long run on the weekends, which is four to seven miles. Running is so easy. I can just step out the door and run. I don’t have to go to the gym, I don’t have to drive anywhere.
That’s real handy. What about when it’s 10 below and 20 inches of snow?
It’s fun to run in the winter. When you get done you feel so good about what you accomplished. It does get cold and I try to run into the wind on my way out so I have the wind at my back on the way back. I usually wear a couple layers, but you don’t need much once you have your body heat.
What’s been your hardest run?
The Sunburst in South Bend was really hard. It was in June and the humidity was 80 percent and very warm out. I was exhausted halfway through. It was really this mental strain that I was fighting. But it was good for me.
What do you do next, after you’ve hit the best and biggest marathons — Boston, New York, Chicago?
I’d like to do the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington, D.C., but first I’m going to take a year off. We try to make the runs into destination trips. I also run some smaller races, so I’ll do that. We do the River Bank Run and I’ll do some half marathons this year. I don’t want to run anything shorter than that unless it’s a fundraiser. If I’m going to pay money, I want to run far.