Marathon Profiles 2016: Why They Run (Part 1)

(This is the first in a series of three articles this month focusing on runners taking part in the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on January 24. Baptist Health is a sponsor and the official medical provider for the event. Also read Part II and Part III.)

Although every runner has different motivations, most admit that the “runner’s high” is rewarding and addicting. It must be because running 26.2 miles or 13.1 miles is no easy feat. It takes hard work, motivation and determination. Thousands of runners have what it takes, and they will go the distance on Jan. 24 in the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. For many competitors, the marathon journey – from training for the race to crossing the finish line – is a personal triumph. Here are few success stories:

Verena Kofler, 41:
“You need to enjoy what you are doing and make exercising part of your lifestyle.”

Verena Kofler_400Five years ago, Verena Kofler did not run or exercise. Now, she is preparing to run the Miami Marathon for the fifth time. She also competes in triathlons and is a certified personal trainer. She ran her first 5K in 2011 and was immediately hooked. “I loved everything about it. The atmosphere, cheering crowd and camaraderie were overwhelming,” she recalled. “And in America, the national anthem is played before every sporting event. To hear it and be a part of it was so inspiring.”

Ms. Kofler and her two children came to Miami from Austria in 2010 after she went through a divorce. She wanted to focus on herself during this transition in her life and decided to start exercising. “I was so intimidated by the gym, but walking on the treadmill looked like something I could do,” she explained.

Walking turned to power walking, which led to an invitation from her neighbor to run that first 5K. She experienced the runner’s high, and was determined to “go for more,” she says. She joined the Baptist Health South Florida Brickell Run Club to help her train and prepare for distance running. “It’s important to run with a buddy or group of people who can motivate you,” she explained. Now, as a personal trainer Ms. Kofler is motiving her clients to be active, healthy and confident.

Through running, Ms. Kofler has found herself as well as a second career, she says. “I’ve become so strong, physically and mentally,” she said. “You have to find what makes you happy.”

Lucia Mor, 50:
“#runmor is our family motto.”

Lucia Mor_400Lucia Mor started exercising about three years ago to focus on her health and fight aging gracefully. When her 50th birthday rolled around, her trainer, Yami, who also served as a TeamFootworks running group leader, challenged her to start training for half marathons. “Honestly, I laughed,” Mrs. Mor said. “I had never run, and I’m asthmatic.”

But she accepted the challenge. She signed up with TeamFootworks and started training during the gruelling summer months in 2014. “It probably was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” recalls Mrs. Mor, who works part-time as a legal assistant.

Inspired by her determination, Mrs. Mor’s husband “came along for the ride,” she says. Her daughter, age 27, also started running and coined “#runmor” to describe their family dynamic. During the past year, Mrs. Mor has competed in nine half marathons, her husband has run in 11 and her daughter has conquered five.

Mrs. Mor joins her running group for short runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 a.m. and long runs on Saturdays, often starting at 4 a.m. to beat the heat and traffic. “I’m not the fastest, but I get it done,” she said. “I would not have been able to accomplish any of this without that group support. The leaders teach you how to prepare, prevent injuries and stay hydrated.”

Now, Mrs. Mor serves as a group leader with TeamFootworks and thoroughly enjoys helping first-time runners get started. “It’s my favorite part,” she said. “It’s a way to give back to this team that has helped me so much.”

Ileana Leon, 53:
“My running group is like a second family.”

Ilena Leon_400Ileana Leon hopes to break her personal record when she runs the 26.2-mile race this year at the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. She started walking about six years ago to cope with personal loss, stress and health issues. “My blood pressure and cholesterol were very high, and my doctor urged me to make lifestyle changes,” Ms. Leon said. “It scared me. These health issues run in my family.”

Ms. Leon, who works as an administrative assistant, started eating healthier and joined her friend at a TeamFootworks Fitness 101 class. She progressed to running and started feeling healthier and stronger. “Once you start running, it gets in your blood,” she said. “You can tell that your body appreciates the improvements. It’s such a rewarding feeling, so you want to continue your progress.” As Ms. Leon increased her training and distance, her health numbers and weight decreased. Today, she is 40 to 45 pounds lighter than when she started this journey.

Ms. Leon ran her first half marathon in 2011 in honor of her mother. “I think of her and carry her with me during every training session and every race,” she said. Ms. Leon has competed in four marathons and more than 25 half marathons in her mother’s honor. Her favorite event is the New York City Marathon. “There are so many people cheering for you and handing you water, snacks and tissues all along the way,” she explained. “The support is overwhelming. It’s a tough race, though, because the route has many small hills and inclines at the bridges.”

To run the long distances, Ms. Leon strongly suggests that aspiring runners train with a group. “You need the support, and you learn little tricks from the leaders and other runners,” she said. “You learn how to fuel up, how to stay hydrated and what to pack to sustain you during a run. I’ve made many friends through TeamFootworks and they have helped me become a better athlete.”

In February, triathlon training season begins and Ms. Leon once again will begin training with Team Hammerheads – a South Florida triathlon training group. She will add biking and open-water swimming to her workout routine as she prepares to compete in her third triathlon. She also would like to add a half Ironman to her list of conquests. Needless to say, her mother would be very proud.

Also read Part II and Part III.

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