Every marathon journey begins with becoming a runner. Meet the 9 women of this series and learn about how they got started in this sport. These were their first strides toward what’s led them to now being on their way to one of the greatest sporting events in the world: the Boston Marathon. We’re all headed to one finish line on October 11, but we all started in very different ways. Please join us on the journey.
For this series, we’re following the running stories of 9 women runners, from around the world, who are all preparing for the historic 125th Boston Marathon this fall.
The last Boston Marathon took place April 2019. And finally, this legendary event is back, in person. For every participant who gets an entry to Boston, it’s a victory all its own: you can’t just sign up for Boston, you have to earn your way in.
Get an inside look at what goes in to getting to the finish line of the 125th Boston Marathon. Whether Boston is in your future or your running interests take a different shape, join us to energize your own aspirations.
CHERIE TURNER: Hello, and welcome to Strides Forward, where we feature stories of women marathon and ultra runners. This episode marks the first in our Roads to Boston 2021 series, where we’re following the journeys of nine runners from around the world to this legendary event, which takes place October 11th. Discover the magic of the Boston Marathon, one of the oldest and most beloved athletic events in the world. From Hopkinton all the way along the 26.2 miles to the heart of Boston, it is a day of celebration. For runners, it’s an acknowledgement of hard work and dedication. Because you can’t just sign up for Boston. You have to earn your place in the field. And this year’s race is all the more anticipated because the last live Boston was over two years ago, in April, 2019. What’s more, the field limit for 2021 was cut by a third due to pandemic concerns. So getting in was particularly tough. But at long last, this October, the thousands of fans and the 20,000 runners who did earn their entry will finally unite and demonstrate. This is Boston strong.
So what does go in to getting to one of the world’s most popular sporting events? That is a story that’s many years in the making, and it begins with becoming a runner. So by way of introduction, let’s discover how us nine women got started in this sport to begin with.
To kick things off, I’ll start with myself because I’m training for Boston too. I am Cherie Louise Turner, your host, and the producer of Strides Forward. And I’m also a 51 year old runner. When I’m not podcasting or writing or eating or sleeping, I’m usually doing something that’s related to running. But this sport wasn’t always such a big part of my life.
I started running sometime in my late teens as a way to cross train for bike racing, which was the sport I was totally devoted to for many years. I liked running because it was a quick way to get in a good workout and I didn’t need much equipment. Just throw on some running shoes, and in those days I was just wearing a regular old watch. I got to be outside and it was beautiful. Back then, I was living in my hometown of Goleta, California, which is right next door to a much more famous spot, Santa Barbara. And I have great memories of running along the beaches and out on the bike paths. And sometimes up in the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I kept running as a way to stay fit after my bike racing days. But that was about the extent of it, until of course it wasn’t. I remember it was the early 2000 and I was living in Lake Tahoe up in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. And I was working as a writer and editor for a regional lifestyle magazine called Tahoe Quarterly. And I was assigned to write a story about local ultra runners and the ultra running scene. And I met some long distance runners who lived nearby and learned about how they got started in the sport. And it didn’t take too long before running these longer distances started to sound really interesting to me.
And I’ll pick up on that story in the next episode, because deciding to pursue marathons is a journey all its own. For now, it’s time to meet the rest of the women in the series and find out how they got started running because each and every one of us comes to this sport from a very different place. All right, they’re going to take it away from here.
MARIJA DESIVOJEVIĆ: My name is Marija and I come from Belgrade, Serbia, Europe. I didn’t go for sports when I was a kid. I ski all my life. That’s my actually biggest love. I was always into science. I’m a mathematician by profession, and that was my greatest passion when I was young. And then I finished my university, my master’s degree. I started working and then the family came and when I gave birth to my older son, I was 32 and I have serious trouble with my back. And then I had to start going to gym. That was the first time I started doing sports in some structured manner, let’s see. So I got this coach. It was 16 years ago and I started doing, you know, just an ordinary workout in a gym in order to keep my spine in good shape. Then after five years, I gave birth to my second son and I was already 37.
Then one day I saw that everyone in the gym had the same t-shirt, which said Belgrade Marathon, 2011. And I said, what’s this? And my coach said, he said, we are making the team that will in six months around Belgrade, Belgrade Marathon, but the half marathon race. And I said, wow. And I like to be part of the team. It’s always like that. I love being part of the team. And when I saw that there’s a team of 20 people, I said, I want to do that as well. That’s amazing. I want to run with you. And then my coach said, come on, are you serious? You are 38. You just gave birth to a baby. And I mean, you’ve never run in your life. And I think that, uh, they say that Serbian people have this amazing trait, when someone tells you that you cannot do something, then you prove that actually you can. So fast forward, less than six months, I was still breastfeeding my baby, and I ran my first half marathon here in Belgrade. And when I first crossed that finish line, I mean, that was, I think, besides having babies, maybe the best, the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. And I said, that’s it, I want to do this for the rest of my life.
JONNA MAAS: Well, hi, my name is Jonna Maas and I am from Spicer, Minnesota, which is in central Minnesota. It really wasn’t until, when I started medical school was really when I started making it a point that every morning I would get up and go, you know, it started as a 20 minute run in the mornings and slowly started increasing my mileage. And part of it for me, it was just that, in med school, when you start doing rotations in coursework, you really never know what time you’re going to get home, but the one time that you can always control is the start time to your day. And so that was always just set up, you know, I would get up an hour earlier before I needed to be at class or be at the hospital and I’d just get out and go for a 20 or 30 minute run.
And, it was just therapeutic, you know. It kind of set the stage for the day. It woke me up. It got my mind into that clear space where I felt like I was a better, I could retain more information. I was a happier med student. I was just more alert and I, and I definitely, you know, it started out, I would only go for a run, you know, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then I realized Tuesdays and Thursdays, I was sluggish. And from there it just started to be kind of, I just felt much better when I woke up and got a run in and then had some coffee and went to class. It was just a very, you know, kind of me-time that you just get out there and go for a run.
ZARAH HOFER: Hi, my name is Zarah Hofer. I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I started running years and years and years ago. And I started running like literally one minute running, one minute walking for 30 minutes and kind of increased my run time to, you know, incrementally all along the way to the, to the point where I could finally run a 5k. And I was in tears for being able to complete five kilometers. As a child, I was a dancer. So I mean, I think that is very athletic, but I, I wasn’t, I’m not really into sports. Yeah. I was never really into athletics and I picked it up because I was falling into some unhealthy patterns and I was gaining weight that I hadn’t been used to. I’ve been very slim all my life. And all of a sudden that was changing. And I was like, well, what’s going on here?
I better do something about this. Cause I’m not feeling my very best. And I think running has really helped me just be a better human overall. From a holistic standpoint, I think it’s gotten me closer to community. So meeting people that are like-minded; meeting people that put their health as a priority. It’s changed the way that I look at nutrition and health. And just from a mental health perspective, so I, it helps me sleep better. It helps me clear my mind. It helps me be able to, you know, approach all the other things in my life from a more positive and healthy standpoint.
NICOLE PINTO: Hello, my name is Nicole Pinto. I live in Los Angeles, California. I was pretty athletic as a child. I started off really getting into basketball. And so from that came, Hey, you know, you look pretty fast. You should maybe try out for the track and field team. At the time running, was more of a punishment and not something that I viewed as a fun activity to do, but I decided, okay, well, I’ll go out to the track team and see what it’s about. Also it didn’t hurt that there was this boy at the time that I thought was cute and he was running track. So there was a little bit more motivation there. Basically at that point, I still did not like running. I did not like the training aspect of it. I really just liked the competition and winning. I did very well in the short distances and hurdles, naturally.
Yeah. I stuck with it throughout my high school career and was actually recruited to go and run at my college, which I did not do because I really didn’t like running still. And then 10 years later in my job, I’m a cardiovascular perfusionist. You know, the job itself is very stressful. So I decided to be the person who would come up with group activities. From that, I was like, okay, well maybe we can do a 5k. It sounded like a great idea. But once I signed up for it, I was like, what did I just do? That’s 3.1 miles. It sounds terrible. But of course I was super positive and like uplifting and come on guys, we can do it together. Meanwhile, I’m stressing and trying to figure out how to train for this. How am I going to run three miles straight? Mind you, I had never run more than a mile at this point.
It turns out there were four of us that did it. I ran with one of my friends. She’s a nurse at the hospital and we ran it nonstop. And I just remember the last half mile, there was just a crowd and they were cheering and, it was the Hollywood 5k and half marathon. So you actually finished on a red carpet across the finish line and I felt so accomplished and I did something I didn’t think I’d be able to do. All I wanted to do was run it nonstop. You know, I, I loved it so much and it was just, it brought me back to racing again and it’s like, wow. So that’s, that ten-year gap, I guess, is what I needed to just kind of find my own way back to running on my own terms. And yeah, that it started with that 5k in April of 2014.
AMANDA WATTERS: My name is Amanda Watters and I live in Ashland, Massachusetts. I grew up pretty close to the start line of the Boston marathon. And my mom would take us every year on Patriots Day to cheer on the different runners. And I used to love getting high fives from the various runners. And I announced at some point when I was in middle school that I was going to run the Boston Marathon. Before high school, I had done soccer and basketball and softball. But I was, you know, like many runners I think running was my forte in those sports. So I really looked forward to having a place to run when I got to high school. And, as soon as I got into high school, I started running cross country and track.
I don’t think I had any concept of what 26.2 miles meant at that point. I don’t think the logic was fully formed and the comprehension that going out and running a 2.5 mile race for cross country didn’t necessarily equate to running 26.2 miles later. So I think, you know, I mean, I remember when I first started running cross country being so tired, like, and feeling so accomplished if I did like a three mile run. And then, I continued to run cross country and track at my college. And I still was so focused on the idea of running the Boston Marathon. I had a gym teacher in middle school and he told me to wait until I was 24 or 25 to make sure that like all my growth plates had finished and stuff like that. So I was counting down those years.
ROCHELLE SOLOMON: My name is Rochelle Solomon and I live in Randolph, Massachusetts, right outside of Boston. I moved from Boston to Randolph 10 years ago and I had a breakup. I had a breakup and I refused to come home to the couch. So I kind of figured, I’d look into a couch to 5k program and learn to run. So actually the first race I did was in June of 2012; that’s where it all started. And then I work at a local hospital. So I happened upon the BAA table at one point, and they were advertising for the half marathon. So I got this idea, Oh, I should try the half marathon. I came back from break and was like telling my coworkers. And I got told, Well, I recommend you do a 10k first. And I’m not one of those people that takes recommendations like that.
I have the mindset, if my mind is set to do something, I’m gonna do it. So then I registered for my first Boston, BAA half marathon in October, 2014. Sometimes you have these gut experiences that you just know that this is something you want to try. So it was like, I took that mentality. I was going to try this. The day was amazing. My mom and my two sisters came to cheer me on. So they were at the finish line. So it was, it was great having my mother and sisters witness me doing my first half marathon. And then it kind of went up from there.
“YAO” YAOWAPA HOISUNGWARN: Let me introduce myself. I’m Yao, okay. My full name is Yaowapa Hoisungwarn. I’m from Thailand. I live in Bangkok. When I was young, I dance ballet. I swim, I raced; I used to be a swimmer. I swim for racing. I do all kinds of sport; it’s in me. But then when I had my son, I spent most of the time raising him. So it’s kind of that sport part of me dropped. So my brother-in-law he overweight. So he think running is good exercise. And you know, you just have only shoes and you can get go. You didn’t
CHERIE: Running has become more popular in Thailand over the last 10 years and it was a convenient way to start being athletic again.
YAO: My brother-in-law, he invited me to join him. I said, Oh, why not? Because I do sport already. Running is easy. So I joined him and, you know, the major or the interesting routes . . .
CHERIE: Bangkok is huge and it’s very busy. It was much nicer to run outside the city. So running became an integral part of taking family trips together.
YAO: Very beautiful scenery and you know, in the mountains or near the beach, something like that. And I think it’s kind of fun because my, my point is not to run, but to travel with them. Car trip, we stop and we run and we see the view and eat good food.
CHERIE: Yao and her family continued to take these travel and running adventures for the next few years. And Yao started entering some running races.
Yao: Then my first trophy was half-marathon, third place in my age group. Then my friends said, Oh Yao, you’re getting better? Why don’t you start training seriously? Something like that. I think, Why not? Yeah. I started to train more seriously and I keep winning, winning something like that. And it’s fun. And it’s very challenging. For me, I consider myself a long distance runner because I can keep going. I want to test myself how far I can go.
PATTY HUNG: My name is Patty hung and I live in Orinda, California. I was not a real qualified athlete when I was growing up. I grew up in Boston. I went to a parochial girls’ high school. The only sport that we had was basketball. So I didn’t really join any club sports. I started running when I was probably in my late thirties. And one day I was, I was living in Oakland at the time and I was sitting around beautiful Lake Merritt in Oakland. And I was watching these people run past me and the lake is about three miles around and I did have some kind of athletic shoes on. And I said, you know what, I think I’m going to try this. So I got up, started running, ran around the lake and I’m going to cry because I’ve never stopped running since then. So, I just really loved it. And, and here I am. That was a long time ago. And now I’m now 75 years old. So, um, I, I still am running
CHERIE: And there we have it: all nine of the women You’re going to be hearing from over the next couple of months. And coming up in the next two episodes, we’re going to get in to what prompted all of us to take a regular running habit and turn it into a marathon pursuit. Why did we choose to focus on running 26.2 miles as the next part of our running journeys. For two of our runners, Amanda and Patty, it was the lure very specifically of the Boston Marathon and the event has become an integral part of their lives. So you’ll hear from them next. Subscribe now so you don’t miss that episode or any of the ones that follow.
And of course, thank you for listening. We love telling these stories, but we couldn’t do it without you. Your being here and sharing Strides forward with others is what keeps us going.
We also couldn’t do this particular series without our incredible featured runners. So thank you to everyone. We also want to give a special thank you to the Boston Athletic Association with their help in this series, especially Chris Lotsbom. The Strides Forward team includes me, Cherie Turner, your host and producer. Cormac O’Regan creates all the original music and does the sound design for every single episode. And he does that from his studio in Cork, Ireland. April Mariner of Bonfire. Collaborative does all the design work for the show, including the website, merch, and logo. She comes to you from Truckee, California, and you can find April at bonfirecollaborative.com. Please join us for the next step along these Boston journeys. Until then this is Cherie wishing you many healthy, joyful strides forward.