Mornings are brisk, damp, and rarely clear at 4:30 a.m. in my neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest. Typically, mountain views surround two sides of my subdivision, but I don’t get to see them as I’m running. I’m beating the car traffic from the Boeing workers, though at least a half a dozen cars slip by. Sometimes I hear animals screaming from the wooded areas between the neighborhoods. Probably coyotes devouring rabbits or stray cats. The sound is eerie, but I grow more confident as I think of my sister, Charlotte Walters, who has probably already been running through her neighborhood on the East Coast at 5 a.m. her time. She survived. I can too. My thirty-minute run 2-3 times a week is nothing compared to my sister’s distance training. She has run and survived multiple long-distance races and is determined to complete her first full marathon in November.
She often sends me pictures with her latest accomplishments. She’s smiling—waves of blond hair blowing in the breeze. I think of her every time I pass by a Starbucks. My son Alex thinks his Aunt Charlotte looks like the Starbucks mermaid. She kind of does. But the mermaid sprouted legs and started running. Really running. In the pictures on my phone, she’s standing at the finish line wearing medals and holding trophies. Every time my phone “pings,” I think, “Here we go again. Another finish line. Another medal.” However, when I got another ping at the grocery store just this past weekend, I took notice. How does she do this? How does she stay motivated? How does she not get injured?
So, I take a moment to catch up with my sister, who is an unbelievable DIYer when it comes to running:
Cecilia: When did you start getting into running?
Charlotte Walters: In high school, I got cut from the soccer team after my freshman year. I loved the physical training from soccer, but I didn’t make the team my sophomore year, so I went into cross-country. Though I missed the strength training from soccer, I enjoyed running.
C.: Did you continue running after you graduated from high school?
C.W. : No, I actually took a break in college and in grad school. I had ear surgery so I couldn’t run for several months while I was healing anyway.
Walters has a master’s degree in music education and teaches at a middle school in Florida. In graduate school, when she was in her early 20s, a doctor discovered cholesteatoma, a kind of tumor, growing in her ear. If it is not removed, the tumor can continue to grow and cause paralysis. Walters and her family researched surgeons who could successfully remove the tumor without affecting her singing voice. Luckily, she said she found an excellent doctor who was able to perform the surgery.
Now, she not only runs races, but she also sings the National Anthem to the crowds before the races begin.
C.: So when did you get back into running?
C.W.: It wasn’t until around 2005, when I met Tim. We ran in a 5K fun run.
Tim Walters, whom C. Walters eventually married, is a sports, features, and photo editor at Florida Today. Together, they run 5Ks and half marathons. They both participate in and actively volunteer at races with a running club called Space Coast Runners. Through this group C. Walters has met other teachers and runners who inspire her.
C.W.: I met a 60-year-old woman who runs 5Ks in 24 minutes. I hope to be like her someday.
C.: You already are! How many medals and trophies do you have?
C.W.: Do you want me to take a picture of my trophy case?
C.: Just tell me your top three accomplishments.
C.W.: Well, there’s the “Turtle Crawl.” I got first place in my age group in 2016. The time was 23:08 and it was a personal best for me. Then, I just did a half marathon in one hour and 52 minutes and I came in 18th place I think. So I think that was pretty big for me. I ran at an 8:37 pace. Then, I just got second place of all female runners in the last race I did. It was a 5K. I did that one in 23:24.
C.: How do you handle disappointing races? How do you overcome disappointments?
C.W.: I’ve had lots of disappointments. When I was in high school, I always came in dead last, but now I’m actually doing quite well, so I remind myself of where I was and how far I’ve come. I really want to beat my personal best in a 5K, but I haven’t been able to do that yet, so it’s disappointing, but I have been doing better in my longer distance runs. You just look at what you can do to improve.
C.: What does a typical training week look like for you?
C.W.: Well, I can give you an example for one of my recent 10Ks. I don’t always make my weekly goals, but this is what I aim for: Mondays are sprint days. Tuesdays and Thursdays I lift weights, but the classes are early in the morning, so if I don’t make them, I just take those days off completely. Wednesdays and Fridays I run at 5 a.m. with a friend through my neighborhood. Then I add one longer run on the weekend. I’ll do maybe 6-8 miles then. I don’t know what the marathon training will be like, but I have a personal trainer now and we’ll get started on a schedule soon.
C.: Do you get injured often?
C.W.: Not really. Honestly, I think it has a lot to do with buying proper shoes. I spend a lot on shoes and change them every six months. Also, the minute I feel like my IT bands are tight, I take time off from running.
I take a moment to think about Walter’s answer. I take some time off too and I wear good shoes. I also run less miles than she does. Yet, I’m a mess. Ankle and foot pain? Check. Some kind of weird hip pain? Check. Calf pain? Check. IT band pain? Check. Lower back pain? Check. Doing therapy sessions right now so I can keep running? Check. Still running? Heck ya!
So how come it seems like some runners are more prone to injuries than others? For this answer, I turn to my brother, Walters’ twin: Dr. Vince McGinniss. Charlotte’s cholesteatoma diagnosis, by the way, inspired him to be a doctor. Though he is an ear, nose, and throat surgeon with a specialization in facial plastic surgery, he also served as a flight physician for a group of A10 pilots in the Air Force. At some point, he must have seen overuse injuries, right?
Vince McGinniss: Umm not really. I saw other types of injuries during that time, though. If I saw any kind of running-related injury or athletic injury, it usually had to do with the knees or the incorrect use of the body. You really need good running shoes.
A 2005 study by Alan Hreljac, PhD at the Kinesiology and Health Sciences Department at California State University makes the same conclusion. According to Hreljac’s report (“Etiology, Prevention, and Early Intervention of Overuse Injuries in Runners: A Biomechanical Perspective”), most running injuries occur at the site of the knee and “running shoes are the only pieces of protective equipment that can be worn by a runner, and as such, it is critical that a runner chooses shoes wisely” (662).
So, how does one choose shoes wisely? Hreljac’s study details several ideas. Runner’s World online is also a valuable resource. I’ve learned through trial and error what works for me and I think I’ve resolved my shoe problems. However, I still feel pain in other places. Therefore, I conclude that overuse injuries must be a result of other factors as well.
V.M.: I still run every day—sometimes 3-4 times a week, but I’m pretty sure I also have good form.
According to Hreljac’s study, all of these factors could have something to do with overuse injuries. There are anatomic and biomechanical factors such as “anthropometric variables” over which runners have no control. So, doctors and physical therapists might examine runners’ gaits, form, and overall structure. Usually, there’s hope. I’ve found plenty of encouraging articles on the Web about running, including Everyday Health’s article, “What 6 Joint Doctors Say About Running.”
However, for both Walters and McGinniss, taking enough time off from running is crucial in helping their bodies recover. McGinniss also stresses the importance of recovering from other trauma to the body, such as surgery.
V.M.: It’s especially important to not engage in any exercise that raises the heart rate or increases the flow of blood especially after surgery. Whenever I perform facial plastic surgery, I tell my patients to refrain from running or weight lifting or other vigorous exercises for about up to a month.
I always wonder, though, if taking time off could lead to less motivation:
C: What makes you keep going and not take time off completely?
C.W.: The feeling of running—it’s exhilarating. I can’t wait to get back into running even if I’ve had to take time off. When I get the chance to run on the beach or near the ocean, there’s nothing better than that.
C.: So when you cross the finish line after the Space Coast Marathon on Cocoa Beach in November, who do you hope will be waiting for you?
C.W.: Hopefully Tim and my daughter, Isabella. I know the Space Coast Runners will be there. I’ve been fortunate to meet the nicest and most inspirational people as I run.
In November, I’ll be waiting in the Pacific Northwest for that “ping” on the phone. And there she’ll be—my sister—with her blond, wavy hair blowing in the wind—and the palm trees swaying in the background.
It’s Your Turn: How do you stay motivated to set goals and reach them?