Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Gleaning inspiration from professional runners can be tricky—there’s no doubting their passion, talent and the fact that they dedicate their lives to their sport. But it’s their job. What about those that aren’t sponsored, have jobs and families, and look to running as their hobby—yet still manage to do amazing things? These champions are everywhere you look.
When you’re trying to slay at the office, raise kids, roll out tight quads and make it out the door for a run—all at the same time—it may feel like you’re barely hanging on by a shoelace. After talking to everyday runners, we learned that you’re not alone and you’re doing way better than you think! Check out the following runners’ secrets to survival and success.
Fast for Decades: Ron Lund
60, Basalt, Colo.
“You have to listen to your body. With racing and training I’ve always focused on quality over quantity, and take at least five to seven days off from running after a marathon.”
It took four attempts for Ron Lund to finish his first marathon. He initially gave it a go in seventh grade, and toed the marathon line twice in eighth grade before finally crossing the line in 3:55—at the age of 14. He credits his first season of high school cross country —he ran both cross country and track and field throughout high school—for building the endurance he needed to cover 26.2 miles. Now that he’s a high school coach, the 40-time marathoner says he wouldn’t recommend that plan for his students, although he has trained some kids to run half marathons.
“I didn’t know what a marathon was until my brother ran one,” says Lund, 60, who works for a property management company and trains early in the morning. “I went to watch him and it was so exciting. I had three older brothers. They all ran, so I ran too.”
In addition to recalling info and stats from all of his races as well as those of the students he coaches, Lund’s lifelong passion for the sport includes lowering his marathon PR to 2:34, coaching high school students, race directing and running with his wife and three daughters—one of whom is professional runner Megan Lund-Lizotte.
Lund’s drive and hard work earned him entry into a rare group of runners who have run at least one sub-3-hour marathon every decade for five decades. Lund is number 38 on the 5DSUB3 list (which also includes Joan Benoit Samuelson). After four failed attempts, he ran his qualifying Club effort, a 2:59:15, at the May 2016 REVEL Mt Charleston Marathon in Nevada at the age of 59. Appropriately, Lund first heard about the club from one of his brothers.
Road marathons continue to be Lund’s favorite event, his most recent being the 2017 Boston Marathon that he ran with his daughter Megan.
“Running never gets old, and I don’t lack for finding goals,” Lund says. “Seeing the kids I coach improve and appreciate their improvement always inspires me.”
It’s All About the Journey: Heather Sonley
28, Madison, Wis.
“Set a goal and work toward it consistently. When you strive for something, you win and we’re all winners in the end. It doesn’t matter how you get there, just take one step at a time.”
Heather Sonley grew up running. With a mom who was a cross-country coach, it’s what she always knew. Though she ran throughout high school, she quit until she was in her 20s. A breakup in 2014 inspired her to take on the challenge of running a marathon. The Green Bay Marathon was the perfect fit for the lifelong Packers Fan.
“Running and training has given me so much pleasure in my life,” says the 28-year-old, who is currently training for Ironman Wisconsin as part of the Make Me an IRONMAN campaign. “I’ve learned so much about myself, beat depression and realized I have all I need to make myself happy.”
After volunteering at events when she wasn’t racing them, Sonley realized how much she liked giving back and helping others fulfill their dreams. She’s now the Events and Race for the Cure Manager for Susan G. Komen Wisconsin.
“I always wanted to do something where I could wake up every day and make a difference in the world,” Sonley says. “I’ve been able to blend my passion for running into what I do for my career.”
The people she meets through her work inspire her—survivors, co-survivors, those in treatment and those who pass away. As inspiring as Sonley’s work is, it can also be heartbreaking, and running has become her way to recharge.
“Running provides stress release and a time for me to think and make sense of it all,” says the 4:18 marathoner.
Sonley sees battling cancer and running races as journeys. She suggests the Komen Races for the Cure are “celebrations of how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go.”
“There’s nothing like the journey of battling cancer,” Sonley says. “You are literally fighting for your life. After doing that, you are a different person. It’s the same with marathons, triathlons or even a 5K. You’re not the same person when you finish as you were when you started.”
Mountain Mom: Missy Gosney
50, Durango, Colo.
“Be consistent. I hit the trails every day, for training and because it’s what I love to do, even if it’s just to take my dog for a walk.”
While she’s taken to mountain and trail running, it wasn’t always Missy Gosney’s focus. In fact, the 50-year-old former Outward Bound instructor didn’t run her first ultra until she was 43—but she’s been collecting top finishes ever since. Her husband, Brett, who is also an ultrarunner, inspired Gosney to race. Now the two frequently train together, something Gosney considers more playing in the mountains than training.
“Cruising around in the mountains is perfect for me,” says Gosney, who taught high school math and science before retiring to spend more time with her 15-year-old son. “I don’t run mountains to go fast. I do it to explore, travel on new trails and spend time with my husband and friends.”
Gosney says recovery is critical when it comes to running big mountain races. After placing second in the grueling, 100-mile Andorra Ultra Trail Ronda Del Cims in 2016, which she plans to run again this summer, Gosney was on a post-recovery run with her husband when two fluke missteps and an old injury resulted in a broken leg. The break required surgery, permanent hardware and five weeks on crutches. Gosney approached recovery just like she does after a race, with plenty of physical therapy, dry needling and micro current treatments, things she also does as part of regular maintenance during big training phases.
When Gosney isn’t running, she loves to backcountry ski, a passion she shares with her son. She touts the benefits of cross training, using kickboxing, lifting and HIIT-style workouts for functional strength. But the true essence of her running success is the inspiration she gets from her family and being out in the mountains. “You can take the girl out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the girl,” she says.
“Having a goal, loving what you can do each day to work toward your goal and showing the best person you can be are it for me,” Gosney says. “One of my biggest goals is to make sure my kid looks at me every once in a while and thinks, ‘My mom rocks it.’ That, and keeping up with Brett.”
Get Goals: Jeff Guthrie
“When it comes to balancing family, training and work, you find time for what’s important. I also train first thing in the morning. No one wants my time at 5:30 a.m.!”
What happens when you get to your breaking point? Jeff Guthrie decided to find out for himself after his training partner of nearly a decade passed away from prostate cancer. He’s become a fan of the “tape it up and suck it up method” of racing, and is a strong believer in the power of perseverance. Three grueling stage-race ultras later, Guthrie, 59, still runs to honor his friend, but he also runs for the satisfaction of reaching his goals.
“I focus just on the end goal,” says Guthrie, who is chief sales officer at Moneris Solutions, a debit and credit payment processing company. “I visualize, thousands of times, putting the finisher’s medal around my neck and what it’s going to feel like. The visualization and the story I’m going to tell is what keeps me going. You take that sense of accomplishment through the rest of your life, and other things don’t seem as daunting.”
In addition to his ultras, Guthrie has run 40 marathons. However, he’s found the training required for road marathons to be too jarring as he gets older, and instead gravitates toward trails, hills and uneven terrain. He’s also a fan of training in less than perfect conditions.
“I look for opportunities when I’m not at my best to train my body to keep going,” says Guthrie, who is married and has two grown sons. “The reality of the world is the conditions won’t always be perfect. Sometimes you don’t eat well, sometimes you don’t sleep well and sometimes you don’t hydrate well. You have to cope.”
A 4:45 marathoner, Guthrie says he’s more of a plodder, preferring to go long instead of fast.
“I’ve never gone to a marathon to win, so I’ve never been disappointed!” Guthrie says.
He realizes that his wife and sons think he’s crazy, but they’re supportive and proud as well. For his part Guthrie admits training for ultras is a big-time commitment and is taking 2017 as a recovery year. His next big goal is running a 250K in Nairobi in 2018 to celebrate his 60th birthday.
Running for Life: Mike Daly
41, San Diego
“Running is relative. It doesn’t matter what your 5K time is, whether you’re doing it for fun or pushing hard. Anyone can get out there and run.”
Mike Daly is proof you can go from being a pack-a-day smoker to a fast runner and Western States Endurance Run finisher. In fact, he considers running a constant metaphor that demonstrates he’s capable of way more than he ever imagined.
“Once upon a time I thought there was no way I could run a sub-2:40 marathon, the Boston Marathon and a 100-miler. I had all these barriers,” the 41-year-old says. “By achieving different running goals over the years, I’ve been able to transfer the momentum to the rest of my life and turn ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can do that.’”
Daly’s first running coach was his uncle. He trained Daly for his first marathon in 2002 and even ran it with him. Later, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and passed away in 2007 at the age of 51.
“There was a point where I took running for granted, but when my uncle passed away, it gave a new purpose to my running,” says the entrepreneur and founder of AEC Scout (an engineering and architecture recruiting firm) and Boom Running. “At the time my uncle was diagnosed, my friends were more into binge drinking at the beach than running. I was going through the motions. [Then] I realized my health and fitness were gifts. That next year I ran three half marathons, got PRs in all of them and became completely committed to running.”
In addition to training and running two businesses, Daly and his Boom Running business partner started a running team and host weekly group runs. This year he’s also working to set new PRs in his 10K, half-marathon and marathon times.
“Ultimately, I enjoy running. It’s meditative, sometimes it’s my alone time, sometimes it’s time to catch up with buddies, it’s therapy, it’s fresh air,” says Daly, who likes to log training miles in the morning before work. “My best friends, my business, my girlfriend all came through running. There’s not a day that goes by where something doesn’t happen that’s related to running. The running community is one of the coolest things of all.”
Running Is Good Medicine: Allison (Ally) Bowersock
34, Roanoke, Va.
“As a working mom with a husband who also trains and races, communicating about our schedules is critical. We have a mutual understanding that we each really need that workout time.”
Before kids, Ally Bowersock and her husband frequently trained and raced together, including completing an Ironman triathlon. Now that they have a 3-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter, the pair still trains together when they can, but they usually take turns. Bowersock also realized that one big race a year is a realistic goal for her. The 34-year-old is making the most of her races though, including qualifying for the Boston Marathon between babies!
“I completely attribute my athletic success to becoming a parent because you learn how to manage your time,” Bowersock, a 3:26 marathoner, says. “My husband and I would move heaven and earth for each other to make sure we get our workout time.”
Bowersock played soccer throughout college and was used to having a coach hold her accountable. During graduate school she worked with Division I athletes as a strength coach and began running to keep up with them. After training for a half marathon with a friend, she was hooked on the sport and now always has something on the calendar to keep her motivated.
“My husband and I always seem to be training for something,” Bowersock says. “Some people see it as a negative, but we see it as a positive. We always make that quantifiable commitment to hold us accountable.”
When she’s not chasing kids or Boston qualifiers, Bowersock works at the Jefferson College of Health Sciences as the Director of the Health and Exercise Science Program. She also works with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, where she’s developing a curriculum for medical school students about how to provide basic counseling for nutrition, fitness, stress management and sleep.
“You often see the comment, ‘Talk to your doctor before starting a workout program,’ but the truth is many doctors aren’t well versed in the topic,” says Bowersock. “The goal is to improve baseline understanding and give providers the tools they need to improve their patients’ health. It’s already helped the students get healthier!”