Thousands of Miles— and Counting
Belinda Stoll at the 2013 Boston Marathon the day before the race.
Photo courtesy Belinda Stoll
Runners are an interesting bunch, particularly in Buffalo. As temperatures dip below thirty, and most of us try to stay under the covers a little longer in the morning, runners are out getting an early workout. As many think ahead to summer vacations, they’re developing training schedules to tackle the next race.
I am a runner, and so are thousands of others around Western New York. (About 8,300 people registered for races as part of last year’s Buffalo Marathon weekend alone.) Most runners initially start for health reasons and, along the way, find other reasons to stay the course, like the three longtime runners featured here. And, as each of them said, it’s never too late to start.
“You don’t get older, you get better,” says Belinda Stoll, fifty-six, of Lockport. “You don’t stop just because you’re getting older.”
Stoll started power walking in 1997 to lose weight. As the pounds came off, she started moving faster—until she was practically jogging.
“I thought, ‘I’ll run to that telephone pole,’ and as the story has it, I said, ‘Well that was stupid, I’ll never do that again,’” Stoll recalls.
But, she kept going. Stoll ran with her husband around Lockport, and together they ran their first half and full marathons in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Since then, she has run twenty full marathons and qualified seven times for the Boston Marathon, the Super Bowl for runners.
“I got addicted to marathoning,” she says. “I like that piece of paper on my fridge that shows what I’m doing today that I can cross off. I like the eighteen weeks of training, the regimented ‘I did it’ feeling with training.”
Stoll also enjoys being part of the local running community, which has grown considerably over the past twenty years. When she first set out, Stoll says she and her husband gained a reputation as “that couple that’s always running in Lockport.” But these days, with races nearly every weekend in the warmer months, she’s part of a robust welcoming community of athletes.
“The neat thing about the running community—and I’ve never found this in any other community I’ve been around—is there are no barriers,” she says. “We get together and don’t talk about who voted for whom or our professions. We support everybody.”
And, it’s an easy community to join (see sidebar). Stoll encourages novice runners to get moving and sign up for a race this year.
“Don’t ever worry about being last because chances are you won’t be, and even if you are, everybody is cheering for you,” she says. “Everybody had to start at one point. If somebody is trying to do their first marathon, people come out of the woodwork to help them. It’s extraordinary.”
Gene McDonough first laced up a pair of running sneakers during graduate school in Philadelphia.
“That was in 1973, when people didn’t run that much. I just started running on the streets of Philadelphia,” says McDonough, sixty-five, of Orchard Park. “For the first thirty years, I ran but rarely raced.
“Since 2004, I’ve done thirty-three half-marathons, ten full marathons—four of which were Boston Marathons—and probably 200 other shorter races,” he continues.
He even ran a 5K late last year with one leg on a scooter, after breaking his foot earlier in the fall. “I was up to forty-nine races for the year when I broke my foot, and I decided I wanted to get to fifty,” he says.
When he’s not training for a marathon, McDonough runs thirty to thirty-five miles a week. Incredibly, he estimates his cumulative mileage to be at least 61,000 miles for the last forty-three years.
“My main motivation is overall health. My job is fairly sedentary, so it’s good to get up and get moving,” he explains. “I just think it’s enjoyable. It’s good to be outside, get fresh air and keep moving.”
13.1 in all fifty states
Tom Droz started running in 1992 on business trips. When he and his colleagues got home, they formed an office club, going for runs together on the Amherst bike path. His first race was the Turkey Trot, the 14,000-strong 8K that takes over Delaware Avenue every Thanksgiving morning.
In total, Droz has run more than fifty half-marathons and five full marathons, including ones in Dublin, Ireland, and Poznan, Poland, in honor of his mother and father, respectively. Now, he’s on a quest to complete one half-marathon in all fifty states; so far, he’s up to forty-three states and the District of Columbia, with Iowa, Idaho, and Nebraska to come this year.
“It’s a great way to see the country,” says Droz, fifty-eight, of Williamsville. “It’s fun. I’ve never been in a hurry to accomplish it, because I’m enjoying it.”
Droz also serves as president of Checkers AC, the area’s largest running club with more than 600 runners of all skill levels. The group organizes social events, fun runs, Tuesday evening track practices, and a zero-to-5K program for beginners.
“Many people think they can’t run, but everybody can run,” Droz says. “Checkers is more than just a running club—it’s a great social club. It’s a group of people who are trying to better themselves, whether that’s to run a 5K or run a marathon.”
For Droz, the benefits of hitting the pavement are threefold: improved health and wellness, the opportunity to meet new people, and the opportunity to see the country.
“Running has just opened up a whole new world for me,” he says. “It’ll change your life—it changed mine. You become an active participant in life.”
Matthew Biddle has run two half-marathons and hopes to complete his first full marathon this year. He contributes to Forever Young and Buffalo Spree.