How do you run 5 marathons a year while working full-time, studying for a master’s and being a mom to two kids under age 5?
April Birts may not be the fastest runner in her age group, but when it comes to balancing running with life – a theme I’m obsessed with lately — she’s a champ.
I tracked down April after I belatedly discovered that not only was she one of the run-walkers who beat me in the Maple Leaf Marathon back in February, but she was also one of only a couple of other runners there from Fort Wayne.
So how does the account manager at Lincoln Financial make time for all that training and racing?
Well, for starters, she doesn’t follow a typical marathon training plan. She doesn’t have time. Instead, she just tries to make sure she runs four days a week and gets in one long run. And because she runs so many long races — a handful of half marathons in addition to all those marathons every year — the races themselves become part of her training for the next one.
“If you do a marathon every so often and do a long run once a week then you’re kind of always in shape,” she explained.
Race weekends serve as family outings for April and her husband, who watches their 4-year-old and 9-month-old during the race. The way she figures it, they wouldn’t be getting out much right now anyway with young kids, so staying overnight in a hotel somewhere in the Midwest every so often is kind of a treat for the whole family.
“I tell my husband he’s lucky, because he has a fit, happy, healthy wife – more fit than I was 5 years ago when we got married,” she said.
April doesn’t deploy the Galloway run-walk-run method as strictly as some do. Sometimes she’ll run the first 3 miles and then just work walk breaks in as needed. At the indoor Maple Leaf Marathon, because we were running laps, she fell into a pattern of running 2-3 laps and then walking one. I’d pass her as she walked, and then invariably she’d pass me when she started running again. Though I never walked, other than during 1-2 quick water breaks, I had a pretty good idea she was ahead of me in the lap count. She finished in 5:07:40; my time was 5:31:05.
Though her fastest marathon (4:36) came during a race when she felt good enough to run the whole way, she almost always works walk breaks into her race plan.
“It seems like just about every marathon I’ll encounter somebody who’s determined to run the whole way, and then I end up passing them later,” she says. “What they don’t realize is that you can work these walk breaks in early on, or you can end up really hurting later and be forced to walk – only by then you’re walking at a 20-minute pace.”
A former cross country runner who says she was never fast but ran to stay in shape, April wanted to do a marathon before she turned 30 – and she achieved her goal in 2010, just 2 days before her 30th birthday. At that race she spotted a runner in a Marathon Maniacs shirt, googled the “world’s craziest running club,” and got hooked.
She’s since run 13 marathons, including three in eight days. Last summer she did a half marathon just 8 weeks after having a C-section. Comparing notes online and in person with other maniacs, who earn stars for various marathon feats, builds enthusiasm for goals and accomplishments.
“But I can’t be going for a PR every time,” she said. “We (Marathon Maniacs) want to be able to do a marathon and be able to walk the next day.”