To the uninitiated, training for a marathon may sound like a solitary pursuit. But if you’ve ever pushed your body to the physical extreme, you’ve no doubt discovered what distance runners have long known to be true: that you can’t achieve your personal best without the support of fellow runners.
Karen Murray, 51, an active member of the NewRo Runners running club in New Rochelle, New York, should know. The mother of three completed her personal goal of finishing 100 marathons in five years last month, a feat she accomplished through personal drive and the encouragement she received every step of the way.
“Some runners like to run solo; however, especially when training, most usually find a run buddy or a group,” said Murray, who wears her nickname “Murray in a Hurry” with pride. “In my case, I found NewRo Runners and love the social aspect and camaraderie of running with a group. I wouldn’t be running the amount I am running if it weren’t for my local run group, and finding all different run groups around the world.”
Indeed, as part of her campaign to challenge herself, the self-professed marathon maniac once finished an astonishing seven marathons in seven days in seven states, expanding her network of friends and mentors with each new race.
Murray’s home base, the NewRo Runners, is now nearly 10 years old and consists of about 200 runners of all ages and abilities. The members, who become fast friends, are committed to building a healthy community and encouraging runners to achieve their goals.
“I love so many things about running,” said Murray. “Being physically fit to participate in almost anything at my age makes me feel more confident. And the absolute best thing about running is the people you meet along the most amazing journey. I have created great friendships with such a fabulous group of runners!”
In fact, Murray credits NewRo Runners veteran Nina Steinberg for inspiring her to find her stride in marathons.
Steinberg, 58, laughed when she recalled meeting Murray for the first time. “Karen really wasn’t a runner when she first joined, but we convinced her to do a Ragnar Relay, which is a weekend trip where people go in vans and run in segments all night long,” she said. “She loved it and made a lot of good friends.”
The group had just started training for a marathon at that time, and Steinberg said she convinced Murray to join them.
“She wasn’t confident that she could do it, but she tried it and found out she could,” said Steinberg, who views running as a metaphor for life. “If you can push through that last six miles, when your mind and body are telling you to quit, you can translate that into other parts of your life.”
Steinberg said running is contagious, and not just because of the runner’s high so many say they experience after a sustained period of exercise.
“I really run for the social aspects of it,” she said. “These are my friends. We all had a run together this morning, and then we went out for breakfast. It’s fun. There’s lots of laughing and talking. We all support each other.”
Modeling Steinberg’s mentorship, Murray now helps coach some of the newer members of the NewRo Runners who have set their sights on completing a marathon. She sends inspirational emails, suggests weekly marathon training schedules, offers one-on-one advice, and, on race day, can often be found running below her pace to help others cross the finish line.
“Karen is a big asset for the NewRo Runners club,” said Travis Dowell, 67, a recent retiree who completed his first marathon this fall on an unseasonably hot day in the Hamptons on Long Island, New York. “During my training, she called me and checked in by email to ask how I was doing. She really takes an interest in anyone who says they’d like to try a marathon.”
Dowell said Murray also called him immediately after his first marathon to talk shop. “We went over the whole race together and how it went,” he said. “She asked if I ran out of energy at any point and if so at what mile. And she asked if I brought plenty of liquids and energy bars, and what body parts ached during or after, so I could adjust the mechanics of my run.”
Dowell, who plans to continue training for distance races, said the social aspect of running not only makes the sport more fun, but it also motivates you to excel.
“When you train, you are going at your own pace, but you don’t really challenge yourself until you start running with other people and see them pass you by,” he said. “It’s very motivating, and it helps you step up your pace.”
From Murray’s perspective, the time she spends mentoring new runners is not necessarily worthy of praise. It’s merely a matter of paying it forward.
“It is true that I have run with runners for all different reasons,” she said. “I have run with first-time marathoners to give them confidence (and to have fun). I have run with runners to just be a friend —whether it was their birthday run, or just because they have asked me to run with them. Running has given me so much that all I want to do is give back to others in turn, and hope that they can experience what I have experienced in meeting so many dynamic people.”
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This article was originally published in October 2017. It has been updated.