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What makes Missy run

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2012 - St. Louis runners have had their shot at the Go! marathon and may be looking ahead to the Rock'n'Roll marathon. But the opportunities to pound the pavement for shorter distances are plentiful in May, as a look at the Big River Running race calendar attests.

What makes a runner? How does someone get started? How does someone keep going? Missy Peters of Lake Saint Louis shares her perspective on those issues and more.

She has experienced the glories of marathon running – the satisfaction of running 26 miles, 385 yards surrounded by the scenery of Vermont and Alaska. And she’s seen the heartbreak such exertion can render, the most extreme being when a runner not far ahead of her in Little Rock, Ark., collapsed and died.

With 50 finished marathons behind her and fast-closing in on her goal of running one in all 50 states, little, it seems, will deter the 37-year-old from what she agrees is an addiction, with a cause.

She says she "can always find a million excuses not to run and have to find a million to run.”

Peters finds those reasons to run, not to mention the time, as she balances many roles. She is the wife of Sean Peters who is employed by an ag business in St. Louis, mother of sons (Braxton, 8, and Carson,7) and executive assistant to the regional president of Mercy Hospital in St. Louis.

Began with a promise to train

Peters’ itch to run was scratched by an American Heart Association pitch to Mercy Hospital in 2006. “They came in and said, ‘If you raise funds for us, we’ll train you.’ It was such a great cause, and the benefits of having someone train me was a win-win situation.”

Ten Mercy employees signed up, and Peters completed her first marathon - Chicago – in 2007. She needs six more marathons to complete the cycle of every state. (She has repeated in several states.) She completed the New Jersey Marathon on May 6 and is scheduled to run in Maui, Hawaii, on Jan. 20, 2013.

The state goal came when “I was running a race in Lincoln, Neb., (a half marathon) and saw a guy wearing a 50-state shirt that had the states where he had run checked off. I ran with him briefly, and he explained what he was doing. Of course, I thought, 'I can do that.' I would see states that I would have NEVER planned to go to.”

Some marathon runners need a month in between to recuperate, not Peters. “I can do one every weekend. I just finished my third weekend in a row.”

A good time, she says, is 4 hours and 15 to 20 minutes. Her best time to date is 4:10. Last year she averaged between 5 hours and 5:15 and credits the improvement to a New Year’s resolution of running at least one mile daily and Powerfit Bootcamp.

Part of the key to her endurance may be, she says, that “I am not fast. I probably walk four or five times (during a race). And she pauses when necessary for water stops and restroom breaks.

Marathon participation varies widely. Chicago might have “upward of 35,000 runners,” she says. “I ran a race in Brookings, S.D., that had only 200.”

No matter the number of runners, “I am basically on my own.”

How Peters performs “depends on the day. Weather affects it. It’s something that can’t be controlled. How much sleep I’ve had the week before. No two races are the same. There are so many variables. I always want to finish.”

“I am a fan of flat. They’re easier for me, I think. Elevation doesn’t seem to affect me. I ran in Denver and was completely fine.”

She struggled to complete a 2009 marathon in Tupelo, Miss. “I was not trained very well. I finished … barely. I didn’t want to go back to Mississippi ever to do another race, so I forged on. Then there’s Tupelo's motto: 'Trample the weak, hurdle the dead'.”

That said, Peters did fail to finish three races, two in Missouri. “Maybe (it’s because) my husband can come pick me up and I know I can find another race in Missouri. I probably could have finished, but I did not. Mentally I was done and I knew I had a paddy-wagon (husband and sons were along.) I still curse myself each time I think of those races.”

The Peters' drill

In essence, here is the drill for Peters to prepare and execute a marathon. “A carbs (carbohydrates) load two days and two nights before, any kind of carbohydrate, pasta, pizza, whatever I can get. That is my absolute favorite part of marathoning.

“I can’t say moderation because that’s where I struggle. I try to pick the healthiest option.” She says she requires about seven hours of sleep a night.

She prefers a tech shirt – occasionally a running skirt – with wicking material.  Her current shoes of choice are Asics GEL. Shoes need to be “comfortable, but not too heavy.”

On rare occasion, she’ll take Gu Energy Gels if offered on a course, but prefers Gatorade.

Peters packs her phone and loads her iPod with “really upbeat pop (and rap) Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen, Pink, Kanye West … It gets you motivated, going. But there are folks who can do without it.”

And then, she’s off: “There is nervous energy before it starts. And then you’re running and  you are asking yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’”

What does  Peters think about when she’s running four hours plus? “You reflect on a lot of things. I think of my family a lot. I am out there for four hours. Think about what YOU think about for four hours. You think, ‘Dear God, help me get through this.’ I do a lot of prayerful reflection when it gets tough.”

The marathon gods have smiled on Peters because she has avoided serious injury. Asked about any weakness in her game, she says, “I don’t know that I have one. I am not fast. I am not necessarily an athlete. I’m just an average joe who’s pretty strong. I trust my body.” (Peters is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs approximately 140 pounds, she says.)

Despite the travel involved in combing the United States, Peters says the endeavor as not been “terribly expensive.”

Friends and family

“I’ve met a lot of great people through Marathon Maniacs. We are all running the same races, we car-share, we room-share. I always travel the cheapest airline. I won’t sign up for a race unless I get a decent air fare.”

She considers fellow marathoners “extended family members. In fact, I am like the youngster of the folks I meet. Most are in their mid-50s.”

And she could not manage it without the support of her husband and employer.

“One of the biggest challenges is making sure my husband and boys know they are my number one priority and making sure they know how much I appreciate them cheering me on to my goal. My husband has supported me through every race I have ever wanted to run. Obviously, the second biggest challenge is the money it takes to travel to the further away places. My boss (Regional President Donn Sorensen) has been great, too. He is so supportive of me taking a day here or there to travel to races.”

To the layman who can look only in awe and/or disbelief at what marathoners accomplish, two questions persist. How do you do it? And why do you do it?

“It’s a mental thing. I have a friend in Marathon Maniacs who says ‘Running is 90 percent mental and the other 10 percent is mental.’”

Missy Peters is nothing if not candid about what continues to drive her: "Morbid obesity and all that goes with it, heart disease, diabetes, runs in my family. So I am running from obesity.”