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Veteran, aspiring marathoners just do it

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Natalie Cannedy, right, and marathon buddy Todd Kucker participate in the 2008 Napa Valley marathon, one of several they’ve run.

Photo Courtesy Of Lee Kucker/

POSTED July 31, 2013 8:32 p.m.

Running 26.2 miles is not for sissies. Finishing such a distance can be both grueling and exhilarating. It takes a lot of discipline to train for and run a marathon.

Lifelong Oakdale resident Natalie Cannedy has run at least 10, maybe 15, marathons. She’s lost count. And she does it for fun.

She’s run twice in San Diego’s Rock ‘n Roll, and the Big Sur, San Francisco, and Sacramento marathons. She’s run marathons in Maui and Napa, and some other cities as well.

She started marathoning at about age 32 but she has always been a runner.

“I started running track in junior high, ran track in high school, and in college I ran cross country and track at (CSU) Stan State all four years,” she said.

For a few years after college, Cannedy would jump in a few road races like 5Ks and 10Ks, once or twice a year. She just liked to run, even if she wasn’t planning a race. She had never considered it before but her sister-in-law had this “crazy idea to run a marathon” to get back in shape after having her children.

“It was turning into the rage with all the young moms I knew,” Cannedy said.

Cannedy had two young children and had remained in good physical condition, never getting out of shape or stopping the running routine she had started earlier in her life.

“She wanted to run the Big Sur marathon and asked, ‘What do you think?’ ” Cannedy recalled of her sister-in-law’s proposal. “Initially, I thought she was crazy. … I like to run intervals on the track, I figured you could do a few miles here and there and you could stay in good shape. I didn’t need to abuse myself with marathons. But the pressure was on and a few other girls were jumping in on this thing. It was going to be a girls’ weekend, with a spa day and massage afterward, and I figured, ‘Why not.’ I caved.”

Fellow Oakdale resident, Stara Visser, ran track for a short time in high school. She was really into track in junior high but in high school she got more into weight lifting and was on the school swim team. She did a competitive body building competition at 16 and a fitness competition at 18. Then she decided that wasn’t really healthy and took up running when she moved to San Francisco in her mid-20s.

“I’d see people running and I was like, ‘Why are people running? That looks boring,’ or ‘How painful,’ running. It took a while to get into it. And it does hurt when you haven’t done it,” Visser acknowledged.

However, once she got going, she loved it and she’s realized how good she is at it.

“It’s my thing, I feel like I found my niche,” she said. “It’s a sport that works for me. I’ve won several of my half marathons.”

Visser has run 10 half marathons so far but her next goal is a full marathon. She ran her first half marathon in 2006 in San Francisco. This year she won the Modesto half marathon in 1 hour, 27 minutes. She’s won the San Francisco half marathon and also Marin Headlands half marathon, which was a trail run.

“I’m very competitive with myself. … I feel like I have to put that pressure on myself to beat my time,” she said. “So I’ll work on that. It’s like homework with my running and other activities I do.”

Cannedy and Visser have taken different approaches to their training and have had different goals.

When Cannedy planned for her first marathon, she looked to Runner’s World magazine – she was a subscriber – for advice on how to train. She explained that the regimen took a person who doesn’t run very much and gave good information on how to train.

“Three months (to train) was plenty of time for me. … I was already running 20 miles a week anyway,” she said.

When she got serious, she worked up to 40 to 50 miles per week, but noted that some people consider that lighter mileage for a marathoner. However, she was good about sticking to that routine and would build up to 15- to 18-mile runs before a marathon.

Cannedy said she stuck to the program religiously because she didn’t know anything about marathoning. She followed the advice exactly, running at a certain pace, taking water breaks when they were prescribed, and so on. She finished that first marathon with a low four-hour mark.

She said that of the original group that had started on training for that first marathon, there were just three, including her sister-in-law, who stuck with the program. They ran the race and made it to the end without injuries and loved it. She noted that her sister-in-law had never been an athlete but turned into an “amazing” runner.

“We felt like we were well prepared and all three of us became marathon addicts,” she said.

From then on, they made it their goal to do one or two marathons per year. The goal was recreational and to be fit enough to feel good while running, not to qualify for Boston – the Super Bowl of marathons where participants must qualify.

Conversely, Visser has never followed a published program for running a half marathon. At first she ran every other day, did a long run once a week, and she’d cross train so she wasn’t hurting her body from running too much. However, she said she is currently reading a book written by a known marathon runner.

“The first one I’d like to do is the San Francisco marathon and then qualify for Boston. That would be my ultimate goal, to run Boston,” Visser said.

“I think it’s going to take some time. … I just want to be able to qualify and do it. … I want to experience that and accomplish that,” she added.

“If I ever aspire to qualify for Boston, I’d be training differently,” Cannedy said. “It’s a long distance to run that fast and I admire anyone who trains that hard with a goal of qualifying for Boston. I totally admire the dedication. … Maybe someday I’ll be one of those but not right now. I’ve been recreational and it’s been fun.”

Visser said that she’s working toward her goal. She’s running two half marathons this month, back to back, which will help her get ready. She’ll start her full marathon training regimen after that.

After a few years of running marathons, Cannedy became a marathon buddy to a former classmate and cross country runner from Oakdale, Todd Kucker, who’d caught the marathon bug. Whenever she thought she was done with the marathon thing, she’d get a call from Kucker. She noted that he had a more relaxed approach about marathons and they weren’t sticklers with their training. They’d slow down, take their water stops more seriously, and walk a little bit.

“We always joked that we are trying to figure out how little training we could do and still survive the marathon. That was officially our training plan,” Cannedy admitted with a laugh.

She downplays her running regimen but she’s a dedicated runner who’s put in the miles. She’s learned a lot of lessons over the course of her marathoning years, such as strategies for starting races. She’s also learned some training lessons the hard way.

“I learned it wasn’t fun to go into a full body cramp at mile 18,” she said. “By not training as hard, some marathons were a little more painful as a result.”

Cannedy said she’d only do two marathons a year, although there was one year that she did three but she doesn’t advise it.

“For recreation, don’t do more than two,” she said. “Your body needs time to recuperate and you need to cross train.”

Visser agreed about the importance of cross training to help make a stronger, faster body. She adds yoga and swimming. She said she does some experimenting with her training, will go do a race, and see if it helps.

“It’s not that I expect to win every time, I just push myself hard. … I go out there and who knows what’s going to happen. Sometimes my body just doesn’t do it. I feel it,” Visser said.

“Nutrition is huge. Eating well, eating enough, eating at the right time … getting plenty of rest,” she added as other important aspects of training.

A point that both Cannedy and Visser made is that they don’t want to get injured. They protect their knees and listen to their bodies.

“If I can’t train and keep it light then I’m not going to do it. If you do too little, the race won’t be enjoyable. Over the years, I’ve learned the happy medium,” Cannedy said.

“Everyone goes into it with a different goal. I think everyone that runs is amazing. … This is just my personal goal,” Visser said. “It’s fun to run with people who are competitive, too, because it pushes your limits. I get excited when there is somebody I can compete with.”

For Cannedy, running marathons is like pleasure and pain. It’s like great sacrifice and great reward.

“You think it’s going to be really fun and you run it and you’re not sure where it stopped being fun and you just keep doing it,” Cannedy said. “It’s kind of like childbirth. … It starts off as fun, then at some point not as fun, kind of grueling. It does take some time after a marathon to start thinking ‘yeah, that was fun, I want to do another one.’”

She shared a little more of her marathon training wisdom.

“I have learned that if you keep a generally active base you don’t necessarily have to follow the running program to a ‘T,’ ” Cannedy said. “However, a couple long runs are really important for race preparation. … If you’re going to skimp, don’t skimp on your long runs that are 15- to 18-miles long.

“I know people who think they have to run 20 miles before a race a couple times,” she added. “I may not be a record breaker, but I think for the recreational runner…as long as you’re running regularly and you put in a couple 15- to 18-milers before the marathon you’ll be okay. People may not agree with me but I’ve found it works for me. People are different, bodies respond different.”

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