Smile Politely

Front of the pack: Kristy Powell

Kristy Powell

Local runners, both male and female, know her by the back of her head. That’s because for most of them, that’s the only thing they see of Kristy Powell. The 32-year-old White Heath native makes a habit of winning races. And when she’s not winning, she strikes fear in those who beat her with the knowledge that she’s just over their shoulders.

A registered dietitian at the VA Illiana Healthcare System in Decatur and a fixture at local races at all distances, Powell has no plans of leaving the area. Sorry ladies, Powell is going to be at the front of the pack for some time. I exchanged emails with her to find out more about her, how she trains, and what she does with all the medals she wins.

When did you start running?

I began running in 1997 as a college freshman.

Would you say your running talent is innate or learned? In other words, have you always been a runner and fast?

Definitely learned! I was a zero-sport athlete in HS ― a complete couch potato! I started out running 10 or 11 minute miles and gradually improved over several years. I strongly believe that the time you invest into your running is directly related to what you get out of it. I think I made my biggest breakthroughs time-wise and distance-wise when I started working part-time at Body N Sole in 2002. I decided to train for my first marathon in 2003, partly because of the encouragement I received from fellow employees.

What is your favorite distance to run and why?

That’s a tough question. I love the satisfaction I get from racing the marathon distance, but I also love halves, and the 10K distance. I ran my first ultra last year (Clinton Lake) and fell in love with it. I prefer the longer distances, because I am not particularly fast, but I can keep plugging along at a steady pace for quite a while. I have a really hard time with 5Ks. They’re too short to get into a rhythm, and I inevitably run the first mile way too quickly, thus trashing myself for the remaining 2.1 miles. I keep on doing them though, because they are the most common race distance in this area and because it doesn’t take long to recover from them.

What is your favorite race?

I have different favorites for different reasons! I love the Illinois Marathon. Eight years ago, when I was training for my first marathon (Chicago), I would’ve thought you were crazy if you’d told me Champaign-Urbana would eventually host a marathon. It’s awesome to run through campustown, since I am a UIUC grad. It’s amazing how many spectators that I recognized along the course and how many of my friends were also racing. It gives me a sense of pride to know that our community puts on such a well-received nationally recognized event.

Another favorite marathon is the Grand Rapids Marathon.

I also love the Kirby Derby! When I was a student at Monticello HS, I was impressed by the runners who raced in the now defunct Sage City 10K (which last took place in the mid-1990s, before I started running). It’s great to have such a well-organized and scenic 10K back in town.

I also love the Allerton Park Trail Run and Clinton Lake Ultra, and as much as I gripe about 5Ks, the Fisher Fair 5K is not to be missed!

Describe an average week’s worth of workouts. How far do you run?

I run about 70 miles per week. (The author’s jaw hits the keyboard).

  • Mondays about 8 easy.
  • Tuesdays 8, w/ 2 mi warmup, 4 at tempo (10K-HM pace) and 2 mi cooldown.
  • Wednesdays 8 easy.
  • Thursdays 8, w/ 2 mi warmup, 4 at tempo (10K-HM pace) and 2 mi cooldown.
  • Fridays 8 easy.
  • Saturdays 10 easy.
  • Sundays +/- 20, sometimes w/ a portion at marathon pace or slightly faster.

One of those tempo runs ought to be speedwork instead, but I have not been able to drag myself to the track in recent months!

Which race victory is your sweetest and/or most meaningful?

Actually, I have fond memories of a race I did not win. I finished 5th in the Sunburst Marathon (South Bend, IN) in 2005 on a very hot, humid day. I had no idea I was one of the top runners until the latter miles of the race. The spectators eagerly informed me I was in the top 10, and I managed to pick off a few other ladies prior to the finish. I learned of my placing just as my husband and I were getting ready to leave Notre Dame stadium (where the race culminated on the 50 yard line). My name was announced over the loudspeaker and I was shocked to have placed so high!

Memorable wins include Mitsubishi Motors HM in 2005 (my first win, I think), Fisher Fair 5K in 2007, Mountain Goat 15K in 2010, and the Kirby Derby, of course!

Have you ever thrown a race to let someone else win? If so, why’d you do it?

No, but in 2009, at the Mahomet Library 5K, a tough little 11-year-old girl and I were dueling for second and third place. We finished less than a second apart. She was second, and I was third. A win was not at stake, but I wouldn’t have had the heart to pass her right at the end.

When you’re having a bad race, and we all have them from time to time, what goes through your mind? Do you beat yourself up about it? Take it out on the competition?

I learn more from races that go badly than races that go well. I analyze the information regarding what went wrong to improve things the next time around. I try not to let poor weather conditions get me down because everyone in the race is experiencing the same conditions. If things are going badly, I buckle down and focus on putting one foot in front of the other until I cross the finish line. I usually stop checking my mile splits during races that are going poorly, but often at the finish, I am surprised that I have not done as badly as I had feared. Marathons that go poorly are a real letdown, because you can’t just sign up for an alternate race the following weekend. It’s as though six months of training are down the tubes. As for 5Ks and 10Ks, a bad race is still a good speed workout and there’s always another one to sign up for!

Have you ever weighed all of your medals, and if so, how much do they weigh?

I have no idea! The thought of weighing them never crossed my mind! They are all in a box in my closet!

Do you have a list of results from, say, your last five or six races, to give the readers a sense of what you’ve been doing?

  • Kirby Derby 10K 5/14/11  43:04 1st female
  • iChallenge ― Illinois 5K 4/29/11  25:55 (jogged this one) + Illinois Marathon 4/30/11  3:27:43
  • Clinton Lake 30 Miler 3/26/11  5:03:56 3rd female
  • Decatur Park District Turkey Trot 10K 11/20/10  41:36 2nd female
  • Grand Rapids Marathon 10/17/10  3:25:47
  • Shoreline Classic 15K 9/19/10  1:06:15 11th female

If you could give a new runner who’s just getting into the sport/exercise a piece of advice, what would it be?

In the words of Nike, just do it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and don’t stop! It’s okay to take walking breaks. Signing up for a race is a great way to stay motivated and to celebrate your newly discovered athletic prowess! Don’t make the mistake I made and assume that only the “fast people” do races. Join a running club. Just like races, running clubs welcome runners of all paces and abilities.

Do you have running partners or do you go it alone? If you do, who are they?

I don’t run with other people very often. During the week, I leave the house between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. to run. Try as I might to recruit other runners, I just can’t seem to convince anyone else to get out that early! On weekends, I occasionally run with the SWRC marathon training group or a few fellow Buffaloes: Don Frichtl, Bob O’Brien, Mike Ingrum, Ken Welle, Janak Patel, and Becky Kasten among others.

Where’s your favorite place to train? A park, around where you live, etc?

I love the rolling hills of the oil-and-chip country roads in rural Piatt and Champaign Counties. About 90% of my running takes place here. I also like to run on the trails at Clinton Lake, Allerton Park, and Mahomet’s Forest Preserve Park. I despise vehicular traffic and stop lights!

Where will you go from here? What’s next on the race schedule?

My next race is the Buffalo Trace 5 mile trail run in Mahomet. As for the long-term, I have toyed with the idea of running a longer ultra at some point ― perhaps a 50 miler.

Do you ever think you’ll stop running?

I don’t have plans to!

Powell’s dedication to running is revealed in her results. Seventy miles a week in training would kill some people, including me. Keep running, Kristy!

Related Articles