Glance at One City participants | Cancer survivor eager to take part in Maritime 8K

Correspondent
After four breast reconstruction surgeries in two years, Edwards found strength through group training program

A look at some of the people and places in this year’s One City Marathon.

YMCA support

The Maritime 8K will be Beth Edwards’ comeback run. After undergoing four breast reconstruction surgeries over the past two years, the cancer survivor found extra strength through a new group-training program at the Newport News Family YMCA.

The first-year partnership between the YMCA and Flat-Out Events included organized runs, training and stretching plans and race entry fees. Since January, Edwards and seven others have met for biweekly runs to prepare for the 8K or marathon relay. They didn’t even skip a day with a wind chill of 1 degree.

“It has been wonderful to have other people who love running to encourage me, especially since I was out of commission for so long,” says Edwards, 54, a Smithfield resident. “They have kept me accountable.”

Amy Henry, the YMCA’s Health and Wellness Program Director, hopes to expand the program in future years with components such as strength training classes and nutrition counseling.

“It’s been great to watch the experienced runners cheer on the newer runners,” Henry says. “They all have a blast.”

Social connections are a proven motivator for training, adds Janet Barker, one of two coaches for the program: “We go out together and have different paces, but nobody gets left behind.”

Edwards, who finished three half-marathons before her surgeries, doesn’t have a specific time goal for the 8K. She just wants to run the whole race.

“I’m so thankful to be able to say that I feel ready,” she says.

The 2015 runner-up

Last year, Michael Leech did his Newport News hometown proud by placing second in the One City Marathon, running a personal best of 2:51:14. His goal this year is to beat that record, with a time somewhere between 2:47 and 2:50.

Of course, a lot can happen over 26.2 miles, from incorrect pacing to aches and pains. In addition, Leech, 38, has had to juggle training with a full-time job and two kids, ages 2 and 9, with a third child on the way in June.

“I’ve been running well, so I’m hopeful,” he says. “A top-three finish would be great, but that all depends on who else shows up. I just focus on my own performance.”

Leech started running six years ago, when he noticed that the suit he wore to race modified stock cars at Langley Speedway was feeling snug. “Running was way more interesting and fun than treadmills and elliptical machines,” he says.

The owner of an auto repair shop, Leech has run nine marathons, including last spring’s Boston Marathon. In December, he finished a 50K — just over 31 miles. He also helps pace runners in half and full marathons and organizes group outings for the Peninsula Road Runners.

During inevitable tough patches in long runs, Leech focuses on his end goal, the rhythm of his steps — he never listens to music — his breathing and the scenery around him.

“One City is a beautiful course, and the crowd support last year was great for a smaller marathon,” he notes. “I’ve lived here almost my whole life, so I’m proud to be part of it again.”

A shipyard challenge

A challenge has been thrown at Newport News Shipbuilding: Beat Dan Moniak.
Last year, Moniak was the fastest finisher of 27 employees in the full marathon, with a time of 3:23:02. This year, the company — again the event’s lead sponsor — has promised mystery prizes to up to 10 employees who can top that time. As of week’s end, 28 Huntington Ingalls Industries employees had signed up for the full marathon, among more than 130 registered for one of the event races.

Moniak, 51, a Material Process Engineering Manager, was shocked by his result in his first marathon, which qualified him for the Boston Marathon (he’ll run that in April with his 21-year-old son).

“It was one of those perfect runs where I felt really good much of the way,” says the Williamsburg resident, who is on a marathon relay team this year. “Miles 24 and 25 were painful, but I wasn’t going to stop then.”

At least one employee has embraced the company challenge, announced in an in-house publication. Tim Suhr of Southampton County, Engineering Technician III for AMSEC, an NNS subsidiary, has done two marathons and would need to crush his personal record of 3:44:20.

“That was eight years ago,” says Suhr, 44, who works aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. “I’ve definitely gotten faster since then.”

A father of two, Suhr started distance running in 2008 at the suggestion of a Navy superior. That same day, he quit cigarettes after smoking a pack a day for 15 years.

“I just thought it would be cool to say I could do 26.2 miles,” he recalls. “Being out there also gives me a lot of time to think.”

Bring on Moniak.

An army of volunteers

Last year, more than 700 people volunteered to help stage the One City races and Health and Wellness Expo. This year, the estimate is 800.

“It would be impossible to hold large events like these without the support of volunteers,” says Jason Todd, president of Flat-Out Events, which produces the competition. Todd especially singles out traffic wardens — largely, local servicemen and women — who keep vehicles off all of the race courses and runners on track.

Many volunteers put in grueling hours. Last year, Elaine Jones of Yorktown was at the finish-line area by 4:30 a.m., sporting a head flashlight as she carted in boxes of medals. Over the next 12 hours, Jones pitched in with everything from gear check to runner registration issues to preparation of the tape that race winners break at the finish.

“It was exhausting, but it was also so exciting to be there,” she says. “The energy was great. It was fun to hear the runners talk about how much they loved the course.”

One of this year’s volunteers, Dionna Payne of Newport News, ran the Maritime 8K last year and is working as a water-station supervisor this time around. Her station on Warwick Boulevard will have water and Gatorade for runners near the fourth mile of the 8K, less than a mile from the finish.

“We are going to make sure to be really upbeat and encouraging, because I remember how much I needed that as a runner last year,” Payne says. “I’m looking forward to seeing the event from a different perspective.”

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