Single Mom of 3: Erika Gerding Runs 26.2 in Long Beach

Erika Gerding is a 29-year old single mom of 3. Recently completing the Long Beach Marathon in California, I’m still amazed she found time to train at all! She went from being a non-runner to a marathoner in a single year, and her story is one I know you’ll find inspriring! To read her entire race recap, check out her blog, Chasing my Monkeys 1 Mile at a Time.

What inspired you to run a marathon?

Honestly, my friend Nicole. I watched her train for Chicago last year thinking she had lost her mind. I started joining her for runs on the treadmill at the YMCA and one day she made me run 6 miles. I thought I was going to die with every step, but at the end I was so amazed with what I had just pushed my body to do! I mean, Erika, the girl who wouldn’t even run around the block made it 6 miles?? And it just kind of grew from there. I ran the K-zoo Half Marathon and while I felt like death afterwards, I was instantly hooked and knew I HAD to do another. I signed up for 2 more half marathons within 2 weeks and had decided on a full by July. I had a really strong desire to do it this year, before I turn 30.

You are a single mom of 3. How did you balance running with family?

This was the most difficult thing for me hands down. I spent a lot of Saturday mornings leaving before the kiddos woke up (grateful that my mom and aunt were so supportive of my goal and would come to my house at 5 am so I could get my run finished before the kids woke up). Long run days were some of the hardest because I would be so tired afterwards, and I knew I still had gymnastics, football, baseball and God knows what else I had to get done. Not to mention normal day to day things. I tried to incorporate my children into my training as much as possible…”Kids, get your bikes, we are going for a walk” or even taking them around the block with me for part of my run. Not only were they happy to be included in my training, it got them out of the house and active! While I had to slow down, they were so proud of themselves when they were finished. My son would constantly ask, “How many miles was that mom??” A half mile, but the grin was priceless. I let them celebrate the good times with me (they love to wear my medals around the house). Now that I’m done, I’m looking for a family race that we could all do together this fall.

What did you learn about yourself through this experience? That my legs really can move for 5 hours and 20 minutes! That you will only get out what you put in. That I’m extremely blessed to have such an amazing support system. I think there will always be a little part of me that is filled with doubt, but I think it’s pretty awesome that I can say, “Well, hey, I ran a marathon.” Seriously, people who know me can’t believe I did it either. I have never been a runner. So I think it’s pretty cool that if you work hard enough at something, you can be anything you want to, and folks, I’m a marathoner. 🙂

Why have you never run?

Honestly, in high school, I was an athlete. I played basketball, volleyball and softball, danced (tap, ballet, pointe, jazz, modern) 4 nights a week, traveled with all of my sports. While I LOVE sports, I absolutely HATED running. Why? Because it was ALWAYS our punishment. Missed baskets? 5 sprints. Missed serves? 5 laps. My basketball coach was the track coach and used to take us out to the track and make us run timed miles! Seriously. One night one of my teammates wrote in his grass “one more mile” with weed killer. We ran one more mile everyday on the track for the rest of the season and I swore I would never run another mile again after that. After that, I still remained active (kickboxing, rec sports, coaching, etc) but never could understand why or how in the world people could just go “run.” It’s such self torture! I mean, gawh, who likes to just run with no purpose or for long periods of time?? They MUST be crazy! This a note my best friend from high school left for me along with a jogging stroller and link to the post I wrote. It more or less sums up my feelings about running.

What other challenges – aside from this big one – did you face while training?

I was pretty lucky in the fact that I was able to work with a trainer to get my knee problems under control (IT band issues=no fun!!). The only other challenge I really had more to do with my weight and the amount of time I spent cross training. I was used to work out 6-7 days a week. Sometimes twice a day. When I started training for the marathon, I cut way back, partly because I didn’t want to get hurt and partly because I didn’t have time to get all of the running in, plus monkey time, plus cross training. I began to get negative and scared that my fitness level was actually decreasing while my waist line was increasing. I tried diets (and do not recommend cutting calories when training!) and started herbalife around week 10. I was really worried the extra weight would make it harder to run. Last but not least…the self doubt. Man it’s hard to think positive when sometimes you are filled with so much self doubt! I had some really great weeks, some really bad weeks, and just okay weeks. It really is a mental game.

It sounds like you trained with friends. Can you describe how this helped you?

I’m not 100% sure that I would have been able to stick with my training plan had I not had my friend Nicole to help me. It worked out perfectly because the days I didn’t feel like running, she said let’s go. The days she threw the towel in, I picked it up and said move on! It was also comforting to me that I was with someone who had been there/done it. She helped me when I had questions about fueling, salt tablets, knee pain, form, music, gear…and on and on and on. I always had someone there who knew exactly what I was going through and was able to offer support and advice. I can’t even imagine training alone. My appreciation for my dear running buddy is best summed this statement I posted on my blog:

Where can I even begin to start?? It is because of you that I even started running anyways. I used to call you crazy and look at you like you had a very contagious outbreak of some awful disease, but Nicole, thank you, for helping me catch the running bug. Thank you for supporting me, believing in me, dragging my as$ out of bed many, many weekends to tackle those long runs, for listening to me bitch, complain, whine, swear…you name it. For driving all over looking for perfect race outfits and shoes, trips to mongo…and for the most amazing bracelet which I will wear proudly on Sunday (even though I may be swearing at you under my breath!) which reminds me “if you can believe in it, you can achieve it!” Love you!

Which marathon did you run?

I picked Long Beach International Marathon in California. Mostly because Nicole had already signed up and it was just the way it fell into place. I was excited because I figured might as well run along the ocean and DO IT BIG if I’m going to do it. My favorite place in the world besides home is the beach, so sign me up please!

What was the race experience like?

My race experience was unlike anything I could have ever predicted. No amount of training or long runs could ever prepare me for what it truly takes to complete 26.2 miles. It was the hardest thing I have EVER done. The wall was much higher than I could have ever predicted. I was so grateful for some key text messages and people along the way that helped me open the window in that enormous wall and break through. My emotions went from spontaneous crying, to laughing and joking with spectators, to being angry, sad, mad, happy, grateful. You name it. I probably felt it at some point in my run. It was almost surreal.

How did it feel when you crossed the finish line?

At first, disappointed. Nicole had warned me about not setting time goals, but I’m someone who sets goals (although I don’t always verbalize them) and I was super disappointed with how I ran. How my stomach felt. My time. How I ran a 9:43 min mile the last mile, yet I couldn’t pull myself together between 17-18 to get below a 14 min mile. How I felt that I hadn’t given enough to training. So many could have, could have, could haves. I mean, yea, I’m proud…I did just run 26.2 miles, but I was really wanting to finish in under 5 hours. That said, four days after the race, the disappointed feeling is quickly fading, replaced with great joy of the accomplishment that I achieved.

Will you run another? As soon as I was finished running, I looked right at Nicole and said, “Never again!” But I had all of these crazy emotions going through me and I kept replaying the race. When I woke up the next morning I looked at Nicole and said, “Kalamazoo.” We are running the first ever Kalamazoo, MI marathon, May 8th, 2011. I’ve got some work to do!

What advice would you give another first time marathoner?

Listen to Nicole and don’t set a time pace. Enjoy every moment. I ran for the first 3 miles with no music and the last mile with no music. I wanted to remember EVERYTHING! Pick somewhere special. While I love California, I kind of wished I would have run closer to home so I could have seen my family while I was running. I think that may have made a huge difference. Know that what you put in is what you’ll get out. No two runs are ever alike, and a bad day can happen anytime. Learn from it and move on. Listen to your body, adjust your training plan as needed, but do not try to “make up” runs you miss. Your long runs are important, but nothing will fully prepare you. AND HAVE FUN!!


Melinda Hinson