EL PASO — The competition was tough. Olympic runners Kara Goucher, Ryan Hall, Kenya’s Salina Kosgei, Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga and 26, 327 others were up against her in the 113th Boston Marathon. In the end, Stacey Sowards crossed the finish line ahead of 16,240 of them.
While competition is a driving force behind her desire to run, her most difficult race, Sowards says, is “probably against myself. I’ve always been a competitive person, but also a perfectionist,” she says. “The worst part is when I compete against people and they don’t know it,” she laughs. “If I’m at the gym on the treadmill, I’ll hit the speed up and the people next to me don’t know.”
According to Sowards, an Associate Professor in the department of Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), the experience of “just being there” was more important than where she placed. But the fact that 10, 090 others were in front of her was still satisfying. “I feel pretty good,” Sowards says of her performance in Boston. However, she said she would have done even better had she not stopped a few times to take pictures.
The Boston is the fifth marathon Sowards has run in seven years. She qualified when she ran a personal best of 3:33:33 in the Denver Marathon last October. “I ran the L.A. marathon in 2002 and 2003 but my time wasn’t good enough to qualify. Then I ran the Denver marathon to see if I could qualify for Boston and I qualified. So that was really exciting,” she said.
After Denver, Sowards surprised herself, by placing second in the 2009 El Paso Marathon on March 1, a race that was only supposed to be a warm-up for Boston. She admits that when she finished the El Paso Marathon, she was overcome with emotion, not because she had finished, but because she had left her personal expectations in the dust. “I wasn’t surprised that I finished [the El Paso Marathon], because I had run a couple marathons before that, but because I had done so well. I think that there is something about running 26 miles in one day. It’s a lot. I am amazed that the human body can do such a thing and that I could do that,” Sowards said with fascination.
Sowards, who has a PhD in Communication Studies from the University of Kansas and an M.A. in Communication from UTEP, started running in junior high school and hasn’t stopped since. For her, running is a must. “I can’t imagine not running, it’s just something that I do.” The conviction in Sowards words leaves no room to doubt that she would go stir crazy if she stopped running for more than a day. “ There’s an article in Runners World that talks about this guy who says he will not run for two weeks, and for me that is the strangest phenomenon, it doesn’t make any sense to me because [running] is so routine and such a part of my life.”
Sowards finds obvious health benefits as perks to her hobby, “Running is really meditative. People can use it to think about whatever they want, and that’s a huge benefit and running gives you the kind of energy that can sustain you through the day.” The intellectual is not suppressed during a run. She also uses the time she’s running to exercise her mind. “I use running to multi task, I listen to podcast, like BBC in Spanish, or NPR in Spanish.”
Boston was more than a competition, she said. “I really just wanted to enjoy the race and have the experience.” She was excited about running with Olympic stars such as Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall, “I didn’t get a chance to meet them, but it’s exciting to think that I ran with some of the most competitive runners in the world. In no other sport, track and field, soccer or football, would you have that opportunity.” she adds.
While she’s tired from Boston, she still shows interest in running The New York Marathon this August just for fun.“ It might be kinda fun to do the New York Marathon, because it’s really big and to experience running with all the other runners and having all the people cheering would be pretty neat.” Sowards qualified for the Boston Marathon 2010 and does plan to compete there.
But what really fuels her passion for running, is an intense sense of accomplishment. Her intimidating confidence and cool demeanor do not inhibit Sowards from showing her tenderness when she talks about her overwhelming happiness and sense of accomplishment when she finishes a marathon. “I cry all the time,” Sowards says with a bashful giggle as her eyes tear up, “but it’s this really overwhelming, powerful emotion, I cried when I ran the Denver marathon, at about mile 20 when I realized that I was going to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I couldn’t stop crying, but I don’t know why —it’s just this overwhelming feeling of euphoria and sense of accomplishment.”