Outdoors

Once only able to last 3 minutes on treadmill, Lakewood woman will be running in the Boston Marathon

“I’m truly the least likely person to succeed in sports,” said artist Susan Hall with a laugh in her Lakewood studio. The 60-year-old has qualified to run four of the six World Marathon Majors starting with Monday’s Boston Marathon.
“I’m truly the least likely person to succeed in sports,” said artist Susan Hall with a laugh in her Lakewood studio. The 60-year-old has qualified to run four of the six World Marathon Majors starting with Monday’s Boston Marathon. dperine@thenewstribune.com

The pacer turned to her halfway through the 2014 New York City Marathon to make sure everything was OK.

“Does anything hurt?” the pacer asked.

“Yes,” the runner said. “My cheeks. I’ve been smiling the last 13.1 miles.”

Susan Hall smiles when she runs. She exudes joy. She’s grateful for every stride of a running career that didn’t start until her second half century.

“You’re never too old to have a second childhood,” Hall said.

Hall started running in 2009. This year, the 60-year-old Lakewood resident is qualified to run four of the six World Marathon Majors, starting with Monday’s Boston Marathon. Up next will be Berlin, Chicago and New York. She hopes to eventually add Tokyo and London.

The Happy Runner, as she is known, has good reason to smile.

“I’m truly the least likely person to succeed in sports,” Hall said while laughing.

Early in life, she was an artist not an athlete, unaware for decades she was actually both.

“I was always the target in dodgeball,” Hall said. “I was the last to be picked. I hated recess. I wanted to stay in and draw.”

Hall found success as an artist. Her work has been displayed at more than 100 shows during the past 40 years, and her medical illustrations have been featured in more than 30 medical books and journals.

She was in her 50s by the time she discovered she was a distance runner. In 2009, a friend encouraged Hall to try running on a treadmill.

After three minutes, Hall stopped, certain she was going to collapse. Perpetually positive, she was undeterred.

Running has just given me that confidence and that encouragement that, yeah, you’re going to have to work really hard but who says you can’t do it?

Susan Hall, Lakewood artist and marathoner

“I thought if I could go three minutes, then I could do four,” Hall said. “Then four became a third of mile and I discovered it was something that I could do.”

In 2010, she entered her first race, a 4-mile run on Gig Harbor’s Cushman Trail. Now, she’s finished 183 races, sometimes even winning her age group.

“This is crazy right?” she said. “This is nuts.”

In 2014, she ran the Tacoma City Marathon, her first marathon. True to form, she was smiling as she finished in 4 hours, 56 minutes, 15 seconds.

“I never thought I’d run a marathon,” she said. “I thought marathons were for crazy people.”

Aren’t they?

“I think they are,” she said, laughing. “I have to claim it.”

Hall has finished 14 marathons, including the 31-mile 2014 Vashon Island Ultramarathon and learned an important lesson along the way.

“We have unlimited possibilities,” she said.

In 2014, Hall set her sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon, the ultimate accomplishment for most marathoners.

She worked out with Tacoma trainer Will Baldyga and she started training with Tacoma’s Donna Jackson, another runner who didn’t discover her talent for running until later in life. Jackson, 66, is running her second Boston Marathon in as many years on Monday.

To qualify for Boston, Hall needed to finish a marathon in less than 4:25. She finished last year’s Tacoma City Marathon in 4:24:16.

While she qualified, she was concerned it wasn’t quite fast enough to guarantee a spot in the race. She needed to shave off a few minutes more. A month later she entered the famously fast Light at the End of the Tunnel. Hall ran from Snoqualmie Pass to North Bend in 4:20:05. She was heading to Boston.

When you do hard things you build up the confidence to do hard things.

Susan Hall, Lakewood artist and marathoner

Hall doesn’t get caught up with what ifs. What if she started running earlier? What if she started school after Title IX when there were significantly more opportunities for women to play high school and college sports?

“I’m so happy to be doing this now,” she said. “There are so many people who remember when they ran in junior high or high school or college and when they get to this age they are discouraged because they aren’t hitting those times.

“Well, for somebody like myself, it is so new and exciting. You might as well be 5 years old. There is this incredible joy that I can do this.”

If anything, she’s overjoyed to have the opportunity. There was a time in her lifetime when women weren’t allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon.

“To think I get to step up there to the starting line as a woman and be able to run this is really cool,” Hall said. “Running Boston at any age is cool, but running Boston at this age, it kinda rocks.”

Hall says running has made her a better artist. Her projects take shape in her mind as she runs her 30-36 miles per week.

You’re never too old to have a second childhood.

Susan Hall, Lakewood artist and marathoner

She hangs her ribbons and medals in her studio, her place of empowerment.

“It’s my place where you thought you could never do something but there is proof you just did,” Hall said. “… I never thought I could run this race so who says I can’t do this with my art? Running has just given me that confidence and that encouragement that, yeah, you’re going to have to work really hard but who says you can’t do it?”

At 60, Hall says she is “pushing the edges” of her work. She produces paintings taller than she is. She made an 11-foot encaustic for MultiCare, something she previously might have considered too challenging.

“When you do hard things you build up the confidence to do hard things,” Hall said.

Hall says she feels as if she is aging in reverse. She’s eager to enjoy every step of Boston and then find out what challenge comes next.

“The whole blessing is outside your comfort zone,” Hall said. “… You think about it, if you can go from three minutes on the treadmill and you stick at it and you make it to Boston, then what other things can we accomplish?”

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