This column ran in the Oct. 22 edition of the Daily Gleaner.
Like many who are about to celebrate a significant birthday, Heather Suttie made a plan to mark the occasion in style.
So when it came to her big 4-0, she figured running a marathon would serve as the perfect occasion to achieve one of her major personal goals. She started out by conducting a bit of research, found a contact for Mike Simmons, a highly regarded coach/mentor/athlete and was set to call him for some guidance.
However, picking up the phone was not that easy.
“It took me weeks to have the nerve to call him,” Heather recalls, who eventually summoned the courage to dial his number.
It’s a decision she credits for forging her love of the sport and leading her to some significant results, such as last weekend when she was second in the 45-49 age group at the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon in a time of 3:20.17.
“When I finally called, he welcomed me into his running group with open arms,” said Suttie, a Fredericton native who owns the room2remember with her husband Malcolm. “That call changed my life.”
Heather and Malcom met while working at a call centre, roles they left to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Since they opened their business, room2remember has grown from 800 to more than 6,000 square feet.
Running expanded as well.
In 2002, shortly after Heather’s daughter Emma as born, Heather would walk to Douglas from the downtown after work and at that point, she decided to incorporate running into her daily commute.
“It quickly turned into a walk and run home and then I just started running home,” she said. “It was a great way to transition from the work day into our new crazy life with a newborn.”
In short order, running transformed her lifestyle and before long, she developed some major goals, including qualifying for the 2010 Boston Marathon. To achieve that, she needed to qualify, so with the help of Simmons and other running friends, such as Bob Cormier, she signed up for her Boston qualifier in Lowell, Mass., in 2009.
“I told Mike I wanted to qualify for Boston,” she explains. “I think he thought I was crazy. We trained together for 16 weeks and then Bob Cormier, Mike and I traveled to Lowell to run.
“The conditions were not ideal, -6 degrees and there was sleet coming down.”
At the time, Cormier and Simmons carried plenty of experience and knew that patience was important, especially when it came to retaining heat along the brisk 42.2 km route. So when Suttie dropped her gloves accidentally, Simmons gave her his, allowing her to keep warm in the chilly conditions and keep focused on her dream goal.
“I was very new to the sport and I didn’t have a clue what to expect, so they ran with me every step of the way,” Suttie said. “When we got to the finish line, my husband and daughter were huddled in the stands trying to keep warm and dry. I was so happy to see them.
“Mike’s hands were so cold, he couldn’t feel them and had to have help getting his wet clothes off. This may sound miserable to most but it was a very gratifying day. My family was there to see me complete my first marathon, Mike and Bob demonstrated what true friendship is, I qualified for Boston and I loved every minute of the experience. I was hooked.”
As for current goals, she is looking to crack 3:10 for the marathon, a feat that proved elusive in 2016 but will provide motivation in 2017, along with competing in her second Boston Marathon in April.
Her regular training partners include Murray Jamer, Bob Cormier, Steve Dohaney, Tim Keilty, Jamie Wolverton and Greg McCann, leaving her as the only female on the routes they select, depending on the race they are training for.
“They treat me like one of the guys and it just works,” she said.
That camaraderie is a major component of the experience for her, along with maintaining fitness and meeting her competitive needs.
She understands that people either love or hate running and knows there are other venues for sport and fitness. For her, running is a passion.
“I have the most wonderful group of friends who I care about on and off the trail. The reason I run today is not for the same reasons I initially ran. Now I run because I love to run. I look forward to every minute of every run.
“I also love my running group. We are a very tight group of friends who support each other, have common goals, work hard and are passionate about our sport. Most mornings, we meet at 5:15 a.m. and start the day with a run and lots of laughs. When someone has a badrace, we all feel the disappointment. They inspire me every day.”
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.